February 06, 2013

Clustering folk tales

Proc. R. Soc. B 7 April 2013 vol. 280 no. 1756
doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.3065

Population structure and cultural geography of a folktale in Europe 

Robert M. Ross et al.

Despite a burgeoning science of cultural evolution, relatively little work has focused on the population structure of human cultural variation. By contrast, studies in human population genetics use a suite of tools to quantify and analyse spatial and temporal patterns of genetic variation within and between populations. Human genetic diversity can be explained largely as a result of migration and drift giving rise to gradual genetic clines, together with some discontinuities arising from geographical and cultural barriers to gene flow. Here, we adapt theory and methods from population genetics to quantify the influence of geography and ethnolinguistic boundaries on the distribution of 700 variants of a folktale in 31 European ethnolinguistic populations. We find that geographical distance and ethnolinguistic affiliation exert significant independent effects on folktale diversity and that variation between populations supports a clustering concordant with European geography. This pattern of geographical clines and clusters parallels the pattern of human genetic diversity in Europe, although the effects of geographical distance and ethnolinguistic boundaries are stronger for folktales than genes. Our findings highlight the importance of geography and population boundaries in models of human cultural variation and point to key similarities and differences between evolutionary processes operating on human genes and culture.

Link

29 comments:

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Awesome. Folktales are a wonderful independent line of evidence to add to linguistics, genetics, physical anthropology, archaeological relics, legal rules and religious beliefs in tracing cultural continuity and undocumented social and population history. I've recently made a number of blog posts along those lines looking at the origins of the basilisk myth, commonalities in myths involving prohibitions against eating anything in the "underworld" or "fairy world", and the deluge myth, and have followed with interest efforts to track down the intellectual history roots of concepts like the soul, the taboo against eating pig meat, the story of the birth of Moses, and more. It is also great to have good data to compare the differences between various forms of culturally transmitted ideas and genes.

More deeply, once one recognizes that one has different legacies (genetic, linguistic, religious, literary, legal, etc.) that don't always have common roots, it is interesting to contemplate to what degree one can claim to be in the tradition of one's intellectual and cultural ancestors, as well as one's genetic ancestors.

shenandoah said...

Kind of interesting to see Danish separated from Swedish and Norwegian, in light of the fact that the linguist, John McWhorter, claims that there isn't much difference in their respective languages. He says the Danes owned all of Scandinavia originally, before the territory was divided. "The Power of Babel", c2003.

eurologist said...

I haven't yet read the paper, but the inclusion of Latvian in the "West" Germanic domain might be yet another strong argument that Germanic language and culture encompassed the Vistula region since its beginning - as previously demonstrated by archeology, linguistic contacts to early Uralic, and the first historic records.

Conversely, there is (as expected) little contact between Germanic at large, and Slavic.

mikej2 said...

Very nice presentation. Again back to the question of Finland and Finns. We can name things how we wish, we can do also very good mathematics and graphics. But we really don't know are things named correctly. We don't know is the common genetic inheritance between Finns and Swedes old and common roots for both groups, Finnish in Sweden or Swedish in Finland. It is only up to everyone to make labels.
I can assure that there is no such labels on genes that "Swedish in Finland Finnish".

mikej2 said...

I should have said that it is also surprising to say that Finnish folktale is at first Swedish when we have a lot of old common folktale and mythology with Estonians. I read the report too in a general way, try to be attentive, but so much clueless information is available.

eurologist said...

Mikej2,

To me, from autosomal data, Swedes are mostly very old (paleolithic) Scandinavian and influenced by paleolithic Asian and Baltic and much later Uralic people in the north and northeast; they are mostly post-glacial N European in the center, and largely mixed with northern German (admixed Balkan) neolithic agriculturalists in the south.

mikej2 said...

Try Google search words

Finnish Estonian folktale
or
Finnish Estonian mythology
or
Finnish Estonian folklore


Charles Nydorf said...

The groups that this methodology picked up like Latvians, Germans and Danes or Greeks, Turks and Armenians are chronologically shallow and do not go back further than the Middle Ages. The problem is that the way the folktales are compared picks up superficial similarities and misses deeper resemblances. Levi-Strauss analyzes this problem in his "Mythologiques" especially in volume three, "The Origin of Table Manners."

mikej2 said...

