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Social complexity and linguistic diversity in the Austronesian and Bantu population expansions

Robert S. Walker and Marcus J. Hamilton
Proceedings: Biological Sciences
Vol. 278, No. 1710 (7 May 2011), pp. 1399-1404
Published by: Royal Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41148965
Page Count: 6
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Social complexity and linguistic diversity in the Austronesian and Bantu population expansions
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Abstract

Reconstructing the rise and fall of social complexity in human societies through time is fundamental for understanding some of the most important transformations in human history. Phylogenetic methods based on language diversity provide a means to reconstruct pre-historic events and model the transition rates of cultural change through time. We model and compare the evolution of social complexity in Austronesian (n = 88) and Bantu (n = 89) societies, two of the world's largest language families with societies representing a wide spectrum of social complexity. Our results show that in both language families, social complexity tends to build and decline in an incremental fashion, while the Austronesian phylogeny provides evidence for additional severe demographic bottlenecks. We suggest that the greater linguistic diversity of the Austronesian language family than Bantu likely follows the different biogeographic structure of the two regions. Cultural evolution in both the Bantu and Austronesian cases was not a simple linear process, but more of a wave-like process closely tied to the demography of expanding populations and the spatial structure of the colonized regions.

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