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Full Access Molecular Perspectives on the Bantu Expansion: A Synthesis

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Molecular Perspectives on the Bantu Expansion: A Synthesis

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image of Language Dynamics and Change

The expansion of Bantu-speaking peoples over large parts of sub-Saharan Africa is still a matter of debate—not only with respect to the propelling force behind it and the route(s) taken, but, also, in terms of the question whether there actually was a demographic expansion of peoples, rather than just a cultural expansion involving the spread of languages and technologies. In this paper, we provide a critical review of the extant linguistic and molecular anthropological data on Africa and discuss the insights they provide concerning the expansion itself as well as the demographic processes involved in it. Contrary to some assumptions by historians and cultural anthropologists, the genetic data speak in favor of an actual movement of peoples during the expansion of the Bantu languages over Africa, rather than a spread through language and culture shift. Furthermore, the molecular data indicate that sociocultural practices such as patrilocality and possibly even polygyny played a role in shaping the genetic diversity of Bantu-speaking peoples. These sociocultural practices might explain why, in Africa, there is a correlation between Y-chromosomal (i.e., paternal) lineages and linguistic affiliation, but not between mtDNA (maternal) lineages and language.


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