nl en

Topics in Linguistics A: Historical linguistics in the Colombian Andes


Admission requirements

Familiarity with the comparative method of historical linguistics and basic knowledge of diachronic phonology. At least passive reading skills in Spanish are advantageous not but a prerequisite for participation.


South America is linguistically extremely diverse, being home to more than 100 different independent stocks (language families or isolates) for which no generally accepted external connections have yet been found. An ongoing research project at Leiden University, funded by the European Research Council, is currently investigating the possibility of as yet undetected genetic connections of the languages of the Andes.There is no lack of proposals as to genetic connections between the stocks, but these are frequently based on casual observations of similarities or methodologies which are generally rejected rather than a rigorous application of the comparative method. Additionally, in particular in the case of older work, descriptive material available for comparisons was of less-than-optimal quality. The Colombian Andes and their adjacent slopes, on which this seminar will focus, is no exception qua linguistic diversity: it hosts languages of the Barbacoan, Chocó, and Chibchan language families, as well as the isolates Cofán, Camsa, and Páez, among others. In this course, we will take the time to survey the basic characteristics of the relevant languages and language families, but will then focus on Páez. Known to its speakers as Nasa Yuwe, it is an isolate, for which in the course of time various external connections have been proposed but none substantiated. We will jointly prepare the Páez material for comparison, and then each student will be assigned the task of evaluating a specific proposal using modern lexical sources where they have in the meantime become available. The later sessions of the course will be used to begin this work step by step and to discuss problems that arise. Every student will obligatorily give at least one presentation of his/her progress and will receive feedback. The final term paper will then consist in the presentation on the results of the evaluation.

Course objectives

After completing this course students will the able to

  • describe the linguistic situation in the Colombian Andes and the main characteristics of the languages in this region

  • evaluate qualitatively evidence for existing proposals of external relations

  • be able to carry out exploratory comparative-historical research independently



Mode of instruction


Course Load

  • Total course load: 140 hrs

Assessment method

  • final paper: 100%


Yes. Literature on and linguisticdata from the relevant languages will be provided via blackboard, and it will be used to exchange results of assignments

This course is supported by Blackboard. Blackboard will be used to provide students with an overview of current affairs, as well as specific information about (components of) the course. Please see:

Reading list

The relevant literature includes but is not limited to the following (does not need to be read before the beginning of the seminar):

Arias, Hairo, Loly Colderón, Yesena Rincón Jiménez, Ananía Piñacue, Pedro Marín Silva, K. David Harrison, and Jeremy Fahringer 2012. Nasa yuwe Talking Dictionary.

Curnow, Timothy Jowan. 1998. Why Paez is not a Barbacoan language: The nonexistence of “Moguex” and the use of early sources. International Journal of American Linguistics 64 (4): 338-351.

Gerdel, Florence L. and Marianna C. Slocum. 1983. Diccionario: páez-español – español-páez. Lomalinda: Editorial Townsend.

González de Perez, María Stella, and María Luisa Rodríguez de Montes. 2000. Lenguas indígenas de Colombia: una visión descriptiva. Bogotá: Instituto Caro y Cuervo.

Jung, Ingrid. 1989. Grammatik des Paez: ein Abriss. Dissertation, University of Osnabrück.


Prospective students, please check the Study Abroad/Exchange website for information on how to apply.

Aanmelden voor Contractonderwijs

Enrollment through uSis for the course and the examination or paper is mandatory.


Dr. M. Urban