Founder effects identify languages of the earliest Americans (open access)

Abstract: The known languages of the Americas comprise nearly half of the world's language families and a wide range of structural types, a level of diversity that required considerable time to develop. This paper proposes a model of settlement and expansion designed to integrate current linguistic analysis with other prehistoric research on the earliest episodes in the peopling of the Americas. Diagnostic structural features from phonology and morphology are compared across 60 North American languages chosen for coverage of geography and language families and adequacy of description. Frequency comparison and graphic cluster analysis are applied to assess the fit of linguistic types and families with late Pleistocene time windows when entry from Siberia to North America was possible. The linguistic evidence is consistent with two population strata defined by early coastal entries ~24,000 and ~15,000 years ago, then an inland entry stream beginning ~14,000 ff. and mixed coastal/inland ~12,000 ff. The dominant structural properties among the founder languages are still reflected in the modern linguistic populations. The modern linguistic geography is still shaped by the extent of glaciation during the entry windows. Structural profiles imply that two linguistically distinct and internally diverse ancient Siberian linguistic populations provided the founding American populations (OPs emphasis).

Results: There is enough evidence (linguistic, archeological, genetic, and geological) to indicate four glacial-age openings allowing entries to North America: coastal c. 24,000 and 15,000 years ago; inland c. 14,000 years ago and continuing; and coastal c. 12,000 years ago and continuing. Geographical distribution of modern languages reflects the geography and chronology of the openings and the two human and linguistic population strata they formed, and plausibly also the structural types of the founding languages.


I’m always impressed with the creative ways scholars who study ancient times synthesize various types of evidence to give us clues into the past

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