The ecological drivers of variation in global language diversity

Xia Hua, Simon Greenhill, Marcel Cardillo, Hilde Schneemann, Lindell Bromham

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Language diversity is distributed unevenly over the globe. Intriguingly, patterns of language diversity resemble biodiversity patterns, leading to suggestions that similar mechanisms may underlie both linguistic and biological diversification. Here we present the first global analysis of language diversity that compares the relative importance of two key ecological mechanisms - isolation and ecological risk - after correcting for spatial autocorrelation and phylogenetic non-independence. We find significant effects of climate on language diversity, consistent with the ecological risk hypothesis that areas of high year-round productivity lead to more languages by supporting human cultural groups with smaller distributions. Climate has a much stronger effect on language diversity than landscape features, such as altitudinal range and river density, which might contribute to isolation of cultural groups. The association between biodiversity and language diversity appears to be an incidental effect of their covariation with climate, rather than a causal link between the two.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)-
    JournalNature Communications
    Issue number2047
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


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