Genetics and Languages

Project Summary:

Languages evolve rapidly due to an interaction between sociocultural factors and underlying phonological processes that are influenced by genetic factors. DCDC2 has been strongly associated with core components of the phonological processing system in animal models and multiple independent studies of populations and languages. To characterize subtle language differences arising from genetic variants associated with phonological processes, we examined the relationship between READ1, a regulatory element in DCDC2, and phonemes in languages of 43 populations across five continents. Variation in READ1 was significantly correlated with the number of consonants. Our results suggest that subtle cognitive biases conferred by different READ1 alleles are amplified through cultural transmission that shape consonant use by populations over time.

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Mellissa M.C. DeMille, Kevin Tang, Chintan M. Mehta, Christopher Geissler, Jeffrey G. Malins, Natalie R. Powers, Beatrice M. Bowen, Andrew K. Adams, Dongnhu T. Truong, Jan C. Frijters & Jeffrey R. Gruen. 2018. Worldwide distribution of the dcdc2 read1 regulatory element and its relationship with phoneme variation across languages. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [pdf] [bib]
M.M.C. DeMille, J.C. Frijters, Kevin Tang, Christopher Geissler, N.R. Powers, B.M. Bowen, A.K. Adams, D.T. Truong & J.R. Gruen. October, 2016. An investigation of the evolution and worldwide distribution of the READ1 element in DCDC2 and its contribution to language development. The 66th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics, Vancouver, Canada. [Poster]

Alignment of READ1 repeat units in primates.

Linear regressions of consonants and vowels by RU1-1 frequencies.

Distribution of RU1-1, RU1-2, and deletion of READ1 in 43 world populations.