European Journal of Human Genetics advance online publication 1 July 2015; doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2015.138
Shared language, diverging genetic histories: high-resolution analysis of Y-chromosome variability in Calabrian and Sicilian Arbereshe
Stefania Sarno et al.
The relationship between genetic and linguistic diversification in human populations has been often explored to interpret some specific issues in human history. The Albanian-speaking minorities of Sicily and Southern Italy (Arbereshe) constitute an important portion of the ethnolinguistic variability of Italy. Their linguistic isolation from neighboring Italian populations and their documented migration history, make such minorities particularly effective for investigating the interplay between cultural, geographic and historical factors. Nevertheless, the extent of Arbereshe genetic relationships with the Balkan homeland and the Italian recipient populations has been only partially investigated. In the present study we address the genetic history of Arbereshe people by combining highly resolved analyses of Y-chromosome lineages and extensive computer simulations. A large set of slow- and fast-evolving molecular markers was typed in different Arbereshe communities from Sicily and Southern Italy (Calabria), as well as in both the putative Balkan source and Italian sink populations. Our results revealed that the considered Arbereshe groups, despite speaking closely related languages and sharing common cultural features, actually experienced diverging genetic histories. The estimated proportions of genetic admixture confirm the tight relationship of Calabrian Arbereshe with modern Albanian populations, in accordance with linguistic hypotheses. On the other hand, population stratification and/or an increased permeability of linguistic and geographic barriers may be hypothesized for Sicilian groups, to account for their partial similarity with Greek populations and their higher levels of local admixture. These processes ultimately resulted in the differential acquisition or preservation of specific paternal lineages by the present-day Arbereshe communities.