May 16, 2013

Evolutionary history of Uralic languages (Honkola et al. 2013)

Journal of Evolutionary Biology DOI: 10.1111/jeb.12107

Cultural and climatic changes shape the evolutionary history of the Uralic languages

T Honkola et al.

Quantitative phylogenetic methods have been used to study the evolutionary relationships and divergence times of biological species, and recently, these have also been applied to linguistic data to elucidate the evolutionary history of language families. In biology, the factors driving macroevolutionary processes are assumed to be either mainly biotic (the Red Queen model) or mainly abiotic (the Court Jester model) or a combination of both. The applicability of these models is assumed to depend on the temporal and spatial scale observed as biotic factors act on species divergence faster and in smaller spatial scale than the abiotic factors. Here, we used the Uralic language family to investigate whether both ‘biotic’ interactions (i.e. cultural interactions) and abiotic changes (i.e. climatic fluctuations) are also connected to language diversification. We estimated the times of divergence using Bayesian phylogenetics with a relaxed-clock method and related our results to climatic, historical and archaeological information. Our timing results paralleled the previous linguistic studies but suggested a later divergence of Finno-Ugric, Finnic and Saami languages. Some of the divergences co-occurred with climatic fluctuation and some with cultural interaction and migrations of populations. Thus, we suggest that both ‘biotic’ and abiotic factors contribute either directly or indirectly to the diversification of languages and that both models can be applied when studying language evolution.

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4 comments:

Slumbery said...

The time for the separation of the Hungarian language is consistent with what I have read from Hungarian linguists in the past, so their model probably reasonably realistic. They also connected it to the change of climate and flora in the region.

andrew said...

The error bars on the dates are sufficiently large that it really isn't possible to reach any meaningful conclusion using the data that they analyze.

Dr Rob said...

Unrealistic. Should be considerably younger

blogen said...

Yes Slumbery, and compatible with the archeological cultures of Western Siberia:

age of ugor separation:
15-8th century BC: proto-magyars/proto-other ugric - West Siberian andronoid cultures (Cherkaskul, Mezhovka, etc.)

age of the ancient magyars:
7th century BC - 5th century AD: Hungarians in the Asian homeland - Sargat cultural complex