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No. 51: May-Jun 1987

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How many migrations were there?

One way of determining the directions and strengths of human migrations is through language analysis. People carry words along with them and, even after centuries of modification, traces of their original languages survive. In 1492, an estimated 30- 40 million Native Americans spoke more than 1,000 different languages. Can anyone discern patterns in such a hodgepodge? Careful study reveals many similarities. For example, all New World languages can be classified into three groups:

  1. The Eskimo-Aleut or Eurasiatic group, which is related to Indo-European, Japanese, Ainu, Korean, and some other languages.

  2. The Na-Dene family, related to a different set of Old World languages, such as Sino-Tibetan, Basque, (North) Caucasian, and others.

  3. The Amerind family.

"The origins of the Amerind family are the most baffling, but there are a number of apparent cognates with language families of Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Oceania. For example, the root 'tik,' meaning 'finger, one, to point,' is found in Africa, Europe, and Asia, as well as in the Americas. The Amerind words for 'dog' bear a striking resemblance to the Proto-Indo-European word..."

Can the language analysts answer the question in our title above? Based upon the above grouping, they say: "No more than three." (Ruhlin, Merritt; "Voices from the Past," Natural History, 96:6, March 1987.)

Comment. While the people carrying the roots of the Eskino-Aleut and Na-Dene language groups may well have come across the Bering Land Bridge, those bringing the Amerind languages could have come from just about anywhere.

From Science Frontiers #51, MAY-JUN 1987. 1987-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987