Bayesian phylogenetic analysis supports an agricultural origin of Japonic languages

Sean Lee, Toshikazu Hasegawa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

38 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Languages, like genes, evolve by a process of descent with modification. This striking similarity between biological and linguistic evolution allows us to apply phylogenetic methods to explore how languages, as well as the people who speak them, are related to one another through evolutionary history. Language phylogenies constructed with lexical data have so far revealed population expansions of Austronesian, Indo-European and Bantu speakers. However, how robustly a phylogenetic approach can chart the history of language evolution and what language phylogenies reveal about human prehistory must be investigated more thoroughly on a global scale. Here we report a phylogeny of 59 Japonic languages and dialects. We used this phylogeny to estimate time depth of its root and compared it with the time suggested by an agricultural expansion scenario for Japanese origin. In agreement with the scenario, our results indicate that Japonic languages descended from a common ancestor approximately 2182 years ago. Together with archaeological and biological evidence, our results suggest that the first farmers of Japan had a profound impact on the origins of both people and languages. On a broader level, our results are consistent with a theory that agricultural expansion is the principal factor for shaping global linguistic diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3662-3669
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume278
Issue number1725
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Dec 22
Externally publishedYes

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Keywords

  • Japonic languages
  • Linguistic evolution
  • Phylogenetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Medicine(all)

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