https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

Ancestry Reports & Language Learning

Is anyone here learning a certain language based on what you've discovered in your DNA from a commercial-ancestry report (ie. 23andMe, Ancestry(dot)com, LivingDNA, etc.)?

Did you find someplace of interest in your ancestry report that you didn't know you had and now want to learn a new language from the region your ancestors came from?

Aside from ancestry reports, what about just learning through genealogy reports, or family trees/information that are documented within your family's records?

Do you know someone who began learning suddenly, based on what they found in an ancestry report? Is this genuine, or do you think it's a fad?

May 16, 2019

51 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/TravelingHeather

I refuse to participate in current commercial DNA ancestry tests. Not so accurate in many cases, I would consider them mostly "just for fun", which is fine, but not what I care for.

So, while I don't necessarily "know" those genetic percentages, I know a little bit of my cultural ancestry which is a hodgepodge of several nations but the more prominent among them are Chippewa/Ojibwe and German. I'd love an Anishinaabemowin course, even just a basic one, though I don't see it happening. I know a few words from my grandmother but I have not put in any other time for it. I have always been interested in the German language but not enough to really dedicate time to it either. I went for Spanish purely because so many people speak it here in the U.S. and other parts of the Americas and I think that makes it worthwhile to know.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Songve

So far I haven't been successful in finding out what language my Neanderthal ancestors spoke. I think their Broca's and Wernicke's areas of the brain were robust enough to support speech.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

Don't worry about it. You're not even European. You're Vietnamese. :)

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Songve

Seriously, on my maternal side mysteries abound and contained within them may lurk my fascination with the sea and Asia. My mother would never talk about her father, not even his name. As a kid, I overheard my parents talking about him and I recall hearing he was a merchant marine and was in the Philippines. That's only 1500 klicks from Vietnam. I'm considering a DNA test to see if I could track him down and find out some stuff about him. If there is bad stuff, I'd like to think he was a pirate. I've done worse...

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

Sounds like the only thing you have to lose is finding out that you're British.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/James24601

Do you dislike the British ?

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

No. I mean he's got British ancestry which he already knows, so any ancestry report would just confirm it. He suspects some ancestry from Asia, which would be welcome.

May 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Songve

OK, then. Would you believe I may have a couple of genomes from Homo floresiensis aka Hobbit People?

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

Nothing you say shocks me.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Zia177448

Then you might have some Denisovan DNA in you! ;)

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Songve

Gotta get that DNA test to find out how much...I can see the results now. 20% Neanderthal, 30% hobbit people, 25% Denisovan...and 25% Bonobo on account so many people say I act like an ape. I tell you, I don't get no respect. When I was a kid having a birthday party, they would sing, "Happy birthday to you, you act like a monkey and you look like one too."

May 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Judit294350

Bonobo? Arguments must be interesting around you.

May 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Zia177448

:D Well, that's proof if I've ever seen any!

May 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/ngraner42

I think their language consisted mostly of "ugh", "huh", and some form of "when's dinner".

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Zia177448

I wouldn't underestimate what abilities they had (though of course, if you don't understand a language, chances are it all sounds like ugh, huh, barbar). They had art, lived in groups, used tools and wouldn't look particularly out of place on a modern street (provided modern clothes and haircuts were taken care of first ;) ).

I've read theories that language might have been developed by Homo erectus already: https://aeon.co/essays/tools-and-voyages-suggest-that-homo-erectus-invented-language

Just a theory, of course (and I'm not sure I'd go along with all the arguments in it), but I'd actually be more surprised if Neanderthals didn't have pretty complex languages already.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/baerghest

As far as I remember, erectus lacks the hyoid bone, present in neanderthals. This and other factors mean that their control ove rbreathing and tounge movement was much less developed than ours. This may have severely limited their spoken language and the range of sounds they could make with any precision, and made them rely much more on gesture and body language. Their stone tools demonstrate that they had very good fine motor skills with their hands, so they may have been able to develop something like sign language.

May 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Zia177448

Yes, while they did have a hyoid bone (which means nothing because plenty of animals do too), it wasn't shaped in the same way as that of modern humans, leading to the things you mentioned.

I don't really have strong opinions on whether Homo erectus was capable of speech (whether that be sign language, a spoken language with less sounds than ours or a combination of both), but I do find the idea fascinating. And somehow I am a little invested in neanderthals not having been quite as primitive as they are often portrays, after all there is proof that they had at least some degree of culture. (Maybe I do need to get my DNA tested to see how much neanderthal DNA I have... ;) )

May 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

And tones were important. Ugh-huh!

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/uphilldweller

Ugh and Huh - They're downvoters right?

