Research ArticleGENETICS

ASPM-lexical tone association in speakers of a tone language: Direct evidence for the genetic-biasing hypothesis of language evolution

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Science Advances  27 May 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 22, eaba5090
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba5090

Abstract

How language has evolved into more than 7000 varieties today remains a question that puzzles linguists, anthropologists, and evolutionary scientists. The genetic-biasing hypothesis of language evolution postulates that genes and language features coevolve, such that a population that is genetically predisposed to perceiving a particular linguistic feature would tend to adopt that feature in their language. Statistical studies that correlated a large number of genetic variants and linguistic features not only generated this hypothesis but also specifically pinpointed a linkage between ASPM and lexical tone. However, there is currently no direct evidence for this association and, therefore, the hypothesis. In an experimental study, we provide evidence to link ASPM with lexical tone perception in a sample of over 400 speakers of a tone language. In addition to providing the first direct evidence for the genetic-biasing hypothesis, our results have implications for further studies of linguistic anthropology and language disorders.

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