Universiteit Leiden

nl en

Research project

Unravelling East Africa’s Early Linguistic History (LHEAf)

This project investigates the rich linguistic history of the crucial language groups in East Africa and includes a search for words that indicate earlier lost languages. These outcomes, combined with recent archaeological and genetic research, will contribute to a new understanding of East Africa’s early history.

2020 - 2024
Maarten Mous
NWO Open Competition SSH

Addis Ababa University

East Africa is a fascinating area for historical linguistics hosting all the major language phyla of Africa, represented by  Cushitic,  Bantu,  Nilotic,  and  Sandawe.  These  languages  have  been  in  contact  with  each  other  over  a  long period of time and this contact is traceable because the languages are so different. The current diversity masks a possibly even bigger diversity in the period before the intrusion of Cushitic, Nilotic and Bantu. Remnants are language  isolates such  as  the  Hadza  of Tanzania, the unclassified  South  Omotic  in  Southern  Ethiopia, and various other isolates. All over East Africa there are small groups of (former) hunter-gatherers which have words that could relate to those earlier inhabitants. The project aims at identifying such possible earlier linguistic presence. This is only achievable after a major expansion of the reconstruction of Cushitic and a first reconstruction of South Omotic.

List of references - slide 5 GTD 2021
A depiction of lexical domains of the project: kinship, flora & fauna, animal husbandry, hunting, and agriculture

By means of standard historical reconstruction and using existing open access databases, this project attempts to unravel East Africa’s early linguistic history. We hope to combine the outcomes with recent archaeological and genetic research so as to provide a new and detailed picture of the peopling of East Africa, linking linguistic groups with archaeological finds and DNA results. In turn, this new understanding of East Africa’s early history and the nature of the innovation and assimilation processes will give a fuller picture of the complex history of East Africa.

This website uses cookies.  More information.