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Songve

No wonder I am attracted to the Toki Pona language...

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/uphilldweller

Dangerous game. Never know what will be found out.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Songve

No one in my family have done this but one of my cousins was stationed in Germany and found out we had a great, great grandfather who was married four times and had kids to each wife. A few years ago I talked to my "cousin" in Germany and surprised we shared major interests and philosophy. We both had successful careers but you never know what you may find out. There are skeletons rattling in everyone's family. Like one in the US got their DNA test, and law enforcement snoops who monitor this got a match with DNA from a serial killer and were then able to track the guy down and arrest him. That part is good but can you imagine finding out your related to a major killer?

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Zia177448

That's the thing about geneology isn't it? The deeper you dig, the more likely you are to bring up dirt. Proceed with caution! ;)

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

I went into it preparing myself to find a half-sibling or something. But I haven't. I did however have a similar experience with a third cousin who had no business being related to me. I talked to her in a message and found out the link was some great aunt. Back in the day, no one talked about giving up children for adoption, and I think we pinpointed that one of the great-aunts "had some trouble when she was a young girl" and her mystery child went on to have a family and she was one of the children. It opened up some interesting information about the one side of my family that no one wanted to talk about.

I find it fascinating.

I did have one or two pushy people try and get in to my life and want to know things like where I lived and worked, and one was so pushy to tell me which programs to use to further my research and to sign up here and there and the way I was doing things was bogus. I thought, "Who are you to tell me how to do things?"

Sure, we're relatives, but we're not family. I am waiting for someone to come along who I can actually have something in common with, closer to my age preferrably, and someone who might even share some personality traits. But... I think I'm on my own there.... for now.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Zia177448

Those would be sides of the whole thing that would interest me too! But yes, there's no guarantee that you'll get the good apples when shaking the family tree, and not just people like that uncle/greatuncle/second cousin that nobody really likes. ;)

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/uphilldweller

Yes Songve and HeyMarlana it is amazing where delving into DNA can take us. I did find out I was part Irish though I won't be joining Riverdance any time soon.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Songve

My maternal side is some kind fo family secret but I deduced that my mother's maiden name was that of her father whom she never talked about. That name was a "Mc" type name so I figure Scotch-Irish. I became acquainted with their culture in the US by an unusual route. First house I bought was a run-down looking farmhouse with a couple of acres but an excellent location. And cheap at the time, about $10,000. Inside walls and ceiling were wavy and I thought I would just bulldoze it and build new when I could afford it. It had one of the few remaining American Chestnut trees on the side by the road. A dirt basement.

One day I was stressed and punched the waviest living room wall, made of gypsum board, and nearly broke my hand. I thought I encountered a steel beam. I proceeded to rip the wall open and what I saw were huge, hand-hewn beams of American Chestnut The logs and chinking were covered in whitewash.

After ripping out walls, and an exterior wall, I bumped into a guy in town who restored log homes professionally. He came out and gave me an interesting history of the Scotch-Irish in Pennsylvania and what life must have been like in my house. No nails used in construction, wooden dowels in the roof beams to main summerbeam. Animals kept in basement during the winter. He told me how to search records at the courthouse and found a deed including my acreage under King George and deed told of an owner being hung for treason. I figure house built before 1776. No deed specifically mentioned the house, only the larger tract of land.

At that time I belonged to a poker club and every month at a different home. I had my house set up in the period of the day, like a doggone saloon and it was very popular for poker parties.

I ended up selling the house. Why? To try to find the Lock Ness Monster. I backpacked around Scotland for a summer. No monster but everywhere I went, when Scots heard my accent they invited me into their homes. Yeah, I gotta have some Scot blood going on.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/uphilldweller

Songve. What an amazing story. My first house had lath and plaster walls - I 'taught' myself how to repair the many holes previous occupants had 'punched' through.

Plastering these sort of 'springy' walls was a bit like language learning - time, effort, frustration in spades before finally there was something to be proud of.

May 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Songve

Plastering is an artform. My 2nd house was another old farmhouse of post and beam construction. It had the old style horsehair plaster. During the energy crisis of the 70's I was fortunate that it once had a wood stove in the living room. I bought a modern one, with doors that could swing open to enjoy the fire. Installation of an insulated stove pipe ran straight up to the attic where the existing brick chimney was. I got real lucky and dropped in liner and hooked the thing up. I heated with wood for about 10 years. Thing about heating with wood you get warmed twice: once cutting and splitting the wood and second by burning. Had a lot of wild cherry trees and a guy with an apple orchard gave me free apple wood (try splitting that stuff) and a friend dropped off a bunch of locust logs that were the best for banking down at night.

May 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

My husband and I did this. It told us what we already knew. It had my Ukrainian ancestry dominate my chart, and his showed his near-100% Native American ancestry.

As a joke, and purely satirical, I wanted to learn Icelandic because I apparently had less than 3% Scandinavian. I selected Icelandic because I love the national Icelandic football team and Viking history. I began calling myself a daughter of the Vikings, and learned to make an Icelandic dish. I even contacted the Icelandic Community in my area to get a membership (which I did not), explaining that my DNA had about 3% Icelandic. For all I know, "Scandinavian" could have meant any of the Scandinavian countries -- I just selected Iceland out of favouritism. Ridiculous, yes, but also a way to poke fun of the people who suddenly learn they have a sliver of a certain ancestry and then run with it.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Zia177448

I do have a few guesses of what area I might have ancestors from thanks to a bit of traditional genealogical digging and it would be pretty interesting to know if some of my guesses might be right. I think I might have some Danish or Roman ancestry. It would be interesting to know which of the ethnic groups from Poland are in the mix and to know if there's some DNA from France and the Netherlands in there too (those aren't too unlikely geographically seen). I already want to learn all those languages, so it wouldn't change much except perhaps my priorities (and if there was a surprise in there, I probably would want to give that language a try). On a somewhat bigger scale, it would be pretty cool to know how much Neanderthal DNA I have.

I'm just sceptical about those tests.

First of all, I'm a bit sceptical about the methodology itself. I seem to recall reading that at least one of those companies asks where you think you have ancestry. Theoretically, that would make it pretty easy for the companies to just confirm what someone already thinks and maybe add in a few % of a wild card. I'm not saying that this is what they do, but it would make it easy to do so.

I'm also a bit sceptical about naming a geographic area in general. There have been so many population movements, followed by populations melting together etc that I wonder how accurate these things can be. I'm assuming that they are taking current populations of an area as a comparison, but there has been plenty of relatively recent (the World Wars for example) movement that that alone isn't necessarily a really accurate foundation. I'll take that they can recognize wider geographical areas, but I'm sceptical about the more detailed reports.

And besides the methological doubts, I also have concerns in regards to data security. By letting yourself be tested, you're giving those companies A LOT of information about yourself. Can we be sure who they share it with? That they won't be hacked? I'm sure that's data that health insurance companies and others would be very interested in.

Give me a lab, instructions and a set of good comparison data and I'll do it myself (though I'm not sure if I'd want to look at the risk for diseases), but I'm not going to send my DNA to someone of whom I'm not sure how trustworthy they are. Because I already know one thing without any testing: I'm a sceptic. ;)

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/AndresGarner

My grandfather has been researching my family's history for about 10-15 years and has traced it as far back to the 1400s, (we have even found family middle ages sign or whatever it is called) I am of Scotch-Irish/German descent, and about 5 years ago I started learning German because it was the language of many of my ancestors.

Now, I don't remember any German except maybe a few words, and I traded in learning German for Spanish because Spanish is way more useful for me and I enjoy it WAY more than German. (Sorry ancestors :P)

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

How nice to able to go back that far!! The best I could do was go back to about the late 18th century, and that was a real crawl looking for who was who. In the end, I'm not even sure how accurate it was. I can say for certain there are records going back into the 1800s, but big flippin' deal. I feel like that was only five-generations worth of relatives.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Ronald-B-Weasley

My ancestry is mostly Italian, Polish, and Irish. I have no interest in Polish and Irish (no offense). I do hope to learn some Italian eventually though, after I finish French!

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Ryanaissance

If the tests were more accurate, then perhaps. Also, if companies like 23andme hadn't been caught manipulating their data, then perhaps. I don't trust them from a science standpoint, nor an ethical one.

But the sentiment of learning a language because my ancestor's spoke it is enticing. Following that I'd be learning Irish, Italian, Danish, and Norwegian, and English (!), which I am, starting with Norwegian. (Ok so I studied Italian a lot a long time ago)

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

Interesting... 23andMe is what my husband and I used, and we did find accuracy. I also found relatives that could name names, since none of that information was on my profile - nor do I make it public online. Who I connected with actually seemed related to me.

I was tempted to give my dog a DNA test, but no. If it weren't so expensive... I would have.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/ppelk

The DNA data is always 'accurate'. How one interprets it is assumptions and statistical inference. 23andme (and maybe others as well) also allow you to download your raw data and re-assess it yourself with different 3rd party tools. Different tools give a bit different interpretations of ancestry. But if one does it, one learns a lot about how DNA data is crunched. You CAN learn a lot about where your ancestors came from, but there is always some uncertainty as well, which could be bigger or smaller, depending on the case.

