View Full Version : Language diversity in California linked to ecological diversity

Jean M
08-21-2013, 06:44 PM

Anthropologists have puzzled for decades over why a complex patchwork of languages emerged in California thousands of years ago, but not in other parts of North America. New research now traces California’s linguistic diversity to its ecological diversity.

A study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the migrating tribes first settled along the state’s lush Pacific coast, then moved into progressively drier habitats farther inland, resulting in an array of language groups living alongside one another. Prehistoric California was home to speakers of about 64 distinct languages, according to the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

Earlier studies have shown an association between ecological and linguistic diversity, but anthropologists Brian Codding from the University of Utah and Terry Jones from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo wanted to understand how this diversity developed over time.

To that end, they tested a model of how people colonize landscapes, which behavioral ecologists first proposed around the 1970s. The model predicts that the greenest habitats will be settled first and have the densest populations, because of their ability to support more people. Later waves of migrants will settle in less suitable areas.

The study itself: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/08/13/1302008110.abstract

Brian F. Codding and Terry L. Jones, Environmental productivity predicts migration, demographic, and linguistic patterns in prehistoric California, PNAS, Published online before print August 19, 2013

Global patterns of ethnolinguistic diversity vary tremendously. Some regions show very little variation even across vast expanses, whereas others exhibit dense mosaics of different languages spoken alongside one another. Compared with the rest of Native North America, prehistoric California exemplified the latter. Decades of linguistic, genetic, and archaeological research have produced detailed accounts of the migrations that aggregated to build California’s diverse ethnolinguistic mosaic, but there have been few have attempts to explain the process underpinning these migrations and why such a mosaic did not develop elsewhere. Here we show that environmental productivity predicts both the order of migration events and the population density recorded at contact. The earliest colonizers occupied the most suitable habitats along the coast, whereas subsequent Mid–Late Holocene migrants settled in more marginal habitats. Other Late Holocene patterns diverge from this trend, reflecting altered dynamics linked to food storage and increased sedentism. Through repeated migration events, incoming populations replaced resident populations occurring at lower densities in lower-productivity habitats, thereby resulting in the fragmentation of earlier groups and the development of one of the most diverse ethnolinguistic patterns in the Americas. Such a process may account for the distribution of ethnolinguistic diversity worldwide.

08-21-2013, 06:48 PM
Thanks. This is one reason I think people should be paying more attention to plant and fauna refugia in Eurasia.