@Eurologist

you are right. However Finns have also partially paleolithic or mesolithic North European (would say almost same as Scandinavian) genes. 28% of Finns belong to the HG I1, being dated by inteclade variances to 1000BC or older, but very few R1bs there. Finns have also a a lot of European paleolithic mitochondrial haplogroups. So there is a lot of possibilites to have very old common genes with Swedes. Did they speak some known language? Do they have over 3000 years old common folklore?

I know that Finns have a lot more common folklore with Estonians than Swedes. It is understandable because Swedish came to Finland bringing only Catholic stories and all common heathen lores are due cultural connections before crusades. There is a small Swedish speaking minority who have cherished Swedish folktales.

Fanty said...

Couldnt the connection between Latvian and German fairy tales base on the Teutonic Order?

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/95/Teutonic_Order_1260.png

That would aswell explain the elevated level of U106 ("Germanic" R1b clade) in Latvians compared to its neighbours, like is claimed by this map:
http://www.disnorge.no/cms/system/files/offentlige_filer/Haplogroup-R1b-U106%2520Eupedia.gif

Nasty, nasty, I thought the concept of this type of order is... militaric MONKS? Why do they spread DNA to wildling girls behind the wall? ;-)

andrew said...

"We don't know is the common genetic inheritance between Finns and Swedes old and common roots for both groups, Finnish in Sweden or Swedish in Finland. It is only up to everyone to make labels.
I can assure that there is no such labels on genes that "Swedish in Finland Finnish"."

Most of Finland was a part of the Kingdom of Sweden from the 13th century to 1809, when the vast majority of the Finnish-speaking areas of Sweden were ceded to the Russian Empire (excluding the Finnish-speaking areas of the modern-day Northern Sweden), making this area the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland. In 1917, Finland declared independence.

A Swedish speaking minority population in Finland whose culture of a legacy of the Swedish ruling class and its hangers on during the Swedish Kingdom era survives.

Since we are talking about fairy tales and not genes, linguistic legacies and not genetic legacies are what matters. There is nothing arbitrary about making distinction between two linguistically distinct subcultures in a single country.

mikej2 said...

@Andrew "A Swedish speaking minority population in Finland whose culture of a legacy of the Swedish ruling class and its hangers on during the Swedish Kingdom era survives."

This is obviously a part of Swedish folktale :) Most of Swedish speaking people during the Swedish era, belonging to the intelligentsia in Finland were originally Finnish speaking people who changed the language to Swedish. The reason was that education was in Latin and Swedish. At the same time they also took often Latin-looking surnames, many times something very strange looking. Only a small top class of nobility were born Swedish people. They or their descendants were responsible for the national awakening in Finland.

Then the mass of old Swedish speaking people in two distinct seaside regions were farmers and fishermen, just Finnish speaking people in general. They have their legacy that I respect, but this said being honest.

mikej2 said...

A correction. Sometimes putting sentences one after another the matter changes. I hope that this issue is exhausted, because the main reason why I wrote here was the misleading handling of Finnish-Estonian folklore in the study.

I wrote "They or their descendants were responsible for the national awakening in Finland. "

These people being responsible for the national awakening were those Finns and their descendants who shofted from Finnish to Swedish. Very few Swedish nobles stayed to Finland after 1809.



shenandoah said...

http://www.s-gabriel.org/names/tangwystyl/british1000/part1.html

Similarly, the indigenous British Celts had no written language until after invasion by Rome and Claudius around 43 AD. And while under Roman domination, the English adopted Latin (the official State language); thus the preponderance of Roman names among English citizens of their earliest recorded history. That's also why the 'English' language subsequently absorbed so much Latin, Danish and German, etc.

Average Joe said...

I am not sure if I am reading the diagram correctly but is it saying that culturally the Germans are more closely related to the Irish and the Scots than they are to the English?

Fanty said...

@Average Joe:

Well, its saying the fairy tales are more closely related, not the culture as a whole.

