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Keywords:

  • mtDNA;
  • model fitting;
  • Native American language classifications

Abstract

This paper investigates a mechanism of linguistic and genetic coevolution in Native Central and South America. This mechanism proposes that a process of population fissions, expansions into new territories, and isolation of ancestral and descendant groups will produce congruent language and gene trees. To evaluate this population fissions mechanism, we collected published mtDNA sequences for 1,381 individuals from 17 Native Central and South American populations. We then tested the hypothesis that three well-known language classifications also represented the genetic structure of these populations. We rejected the hypothesis for each language classification. Our tests revealed linguistic and genetic correspondence in several shallow branches common to each classification, but no linguistic and genetic correspondence in the deeper branches contained in two of the language classifications. We discuss the possible causes for the lack of congruence between linguistic and genetic structure in the region, and describe alternative mechanisms of linguistic and genetic correspondence and their predictions. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.