Archive for the ‘Genetics’ Category

Indo-European and North Caucasian: Linguistic Typology, Kinship Terms and Autosomal Genetics

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

Ranko Matasovic presented rich typological evidence (consonant-to-vowel ratio, tonal accent, number suppletion in personal pronouns, the presence of gender and the morphological optative and, possibly, the presence of glottalized consonants and ergativity) in favor of areal contacts between Proto-Indo-European (PIE) and North Caucasian (NC) in the eastern part of the Pontic steppe. He writes (pp. 306-307):

“The adduced typological parallels between PIE and Caucasian languages make it likely that PIE was, indeed, in contact with languages of the northern Caucasus. However, these contacts could also have been of indirect nature, since there are no demonstrable loanwords from North Caucasian languages in PIE, or vice versa. If such loanwords exist, their number is certainly not high. If direct contacts did exist, we cannot determine their nature: both long-term bilingualism due to exogamy and trade networks, as well as rather rapid language shift appear equally possible.”

Matasovic (p. 288-289) mentions one of such loanwords, namely the PIE kinship term *snuso– (Gr. nuos, Arm. nu, OCS snuxa, etc. ‘daughter-in-law’), apparently borrowed into many North Caucasian languages (Chechen nus, Avar nus, Akhvakh nusa, Kabardian nesa) as well as into Megrelian (nosa). But he fails to mention the cases of 1) PIE *swesor ‘sister’ and Chechen sesag ‘wife’, Lak sus, Lezgin swas, Ubykh sasa ‘bride’ and 2) PIE *geme– ‘son-in-law’  (Skrt jamatar, Avest zamatar, Gk gambros, etc.) and Chechen zam-o, Ingush sam-e ‘best man’, Lezgin c:am, Agul zam (Nikolayev S. L., and S. A. Starostin. ? North Caucasian Etymological Dictionary. Moscow, 1994). The combination of the these three apparent loanwords, all referring to marriage and affinity, favor the long-term exogamy hypothesis between PIE speakers and the natives of the Caucasus.

Naturally, if long-term marriage exchange was indeed practiced between PIE speakers and the natives of the Caucasus, we may expect to find its genetic traces in mitochondrial, Y-DNA and/or autosomal DNA. The amateur genome blogger Dienekes Pontikos recently reported the elevated frequencies of a “Caucasus” autosomal component among modern Indo-Europeans and its absence among Basques and low frequencies among Finns. While he labeled it “West Asian” and misconstrued it as suggesting a Near Eastern origin for Indo-Europeans (in contrast to the mainstream Kurgan hypothesis), it seems to be the best available evidence for genetic exchange between Indo-European speakers and the speakers of North Caucasian languages in the Pontic steppe and North Caucasus areas. The Chechens whose language contains all three kinterm loans from PIE, show this component at 54.6%. Matasovic focuses on the Maykop culture (3700-2500 BC) as providing the best archaeological correlate to the contact zone between PIE and North Caucasian languages. The Maykop culture is centered in Adygeia, which shows 52.5% of that “Caucasus” autosomal component. We have, therefore, a very strong fit between linguistics, kinship studies, population genetics and archaeology in this case.

It remains to be seen if this fit is real or spurious. It’s noteworthy that all NC societies are strictly patrilocal and patrilineal. PIE society is also reconstructed as patrilineal and patrilocal (see The Encyclopedia of Indo-European Cultures, with the original proposal in Friedrich, Paul, “Proto-Indo-European Kinship,” Ethnology 5 (1966), pp. 1-36). This commonality would facilitate marriage exchange between the two populations in both directions, as PIE women marrying NC men would go live with their husbands without violating the rules of either society. The same works for NC women. At the same time, PIE men and NC men would rarely end up as son-in-laws in foreign households, unless they had been first taken as prisoners. We don’t know yet if PIE speakers contributed any genes to the NC speech community. Neither do we know if genetic admixture between PIE and NC speakers manifested in mtDNA and Y-DNA. If it did, then we may be able to infer from the pattern of this admixture whether this gene exchange was sex-biased and whether it took place under peaceful or violent circumstances.

Kinship Systems Shaped by Vertical Transmission, not Environment

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

One of the fundamental premises my book “The Genius of Kinship” is that human kinship systems and their linguistic expressions, kinship terminologies, are largely unacknowledged sources of insight into human prehistory and direct partners to historical linguistics and population genetics in the task of unraveling the enigma of modern human origins and dispersals. The following quote from an evolutionary anthropologist, Barry Hewlett, reinforces the same point:

“We are conducting further studies to evaluate the coevolution of genes, culture, and language in Africa and the Americas, and preliminary data suggest that kinship and family beliefs and practices tend to be conserved along with genes. In other words, aspects of kinship and family tend to be highly conserved, similar to genes, and their distribution across the landscape does not appear to be linked to adaptations to particular natural environments…The data imply that the current distribution of kinship and family patterns is due to demic diffusion and conservative cultural transmission. This is supported by a nonevolutionary study of kinship by Burton et al. (1996) where he uses a sophisticated analysis of kinship and family patterns to describe culture areas. His kinship culture areas fit very nicely with the world’s language and genetic distance trees (Jones 1999). He systematically generates two key dimensions of variability in family in kinship – a matricentric-patricentric continuum and a bilateral-unilineal continuum. For instance, Africa is strongly unilineal, but relatively egalitarian on the gender dimension, whereas the middle Old World (North Africa, the Middle East, South and Central Asia and most of China) is unilineal but patricentric. The distrubution of the various culture areas of kinship are linked to the movements and expansions of dominant peoples (e.g., demic diffusion and vertical transmission) throughout history (e.g., Bantu expansion)” (Hewlett, Barry S. “Neoevolutionary Perspectives on Human Kinship,” in New Directions in Anthropological Kinship, edited by Linda Stone. Lanham, 2001, p. 105).

It has taken evolutionary anthropologists 150 years to come around to the notion pioneered by the young Lewis H. Morgan that human kinship systems reflect what we might call these days “populational processes,” rather than abstract evolutionary stages. The Morgan of the “Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family” (1871) is very different from the Morgan of “Ancient Society” (1877) because of his new strong focus on those stages, rather than on geographically localized and demically conditioned types of kinship systems (the very name “Turano-Ganowanian” in the “Systems” was supposed to relate Tamil and Iroquois kinship systems into a tangible historical unity derived from the hypothesis of a migration of the ancestors of American Indians from Asia to the New World). While in those concrete specifics Morgan was wrong, the overall classification of kinship systems into “classificatory” and “descriptive” remains valid and finds parallels outside of kinship studies.