Evolutionary forces in language change depend on selective pressure, but also on random chance


A new interesting paper from Nature: Detecting evolutionary forces in language change, by Newberry, Ahern, Clark, and Plotkin (2017). Discovered via Science Daily.

The following are excerpts of materials related to the publication (written by Katherine Unger Baillie), from The University of Pennsylvania:

Examining substantial collections of annotated texts dating from the 12th to the 21st centuries, the researchers found that certain linguistic changes were guided by pressures analogous to natural selection — social, cognitive and other factors — while others seem to have occurred purely by happenstance.

“Linguists usually assume that when a change occurs in a language, there must have been a directional force that caused it,” said Joshua Plotkin, professor of biology in Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences and senior author on the paper. “Whereas we propose that languages can also change through random chance alone. An individual happens to hear one variant of a word as opposed to another and then is more likely to use it herself. Chance events like this can accumulate to produce substantial change over generations. Before we debate what psychological or social forces have caused a language to change, we must first ask whether there was any force at all.”

“One of the great early American linguists, Leonard Bloomfield, said that you can never see a language change, that the change is invisible,” said Robin Clark, a coauthor and professor of linguistics in Penn Arts and Sciences. “But now, because of the availability of these large corpora of texts, we can actually see it, in microscopic detail, and begin to understand the details of how change happened.”

One change is the regularization of past-tense verbs. Using the Corpus of Historical American English, comprised of more than 100,000 texts ranging from 1810 to 2009 that have been parsed and digitized — a database that includes more than 400 million words — the team searched for verbs where both regular and irregular past-tense forms were present, for example, “dived” and “dove” or “wed” and “wedded.”

“There is a vast literature and a lot of mythology on verb regularization and irregularization,” Clark said, “and a lot of people have claimed that the tendency is toward regularization. But what we found was quite different.”

Indeed, the analysis pointed to particular instances where it seems selective forces are driving irregularization. For example, while a swimmer 200 years ago might have “dived”, today we would say they “dove.” The shift towards using this irregular form coincided with the invention of cars and concomitant increase in use of the rhyming irregular verb “drive”/“drove.”

Despite finding selection acting on some verbs, “the vast majority of verbs we analyzed show no evidence of selection whatsoever,” Plotkin said.

The team recognized a pattern: random chance affects rare words more than common ones. When rarely-used verbs changed, that replacement was more likely to be due to chance. But when more common verbs switched forms, selection was more likely to be a factor driving the replacement.

The grammar of negating a sentence has changed from “Ic ne secge” (Beowulf, c. 900) to “Ic ne sege noht” (the Ormulum, c. 1100) to “I seye not” (Chaucer, c. 1400) to “I doe not say” (Shakespeare, c. 1600) before returning to the familiar “I don’t say” (Virginia Woolf, c. 1900). A team from Penn used massive digital libraries along with inference techniques from population genetics to quantify the forces responsible for language evolution, such as in Jespersen’s cycle of negation, depicted here. (c) Cherissa Dukelow, 2017, license information below

The authors also observed a role of random chance in grammatical change. The periphrastic “do,” as used in, “Do they say?” or “They do not say,” did not exist 800 years ago. Back in the 1400s, these sentiments would have been expressed as, “Say they?” or “They say not.”

Using the Penn Parsed Corpora of Historical English, which includes 7 million syntactically parsed words from 1,220 British English texts, the researchers found that the use of the periphrastic “do” emerged in two stages, first in questions (“Don’t they say?”) around the 1500s, and then roughly 200 years later in imperative and declarative statements (“They don’t say.”).

These manuscripts show changes from Old English (Beowulf) through Middle English (Trinity Homilies, Chaucer) to Early Modern English (Shakespeare’s First Folio). Penn researchers used large collections of digitized texts spanning the 12th to the 21st centuries to show that many language changes can be attributed to random chance alone. (c) Mitchell Newberry, 2017, license information below

While most linguists have assumed that such a distinctive grammatical feature must have been driven to dominance by some selective pressure, the Penn team’s analysis questions that assumption. They found that the first stage of the rising periphrastic “do” use is consistent with random chance. Only the second stage appears to have been driven by a selective pressure.

“It seems that, once ‘do’ was introduced in interrogative phrases, it randomly drifted to higher and higher frequency over time,” said Plotkin. “Then, once it became dominant in the question context, it was selected for in other contexts, the imperative and declarative, probably for reasons of grammatical consistency or cognitive ease.”

As the authors see it, it’s only natural that social-science fields like linguistics increasingly exchange knowledge and techniques with fields like statistics and biology.

“To an evolutionary biologist,” said Newberry, “it’s important that language is maintained through a process of copying language; people learn language by copying other people. That copying introduces minute variation, and those variants get propagated. Each change is an opportunity for a different copying rate, which is the basis for evolution as we know it.”

Featured image: copyrighted, modified from the Supplementary information of the article.

Image (c) Cherissa Dukelow, 2017, licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/
Image (c) Mitchell Newberry, 2017, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/, licensed under CC-BY-NC 4.0 (see materials at University of Pennsylvania for further sources).


The Tollense Valley battlefield: the North European ‘Trojan war’ that hints to western Balto-Slavic origins


It was reported long ago that genetic studies were being made on remains of a surprisingly big battle that happened in the Tollense valley in north-eastern Germany, at the confluence between Nordic, Tumulus/Urnfield, and Proto-Lusatian/Lusatian territories, ca. 1200 BC.

At least 130 bodies and 5 horses have been identified from the bones found. Taking into account that this is a small percentage of the potential battlefield, around 750 bodies are expected to be buried in the riverbank, so an estimated 4,000-strong army fought there, accounting for one in five participants killed and left on the battlefield.

Tollense riverbank
The river Tollense near the village Weltzin in the district Demmin (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany). From Wikipedia

Body armour, shields, helmet, and corselet used may have needed training and specialised groups of warriors, with their organisation being a display of military force. According to Kristiansen , this battle is therefore unlike any other known conflict of this period north of the Alps – circumscribed to raids by small groups of young men –, and may have heralded a radical change in the north, from individual farmsteads and a low population density to heavily fortified settlements.

The Urnfield culture (ca. 1300-750 BC) is associated with the rise of a new warrior elite, and the formation of new farming settlements and their urnfields. In some areas there is continuity from Tumulus to Urnfield culture, with narrowing and concentration of settlements along the river valleys, but there is also wide-ranging migrations. These migrations are similar to those seen later in the La Tène culture. This period is also coincident with the time of the mythical battle of Troy, with the collapse of the Mycenaean civilisation, and with the raids of Sea People in Egypt, and the marauders of the Hittites.

Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 1250-750 BC, with the site of the Tollense valley marked.

Chemical traces already suggested that warriors fighting in Tollense came from far away, with only a few showing values typical of the northern European plain. A recently published PhD dissertation, Addressing challenges of ancient DNA sequence data obtained with next generation methods, by Christian Sell (2017) has not confirmed this:

The majority of sampled individuals fall within the variation of contemporary northern central European samples (including Nordic Late Neolithic and Bronze Age and Únětice samples); however, there are also some outliers closer to Neolithic LBK and modern Basques, suggesting that central and western European cultures were still at that time closely interconnected, continuing thus the connections created during the Bell Beaker expansion a thousand years earlier. The genetic similarity of most samples to modern western Slavic populations (as well as Austrians and Scots) gives support to the origin of Balto-Slavic in Bronze Age north-central Europe, and more specifically in the Lusatian culture.

PCA of samples from Tollense Valley battlefield. Welzin samples cluster closely to East German and Polish samples.

The Indo-European demic diffusion model supports the origin of Pre-Balto-Slavic in north-central Europe, with Únětice and Mierzanowice/Nitra groups as its potential homeland, from a common North-West Indo-European parent language (expanded through East Bell Beaker). Proto-Lusatian is therefore the best candidate for its initial development, and Lusatian for its eastern expansion, before its separation into its two main dialects (or maybe three, if Baltic is to be divded in two branches).

In fact, scarce aDNA from late Urnfield populations from its north-eastern territories, in Saxony – near the Lusatian culture –, already show a mixture of lineages, which suggest genetic continuity with older cultures (or more likely a resurge) after the Bell Beaker expansions: R1a1a1b1a-Z282 lineage was found in Halberstadt (ca. 1085 BC), and of the eight males studied from the Lichtenstein cave (ca. 1000 BC), five were of haplogroup I2a2b-L38, two of haplogroup R1a1-M459, and one of haplogroup R1b-M343.

Regarding modern populations, the eastern and western peaks in R1a1a1b1a1-M458 lineages might support a west-east migration, as well as an east-west migration, and indeed both in different periods, which is expected to be found if Lusatian is linked to the initial eastward expansion of Balto-Slavic during the Bronze and Iron Ages, and later younger subclades are linked to the West Slavic expansion to the west during Antiquity.

Map rendered in pseudocolours for R-M458 frequencies, data derived from Underhill et al. (2014). Positions of boundaries (NE,NW,C,etc) are approximate. Variation of N and S. Caucasus region of Russia rendered as stripes showing range of variation in the region. From Wikipedia.

Now, if this is so, then we have to accept that these territories of north-central Europe (between East Germany and Poland), occupied earlier by Corded Ware cultures, adopted Balto-Slavic only after the Bell Beaker expansion; therefore, models arguing for Balto-Slavic origins in east European late Corded Ware groups (or heir cultures), like Trzciniec, Chornoles, Bilozerska, or Milograd (see e.g. the article on Wikipedia) have to be rejected. We also know that Pre-Germanic could have only formed in the Nordic Late Neolithic, after the cultural unification of the Dagger Period, heraled by the arrival of Bell Beakers; and that Indo-Iranian was the language of the Sintashta-Petrovka culture, which had absorbed the previous (Yamna-related) Poltavka culture.

Diachronic map of Late Copper Age migrations including Classical Bell Beaker (east group) expansion from central Europe ca. 2600-2250 BC

But, if Indo-European was only spoken at both ends of territories previously occupied by Corded Ware cultures – stretching from Scandinavia to the Urals, including the Baltic region… what language did Corded Ware peoples actually speak? The most likely one? Uralic, indeed.


Forces driving grammatical change are different to those driving lexical change

Grammar change

A new paper at PNAS, Evolutionary dynamics of language systems, by Greenhill et al. (2017).


Do different aspects of language evolve in different ways? Here, we infer the rates of change in lexical and grammatical data from 81 languages of the Pacific. We show that, in general, grammatical features tend to change faster and have higher amounts of conflicting signal than basic vocabulary. We suggest that subsystems of language show differing patterns of dynamics and propose that modeling this rate variation may allow us to extract more signal, and thus trace language history deeper than has been previously possible.


Understanding how and why language subsystems differ in their evolutionary dynamics is a fundamental question for historical and comparative linguistics. One key dynamic is the rate of language change. While it is commonly thought that the rapid rate of change hampers the reconstruction of deep language relationships beyond 6,000–10,000 y, there are suggestions that grammatical structures might retain more signal over time than other subsystems, such as basic vocabulary. In this study, we use a Dirichlet process mixture model to infer the rates of change in lexical and grammatical data from 81 Austronesian languages. We show that, on average, most grammatical features actually change faster than items of basic vocabulary. The grammatical data show less schismogenesis, higher rates of homoplasy, and more bursts of contact-induced change than the basic vocabulary data. However, there is a core of grammatical and lexical features that are highly stable. These findings suggest that different subsystems of language have differing dynamics and that careful, nuanced models of language change will be needed to extract deeper signal from the noise of parallel evolution, areal readaptation, and contact.

This is in line with the studies by Bendt, like Adaptive Communication: Languages with More Non-Native Speakers Tend to Have Fewer Word Forms, which suggest a simplification of grammar with language contact.

It might then give further support to my proposal of Uralic as the Corded Ware substrate – common to Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian -, since they are the only Late Indo-European branches that clearly retain the grammatical complexity in word forms, which – together with their shared phonetic isoglosses (also present partially between Balto-Slavic and Germanic) -, put them nearer to a complex, potentially related Uralic (or other Indo-Uralic) branch.

On the other hand, the finding of a greater stability of lexicon gives further support to the concept of a North-West Indo-European group, since one of its foundations (the main one originally) is the shared vocabulary between Italo-Celtic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic.

Featured image: from the article (copyrighted), “Map showing locations of languages in this study. The phylogenies show the maximum clade credibility tree of the Austronesian languages in our sample. Each phylogeny is colored by the average rate of change, with branches showing more change colored redder, while bluer branches show reductions in rate. Branches with significant shifts are annotated with an asterisk, and the languages showing significantly different rates of change in their grammatical data are located on the map”.


New preprint papers on Finland’s population history and disease, skin pigmentation in Africa, and genetic variation in Thailand hunter-gatherers


New and interesting research these days in BioRxiv:

Haplotype sharing provides insights into fine-scale population history and disease in Finland, by Martín et al. (2017):

Finland provides unique opportunities to investigate population and medical genomics because of its adoption of unified national electronic health records, detailed historical and birth records, and serial population bottlenecks. We assemble a comprehensive view of recent population history (≤100 generations), the timespan during which most rare disease-causing alleles arose, by comparing pairwise haplotype sharing from 43,254 Finns to geographically and linguistically adjacent countries with different population histories, including 16,060 Swedes, Estonians, Russians, and Hungarians. We find much more extensive sharing in Finns, with at least one ≥ 5 cM tract on average between pairs of unrelated individuals. By coupling haplotype sharing with fine-scale birth records from over 25,000 individuals, we find that while haplotype sharing broadly decays with geographical distance, there are pockets of excess haplotype sharing; individuals from northeast Finland share several-fold more of their genome in identity-by-descent (IBD) segments than individuals from southwest regions containing the major cities of Helsinki and Turku. We estimate recent effective population size changes over time across regions of Finland and find significant differences between the Early and Late Settlement Regions as expected; however, our results indicate more continuous gene flow than previously indicated as Finns migrated towards the northernmost Lapland region. Lastly, we show that haplotype sharing is locally enriched among pairs of individuals sharing rare alleles by an order of magnitude, especially among pairs sharing rare disease causing variants. Our work provides a general framework for using haplotype sharing to reconstruct an integrative view of recent population history and gain insight into the evolutionary origins of rare variants contributing to disease.

Migration rates and haplotype sharing within Finland and between neighboring countries. A) Map of regional Finnish, Swedish, and Estonian birthplaces Purple triangle indicates St. Petersburg, Russia. Hungary not shown. 1 Finnish, Swedish, and Estonian region labels are shown in Table S3. B) Principal components analysis (PCA) of unrelated individuals, colored by birth region as shown in A) if available or country otherwise. C-D) Migration rates inferred with EEMS. Values and colors indicate inferred rates, for example with +1 (shades of blue) indicating an order of magnitude more migration at a given point on average, and shades of orange indicating migration barriers. C) Migration rates among municipalities in Finland. D) Migration rates within and between Finland, Sweden, Estonia, and St. Petersburg, Russia. Available under a CC-BY 4.0 International license.

Interesting to understand this paper is the whole research published by the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM): their website contains detailed research on Finland’s recent genetic history.

NOTE: The featured image of this article contains three figures from the FIMM (License CC-BY 4.0). Left: Position of the points represents the locations of 1042 Finnish individuals. By clustering the individuals into two groups based on genome data we see a split between eastern (blue) and western (red) parts. Individuals who show considerable relatedness to both groups have been colored with cyan. Both parents of each individual were born close to each other and based on the parents’ birth years we can infer that we are looking at the genetic structure present in Finland before 1950s. Center: An estimated borderline of the Treaty of Nöteborg on top of the map from the left. The border line is drawn between Jääski (28.92 N, 61.04 E) and Pyhäjoki (24.26 N, 64.46 E). Right: The settlement border divides Finland into the early settlement region (to west and south of the border) and the late settlement region (to east and north of the border) (Jutikkala 1933, s. 91). We see that Southern Savo (in south-eastern part of the early settlement) is among the only parts of the early settlement region that is dominated by the eastern genetic group. Information from Matti Pirinen and Sini Kerminen, 24.5.2017.

An Unexpectedly Complex Architecture for Skin Pigmentation in Africans, by Martin et al (2017):

Fewer than 15 genes have been directly associated with skin pigmentation variation in humans, leading to its characterization as a relatively simple trait. However, by assembling a global survey of quantitative skin pigmentation phenotypes, we demonstrate that pigmentation is more complex than previously assumed with genetic architecture varying by latitude. We investigate polygenicity in the Khoe and the San, populations indigenous to southern Africa, who have considerably lighter skin than equatorial Africans. We demonstrate that skin pigmentation is highly heritable, but that known pigmentation loci explain only a small fraction of the variance. Rather, baseline skin pigmentation is a complex, polygenic trait in the KhoeSan. Despite this, we identify canonical and non-canonical skin pigmentation loci, including near SLC24A5, TYRP1, SMARCA2/VLDLR, and SNX13 using a genome-wide association approach complemented by targeted resequencing. By considering diverse, under-studied African populations, we show how the architecture of skin pigmentation can vary across humans subject to different local evolutionary pressures.

