Coevolution of languages and genes on the island of Sumba, eastern Indonesia

J. Stephen Lansing, Murray P. Cox, Sean S. Downey, Brandon M. Gabler, Brian Hallmark, Tatiana Karafet, Peter Norquest, John W. Schoenfelder, Herawati Sudoyo, Joseph C Watkins, Michael F Hammer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Abstract

Numerous studies indicate strong associations between languages and genes among human populations at the global scale, but all broader scale genetic and linguistic patterns must arise from processes originating at the community level. We examine linguistic and genetic variation in a contact zone on the eastern Indonesian island of Sumba, where Neolithic Austronesian farming communities settled and began interacting with aboriginal foraging societies ≈3,500 years ago. Phylogenetic reconstruction based on a 200-word Swadesh list sampled from 29 localities supports the hypothesis that Sumbanese languages derive from a single ancestral Austronesian language. However, the proportion of cognates (words with a common origin) traceable to Proto-Austronesian (PAn) varies among language subgroups distributed across the island. Interestingly, a positive correlation was found between the percentage of Y chromosome lineages that derive from Austronesian (as opposed to aboriginal) ancestors and the retention of PAn cognates. We also find a striking correlation between the percentage of PAn cognates and geographic distance from the site where many Sumbanese believe their ancestors arrived on the island. These language-gene-geography correlations, unprecedented at such a fine scale, imply that historical patterns of social interaction between expanding farmers and resident hunter-gatherers largely explain community-level language evolution on Sumba. We propose a model to explain linguistic and demographic coevolution at fine spatial and temporal scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16022-16026
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume104
Issue number41
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 9 2007

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Keywords

  • Austronesian languages
  • Cognate
  • Contact zone
  • Language evolution
  • Y chromosome haplogroups

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • General

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