GeLaTo: Genes and Languages Together - tracking down matches and mismatches

The coevolution of languages and genes represents the ultimate Darwinian paradigm to track population dynamics in time and space, and one of the most evoked parallels between cultural and biological diversity. In the past years scholars analyzed this congruence to shed light on population origin, diversification and contact.

Genealogical Tree of Dead and Living Languages, by Félix Gallet (c. 1800). Zoom Image
Genealogical Tree of Dead and Living Languages, by Félix Gallet (c. 1800).

Mismatches between linguistic and genetic variation are usually disregarded as an exception to the general pattern. But how often these events occur? Can we estimate the incidence of language shift and reconstruct more realistic models of cultural evolution? And which circumstances are driving these discontinuities in cultural transmission?

To answer these questions at a worldwide as well at a regional scale, we first need a robust panel of genetic diversity to be matched with relevant linguistic and cultural information on the populations collected.

We are assembling a new standardized database of genetic diversity to be matched with these existing databases, and to be used not only by geneticists but also by linguists, cultural anthropologists, and other experts interested in the study of human history and diversity. This work comes from the screen of available genetic literature for samples with clear geographic and ethnolinguistic characterization
, and prefer fast evolving genetic markers which could harbor signature of events occurred in the past millennia.

Scientific relevance

  • Push geneticists to properly characterize the human history behind the molecular data
  • Provide a reference tool for geneticists
  • Extract information on genealogical relatedness and demography useful for non-geneticists
  • Frame questions of major relevance for human history and diversity in a multidisciplinary perspective

Our final aim is to develop a more realistic understanding of the complex mechanisms behind cultural transmission. The change of cultural features through time not only impacts our ability of tracing back human prehistory, but also influences the definition of “population” as the unit of research.

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