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Book Chapter

Linguistic and genetic diversity - how and why are they related?


Dediu,  Dan
Neurobiology of Language Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Language and Genetics Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Dediu, D. (2010). Linguistic and genetic diversity - how and why are they related? In M. Brüne, F. Salter, & W. McGrew (Eds.), Building bridges between anthropology, medicine and human ethology: Tributes to Wulf Schiefenhövel (pp. 169-178). Bochum: Europäischer Universitätsverlag.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0012-9E17-E
There are some 6000 languages spoken today, classfied in approximately 90 linguistic families and many isolates, and also differing across structural, typological, dimensions. Genetically, the human species is remarkably homogeneous, with the existant genetic diversity mostly explain by intra-population differences between individuals, but the remaining inter-population differences have a non-trivial structure. Populations splits and contacts influence both languages and genes, in principle allowing them to evolve in parallel ways. The farming/language co-dispersal hypothesis is a well-known such theory, whereby farmers spreading agriculture from its places of origin also spread their genes and languages. A different type of relationship was recently proposed, involving a genetic bias which influences the structural properties of language as it is transmitted across generations. Such a bias was proposed to explain the correlations between the distribution of tone languages and two brain development-related human genes and, if confirmed by experimental studies, it could represent a new factor explaining the distrbution of diversity. The present chapter overviews these related topics in the hope that a truly interdisciplinary approach could allow a better understanding of our complex (recent as well as evolutionary) history.