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squirrelfreak's avatar

Can climate affect language?

Asked by squirrelfreak (113 points ) November 29th, 2011

Is it possible for differences in climate to have any effect on the way languages change over time, either into new languages or new dialects?

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12 Answers

submariner's avatar

Indirectly: climate affects culture, culture affects language.

rpm_pseud0name's avatar

I can’t remember where I heard this, but I remember hearing that colder regions have been known to cause a more nasally dialect. Not sure if true, but worth looking into.

zensky's avatar

Any group of people working in a particular field or sharing a certain set of circumstances will develop a specialized vocabulary for describing their everyday experiences, and no doubt this tells us something about the shared mental constructs by which they comprehend the world. C. Adams.

KoleraHeliko's avatar

Indeed. A culture living perpetually in a desert region has little use for (or maybe knowledge of) ice. So certainly it can affect vocabulary. The sheer number of flies present in Australia helped us to create a marvellous accent, so it can affect pronunciation. Syntax is a little more difficult. I can’t think of anything for that right now, but I’m open to suggestion. I suppose if you found the climate difficult to speak or breathe in, you might feel comfortable to omit certain words which aren’t entirely necessary.

So yes.

morphail's avatar

@rpm_pseud0name There is no evidence that climate affects accent.
@KoleraHeliko Flies didn’t create Australian English, geographical separation did.
@Nullo Here’s a better explanation of the Eskimo snow vocabulary myth

KoleraHeliko's avatar

@morphail I should clarify, it’s an in-joke that we speak in this manner because we are trying to prevent flies from entering our mouths.

JLeslie's avatar

@rpm_pseud0name That probably has to do with the immigrants who migrate to the colder areas. The upper midwest and even Canada tend to sound more nasal, but I would guess that has to do with the populations who settled there, what languages and dialects they spoke previously. Although, it is kind of funny to think that a place where people are more likely to have a runny nose speak with a more nasal accent. I had never thought about it that way before.

LostInParadise's avatar

I can’t think of why climate should affect grammar or syntax. Obviously it can affect vocabulary. Inuits do not talk about palm trees and pygmies do not talk about icebergs.

wundayatta's avatar

A fellow in the dialect blog thinks there is no relationship. It’s theoretical, though. No data.

Climate change will affect the environment in ways that have a significant impact on living conditions. As a result, indigenous and poor people are much more likely to be forced to relocate and to undergo severe changes in their communities. These changes may well lead to the dissolution of the community and the loss of schools that teach in their language. So yes, one could argue that languages could be lost as a result of climate change or as a result of natural disasters.

This is an indirect affect, and it seems reasonable to me. But direct affects seem unlikely based on the little research I’ve done. I will note that there is very little out there about this topic—at least that I could find in the short amount of time I can put into these answers.

JLeslie's avatar

@wundayatta So, that would not be that colder climates have a specific accent or dialect compared to warmer, but rather socio-economics affecting it. Which makes sense to me. In almost every country the poor tend to speak with a stronger accent, or might pronounce words farther from the actual spelling. In fact I had never thought about it before, but it makes perfect sense that illiteracy would lead to poor speech.

citizenearth's avatar

Not that I can think of.

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