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.
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.