Diverse data upend history of language’s evolution

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New research could revise the history of how we think humans acquired language.

Scientists have held up a gene that may affect speech and language, FOXP2, as a “textbook” example of positive selection on a human-specific trait. In a new paper in the journal Cell, however, researchers challenge this finding.

In their analysis of genetic data from a diverse sample of modern people and Neanderthals, researchers saw no evidence for recent, human-specific selection of FOXP2.

“We’re interested in figuring out, on a genetic level, what makes us human…”

A paper from 2002 claimed there was a selective sweep relatively recently in human evolutionary history that could largely account for our linguistic abilities and even help explain how modern humans were able to flourish so rapidly in Africa within the last 50-100,000 years, says senior author Brenna Henn, a population geneticist at Stony Brook University and the University of California, Davis.

“…emphasizing diversity and inclusivity in data collection…clearly yields more accurate results.”

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