Home / Emmy Noether Junior Research Group “The Language Dynamics of the ancient Central Andes”



Just like the Inca are often considered the Andean civilization par excellence, the Quechuan language family is frequently portrayed as the prime representative of the Andean languages. Yet in reality, the ancient Central Andean region is characterized by cultural and linguistic diversity and complex interregional relations.

© Matthias Urban

Without neglecting the well studied and widely distributed Central Andean language families such as Quechuan and Aymaran, Dr. Matthias Urban’s independent DFG-funded Emmy Noether Junior Research Group “The language dynamics of the ancient Central Andes” shifts the empirical focus of attention towards the many ‘minor’ languages that were once spoken in the region (see map). The group explores how language contact and language shift involving the full original linguistic diversity of the Central Andes can contribute to accounts and theories of the region’s prehistory.

This involves the study of a representative variety of different contact and shift situations within the Central Andes. Andean geography and prehistoric sociocultural practices have given rise to a multitude of such situations, which the group explores both in its broadest scope as well as through detailed case studies. Therein, the group relies on a combination of methods derived from contact linguistics, historical linguistics, and anthropology.

Generally, the group embraces and aims to foster a view of linguistics as embedded into a concert of disciplines oriented to the study of human history and prehistory.

Group Members

Dr. Matthias Urban is Principal Investigator of the project and coordinates its activities. His own research within the context of the present work focusses on possible substrate effects in the lexicon of Quechua varieties of Northern Peru, in particular Chachapoyas Quechua.

Hermann Sonntag’s dissertation project Lexical Evidence for the Pre-Columbian Trade and Exchange in Western South America tries to shed light on the linguistic and cultural situation in the Ancient Central Andes and beyond by looking into the relevant languages’ lexica for suspicious loan words.


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