It could be that Irish fairy tales influenced German ones. I recall that the Grimms Brothers made a book "Irish fairy tales" besides their 2 "Fairy Tales" books, I cant recall them doing one from other ethnicies fairy tales aswell.

pjiles said...

Something I have not seen commented on anywhere else is the 'earth-diver' motif, which is found in Native North American tales, and is once recorded among the Slavs. Only once.

The 'earth-diver' theme is that the earth is covered in water and a diety or culture hero sends an animal to the bottom of the sea to recover a handful of earth, from which the diety etc. then makes dry land.

It is recorded among the Ojibwe and once in Slavic folklore; God sends the Devil down into the water to recover a bit of earth.

Another interesting cultural trait to trace is dancing. there is a strong contrast between Germanic and Balkan folk-dance styles. The Balkan style seems to go right around the Mediterranean to Ireland.

Clay said...

This is a fascinating study, even if I don't understand exactly what the significance is. Why, for example, are the Germainc language groups on the periphery as compared with the unrelated, non-germanic language groups? Why are Scottish and Irish closer to the center than English?

eurologist said...

This is a fascinating study, even if I don't understand exactly what the significance is. Why, for example, are the Germainc language groups on the periphery as compared with the unrelated, non-germanic language groups? Why are Scottish and Irish closer to the center than English?

They really aren't. Also, Danish and English seem to have drifted away - literally - as have Flemish and Icelandic.

I agree with another poster that much of the time depth here is early middle ages (and Roman tines). Still, from the looks of it, there are also seem to be general iron age accumulated differences.

Grey said...

"Kind of interesting to see Danish separated from Swedish and Norwegian"

Mountains magnify distance.

.
"the Germans are more closely related to the Irish and the Scots than they are to the English?"

"Well, its saying the fairy tales are more closely related, not the culture as a whole."

Norman conquest.

Unknown said...

@pjiles
"'earth-diver' motif, which is found in Native North American tales, and is once recorded among the Slavs. Only once."

Lithuanian version:
http://mokytojas.lt/biblioteka/ziureti/lietuviu-etiologines-sakmes-kaip-atsirado-zeme-28502.html

#11

Average Joe said...

But the Normans conquered both Ireland and Britain therefore that should have affected both islands equally.

andrew said...

The Irish purged the Normans within a couple of centuries of their arrival. The modern English in contrast, are direct successors to the Normans who are in cultural and sovereign continuity with them.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Ireland

Unknown said...

I miss hearing from German Dziebel. What happened?

pconroy said...

@Clay:
Why are Scottish and Irish closer to the center than English?

My guess is that Irish Gaelic retains much older material than English, which is a relatively new language borne out of the stew of languages of Norman French, Angles's Low German/Frisian and Danish.

Scotland was culturally Irish till a few hundred years ago.

@Average Joe,
But the Normans conquered both Ireland and Britain therefore that should have affected both islands equally.

No, the Normans in Ireland became, "More Irish than the Irish themselves" as the quote goes. They were totally assimilated in a few generations, and took to speaking Irish Gaelic and wearing their hair Irish style (long on front, shaved on the back) and using Irish dress (men bare legged and shoe less) and adopted Irish games (Hurling)...

Average Joe said...

The Irish purged the Normans within a couple of centuries of their arrival.

I think you are confusing the Normans with the Vikings. The Irish drove out the Vikings but not the Normans which is why many Irish people today have Norman names such as Fitzgerald and Burke.

Simon_W said...

So, there is a northwestern cluster, a southwestern cluster, a northern cluster, a far southeastern one, and, most interestingly, a large eastern cluster, extending from Estonians and Russians in the north to Bulgarians and Yugoslavs. This parallels the elevated amount of IBD sharing in this part of Europe!

Simon_W said...

I agree with Fanty, that commonality between Germans and Latvians must be largely due to the German influence in the Baltic, after all there was a medieval German urban immigration there. Genetically, anthropometrically and linguistically the Balts are closer to the northern Slavs than to the Germans.

Julien said...

There are many practical problems in the paper: see http://nouvellemythologiecomparee.hautetfort.com/archive/2013/06/26/julien-d-huy-and-jean-loic-le-quellec-comments-on-ross-green.html