Project Die Sprachdynamik der prähistorischen Zentralanden / The language dynamics of the ancient Central Andes

Basic data

Die Sprachdynamik der prähistorischen Zentralanden / The language dynamics of the ancient Central Andes
01/10/2017 to 30/09/2020
Abstract / short description:
Just like the Inca are often considered the Andean civilization par excellence, the Quechuan language family is frequently portrayed as the prime representative of Andean languages. Yet in reality, cultural and linguistic diversity and complex interrelations through time
characterizes the ancient Central Andes, one of the millenia-old 'cradles of human civilization'. Without neglecting the well-studied and widely distributed language families of the Central Andes, this project
will break new ground by shifting the empirical focus of attention towards the many 'minor', non-Quechuan languages of the Central Andes. The aim is to understand the prehistoric language dynamics of
this culturally rich region in a significantly more fine-grained manner than would be otherwise possible. Language dynamics here refers to the conjunction of different processes of language contact and
language shift through time. How can indicators of these processes in the many languages of the Central Andes inform accounts and theories of its prehistory? Answering this question requires the study
of a representative variety of different contact and shift situations within the Central Andes, but also involves searching for the linguistic correlates of the relations that Andeans entertained with the neighboring lowlands. The Andean geography and prehistoric sociocultural practices have given rise to a multitude of different
contact and shift situations which we will either explore with the entire area in scope or in the form of detailed case studies. All subprojects are chosen with an eye to the relevance for major current issues in the multidisciplinary theorizing the ancient Central Andes: they include the study of lexical correlates of (long-distance) exchange across ecological zones, presumably symmetric contact situations at the
intersection of Andes and Amazonia, language shift due to intrusive languages driven by complex states like the Inca, and the question of language spread very early in prehistory. This systematic attention to different types of contact in equal measures is innovative and will
significantly deepen the understanding of the linguistics of the ancient Central Andes from multiple and complementary angles. It will lead to a richer picture of Andean prehistory from which neighboring
disciplines like archaeology can benefit directly. The project relies on a combination of different methods derived from contact linguistics and historical linguistics. In addition, new statistical techniques will be
developed to tackle some of the oldest traceable layers of central Andean linguistic prehistory. Generally, the project embraces and aims to foster a view of linguistics as embedded into a concert of disciplines which study human history and prehistory. Therein, linguistics is both informed by neighboring anthropological disciplines
and can contribute input to them - in more than just one way, in and beyond the ancient Central Andes.

Involved staff


Institute of Linguistics (SfS)
Department of Modern Languages, Faculty of Humanities

Local organizational units

Faculty of Humanities
University of Tübingen


Bonn, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

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