The New York Times has published an article on the results of a genetic study that sought to show the genetic interrelationships of the peoples of Europe. This is fascinating to me as an Indo-European linguist and someone interested in the early history of Europe. Looking at the map provided in the article, I see that the Europeans as grouped according to their genetic heritage correlate strikingly with the reconstructed language families and with the conclusions of archaeology – or should I say “intelligent historical linguistics” and “intelligent archaeology”? (Sorry, couldn’t resist a dig. Or the bad pun!)
Naturally, the speakers of Germanic languages are closely related. It is also not surprising that the Celtic peoples in Ireland have overall interbred with the Germanic peoples who have displaced them, but it is quite interesting that they share such a close relationship with the continental people of the Netherlands and that both these are tangential to France, whose old name Gaul is related to “Gaelic” because of its ancient Celtic population. The Celtic languages are almost extinct, but as they were assimilated rather than wiped out, their genetic inheritance is still noticeable enough to detect relationships between those who remained on the continent and those who broke off and populated the British Isles.
The close grouping of most Romance language speakers on the genetic map belies the geographic spread of Portugal and Italy as expected, but those not well read in medieval European history would be surprised that the French population overlaps with the populations of Germany and Austria much more than with the other Romance groups. This is quite expected, however, and would have been predicted by anyone who knew that the name “France” is derived from a Germanic tribe called the Franks. Ancient France was the hub of a lot of activity; populated by Celts in the time of Julius Caesar, it was invaded and taken over by the Germanic peoples early in the Christian era. Because the Holy Roman Empire situated itself in France, the language of the Romans, Latin, became the official language of the region, so that what we have in France today is an admixture of Celtic and Germanic people speaking an Italic language. I would be interested to how much the contiguity and overlap of the Italic/Romance people groups on the map is a result of relatively recent geographical proximity and how much is attributable to the proposed prehistorical relationship between the Celtic and Italic people/languages (Italo-Celtic is a popular, but not uncontested, subgrouping of Indo-European).
And of course I would be remiss not to point out the position of Finland on the genetic map. Their noticeably divergent genetic stock is not explainable in simply historical terms, but it’s completely understandable given the separate linguistic history of the Finns and the other Europeans: Europeans are descendants of the Indo-Europeans, and the Finns are rather descended from a group of people whose language family is usually called Finno-Ugric. The fact that Hungarian, the “Ugric” half of Finno-Ugric, is spoken by people genetically indistinguishable from the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe is only marginally remarkable because they have not been isolated geographically as have the Finnish, but I don’t know enough about that language family and its history to make any more comments.Recent Posts: