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Thread: Ancient connections of Native American languages (& also of other language families)

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    Ancient connections of Native American languages (& also of other language families)

    It is an older study but nonetheless an interesting one:

    Language is the best example of a cultural evolutionary system, able to retain a phylogenetic signal over many thousands of years. The temporal stability (conservatism) of basic vocabulary is relatively well understood, but the stability of the structural properties of language (phonology, morphology, syntax) is still unclear. Here we report an extensive Bayesian phylogenetic investigation of the structural stability of numerous features across many language families and we introduce a novel method for analyzing the relationships between the 'stability profiles' of language families. We found that there is a strong universal component across language families, suggesting the existence of universal linguistic, cognitive and genetic constraints. Against this background, however, each language family has a distinct stability profile, and these profiles cluster by geographic area and likely deep genealogical relationships. These stability profiles seem to show, for example, the ancient historical relationships between the Siberian and American language families, presumed to be separated by at least 12,000 years, and possible connections between the Eurasian families. We also found preliminary support for the punctuated evolution of structural features of language across families, types of features and geographic areas. Thus, such higher-level properties of language seen as an evolutionary system might allow the investigation of ancient connections between languages and shed light on the peopling of the world.

    Some Patterns Suggest Possible Ancient Relatedness

    The results are intriguing and could provide support for some proposed macro-families on a large scale. The permutation test found that the stability profiles of the American language families are much more similar than expected by chance (p~0:0003) and this holds even after controlling for geography (p~2:7:10{8), a result found using all 5 methods for combining p-values; Table 2 (please note that as discussed in the Methods section, most cases where controlling for geography results in a much lower p-value, are artifacts of our conservative approach of picking the highest combined p-value). Moreover, South American families also form a coherent sub-group (p~0:0054; 5 methods) even after controlling for geography (p~0:00018; 5 methods), while North American families form their own subgroup only when not controlling for geography (p~0:018, 5 methods and p~0:072, 2 methods, respectively). Importantly, the Siberian language families (comprising Chukotko-Kamchatkan, Tungusic and Yukaghir; see Materials S1) group robustly with the Americas (p~0:00022, 5 methods and, after taking geography into account, p~0:00096, 5

    In particular, Siberia clusters especially with North America (p~0:00039, 5 methods and 0:034, 4 methods after controlling for geography) and with South America (p~0:02, 5 methods, and 0:014, 5 methods when controlling for geography).

    Africa shows a suggestion of forming a coherent group (p~0:074, 3 methods), but this evaporates when controlling for geography (p~0:39, 0 methods).

    Probably the best known proposal for a macro-family is represented by the various versions of Nostratic (see [44] for a critical assessment) covering several Eurasian and North African language families. We found no evidence for a version of Nostratic comprising Afro-Asiatic, Indo-European, Dravidian and Uralic (‘‘Nostratic v2’’ in Table 1; p~0:24, 0 methods, and p~0:77, 0 methods, when controlling for geography), but there is a positive indication for another version of Nostratic comprising Altaic (or Mongolic + Turkic), Indo-European and Uralic (‘‘Nostratic v1’’ in Table 1; p~0:011, 5 methods, and p~0:13, 3 methods, when controlling for geography). Interestingly, a comparable indication seems to hold for the whole of Eurasia (p~0:036, 5 methods, and p~0:70, 3 methods, when controlling for geography). Quite convincing is the evidence that Core Eurasian families (comprising Altaic – or Mongolic + Turkic –, Dravidian, Indo-European, Uralic and the Caucasian families) might form a group (p~0:0013, 5 methods, and p~0:094, 4 methods, when controlling for geography). There is a weak signal characterizing the set of so-called ‘Papuan’ families, where ‘Papuan’ just means non-Austronesian languages in the greater New Guinea areas (p~0:042, 4 methods, but not supported by any method after controlling for geography).

    Moreover, there is no evidence at all for Australia forming a coherent cluster, nor for groupings such as Papuan + Australian, and South-East Asian + Austronesian.

    Finally, Reid’s [47] controversial proposal suggests that the Tai-Kadai and Austronesian language families are related forming the Austro-Tai group; we found a weak suggestion for this hypothesis (p~0:070, 3 methods, and p~0:12, 3 methods, when controlling for geography).
    Last edited by Piquerobi; 04-29-2020 at 12:38 AM.

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