Home / Colloquium: (Cancelled) Past human migrations account for the origins of major Eurasian linguistic families

Title: Past human migrations account for the origins of major Eurasian linguistic families
Speaker: Patrícia Santos, University of Ferrara (Italy)
Venue and time: Großer Seminarraum 602 (Rümelinstraße 23), Dec. 17, 12:30 s.t.
Demographic events in human history leave traces in languages and genes, hence Darwin’s intuition that the best possible description of linguistic relationships among populations would be their phylogenetic tree. Studies based on genetic and linguistic data have investigated the question of the origin of Indo-European (IE) and Uralic (UR) languages. At the basis of these studies lies Cavalli-Sforza’s hypothesis a major demographic shift with a massive population turnover across a large geographic area be accompanied by the introduction of a new culture/language. In the present study, we combined linguistic and genomic data to shed light on the origin and spread dynamics of the IE and UR linguistic families in Eurasia. We investigated the congruence between linguistic traits inferred from syntactic comparisons and human genome diversity, finding a general correlation with a few exceptions. Then we used genome-wide data to characterize the genetic background and phylogenetic relationships of modern populations in Eurasia speaking IE and UR. Finally, we compared modern and ancient DNA data to investigate the genetic ancestry of these populations.
We found that modern populations speaking UR in Europe are genetically closer to the modern and Bronze-Age populations from the Pontic steppes, than present-day IE speakers are. Our preliminary results suggest that the distribution of grammatical diversity of most languages in Europe is largely related to past human migrations, and to the different impact of their culture and genetic legacy during their expansion.