Tracing Ancient Migration through Language

WORLD

Indigenous Siberians have linguistic links to Native North Americans. (Al Jazeera)

Take a look at our map to trace the settlement of the Americas—and why people in Russia and Arizona may have linguistic similarities.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

Discussion Ideas

 

This map indicates the approximate distribution of the proposed Dené-Yeniseian languages (green areas) in the 1600s. Ket is the only surviving language in the Yeniseian language family. Map by Ryanaxp, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0

This map indicates the approximate distribution of the proposed Dené-Yeniseian languages (green areas) in the 1600s. Ket is the only surviving language in the Yeniseian language family.
Map by Ryanaxp, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0

  • How does the Ket language hint at how the Americas were settled?
    • Linguists have linked Ket words and verbal systems with the Na-Dene language family. The huge Na-Dene family includes:
      • Eyak, an extinct language. Eyak was spoken by the Eyak people, native to the Copper River delta in Alaska.
      • Tlingit, an endangered language. Tlingit is spoken fluently by about 500 people (Tlingit) in the U.S. states of Alaska and Washington, the Canadian province of British Columbia, and the Canadian territory of Yukon.
      • Hupa, an endangered language. Hupa is spoken fluently by fewer than 10 people (Hupa) around the Trinity River in northern California.
      • Plains Apache, sometimes called Kiowa Apache, a nearly extinct language. Plains Apache is spoken fluently by fewer than 10 people (Plains Apache) around southwestern Oklahoma.
      • Navajo, one of the most widely spoken Native American languages. Navajo is spoken by more than 170,000 people (Navajo) in the southwestern United States, centered around the Four Corners area of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah (areas that make up Navajo Nation, the largest Native American territory in the U.S.) and Colorado.

 

Genetic analyses indicate that there were three distinct waves of prehistoric migrants from Asia to North America. Y-DNA haplogroups are indicated by the blue lines, while mitochondrial DNA is indicated by the yellow lines. (Note: Since this map was published in 2008, the M3 mutation has been grouped under the larger haplogroup Q. (So, Q-M3.)) Map by National Geographic Society

Genetic analyses indicate that there were three distinct waves of prehistoric migrants from Asia to North America. Y-DNA haplogroups are indicated by blue lines, while mitochondrial DNA is indicated by the yellow lines. (Note: Since this map was published in 2008, the M3 mutation has been grouped under the larger haplogroup Q. (So, Q-M3.))
Map by National Geographic Society

  • Is there any genetic evidence to support the tantalizing linguistic links between Ket and Na-Dene?
    • No, scientists have yet to find any direct genetic links between Kets and Native Americans. However:
      • A 2012 genetic analysis identified three waves of migration from Asia to North America. Most Native Americans descend from an ancestral population called ‘First Americans.’ The Eskimo-Aleut group also have genetic markers from another wave. The Chipewyan have a third set of genetic markers. (Chipewyan are a Na-Dene-speaking community in western Canada.)
      • Kets have been genetically linked to another North American group, the Saqqaq. The Saqqaq were the first inhabitants of Greenland, and their people and culture disappeared around 800 BCE.

 

  • Is there any other evidence linking the Kets and Native Americans?
    • Yes. Folklorists have uncovered similar motifs in the mythologies of both cultures. “These motifs include specific myths such as the tale about the first humans who live lazily consuming tasty, satiating fat or bone marrow and plants until a supernatural creature makes them inedible so that humans have to learn hunting or farming in order to survive.”

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Al Jazeera: Tracing ancient Asia-America migration in language

Nat Geo: Human Migration map

2 responses to “Tracing Ancient Migration through Language

  1. Pingback: Tracing Ancient Migration through Language – Welcome to the World of Ekasringa Avatar!·

  2. Pingback: Tracing Ancient Migration through Language — Nat Geo Education Blog – Welcome to the World of Ekasringa Avatar!·

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