PerspectiveEvolution

Mother Tongue and Y Chromosomes

Science  09 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6048, pp. 1390-1391
DOI: 10.1126/science.1205331

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Summary

Some 6000 different languages are spoken in the world today, and tracing the prehistory of languages and of language change by means of genetic markers has long been a goal (1). However, this has proven to be a more challenging task than simply tracing colonizations. Nevertheless, a number of genetic studies over the past few years have started to address language and language change before recorded history. A correlation is emerging that suggests language change in an already-populated region may require a minimum proportion of immigrant males, as reflected in Y-chromosome DNA types. By contrast, the female lineages, as indicated by mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) types, do not reflect the survivor language but represent more ancient settlement.