Mapping the Link Between Linguistic Diversity and Genes

Elizabeth Borneman

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Researchers are studying the link between language and genetics in a recent series of collaborations between European universities.

Academics from the University of York, the University of Ferrara, the University of Modena, and the University of Reggio Emilia are working together to strengthen the link between genetics and the languages people speak.

Linguistic and genetic diversity are linked

The studies have shown that linguistic diversity  is also a determining factor of genetic diversity.

Although European languages are currently the only ones under the radar, the researchers hope to add additional languages around the world in the future.


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The difference in languages that people speak is a greater predictor of genetic diversity than the physical geography of languages.

Europa Polyglotta (1741) by  Gottfried Hensel.  Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Europa Polyglotta (1741) by Gottfried Hensel. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Researchers study the linguistic history of populations; for instance French, Spanish and Italian have very close linguistic ties to one another, while languages like Russian are much different. These linguistic histories and differences can determine the genetic differences between populations of people.

Exceptions to this linguistic trend

There are some unique cases that deviate from this trend.

For instance, Hungarian is a language without close ties to the language groups around it. Hungarian was likely brought in by a conquering people and was picked up by locals, meaning it isn’t quite the genetic marker other languages are. This is an important distinction in this area of study.

This research puts into question the diffusion of language across populations of people. Rather than a language slowly moving and changing from people group to people group, these languages actually travel with a specific group as it migrates. The genetics of that particular group are then spread as well.

Geneticists could, in the future, be able to observe the unique genetic differences of a group of people based on the language they speak rather than the geographic area they come from. This genetic research has implications for health as well as tracking future linguistic trends in the population.

Reference

Longobardi, G., Ghirotto, S., Guardiano, C., Tassi, F., Benazzo, A., Ceolin, A., & Barbujani, G. (2015). Across language families: Genome diversity mirrors linguistic variation within Europe. American journal of physical anthropology157(4), 630-640. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.22758

Mapping the world’s linguistic diversity—scientists discover links between your genes and the language you speak – phys.org

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About the author
Elizabeth Borneman
My name is Elizabeth Borneman and I am a freelance writer, reader, and coffee drinker. I live on a small island in Alaska, which gives me plenty of time to fish, hike, kayak, and be inspired by nature. I enjoy writing about the natural world and find lots of ways to flex my creative muscles on the beach, in the forest, or down at the local coffee shop.