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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Jun 26;104(26):10944-9. Epub 2007 May 30.

Linguistic tone is related to the population frequency of the adaptive haplogroups of two brain size genes, ASPM and Microcephalin.

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1
School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh, 14 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh EH8 9LN, United Kingdom.

Abstract

The correlations between interpopulation genetic and linguistic diversities are mostly noncausal (spurious), being due to historical processes and geographical factors that shape them in similar ways. Studies of such correlations usually consider allele frequencies and linguistic groupings (dialects, languages, linguistic families or phyla), sometimes controlling for geographic, topographic, or ecological factors. Here, we consider the relation between allele frequencies and linguistic typological features. Specifically, we focus on the derived haplogroups of the brain growth and development-related genes ASPM and Microcephalin, which show signs of natural selection and a marked geographic structure, and on linguistic tone, the use of voice pitch to convey lexical or grammatical distinctions. We hypothesize that there is a relationship between the population frequency of these two alleles and the presence of linguistic tone and test this hypothesis relative to a large database (983 alleles and 26 linguistic features in 49 populations), showing that it is not due to the usual explanatory factors represented by geography and history. The relationship between genetic and linguistic diversity in this case may be causal: certain alleles can bias language acquisition or processing and thereby influence the trajectory of language change through iterated cultural transmission.

PMID:
17537923
PMCID:
PMC1904158
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.0610848104
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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