Researchers confirm linguistic theory with genetic comparison

Psychologists, sociologists and linguists: Tremble in your boots. The natural sciences are coming to test you, so streamline those data collection methods, tighten those error margins and pray for your publishable or perishable souls.

In an upcoming article in Current Anthropology, researchers from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, Brazil evaluate three linguistic theories via genetic analysis. The group conducted their analysis using the hypothesis that there must be a relationship between the genetic similarity and linguistic similarity of populations. It turns out that, according to coauthor Sidia Callegari-Jacques, genes and languages are transmitted differently: Genes only pass vertically, from one generation to the next, while languages can be transmitted horizontally, between contemporaries.

“Even if there is not a one-to-one relationship between these transmissions, we thought there are enough similarities to use genetic data to test linguistic hypotheses,” Callegari-Jacques said via e-mail. “With this reasoning, genetic data could serve as external evidence to test linguistic hypotheses.

Originally published November 18, 2005

Tags communication genetics research

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