Why mother tongue Why not father tongue

Mother tongue or father tongue?

Geneticists have long been concerned with the prehistory of languages ​​and language change. The data analysis by Peter Forster and Colin Renfrew questions what we took for granted with regard to language acquisition.

From Elisabeth Hamel

Who does a child learn the language from? Without hesitation, we attribute the first language acquisition to the influence of the mother. The concept of "mother tongue" is not limited to German; most peoples - such as the English, the Chinese or the Indians - are familiar with it. In English, for example, one speaks ofmother tongue, in Chinese frommu yu and in Malayalam (South India)madru fasha. It is based on the habit of thinking that a child takes its first language from its mother; because as a rule the father spends less time with his children than the mother because he has to survive outside the home.

All the more surprising what the British-German research team Peter Forster and Colin Renfrew discovered from recent genetic studies: In previous millennia, in bilingual families it was often not the mother but the father who passed his language on to the children!

The geneticist Forster has been working for a long time with the archaeologist Renfrew, who has dealt in depth with the spread of agriculture and livestock in connection with the Indo-European languages. The researchers searched the latest regional studies by other authors on genetics as well as the DNA data of their own subjects from around the world. Almost 1,500 volunteers have taken part in Forster's Roots for Real project.

Whether they were driven by food shortages, whether a successful culture was simply spreading, or whether they were aimed at expeditions of conquest: our ancestors migrated. Linguistic and genetic characteristics of the originating peoples still bear witness to this today. So far, statements about, for example, which genetic line can be assigned to the carriers of agriculture and which language correlates with which genetic line, have been based on assumptions and assumptions and have been hotly debated among geneticists.

The geneticist Forster has highlighted major migration phenomena such as the emigration of modern humans from Africa or the post-glacial settlement of Europe using the mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome. (Footnote 1)

The non-recombining DNA makes a direct maternal line and a direct paternal line reconstructable. The maternal line is provided by the mitochondria, which are only passed on to the offspring via the mother. The father line can be reconstructed via non-recombining sections on the Y chromosome and is passed on from father to son. Both lines result in two world-spanning family trees, separated from one another.

The distribution of the different types of mitochondria is a rather regional phenomenon in most areas of the world. A connection with the languages ​​spoken there can hardly be recognized. It is different with the male genome. Renfrew and Forster found that the distribution of certain Y-types coincides with the distribution of languages ​​in certain regions of the world - a fact that was not noticed by the other authors of these studies.

In New Guinea, for example, the Melanesian languages ​​are spoken; but in some coastal towns there are sprinkles of the Polynesian language. And this is exactly where certain Y-types can be found that are typical of the Polynesians. Only ten percent of these Y-types can be found in the Polynesian language islands, and yet Polynesian dominates there. The few male speakers of Polynesian were obviously able to establish their language.

Something similar can be seen in Iceland: In terms of maternal ancestry, Icelanders are mainly British, while the Y-type is more Scandinavian, and here too the language corresponds to the male genome. Forster had already postulated this in 2004 and was harshly criticized for it by the linguists. Now he can substantiate his assumption.

In Africa, too, Bantu and other Niger-Kordofan languages ​​correlate with the Y-type. It is the same with the Uto-Aztec languages ​​in America. The Aztecs were a culturally superior people until they were defeated by the Spaniards. Based on the language certificates and the genes, one nowadays laboriously reconstructs their history piece by piece. The data analysis confirms that the Aztec languages ​​correlate with the Y-DNA.

Men who impress women, even if only because of the physical strength they used to have for survival, obviously spread their culture and language just as much in addition to their genes. The women of prehistory and early history apparently found alpha men desirable and imitable, so that they fathered children with them and adopted both their customs and their language.

For the prehistoric millennia, the connection between Y-type and language, according to Forster's results, applies in many places on earth. In historical times, the lines of descent analyzed paint a different picture. In Greenland, for example, 50,000 people speak Kalaallisut, an Eskimo language. The North American origins of the mitochondria types coincide with that of the Eskimo languages. As for the Greenland Y-types, half come from Europe - from short visits by European whalers over the past few centuries. Different times - different phenomena.


(Footnote 1)
See Forster, Peter 2004: "Ice Ages and the mitochondrial DNA chronology of human dispersals: a review". In:Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, Biological Sciences Feb. 29; 359 (1442): 255-64; discussion 264.


Genetic Ancestor Ltd. and Eurofins Medigenomix have been working together since 2002. Eurofins Medigenomix carries out the DNA analyzes in its leading European laboratory and sends the results to Peter Forster for evaluation and transmission to the customer. You can order the lineage analyzes with mitochondrial and Y-chromosomal DNA directly from Dr. P. Foster on Roots for Real