Friday, June 05, 2015

Some Parties Ain't Gonna Like This

Ancient Migration Patterns to North America Are Hidden in Languages Spoken Today
"Languages spoken in North America and Siberia are distantly related. What does that tell us about the first Americans?

A few weeks ago, scientists announced an intriguing finding about the ancestors of today's Native Americans. Previously, genetic analysis had indicated that they'd left Siberia to migrate across ancient Beringia (the strip of land that once connected Asia and what's now Alaska) about 25,000 years ago, but the earliest evidence of human habitation on North America dates to 15,000 years ago.

Now, more evidence for the idea comes from a seemingly unlikely source: languages still spoken in Asia and North America today. A pair of linguistics researchers, Mark Sicoli and Gary Holton, recently analyzed languages from North American Na-Dene family (traditionally spoken in Alaska, Canada and parts of the present-day U.S.) and the Asian Yeneseian family (spoken thousands of miles away, in central Siberia), using similarities and differences between the languages to construct a language family tree.

As they note in an article published today in PLOS ONE, they found that the two language families are indeed related—and both appear to descend from an ancestral language that can be traced to the Beringia region. Both Siberia and North America, it seems, were settled by the descendants of a community that lived in Beringia for some time. In other words, Sicoli says, "this makes it look like Beringia wasn't simply a bridge, but actually a homeland—a refuge, where people could build a life."
"The researchers collected data on two Yeniseian languages, 37 Na-Dene languages and Haida (a language spoken on Canada's Pacific coast but not believed to be related to Na-Dene, used as a control) from the Alaska Native Language Archive and several other published sources. Then, they used phylogenetic algorithms to create a family tree of the forty languages, determining which were most closely related based on the number of similarities (such as phonemes that serve particular roles in the language's grammar, for instance)."

Related: Gene study adds weight to theory that native people of the Americas arrived in a single main migration across the Bering Strait

Native Americans Hailed From Siberian Highlands, DNA Reveals

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