Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

On the Journey from Asia to North America, Some Turned Back, Say Linguists

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

On the Journey from Asia to North America, Some Turned Back, Say Linguists

Article excerpt

For ancient migrants, Beringia - the region that once bridged Alaska and Siberia - wasn't a one-way street.

Instead, people moved out of the region, with some journeying back westward to Central Asia and the rest heading eastward to North America, according to a paper titled "Linguistic Phylogenies Support Back-Migration from Beringia to Asia" published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on March 12.

Researchers Mark Sicoli of Georgetown University and Gary Holton from University of Alaska Fairbanks examined shared characteristics between North American Na-Dene languages and the Yeniseian languages of Central Siberia, and constructed a language "tree" by incorporating "computational phylogenetic tools developed primarily in evolutionary biology."

In phylogenetic analysis, a tree is plotted to study evolutionary relationships between organisms. Drs. Sicoli and Holton used the same technique to show the relationships between languages.

Sicoli said in a press release, "we used computational phylogenetic methods to impose constraints on possible family tree relationships modeling both an Out-of-Beringia hypothesis and an Out- of-Asia hypothesis and tested these against the linguistic data. We found substantial support for the out-of-Beringia dispersal adding to a growing body of evidence for an ancestral population in Beringia before the land bridge was inundated by rising sea levels at the end of the last ice age."

Researchers such as Edward Vajda, a linguist at Western Washington University had earlier suggested that some sort of common ancestry existed between Proto-Na-Dene and Proto-Yeniseian languages.

Based on such previous findings and their analysis, this scientists suggest that both the Na-Dene and the Yeniseian languages came from a language family known as the Dene-Yeniseian, which, they say, originated in Beringia. …

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