More rule than exception: parallel evidence of ancient migrations in grammars and genomes of Finno-Ugric speakers

Giuseppe Longobardi, Guido Barbujani, Cristina Guardiano, Andrea Ceolin, Gloria Gonzáles Fortes, Patricia Santos, Guido Cordoni, Emiliano Trucchi

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To reconstruct aspects of human demographic history, linguistics and genetics complement
each other, reciprocally suggesting testable hypotheses on population relationships and interactions. Relying on a linguistic comparative method based on syntactic data, here we focus on the non-straightforward relation of genes and languages among Finno-Ugric (FU) speakers, in comparison to their Indo-European (IE) and Altaic (AL) neighbors. Syntactic analysis, in agreement with the indications of more traditional linguistic levels, supports at least three distinct clusters, corresponding to these three Eurasian families; yet, the outliers of the FU group show linguistic convergence with their geographical neighbors. By analyzing genome-wide data in both ancient and contemporary populations, we uncovered remarkably matching patterns, with north-western FU speakers linguistically and genetically closer in parallel degrees to their IE-speaking neighbors, and eastern FU speakers to AL speakers. Therefore, our analysis indicates that plausible cross-family linguistic interference effects were accompanied, and possibly caused, by recognizable demographic processes. In particular, based on the comparison of modern and ancient genomes, our study identified the Pontic-Caspian steppes as the possible origin of the demographic processes that led to the expansion of FU languages into Europe.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1491
Number of pages20
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

© 2020 by the authors.


  • genomes; syntax; genetic and linguistic distances; human migrations; phylogenies

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