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Tom Rzeszutek, Patrick E Savage, and Steven Brown (2012)

The structure of cross-cultural musical diversity

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279(1733):1606-1612.

Human cultural traits, such as languages, musics, rituals and material objects, vary widely across cultures. However, the majority of comparative analyses of human cultural diversity focus on between-culture variation without consideration for within-culture variation. In contrast, biological approaches to genetic diversity, such as the analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA) framework, partition genetic diversity into both within- and between-population components. We attempt here for the first time to quantify both components of cultural diversity by applying the AMOVA model to music. By employing this approach with 421 traditional songs from 16 Austronesian-speaking populations, we show that the vast majority of musical variability is due to differences within populations rather than differences between. This demonstrates a striking parallel to the structure of genetic diversity in humans. A neighbour-net analysis of pairwise population musical divergence shows a large amount of reticulation, indicating the pervasive occurrence of borrowing and/or convergent evolution of musical features across populations.


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