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Language `evolution` may help shed light on human migration out of Beringia

ANI | Last Updated: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 21:03

Washington: Researchers have said that evolutionary analysis applied to the relationship between North American and Central Siberian languages may indicate that people moved out from the Bering Land Bridge, with some migrating back to central Asia and others into North America.

A proposed language family known as the Dene-Yeniseian suggests that there are common language elements between the North American Na-Dene languages and the Yeniseian languages of Central Siberia.

To investigate this further, Mark Sicoli, from Georgetown University and Gary Holton from University of Alaska Fairbanks, employed a technique originally developed to investigate evolutionary relationships between biological species called phylogenetic analysis, where a tree is constructed to represent relationships of common ancestry based on shared traits.
Scientists used linguistic phylogeny to work out how approximately 40 languages from the area diffused across North America and Asia. The authors first coded a linguistic dataset from the languages, modeled the relationship between the data, and then modeled it against migration patterns from Asia to North America, or out-of-Beringia.

Results show an early dispersal of Na-Dene along the North American coast with a Yeniseian back migration through Siberia and a later dispersal of North American interior Na-Dene languages.

Sicoli explained that they used computational phylogenetic methods to impose constraints on possible family tree relationships modeling both an Out-of-Beringia hypothesis and an Out-of-Asia hypothesis and tested these against the linguistic data, assrting that they found substantial support for the out-of-Beringia dispersal adding to a growing body of evidence for an ancestral population in Beringia before the land bridge was inundated by rising sea levels at the end of the last ice age.

The paper has been published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

First Published: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 21:03

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