Contrasting maternal and paternal genetic variation of hunter-gatherer groups in Thailand, by Kutanan et al. (2017):

The Maniq and Mlabri are the only recorded nomadic hunter-gatherer groups in Thailand. Here, we sequenced complete mitochondrial (mt) DNA genomes and ~2.364 Mbp of non-recombining Y chromosome (NRY) to learn more about the origins of these two enigmatic populations. Both groups exhibited low genetic diversity compared to other Thai populations, and contrasting patterns of mtDNA and NRY diversity: there was greater mtDNA diversity in the Maniq than in the Mlabri, while the converse was true for the NRY. We found basal uniparental lineages in the Maniq, namely mtDNA haplogroups M21a, R21 and M17a, and NRY haplogroup K. Overall, the Maniq are genetically similar to other negrito groups in Southeast Asia. By contrast, the Mlabri haplogroups (B5a1b1 for mtDNA and O1b1a1a1b and O1b1a1a1b1a1 for the NRY) are common lineages in Southeast Asian non-negrito groups, and overall the Mlabri are genetically similar to their linguistic relatives (Htin and Khmu) and other groups from northeastern Thailand. In agreement with previous studies of the Mlabri, our results indicate that the Malbri do not directly descend from the indigenous negritos. Instead, they likely have a recent origin (within the past 1,000 years) by an extreme founder event (involving just one maternal and two paternal lineages) from an agricultural group, most likely the Htin or a closely-related group.


Why we shouldn’t care about the fixation of Neo-Nazis with the Middle Ages

People are obsessed with what racists, white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, etc. use to cover their ignorance, to hide their lack of political or social arguments, and to boost their pathologically low self-confidence. Now it seems to be the Middle Ages.

Some time ago I already read about this new trend, but I didn’t care. For me, as a supporter of a revival of Indo-European as a modern language, it was a relief that their fixation was somewhere different than Indo-Europeans.

The usual false syllogism for Indo-European questions goes Right populists support the supremacy of Aryans, ergo supporting the existence of expansions/language/social customs/etc. of Indo-Europeans means supporting Aryan supremacy. You can see the immediate association by the general population of Indo-European matters with Aryan supremacy by looking for information on Indo-European + white supremacy/Aryans/nazism, etc. on the Internet.

If you do that search, you might read a lot of right populist crap using Indo-European matters to support their ideas. You might even begin to associate one with the other, because it seems as if research on Indo-European questions somehow boosted those extremist ideals, right? If you think that, you are obviously part of the problem.

Apart from Aryans, Nazis have had fixations with ancient symbols (like the Swastika or Celtic symbolism), neo-paganism, the Roman Empire, the western European ‘heir empires of Rome’ that ensued, Catholicism, Germanic peoples, Romans, Greeks, Slavs, whiteness, blondness, Neanderthals…

And all of this has come at a cost for anyone involved or interested in any of those themes. It is only natural that Nazis evolve; just like shit decays, they move on. However,their interest about medieval times is not new (as is clear from the featured image of this post, and other propaganda from the time); it is just stronger now.

Now I see some medieval scholars complaining, in Twitter and in the news, calling for all to do something to protect the field of Medieval Studies.

But why? Why should we care about those who will regard medieval historians as tainted with Nazism? About you being called a Nazi, about people tacitly suggesting that you support their ideas? What have you done to protect Indo-Europeanists from the accusations, from the name-calling, from the shame?

Perhaps more importantly: now that you have become aware of this problem for the study of the western Middle Ages… What have you planned to do to help Indo-European studies once you are free from that yoke, that presumption of guilt? Probably nothing, you just care about yourselves. We all do.

I think it might be actually beneficial for Academia if more scholars suffer the same discrimination, if Nazis keep widening their areas of interest, so that we can all just ignore a simplistic and overused Nazi-shaming by stupid critics.

I don’t recall anyone defending Indo-Europeanists from those playing the Nazi card. The most recent example I know is the discussion around Lazaridis et al. (2017) paper, on Minoans and Mycenaeans. Some outrage from those involved in Human Evolutionary Biology (read the comments), but not too much from the rest of the world; too much concern this year about poor medievalists to care, I suppose.

You might not remember the infinite other times when you didn’t care about us being called Nazis because of our interest in (or writings about) our beloved academic field. But we do. And if you are complaining now, you certainly knew what was happening (what is happening), because how else could you know what this new love of right populists means for Medieval History, the shit it will bring?

Now your turn has come to enjoy the populace’s unending ad Nazium arguments. Publish anything about the social life in the Mediaevum, about medieval wars, religion, peoples, languages, symbols, etc., and just about anything that does not follow perfect political correctness will get you publicly shamed. Publish anything remotely interesting, and populist sites will publicise and manipulate your words, and critics and journalists will destroy your work by using populists’ words to describe it, not yours.

