Human Genetics and Languages

Abstract

The similarities between the mode of inheritance and evolution of genes and languages have fostered interest in the joint analysis of both disciplines. The correlation between genes and languages was firstly demonstrated by Cavalli‐Sforza and collaborators comparing a tree build from ‘classical’ genetic markers to a linguistic tree of languages. Several criticisms to this correlation have been raised and a large number of exceptions have been described. It has been shown that the most plausible factor that influences in the correlation of genes and languages is geography. However, the information provided by genetics and linguistics, as well as the one provided by other disciplines, will allow us to reconstruct the history of humankind.

Keywords: genetic diversity; linguistic trees; genetic trees; language families; population genetics

Figure 1.

Map of main human linguistic families. Adapted from Ruhlen .

Figure 2.

Trees relating the genetic (left) and linguistic (right) human diversity. Continental areas in white represent either noninhabited areas or linguistic isolates. Linguistic families are coloured as in Figure .

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Belle EM and Barbujani G (2007) Worldwide analysis of multiple microsatellites: language diversity has a detectable influence on DNA diversity. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 133: 1137–1146.

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Sahoo S and Kashyap VK (2005) Influence of language and ancestry on genetic structure of contiguous populations. BMC Genetics 6(1): 4.

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Comas, David, Bosch, Elena, and Calafell, Francesc(Jul 2008) Human Genetics and Languages. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020810]