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Regular version of the site

Article

Exploring correlations in genetic and cultural variation across language families in northeast Asia

Science advances. 2021. Vol. 7. No. 34.
Matsumae H., Ranacher P., Savage P. E., Blasi D., Currie T. E., Koganebuchi K., Nishida N., Sato T., Tanabe H., Tajima A., Brown S., Stoneking M., Shimizu K. K., Oota H., Bickel B.

Culture evolves in ways that are analogous to, but distinct from, genomes. Previous studies examined similarities between cultural variation and genetic variation (population history) at small scales within language families, but few studies have empirically investigated these parallels across language families using diverse cultural data. We report an analysis comparing culture and genomes from in and around northeast Asia spanning 11 language families. We extract and summarize the variation in language (grammar, phonology, lexicon), music (song structure, performance style), and genomes (genome-wide SNPs) and test for correlations. We find that grammatical structure correlates with population history (genetic history). Recent contact and shared descent fail to explain the signal, suggesting relationships that arose before the formation of current families. Our results suggest that grammar might be a cultural indicator of population history while also demonstrating differences among cultural and genetic relationships that highlight the complex nature of human history.