In 1888, ethnologist Daniel Brinton wrote an essay entitled ‘The Language of Paleolithic Man’ which aimed to gain insight into the historical emergence of language through the study of existing Native American languages, conceived of as being closer to the primitive precursors of modern language. In discussing these languages, he noted that

the phonetic elements . . . are, in many American languages, singularly vague and fluctuating. If in English we were to pronounce the three words, loll, nor, roll, indifferently as one or the other, you see what violence we should do to the theory of our alphabet. Yet analogous examples are constant in many American languages. Their consonants are ‘alternating,’ in large groups, their vowels ‘permutable.’