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Open Access Languages and Genes in China and In East Asia

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Languages and Genes in China and In East Asia

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image of Bulletin of Chinese Linguistics

This article poses two main questions: can the history of genes help us understand better what the Chinese linguistic situation was some 5,000 years B.P., not to mention the population distribution in China? Consequently can the history of genes helps us in grouping the languages of China and East Asia into families and macro-families?Languages and genes have two different histories and two different types of evolution – one being natural, the other one largely cultural – with different mechanisms of origin and reproduction. Nonetheless, there are indeed many clear analogies in the mechanisms of transmission: mutation, natural selection, migration, and chance. These have lead population geneticists and linguists to look for any congruence in genetic and linguistic evolution, in order to correlate genetic and linguistic distance.In light of these congruences, but also of non-correlations existing between the genetic classification of populations and the classification of languages, the different hypotheses concerning the traditional grouping of languages (Sino-Tibetan, Austronesian, Austro-Asiatic, Tai-Kadai , Miao-Yao or Hmong-Mjen, Altaic), as well as the new groupings in macro-families (Austric, Austro-Tai, Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, Sino-Indo-European, Sino-Caucasian, Proto-East-Asian, etc.) will be discussed.It will be concluded that while we have various hypotheses, we are not sure of anything. The considerable accumulation of data in population genetics has rendered the landscape much less simple, all the more so since the theoretical models of evolution necessary to interpret the genetic data in historical context are still being refined.


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