Genetics used to prove linguistic theories

November 04, 2005

Most comparisons of language and inherited traits consider whether genetic patterns conform with expected relationships observed by linguists. But few have considered the use of genetic data to support specific hypotheses raised by linguists regarding the relationships between language families.

In a forthcoming article in Current Anthropology, Francisco M. Salzano (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil) examines the proposals of three eminent linguists through the lens of genetic data. Using genetic information from thousands of subjects, Salzano and his co-authors compare the work of Cestmir Loukotka, Joseph H. Greenberg, and Aryon D. Rodrigues, all of whom have written about the relationships among the four most important lowland South American Native language families: Maipure, Carib, Tupi, and Je. "The approach seems useful to unravel the complex history of South Amerinds, a group which shows one of the largest language diversity in the world," writes Salzano.

The researchers employed different combinations of 37 blood groups plus protein genetic systems, as well as an additional set of 13 autosomal short tandem repeat polymorphisms (all markers of different portions of our genome). Their findings support Rodrigues' suggestion of a close connection between Carib and Tupi, with Je and Maipure showing more distant relationships.
-end-
Sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Current Anthropology is a highly respected transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. Communicating across the subfields, the journal features papers in a wide variety of areas, including social, cultural, and physical anthropology as well as ethnology and ethnohistory, archaeology and prehistory, folklore, and linguistics. For more information, please see our Web site: www.journals.uchicago.edu/CA.

Salzano, Francisco M.; Hutz, Mara H.; Salamoni, Sabrina P.; Rohr, Paula; and Callegari-Jacques, Sidia M. "Genetic Support to Proposed Patterns of Relationship Among Lowland South American Languages." Current Anthropology 46:5.

University of Chicago Press Journals

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