Universiteit Leiden

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A global analysis of matches and mismatches between human genetic and linguistic histories

Tuesday 13 February 2024



Human history is written in both our genes and our languages. The extent to which our biological and linguistic histories are congruent has been the subject of considerable debate, with clear examples of both matches and mismatches. To disentangle patterns of demographic and cultural transmission we need a global systematic assessment of those matches and mismatches. In this talk, I will present gene-language studies at a local scale and at a cross-continental scale and contextualize them with their potentials and limitations. Local studies of genetic demographies from South America can be anchored with historical knowledge available. Global scale systematic surveys are performed with the genomic database GeLaTo (Genes and Languages Together), which has been assembled to provide a compatible resource for multidisciplinary studies on genetic, linguistic and cultural diversity. Geographic proximity and time frame compatibility are also considered, looking at different angles to describe mismatches and language shifts. While substantial genetic cohesiveness for speakers of related languages emerges, exceptions are essential to illuminate complex dynamics of cultural transmission. Further comparisons between demographic histories and language family sizes suggest that isolation and population expansions could have played a role in shaping the linguistic landscape.

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