Predictions of native American population structure using linguistic covariates in a hidden regression framework

PLoS One. 2011 Jan 31;6(1):e16227. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016227.


Background: The mainland of the Americas is home to a remarkable diversity of languages, and the relationships between genes and languages have attracted considerable attention in the past. Here we investigate to which extent geography and languages can predict the genetic structure of Native American populations.

Methodology/principal findings: Our approach is based on a Bayesian latent cluster regression model in which cluster membership is explained by geographic and linguistic covariates. After correcting for geographic effects, we find that the inclusion of linguistic information improves the prediction of individual membership to genetic clusters. We further compare the predictive power of Greenberg's and The Ethnologue classifications of Amerindian languages. We report that The Ethnologue classification provides a better genetic proxy than Greenberg's classification at the stock and at the group levels. Although high predictive values can be achieved from The Ethnologue classification, we nevertheless emphasize that Choco, Chibchan and Tupi linguistic families do not exhibit a univocal correspondence with genetic clusters.

Conclusions/significance: The Bayesian latent class regression model described here is efficient at predicting population genetic structure using geographic and linguistic information in Native American populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Genetics, Population / methods*
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American / genetics*
  • Linguistics / methods*