Every human language evolved from 'single prehistoric African mother tongue
504 languages traced back to Stone Age dialect. Dr Atkinson found that the number of distinct sounds in a language tends to increase the closer it is to sub-Saharan Africa. He argues that these differences reflect the patterns of migration of our ancestors when they left Africa 70,000 years ago. Languages change as they are handed down from generation to generation.
The number of sounds varies hugely from language to language. English, for instance has around 46 sounds, some languages in South America have fewer than 15, while the San bushmen of South Africa use a staggering 200.
In a large population, languages are likely to be relatively stable - simply because there are more people to remember what previous generations did, he says. But in a smaller population - such as a splinter group that sets off to find a new home elsewhere - there are more chances that languages will change quickly and that sounds will be lost from generation to generation.
Professor Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at Reading University, said the same effect could be seen in DNA. Modern-day Africans have a much greater genetic diversity than white Europeans who are descended from a relatively small splinter group that left 70,000 years ago.'People have suspected for a long time that language arose with the origin of our species in Africa and this is consistent with that view.'