Tracking modern human population history from linguistic and cranial phenotype

Hugo Reyes-Centeno, Katerina Harvati, Gerhard Jäger

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10 Scopus citations


Languages and genes arguably follow parallel evolutionary trajectories, descending from a common source and subsequently differentiating. However, although common ancestry is established within language families, it remains controversial whether language preserves a deep historical signal. To address this question, we evaluate the association between linguistic and geographic distances across 265 language families, as well as between linguistic, geographic, and cranial distances among eleven populations from Africa, Asia, and Australia. We take advantage of differential population history signals reflected by human cranial anatomy, where temporal bone shape reliably tracks deep population history and neutral genetic changes, while facial shape is more strongly associated with recent environmental effects. We show that linguistic distances are strongly geographically patterned, even within widely dispersed groups. However, they are correlated predominantly with facial, rather than temporal bone, morphology, suggesting that variation in vocabulary likely tracks relatively recent events and possibly population contact.

Original languageEnglish
Article number36645
JournalScientific Reports
StatePublished - Nov 11 2016

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© The Author(s) 2016.

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