Most comparisons of language and inherited traits consider whether genetic patterns conform with expected relationships observed by linguists. But few have considered the use of genetic data to support specific hypotheses raised by linguists regarding the relationships between language families.
In a forthcoming article in Current Anthropology, Francisco M. Salzano (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil) examines the proposals of three eminent linguists through the lens of genetic data. Using genetic information from thousands of subjects, Salzano and his co-authors compare the work of Cestmir Loukotka, Joseph H. Greenberg, and Aryon D. Rodrigues, all of whom have written about the relationships among the four most important lowland South American Native language families: Maipure, Carib, Tupi, and Je. “The approach seems useful to unravel the complex history of South Amerinds, a group which shows one of the largest language diversity in the world,” writes Salzano.
The researchers employed different combinations of 37 blood groups plus protein genetic systems, as well as an additional set of 13 autosomal short tandem repeat polymorphisms (all markers of different portions of our genome). Their findings support Rodrigues’ suggestion of a close connection between Carib and Tupi, with Je and Maipure showing more distant relationships.
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Salzano, Francisco M.; Hutz, Mara H.; Salamoni, Sabrina P.; Rohr, Paula; and Callegari-Jacques, Sidia M. “Genetic Support to Proposed Patterns of Relationship Among Lowland South American Languages.” Current Anthropology 46:5.