LingLang Lunch (2/12/2014): Sohini Ramachandran (Brown University)

A geneticist’s approach to comparing global patterns of genetic and phonemic variation

A longstanding question in human evolution concerns the extent to which differences in language have been a barrier to gene flow among human populations. Human genetic studies often label populations based on the language spoken by sampled individuals, and interpret analyses of genetic variation based on linguistic relationships. However, no study has attempted a joint analysis of genetic and linguistic data. We have analyzed, separately and jointly, phonemes from 2082 languages and genetic data from 246 human populations worldwide. We find interesting parallels between the datasets, and one point of divergence is that languages with fewer neighbors can have large phoneme inventories while geographically isolated populations lose genetic diversity. I am particularly seeking advice and thoughts on how to best analyze these phoneme inventories in concert with the genetic analyses we are conducting.