But, really, you shouldn’t care about the automatic association of your field with Nazis, about the unending insults, about the tacit (and oftentimes also explicit) link they will make of your work with Nazi ideas.

Just take a look at Indo-European studies. Not many Nazis have felt inclined to study (this or any other subject) because of their historical fixation with Aryans, so fear not, they will not take over your scholarships. However, their fixation has been a great filter for our field, to get rid of the weak of the heart, of those who care too much about what other people think, of those who are not convinced that this is what they want to do.

It seems to me that Indo-European studies have fewer scholars than it should, compared to other (in my humble opinion less promising or interesting) subjects, but the community is strong. Not much fuck is given about political correctness when publishing theories and models on the spread of Indo-Europeans, on their myths and customs, on their language. ‘Patrilocality’, ‘violent conquest’, ‘migration of peoples’, ‘women exchange’, ‘slavery’, are common (otherwise unpopular) words to describe their history and evolution, their ancestry, and they are becoming popular to describe anthropological evolution in general. We are in a privileged position to observe reality, and also the stupid political correctness of many.

Also, you might find comfort when passing this moment of truth professionally and personally knowing that, in the future, another field – whose scholars don’t give a fuck now about your popular shaming – will be their love object, and you will be able to tell them what I am telling you now.

Welcome to the dark side!

(EDIT 9/SEP/2017) I just realized that most (tacit or explicit) Nazi-shaming come from people within the field, who are obviously the ones interested in what you write. It is without a doubt the easiest way to criticise the work of your peers, who won’t need to do their research and answer formally with careful investigation. So good luck with that too!

Human ancestry solves language questions? New admixture citebait


A paper at Scientific Reports, Human ancestry correlates with language and reveals that race is not an objective genomic classifier, by Baker, Rotimi, and Shriner (2017).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Genetic and archaeological studies have established a sub-Saharan African origin for anatomically modern humans with subsequent migrations out of Africa. Using the largest multi-locus data set known to date, we investigated genetic differentiation of early modern humans, human admixture and migration events, and relationships among ancestries and language groups. We compiled publicly available genome-wide genotype data on 5,966 individuals from 282 global samples, representing 30 primary language families. The best evidence supports 21 ancestries that delineate genetic structure of present-day human populations. Independent of self-identified ethno-linguistic labels, the vast majority (97.3%) of individuals have mixed ancestry, with evidence of multiple ancestries in 96.8% of samples and on all continents. The data indicate that continents, ethno-linguistic groups, races, ethnicities, and individuals all show substantial ancestral heterogeneity. We estimated correlation coefficients ranging from 0.522 to 0.962 between ancestries and language families or branches. Ancestry data support the grouping of Kwadi-Khoe, Kx’a, and Tuu languages, support the exclusion of Omotic languages from the Afroasiatic language family, and do not support the proposed Dené-Yeniseian language family as a genetically valid grouping. Ancestry data yield insight into a deeper past than linguistic data can, while linguistic data provide clarity to ancestry data.

Regarding European ancestry:

Southern European ancestry correlates with both Italic and Basque speakers (r = 0.764, p = 6.34 × 10−49). Northern European ancestry correlates with Germanic and Balto-Slavic branches of the Indo-European language family as well as Finno-Ugric and Mordvinic languages of the Uralic family (r = 0.672, p = 4.67 × 10−34). Italic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic are all branches of the Indo-European language family, while the correlation with languages of the Uralic family is consistent with an ancient migration event from Northern Asia into Northern Europe. Kalash ancestry is widely spread but is the majority ancestry only in the Kalash people (Table S3). The Kalasha language is classified within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family.

Sure, admixture analysis came to save the day. Yet again. Now it’s not just Archaeology related to language anymore, it’s Linguistics; all modern languages and their classification, no less. Because why the hell not? Why would anyone study languages, history, archaeology, etc. when you can run certain algorithms on free datasets of modern populations to explain everything?

What I am criticising here, as always, is not the study per se, its methods (PCA, the use of Admixture or any other tools), or its results, which might be quite interesting – even regarding the origin or position of certain languages (or more precisely their speakers) within their linguistic groups; it’s the many broad, unsupported, striking conclusions (read the article if you want to see more wishful thinking).

This is obviously simplistic citebait – that benefits only journals and authors, and it is therefore tacitly encouraged -, but not knowledge, because it is not supported by any linguistic or archaeological data or expertise.

Is anyone with a minimum knowledge of languages, or general anthropology, actually reviewing these articles?


Featured image: Ancestry analysis of the global data set, from the article.