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PhD defence

Contributions to Chibchan Historical Linguistics

  • Matthias Pache
Wednesday 5 December 2018
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden

Linguistic data and genealogical connections between languages can reveal information about human prehistory in terms of migrations and homelands. This is particularly relevant in the Americas, where written sources on native populations are mostly available for a relatively recent time span only, that is, after 1492.

Investigating prehistoric, intercontinental relationships between Mesoamerica and South America by means of linguistic evidence, the Chibchan language family is of major interest, given its geographic position at the heart of the double-continent: this family dominates an area extending some 1,500 kilometres on an east-west axis, from eastern Honduras to western Venezuela.

One of the major unresolved and controversial issues discussed for over a hundred years is the ultimate homeland of the Chibchan language family, and whether it must be localized in Central America or South America. The present thesis aims to answer this question. Accordingly, it is divided into two parts.

Part one provides a thorough reconstruction of Proto-Chibchan, based on data from all known 23 Chibchan languages. The reconstructed data have been compared with data from nearly 130 other Native American languages and language groups.

The second part of the thesis offers linguistic evidence suggesting the possibility of a genealogical connection between Chibchan and the Macro-Jê languages of eastern South America, and an ultimate homeland for Chibchan in Lowland South America.

Chibchan is thus among the few language groups to demonstrably reflect migratory movements from the South American continent into Central America.

Funding organisations

The research for this thesis was carried out as part of the project “The Linguistic Past of Mesoamerica and the Andes (Mesandlin(g)k)”, financed by the European Research Council (ERC), under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013) / ERC Grant Agreement no. 295918.


  • Prof. W.F.H. Adelaar


PhD defences are free; you do not have to register.

PhD dissertations

PhD dissertations by Leiden PhD students are available digitally after the defence through the Leiden Repository, that offers free access to these PhD dissertations. Please note that in some cases a dissertation may be under embargo temporarily and access to its full-text version will only be granted later.

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