Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Mother tongue comes from your prehistoric father

Date:
September 17, 2011
Source:
University of Cambridge
Summary:
Language change among our prehistoric ancestors came about via the arrival of immigrant men -- rather than women -- into new settlements, according to new research.

New research suggests that language change among our prehistoric ancestors came about via the arrival of immigrant men -- rather than women -- into new settlements.
Credit: TheStockCube / Fotolia

Language change among our prehistoric ancestors came about via the arrival of immigrant men -- rather than women -- into new settlements, according to new research.

Related Articles


The claim is made by two University of Cambridge academics, Peter Forster and Colin Renfrew, in a report to be published in Science on September 9.

They studied the instances of genetic markers (the male Y chromosome and female mtDNA) from several thousand individuals in communities around the world that seem to show the emergence globally of sex-specific transmission of language.

From Scandinavian Vikings who ferried kidnapped British women to Iceland -- to African, Indian and Polynesian tribes, a pattern has emerged which appears to show that the arrival of men to particular geographic locations -- through either agricultural dispersal or the arrival of military forces -- can have a significant impact on what language is spoken there.

Professor Renfrew said: "It may be that during colonisation episodes by emigrating agriculturalists, men generally outnumber women in the pioneering groups and take wives from the local community.

"When the parents have different linguistic backgrounds, it may often be the language of the father which is dominant within the family group."

Dr Forster, of Murray Edwards College, also pointed to the fact that men have a greater variance in offspring than women -- they are more likely to father children with different mothers than vice versa. This has been recorded both in prehistoric tribes such as the 19th and 20th century Polar Eskimos from Greenland and in historic figures like Genghis Khan, who is believed to have fathered hundreds of children.

Indeed, his Y chromosome is carried by 0.5 per cent of the world's male population today.

Perhaps the most striking example of sex-biased language change however comes from a genetic study on the prehistoric encounter of expanding Polynesians with resident Melanesians in New Guinea and the neighbouring Admiralty Islands. The New Guinean coast contains pockets of Polynesian-speaking areas separated by Melanesian areas. The Polynesian mtDNA level (40-50%) is similar in these areas regardless of language, whereas the Y chromosome correlates strongly with the presence of Polynesian languages.

Past studies have shown similar findings in the Indian subcontinent among the speakers of Tibeto-Burman and among the immigrant Indo-European languages as opposed to indigenous Dravidian languages.

In the Americas, too, language replacement in the course of postulated farming dispersal has also been found to correlate for the Uto-Aztecan language family.

Added Forster: "Whether in European, Indian, Chinese or other languages, the expression 'mother tongue' and its concept is firmly embedded in popular imagination -- perhaps this is the reason why for so many years the role of fathers, or more likely, specific groups of successful males, in determining prehistoric language switches has not been recognised by geneticists."

"Prehistoric women may have more readily adopted the language of immigrant males, particularly if these newcomers brought with them military prowess or a perceived higher status associated with farming or metalworking."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Cambridge. The original story is licensed under a Creative Commons license. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. P. Forster, C. Renfrew. Mother Tongue and Y Chromosomes. Science, 2011; 333 (6048): 1390 DOI: 10.1126/science.1205331

Cite This Page:

University of Cambridge. "Mother tongue comes from your prehistoric father." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 September 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110915225843.htm>.
University of Cambridge. (2011, September 17). Mother tongue comes from your prehistoric father. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110915225843.htm
University of Cambridge. "Mother tongue comes from your prehistoric father." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110915225843.htm (accessed March 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

AAA: Distracted Driving a Serious Teen Problem

AAA: Distracted Driving a Serious Teen Problem

AP (Mar. 25, 2015) While distracted driving is not a new problem for teens, new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says it&apos;s much more serious than previously thought. (March 25) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Smartphone Use Changing Our Brain and Thumb Interaction, Say Researchers

Smartphone Use Changing Our Brain and Thumb Interaction, Say Researchers

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Mar. 25, 2015) European researchers say our smartphone use offers scientists an ideal testing ground for human brain plasticity. Dr Ako Ghosh&apos;s team discovered that the brains and thumbs of smartphone users interact differently from those who use old-fashioned handsets. Jim Drury went to meet him. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Many Don't Know They Have Alzheimer's, But Their Doctors Do

Many Don't Know They Have Alzheimer's, But Their Doctors Do

Newsy (Mar. 24, 2015) According to a new study by the Alzheimer&apos;s Association, more than half of those who have the degenerative brain disease aren&apos;t told by their doctors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
A Quick 45-Minute Nap Can Improve Your Memory

A Quick 45-Minute Nap Can Improve Your Memory

Newsy (Mar. 23, 2015) Researchers found those who napped for 45 minutes to an hour before being tested on information recalled it five times better than those who didn&apos;t. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins