18 de julio de 2012

Role of demographic dynamics and conflict in the population-area relationship for human languages

S. C. Manrubia, J. B. Axelsen, D. H. Zanette, PLoS ONE 7, e40137 (2012)

Many patterns displayed by the distribution of human linguistic groups are similar to the ecological organization described for biological species. It remains a challenge to identify simple and meaningful processes that describe these patterns. The population size distribution of human linguistic groups, for example, is well fitted by a log-normal distribution that may arise from stochastic demographic processes. As we show in this contribution, the distribution of the area size of home ranges of those groups also agrees with a log-normal function. Further, size and area are significantly correlated: the number of speakers p and the area a spanned by linguistic groups follow the allometric relation a ~ pz, with an exponent z varying accross different world regions. The empirical evidence presented leads to the hypothesis that the distributions of p and a, and their mutual dependence, rely on demographic dynamics and on the result of conflicts over territory due to group growth. To substantiate this point, we introduce a two-variable stochastic multiplicative model whose analytical solution recovers the empirical observations. Applied to different world regions, the model reveals that the retreat in home range is sublinear with respect to the decrease in population size, and that the population-area exponent z grows with the typical strength of conflicts. While the shape of the population size and area distributions, and their allometric relation, seem unavoidable outcomes of demography and inter-group contact, the precise value of z could give insight on the cultural organization of those human groups in the last thousand years.