2 December 2022 The Future is the Product of the Past

A new study says genes and languages aren’t always together

Over 7,000 languages are spoken around the world. This linguistic diversity, like biological traits, is passed down from generation to generation. But, as Charles Darwin originally proposed, have language and genes evolved in tandem over the last few thousand years? An interdisciplinary team from the University of Zurich and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany) has now investigated this question on a global scale.

The researchers put together a global database linking linguistic and genetic data entitled GeLaTo (Genes and Languages Together), which contains genetic information from some 4,000 individuals speaking 295 languages and representing 397 genetic populations.

One in five gene-language links point to language shifts

In their study, the researchers examined the extent to which the linguistic and genetic histories of populations coincided. People who speak related languages tend to also be genetically related, but this isn’t always the case. “We focused on cases where the biological and linguistic patterns differed and investigated how often and where these mismatches occur,” says Chiara Barbieri, UZH geneticist who led the study and initiated it together with colleagues when she was a postdoc at the Max-Planck-Institute.

The researchers found that about every fifth gene-language relation is a mismatch, and they occurr worldwide. These mismatches can provide insights into the history of human evolution. “Once we know where such language shifts happened, we can better reconstruct how languages and populations spread across the world,” says Balthasar Bickel, director of the National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) Evolving Language, who co-supervised the study.

Language family comparisons.

Switching to the local lingo

Most mismatches result from populations shifting to the language of a neighboring population that is genetically different. Some peoples on the tropical eastern slopes of the Andes speak a Quechua idiom that is typically spoken by groups with a different genetic profile who live at higher altitudes. The Damara people in Namibia, who are genetically related to the Bantu, communicate using a Khoe language that is spoken by genetically distant groups in the same area. And some hunter-gatherers who live in Central Africa speak predominantly Bantu languages without a strong genetic relatedness to the neighboring Bantu populations.

In addition, there are cases where migrants have picked up the local language of their new homes. The Jewish population in Georgia, for example, adopted a South Caucasian language, while the Cochin Jews in India speak a Dravidian language. The case of Malta reflects its history as an island between two continents: while the Maltese are closely related to the people of Sicily, they speak an Afroasiatic language that is influenced by various Turkish and Indo-European languages.

Preserving their linguistic identity

“It appears that giving up your language isn’t that difficult, also for practical reasons,” says the last author Kentaro Shimizu, director of the URPP Evolution in Action: From Genomes to Ecosystems. However, it’s more rare for people to preserve their original linguistic identity despite genetic assimilation with their neighbors. “Hungarian people, for example, are genetically similar to their neighbors, but their language is related to languages spoken in Siberia.”

This makes Hungarian speakers stand out from among the rest of Europe and parts of Asia, where most people speak Indo-European languages, such as French, German, Hindi, Farsi, Greek and many others. Indo-European has not only been extensively studied, but also scores particularly high in terms of genetic and linguistic congruence. “This might have given the impression that gene-language matches are the norm, but our study shows that this isn’t the case,” concludes Chiara Barbieri, who adds that it is important to include genetic and linguistic data from populations all over the world to understand language evolution.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

10.1073/pnas.2122084119 

Cover Photo: Overview of linguistic and genetic similarity.

Banner
Related Post

First Human Traces Buried in an Ancient Gold Mine in Eastern Sahara

2 May 2021

2 May 2021

Some of the earliest signs of human life dating back 1.8 million years have been discovered in an old gold...

Archaeologists unearth mosaic floors in the ruins of a building they believe is the lost Church of the Apostles

23 October 2021

23 October 2021

In the historical village of Bethsaida on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, archaeologists discovered mosaic floors in the...

A 1000-year-old Viking silver treasure found in Sweden

31 October 2022

31 October 2022

Archaeologists have discovered a 1,000-year-old silver Viking treasure at Täby, Viggbyholm, outside of Stockholm. The treasure was found during an...

Roman Canal and Road Uncovered in The Netherlands near UNESCO heritage sites

30 July 2021

30 July 2021

Dutch archaeologists that a canal and gravel road thought to have been built and used by the Roman military have...

A new study reveals more than one person was buried in a tomb where the famous Nestor’s Cup was found

6 October 2021

6 October 2021

The Tomb of Nestor’s Cup, a burial that contained one of the oldest known Greek inscriptions, was more crowded than...

The impressive Statue of young Hercules unearthed in Philippi, Northern Greece

24 September 2022

24 September 2022

A larger-than-life youthful Hercules statue dating to the 2nd century A.D. have been found in the ancient city of Philippi...

Unique work of Minoan art, the Pylos Combat Agate must be the David of the Prehistoric era

21 November 2021

21 November 2021

Found in a Greek tomb dating back 3,500 years, the artifact is so well designed that it looks as lively...

Was the mystery of Noceto Vasca Votiva the water ritual?

13 June 2021

13 June 2021

The Noceto Vasca Votiva is a one-of-a-kind wood building discovered in 2005 on a tiny hill in northern Italy. The...

Hundreds of skeletons found on Welsh beach

4 July 2021

4 July 2021

Archaeologists found the burial site of women and children just below the surface of the sand dunes on Whitesands Bay...

A Special structure Contemporary to Göbeklitepe found at Gre Fılla Höyük in Eastern Turkey

4 August 2022

4 August 2022

Pit-bottomed structures dating to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period were found at Gre Fılla Höyük (Gre Fılla Mound) in the province...

Places to Visit in Oman

6 February 2021

6 February 2021

There are many places to visit in Oman. In this article, we wanted to talk about a wonderful country that...

Archaeologists unearth orchestra floor in Black Sea Region’s Ephesus

10 December 2021

10 December 2021

During continuing excavations in the northwestern province of Düzce, archaeologists discovered the orchestra floor of the theater area in the...

A new study in Portugal suggests that mummification in Europe may be older than previously thought

3 March 2022

3 March 2022

New research on the hunter-gatherer burial sites in the Sado Valley in Portugal, dating to 8,000 years ago, suggests that...

A first-of-its-kind Ayyanar stone idol found in Vellore, India

25 June 2022

25 June 2022

An Ayyanar stone idol, the first of its kind in Vellore, was discovered at Thandalai Krishnapuram (TK Puram) in Tamil...

Remains of first Islamic madrassa found in Turkey’s Harran

1 December 2021

1 December 2021

The remnants of a 12th-century madrassa (Islamic institution of higher instruction) have been discovered in the archaeological site of Harran,...

Comments
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *