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Auteur: Robert BERWICK

Co-Auteur(s): Sagar Indurkya. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Language evolution is not like genomic evolution: Phonemic Diversity Fails to Detect Language Evolution out of Africa

Abstract/Résumé: Recent work claims that one can track language’s evolutionary history via phonemic diversity (pd): it asserts that as one moves away from Africa, pd falls, paralleling a genomic diversity-African origin link. To the contrary, we have demonstrated that this hypothesized link does not hold: replacing the phonological metric based on binned counts from WALS with actual phoneme counts from the UCLA database, barely 10%, of pd variation is accounted for by distance from Africa, far less that found with genetic variation, which approaches nearly 100%. We conclude that unlike genetic diversity – more easily measured, located, and tracked – language’s within- species evolutionary variation over time does mirror genetic variation. Rather, the association between phonemic diversity and African origin reflects an attenuated statistical ‘echo’ piggy-backed on the genomic variation associated with human migration, a result consonant with other research results correlating variation in human external morphology, e.g., cranial measurements, with distance-from-Africa.