piazza-evolang6.doc - DIFFUSION OF GENES AND LANGUAGES IN...

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DIFFUSION OF GENES AND LANGUAGES IN HUMAN EVOLUTION ALBERTO PIAZZA Dipartimento di Genetica, Biologia e Biochimica, Università di Torino, via Santena 19, 10126 Torino, Italy [email protected] LUIGI CAVALLI SFORZA Department of Genetics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305,USA [email protected] In a study by Cavalli-Sforza et al. (1988), the spread of anatomically modern man was reconstructed on the basis of genetic and linguistic pieces of evidence: the main conclusion was that these two approaches reflect a common underlying history, the history of our past still frozen in the genes of modern populations. The expression `genetic history' was introduced (Piazza et al. 1988) to point out that if today we find many genes showing the same geographical patterns in terms of their frequencies, this may be due to the common history of our species. A deeper exploration of the whole problem can be found in Cavalli-Sforza et al. (1994). In the following, some specific cases of structural analogies between linguistic and genetic geographical patterns will be explored that supply further and more updated information. It is important to emphasize at the outset that evidence for coevolution of genes and languages in human populations does not suggest by itself that some genes of our species determine the way we speak; this coevolution may simply be due to a common mode of transmission and mutation of genetic and linguistic units of information and common constraints of demographic factors. 1. The Genetic Analysis of a Linguistic Isolate: The Basques The case of the Basques, a European population living in the area of the Pyrenees on the border of Spain and France who still speak a non-Indo- European language, is paradigmatic. What are the genetic relations between the
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Basques and their surrounding modern populations, all of whom are Indo- European speakers? Almost half a century ago it was suggested (Bosch-Gimpera 1943) that the Basques are the descendants of the populations who lived in Western Europe during the late Paleolithic period. Their withdrawal to the area of the Pyrenees, probably caused by different waves of invasion, left the Basques untouched by the Eastern European invasions of the Iron Age. In their study of the geographic distribution of Rh blood groups, Chalmers et al. (1948) pointed out that the Rh negative allele, which is found almost exclusively in Europe, has its highest frequency among the Basques. Chalmers et al. hypothesized that modern Basques may consist of a Palaeolithic population with an extremely high Rh negative frequency, who later mixed with people from the Mediterranean area. In more recent times genetic analyses have produced the following conclusions: (a) Mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA polymorphisms support the idea that the Basques are genetically different from the other modern European populations (Richards et al., 2000, 2002; Semino et al. 2000).
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