May 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/diecidieci

I have some French ancestry (from the 1800s), but I have no interest in learning French. (But since it's one of the only languages that you can learn from Italian on Duolingo... I might give it a try some day.) Other than that, I'm pretty sure I'm just Finnish, so I'm not really interested in ancestry reports.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Cymas86

Until privacy laws catch up to modern technology, no DNA tests for me, and probably not even then tbh. Of course, it's pretty much a moot point if anyone else in my family does them, and I suspect some may, or may already have.

But personal politics aside, I do know my family ancestry is Greek and German. It was this knowledge that influenced me to study German for all 4 years in high school as a way to connect with my family's ancestral culture. I haven't kept up on it, but I may come back to it eventually, long after I've reached my goals with Portuguese.

I don't think it's a fad. For immigrants in general and Americans in particular, there's always that fascination with where we came from as a way to define who we are. I know many non-US people are occasionally irritation/mildly offended when we say we are x heritage, not recognizing that we don't mean it literally. Our ancestral heritage is a huge part of our identity in the greater melting pot of the US, and the world itself. It's only natural to be curious, and language learning is one of the most accessible ways to connect to our pasts and identify with the people around us. Personally I hope it continues as a trend.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/siaure

I know many non-US people are occasionally irritation/mildly offended when we say we are x heritage

I'm 100% okay with Americans/etc saying that they are X heritage, but it greatly pisses me off when Americans/etc just claim that they're X (race/nationality) when they mean that their great-great-whatever was from X country.

I've had more than one exchanges with Americans that went like this:

  • American: So where are you from?
  • Me: X
  • American: Oh, me too!
  • Me: * switches to X language *
  • American: ???
  • Me: Oh... you don't speak X? You just said that you were from X?
  • American: Yeah, I am, my great-great-whatever was from X.

??? Maybe this is just some ridiculous pet-peeve of mine, but it can't be that hard for people to say "I'm X heritage" instead of just saying that they're X.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

I can't agree more. The recent Ancestry(dot)com commercial featuring Kelly Ripa is nauseating. She actually says the words: "I'm from the big toe of of that sexy Italian boot."

No, Kelly. You're from Jersey. Your heritage is 3/4 Italian.

May 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

I know many non-US people are occasionally irritation/mildly offended when we say we are x heritage, not recognizing that we don't mean it literally.

Very true. People from Europe/Asia/Africa -- where their ancestry has stayed in one place for thousands of years need to understand that our countries are only a few hundred years old. Even now, with the melting pot of immigration, it's quite common to indicate that you are "X" heritage.

I always thought it was because we had no defining culture just as Americans or Canadians. (Australians, feel free to add your input.) To be Canadian for example was always linked with the nauseating stereotype of "liking" hockey, "liking" poutine, living in the cold, drinking awful beer, eating bacon, and saying "eh?". None of these things are me, and none of these things are many Canadians I know of. Sure, I'm proud to be Canadian, but I'm not proud of this kitschy stereotype that we've seemed to embrace -- even though quietly we don't identify with.

So for many, finding one's ancestral past is certainly a way around that to give someone an added sense of pride in something different. Maybe it's the bit of Euro/Asian exoticism that we just don't seem to be known for in North America as simply American or Canadian.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/ColdBird

Thanks for mentioning the lack of privacy laws. The lack of privacy protection is why I would never get a DNA test. I fervently hope my close relatives also abstain from these tests. I wish people understood that getting a "fun" ancestry test has the potential to cause serious problems for their siblings, cousins, etc.

As for what I'm motivated to study on Duolingo, my focus has always been on languages I can use to chat with my neighbors, whose ancestry is most definitely different from mine. I'm not motivated to study the languages of my ancestors because those ancestors are dead and it's therefore impossible to chat with them.

May 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/_M_M_.

In terms of genealogy, these tests are good for 2 things:

-identifying relatives who have also taken DNA tests and allowed their info to go into a database. Getting in contact with distant cousins can allow you to work together and piece together pieces of family history to fill in your family tree, where they lived, and what they did. For example: if a DNA test shows you are approximately 3rd cousins with someone you've never met, you can work to discover if one of his/her great-great grandparents could be your "missing" great-great grandparents. If you identify that person, then you might be able to research the ancestors of your newly discovered ancestor. Obviously you need to combine this with traditional genealogical research (birth records, censuses, church records, etc.). A lot of people with serious interest in genealogy use this to make new discoveries.

-identifying very vague, continent-wide ethnic group. You can say someone is 70% "white" and 30% "sub-saharan African" or 100% Asian, although there will still be a margin of error.

What they can't say is that you are 10% French or 70% Korean or 33% Hausa. The genes that they identify as "French" or "Korean" or "Hausa" are also present in other areas and regions. They just use statistical analysis to find which genes are more associated with a particular place, but that doesn't mean your genes came from that place.

For example: there may be a group of people who lived in what-is-now Turkey 1500 years ago. You have some ancestors in this group who moved to what-is-now Denmark 1000 years ago, while a larger number moved to what-is-now France 800 years ago. The test sees your genes are more associated with France than anywhere else, and it calls you "French." You, of course, have no ancestors in France; instead, you have ancestors in Denmark, further back you have ancestors in what is now Turkey, and further back you have ancestors somewhere else.

-Also, note that when you go back a few hundred years, you will find some of your direct ancestors didn't leave you distinct DNA (remember most of our DNA as humans is identical to all other DNA). So, even if they were able to 100% identify certain genes with certain places, they would still be leaving out some of your relatively recent ancestors from their calculations.

May 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

What they can't say is that you are 10% French or 70% Korean or 33% Hausa. The genes that they identify as "French" or "Korean" or "Hausa" are also present in other areas and regions

I have only used 23andMe, and yes, they do pinpoint the regions either down to one country or a region of where the country is.

May 18, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/_M_M_.

Yes, that's how they present it to you, because they'll make more sales that way. Ancestry.com does the same thing. But that's not what it means. The genes don't have encoded maps showing where they were in the past. The computer just says this group of DNA is found more often in place A than place B or place C so it says the DNA is from place A. But there may be large amounts of people with that DNA in places B and C. Your ancestors may be from there.

May 18, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Judit294350

I cannot imagine any reputable DNA test being able to narrow down a specific culture or language. The groups are huge - "Northern European" for instance.

However, maybe I should push DL to provide courses in Neanderthal and Denisovan - both of which I have a large proportion of DNA.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

The one I did narrowed it down to the regions. The only way they list countries is where the country exists today, but the map may say "Balkans" for example, which could be several countries. So if someone has Balkans on their chart, but they know they've got Greek ancestry, then the individual can make sense of that.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Celica2898

Call me crazy, but that sounds like a very American (and other British colonies) thing to do. I was always astonished by how much emphasis Americans especially put on their ancestry. It's no rarity (especially in the internet) to come across (for example) an American being proud of his/her German heritage, even though their family left the country 200 years ago, they don't speak a shred of German and don't really know what the country is like. It really rubs me the wrong way for some reason. Where I live your family history kinda stops being relevant after your great-grandparents.

And I don't really think that these Ancestry Reports are as accurate as they'd like us to believe. When identical twins get different results, that says al lot. (I remember watching some kind of video that tested these kits using this method. It is a product to sell after all.

From what I have gathered people learning German for this reason give up quite quickly actually, but that is only my subjective picture. I learn Russian to communicate with my family in the here and now and because it is a major world language that would allow me to talk to a lot of people if I ever become fluent.

May 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

And this is a very modern-European way of viewing this. As I mentioned in another comment here, being American or Canadian almost means nothing as far as culture goes. It's a bit like a child being adopted and wanting to know who their real parents are.

As @Cymas86 said:

For immigrants in general and Americans in particular, there's always that fascination with where we came from as a way to define who we are.

Those who have centuries of culture behind them are so lucky. As a North American who has a mish-mash of multiculturalism in one country, it almost feels as if you don't belong anywhere. Canada has had settlers here for only a few hundred years, my own only just arrived in the late 1890s. Their own culture was all but wiped out after so much ridicule and discrimination from the established settlers who considered themselves Canadians.

When I went to Europe, no one had to question their ancestry because it was almost always right where they stood with relatives (and ancestors) remaining in one place for centuries.

We don't have that sort of charm in Canada or US. A lot of people want to know what their roots are to make some sense of themselves, and to feel a belonging to a certain place. We as children of the immigrants can't help this. We can't just pack up and go back to a place we weren't born in, and we have nothing here to give us that missing piece of the puzzle.

May 18, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/SkyeHaven

I found out a couple of years ago that I am a full quarter Jewish from my Dad. Even though I know my ancestry I didn't really feel interested in pursuing Yiddish/Hebrew. My Dad is adopted so I won't ever be able to come into contact with my Jewish relations, it didn't really seem like a goal for me. However I am also Scandinavian so I am really excited about the upcoming release of the Finnish language to Duolingo! Although Scandinavian could mean any of those countries I am partial to Finland for some reason... :)

May 17, 2019
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