I have a slim vol on my bookshelf called Genes, People and Language by a fellow called Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza. Using genetic tests, one can draw trees which show how early man spread around the globe. Using linguistics, one can plot very similar trees detailing the relationship between the various language families in the world. The book talks about the correlation between the two. It seems convincing, or at least worth exploring.

When I was given the book I was full of glee, because it struck me as a lovely idea. It seemed like my ideal book, in that it contained linguistics, maths and genetics in one little package. Unfortunately it’s a terrible read. It has been very sloppily translated from the Italian, but I suspect the leaden style has been faithfully rendered. The bits about the maths of correlation are badly explained, and every interesting fact and insight is annoyingly communicated. It’s not worth perservering with after a while. But this is still a fascinating subject, and if anyone knows of any better books on the subject (linguisto-genetics? geneto-philology?) then please let me know.

Just to prove I don’t complain about every pop science effort which comes my way, let me recommend a fantastic book in a similar vein called Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, which asks some very ticklish questions about race, geography and culture, and proposes some interesting answers.