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.

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 October 22, 2014 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 October 22, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Buzz60 (Oct. 21, 2014) Breeze, a portable breathalyzer, gets you home safely by instantly showing your blood alcohol content, and with one tap, lets you call an Uber, a cab or a friend from your contact list to pick you up. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A new study says the season you're born in can determine your temperament — and one season has a surprising outcome. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Movies Might Desensitize Violence For Parents, Not Just Kids

Movies Might Desensitize Violence For Parents, Not Just Kids

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A study suggests that parents become desensitized to violent movies as well as children, which leads them to allow their kids to view violent films. 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