Tonal Languages, Genetics, Human Race and James Watson’s Clanger

Felix I D Konotey-Ahulu

Mark Henderson wrote an article in the London Times on Tuesday, May 29 2007, entitled ‘Speaking in tones?’ where he drew attention to some research which indicated that Tonal Languages could have a genetic basis. I also want to draw readers’ attention to an Award lecture I delivered on 5 May 2007 the African American Museum in Philadelphia. My lecture was entitled: ‘The Remarkable African Ear: Phenomenon of Mid Pitch Arrest in Krobo/Dangme-Gã Tonal Languages of South East Ghana’ summarized on http://www.modernghana.com. I proved that the same 4 pitches (high, mid, lowermid, low] that are discernible in my mother tongue Krobo/Dangme-Gã in Ghana are found in English, but only that they hardly alter the meaning in English except (as in Henderson put it) ‘as a way of conveying emphasis or emotion’.

In my lecture I asked the audience to say after me, slowly and deliberately: ‘Proto-agriculture’. Then to hum what they said, again several times. The 4 different pitches they hummed (low low high mid lowermid low) would, when heard by a Krobo tribesman like myself, represent the pitches for ‘korkordene ler for’ which, by interpretation, is ‘the frog’s fat’ in Gã. Moreover, whether in English or Krobo/Dangme-Gã, there is a 3 semitone gap between high pitch and mid pitch, and a 2 semitone gap between mid pitch and lowermid pitch, without fail. I also provided two equations (Tadka 1 and Tadka 2) which calculate how many reproducible words can be obtained from how many vowels (nasalized, and not nasalized). I began the lecture by flashing on the screen 100 African American names with musical genius. ‘When through enforced migration’, I said, ‘the slave traders brought Africans across the Atlantic, they thought they were carting just brawn to work on the plantations, but they brought African brain as well — musical genius.’ What we see here is ‘just the tip of a huge brainberg, the base of which is in Africa. African Tonal languages, where a child can discern one, and only one, correct way of pronouncing a 5-vowel sentence like ‘A chii mo ta’ out of 7,776 reproducible possibilities, I suggest, are a veritable goldmine of such a brainberg. In addition, my entire tribe has perfect mid pitch! Genetic? Of course genetic, but looking for a DNA explanation is an over-simplification because ‘proto-agriculture/the frog’s fat’ tonal equivalence (English equals Gã) proves to me that there are not several races, but just one human race.

Apparently, Professor James Watson, Nobel Laureate of DNA fame does not know that there is but one human race. Says Robert Verkaik of London’s Independent on 10 December 2007 ‘Revealed: Scientist who sparked racism row has black genes. A Nobel Prize-winning scientist who provoked a public outcry by claiming black Africans were less intelligent than whites has a DNA profile with up to 16 times more genes of black origins than the average white European. An analysis of his genome showed that 16 percent of his genes were likely to have come from black ancestors of African descent’. Kári Stefánsson of deCODE Genetics whose company carried out the analysis said ‘This level is what you would expect in someone who had a great grand parent who was African’. This means Professor Watson’s great grand father and my own great grand father Konotey Adade lived on the same continent at the same time (http://www.konotey-ahulu.com/images/generation.jpg). My father had a beta-globin gene defect that he had inherited from his father and grand father. I wonder if Kári Stefánsson has looked into that area of Professor James Watson’s genome. Surely as the latter has let his entire genome be published he would not object to further probing to see whether any of the seven beta-globin variants found in Ghanaians can be identified, as many of these Ghanaian genes were, through enforced migration centuries ago, dumped across the Atlantic. There is but one human race, not several races as Charles Darwin stated in his Origin of Species.