Review – Genes, Peoples and Languages

Posted January 5, 2016 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Genes, Peoples and Languages by Luigi Luca Cavalli-SforzaGenes, Peoples and Languages, Luigi Cavalli-Sforza, trans. Mark Seielstad

I’ve been meaning to read this for a while — even before coming across it in Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct — because genes and languages are two interests of mine. I’m not much for statistics and I found it difficult to follow some of the analyses of the data in this book, but fortunately, Cavalli-Sforza and his translator managed to put the conclusions across quite clearly. I’m surprised to see opposition to the idea that the spread of genes and languages can be mapped onto each other fairly closely, with some exceptions; Darwin predicted it, and according to the data here, it’s fairly clear.

I think the book might’ve benefited from a tighter focus, all the same; it seemed like the language chapter/s went off on a tangent somewhat. Still very interesting, and no doubt out of date by now — my edition says 2001 — so I really should look for more up to date stuff.

Rating: 3/5

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4 responses to “Review – Genes, Peoples and Languages

  1. I’d be interested in this one too. I’ve always wondered about the genes/languages connection. Although, since you mentioned some chapters derailed from the topic, maybe I should try another book on the subject.

    • I think Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct is a good alternative — not focusing on genes and language specifically, but it does summarise the work and makes connections!

  2. I stalled on this a few years back and, as you hint, its conclusions may need to be adjusted to take account of subsequent research. Must revisit — I’ve also got an earlier study he and his team did, acquired secondhand and similarly dipped into. Now the Pinker I did finish, and enjoyed, though its overall themes have been rendered somewhat hazy in the intervening years! Another one to revisit some time …

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