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Comparison of worldwide phonemic and genetic variation in human populations

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  • Comparison of worldwide phonemic and genetic variation in human populations

    A little exotic for this venue, but in case someone else finds it interesting.

    A comparison of worldwide phonemic and genetic
    variation in human populations

    Worldwide patterns of genetic variation are driven by human
    demographic history. Here, we test whether this demographic
    history has left similar signatures on phonemes—sound units that
    distinguish meaning between words in languages—to those it has
    left on genes. We analyze, jointly and in parallel, phoneme inventories
    from 2,082 worldwide languages and microsatellite polymorphisms
    from 246 worldwide populations. On a global scale, both
    genetic distance and phonemic distance between populations are
    significantly correlated with geographic distance. Geographically
    close language pairs share significantly more phonemes than distant
    language pairs, whether or not the languages are closely related. The
    regional geographic axes of greatest phonemic differentiation correspond
    to axes of genetic differentiation, suggesting that there is
    a relationship between human dispersal and linguistic variation.
    However, the geographic distribution of phoneme inventory sizes
    does not follow the predictions of a serial founder effect during
    human expansion out of Africa. Furthermore, although geographically
    isolated populations lose genetic diversity via genetic drift,
    phonemes are not subject to drift in the same way: within a given
    geographic radius, languages that are relatively isolated exhibit
    more variance in number of phonemes than languages with many
    neighbors. This finding suggests that relatively isolated languages
    are more susceptible to phonemic change than languages with
    many neighbors. Within a language family, phoneme evolution
    along genetic, geographic, or cognate-based linguistic trees predicts
    similar ancestral phoneme states to those predicted from ancient
    sources. More genetic sampling could further elucidate the relative
    roles of vertical and horizontal transmission in phoneme evolution