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Curr Biol. 2015 Jan 5;25(1):1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.10.064. Epub 2014 Dec 18.

Detecting regular sound changes in linguistics as events of concerted evolution.

Author information

1
School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, PO Box 872402, Tempe, AZ 85287-2402, USA.
2
School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6BX, UK.
3
The Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA; Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study, George Mason University, Mail Stop 2A1, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030, USA.
4
The Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA; Ronin Institute, 127 Haddon Place, Montclair, NJ 07043, USA.
5
School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6BX, UK; The Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA. Electronic address: m.pagel@reading.ac.uk.
6
The Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA; T-2, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM 87545, USA. Electronic address: tanmoy@santafe.edu.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Concerted evolution is normally used to describe parallel changes at different sites in a genome, but it is also observed in languages where a specific phoneme changes to the same other phoneme in many words in the lexicon—a phenomenon known as regular sound change. We develop a general statistical model that can detect concerted changes in aligned sequence data and apply it to study regular sound changes in the Turkic language family.

RESULTS:

Linguistic evolution, unlike the genetic substitutional process, is dominated by events of concerted evolutionary change. Our model identified more than 70 historical events of regular sound change that occurred throughout the evolution of the Turkic language family, while simultaneously inferring a dated phylogenetic tree. Including regular sound changes yielded an approximately 4-fold improvement in the characterization of linguistic change over a simpler model of sporadic change, improved phylogenetic inference, and returned more reliable and plausible dates for events on the phylogenies. The historical timings of the concerted changes closely follow a Poisson process model, and the sound transition networks derived from our model mirror linguistic expectations.

CONCLUSIONS:

We demonstrate that a model with no prior knowledge of complex concerted or regular changes can nevertheless infer the historical timings and genealogical placements of events of concerted change from the signals left in contemporary data. Our model can be applied wherever discrete elements—such as genes, words, cultural trends, technologies, or morphological traits—can change in parallel within an organism or other evolving group.

PMID:
25532895
PMCID:
PMC4291143
DOI:
10.1016/j.cub.2014.10.064
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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