It’s Father-Tongue, Not Mother-Tongue

The common belief that we speak our mother’s tongue is incorrect—we speak our father’s tongue. Geneticists have found interesting linguistic and geographical affinities for the Y-chromosome.

The following is one of the earlier studies to document these linguistic affinities:


→ Poloni ES, et al. (1997) Human genetic affinities for Y-chromosome P49a,f/TaqI haplotypes show strong correspondence with linguistics. American Journal of Human Genetics, 61(5):1015–1035.
Abstract

Numerous population samples from around the world have been tested for Y chromosome-specific p49a,f/TaqI restriction polymorphisms. Here we review the literature as well as unpublished data on Y-chromosome p49a,f/TaqI haplotypes and provide a new nomenclature unifying the notations used by different laboratories. We use this large data set to study worldwide genetic variability of human populations for this paternally transmitted chromosome segment. We observe, for the Y chromosome, an important level of population genetics structure among human populations (FST = .230, P < .001), mainly due to genetic differences among distinct linguistic groups of populations (FCT = .246, P < .001). A multivariate analysis based on genetic distances between populations shows that human population structure inferred from the Y chromosome corresponds broadly to language families (r = .567, P < .001), in agreement with autosomal and mitochondrial data. Times of divergence of linguistic families, estimated from their internal level of genetic differentiation, are fairly concordant with current archaeological and linguistic hypotheses. Variability of the p49a,f/TaqI polymorphic marker is also significantly correlated with the geographic location of the populations (r = .613, P < .001), reflecting the fact that distinct linguistic groups generally also occupy distinct geographic areas. Comparison of Y-chromosome and mtDNA RFLPs in a restricted set of populations shows a globally high level of congruence, but it also allows identification of unequal maternal and paternal contributions to the gene pool of several populations.


Here are some related research:

  1. Mirabal S, et al. (2009) Y-chromosome distribution within the geo-linguistic landscape of northwestern Russia. European Journal of Human Genetics, 17:1260–1273.
  2. Karafet TM, et al. (2002) High levels of Y-chromosome differentiation among native Siberian populations and the genetic signature of a boreal hunter-gatherer way of life. Human Biology, 74(6):761–89.
  3. Zegura SL, et al. (2004) High-resolution SNPs and microsatellite haplotypes point to a single, recent entry of Native American Y chromosomes into the Americas. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 21(1):164–75.
  4. Hurles ME, et al. (2002) Y chromosomal evidence for the origins of oceanic-speaking peoples. Genetics, 160(1):289–303.
  5. Underhill PA, et al. (2001) The phylogeography of Y chromosome binary haplotypes and the origins of modern human populations. Annals of Human Genetics, 65(Pt 1):43–62.
  6. Rosser ZH, et al. (2000) Y-chromosomal diversity in Europe is clinal and influenced primarily by geography, rather than by language. American Journal of Human Genetics, 67(6):1526–43.
  7. Shen P, et al. (2000) Population genetic implications from sequence variation in four Y chromosome genes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 97(13):7354–9.
  8. Underhill PA, et al. (2000) Y chromosome sequence variation and the history of human populations. Nature Genetics, 26(3):358–61.
  9. Hammer MF, et al. (1997) The geographic distribution of human Y chromosome variation. Genetics, 145(3):787–805.

7 thoughts on “It’s Father-Tongue, Not Mother-Tongue

  1. sir , i often hear feminists ,again and again claiming , that since we go hrough so much labor pain due to pregnancy and hence its women who are more responsible for child birth , therefore women should be credited more for repoduction compared to men’s who only do some physical pleasurable act..sir i want your views on this statement.is role of man a simple guest appearnce? sir accoring to your knowldge of sciences ,doyou think men do actually posses seeds of civilization ,are primary cause of reproductaion ,which means source of life on earth.by this virtue ofbeing source man itself is eligible for equal credit and rights on child .your views are welcome

  2. What a lovely little misogynist you are. So comforting to know that men if your ilk still exist. Makes life so interesting for us women.
    Now, I’m sure you’ll respond with something clever and witty that my stupid female brain will refuse to process.
    Let me now go do my laundry and marvel at men’s indisputable superiority.
    All hail the more mighty male!
    Gosh! My estrogen is clouding my ability to read Capcha. What’s 1+7? Help!

    1. Thanks. I’ve seen a lot of these studies but none of them discuss the heritability of verbal skills. They also ignore the different developmental trajectories of boys and girls.

  3. Fascinating! I’ve been a language teacher for more 30 years. I studied for a ‘Masters’ in Bilingual Education. I have taught English to adults and children from all over the world, home and abroad.
    When in India and Pakistan “madri-zaban” (mother tongue) was shorthand for “first language”.
    I have been settled in the Far East for 14 years and we speak the local language at home.
    My teenage sons of senior wife understand ‘academic English’ better than their mother, even though she’s an ex-teacher…… but that could be put down to their schooling.
    So why can my six-year-old daughter of junior wife read and write English at a level that her mother will never reach if she lives to be a hundred?
    “Father-tongue” is political dynamite. 🙂

    1. Very nice, you have been to places!

      There is also another interesting aspect to this topic which I think most people can relate to. The overwhelming majority of those who can imitate non-native/foreign languages are men. We can see this manifest cross-culturally, especially in the art of comedy and voice acting, where men use language to bring in an incredible amount of variety.

      Mechanically, men are better able to follow rapidly changing features of sound (combining timing and tonal processing) compared to women.

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