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Do surname differences mirror dialect variation?

Abstract : Our focus in this paper is the analysis of surnames, which have been proven to be reliable genetic markers because in patrilineal systems they are transmitted along generations virtually unchanged, similarly to a genetic locus on the Y chromosome. We compare the distribution of surnames to the distribution of dialect pronunciations, which are clearly culturally transmitted. Because surnames, at the time of their introduction, were words subject to the same linguistic processes that otherwise result in dialect differences, one might expect their geographic distribution to be correlated with dialect pronunciation differences. In this paper we concentrate on the Netherlands, an area of only 40,000 km2, where two official languages are spoken, Dutch and Frisian. We analyze 19,910 different surnames, sampled in 226 locations, and 125 different words, whose pronunciation was recorded in 252 sites. We find that, once the collinear effects of geography on both surname and cultural transmission are taken into account, there is no statistically significant association between the two, suggesting that surnames cannot be taken as a proxy for dialect variation, even though they can be safely used as a proxy for Y-chromosome genetic variation. We find the results historically and geographically insightful, hopefully leading to a deeper understanding of the role that local migrations and cultural diffusion play in surname and dialect diversity.
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Contributor : Bruno Toupance <>
Submitted on : Tuesday, May 4, 2010 - 3:25:44 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, March 4, 2021 - 4:52:04 PM


  • HAL Id : hal-00480597, version 1
  • PUBMED : 18505044


Franz Manni, Wilbert Heeringa, Bruno Toupance, John Nerbonne. Do surname differences mirror dialect variation?. Human Biology, Wayne State University Press, 2008, 80 (1), pp.41-64. ⟨hal-00480597⟩



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