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jeu. 06/06/2019 “Such a diverse forest of languages”: the changing linguistic landscapes of the Central Andes through time
10h00-11h30
MSH, salle Elise Rivet
Conférence de :
  • Matthias Urban (Universität Tübingen)
dans le cadre des séminaires DDL

The European discovery of the Americas and the subsequent colonization of the continents has set in motion a probably unprecedented dynamics of language shift that is still ongoing. Yet also before European languages became a major impact, the linguistic landscape in many regions was not a stable equilibrium, but constantly changing, in particular in those regions that are characterized by autochthonous cultural complexity.

One such case are the Central Andes of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. In this talk, I will attempt to bring to light selected aspects of the changing linguistic landscape of the Central Andes. After an introduction to the physical geography and the rich cultural history of the region I will sketch how the linguistic ecology changed between the initial contact with Europeans in the early 16th century and today. However, my main concern is to explore how and to what extent changes in the distribution of languages can be projected from the 16th century into late prehistory, which is characterized by the spread of the Quechuan languages into the peripheries of the Inca state in what is today Ecuador and Bolivia. I systematically combine evidence from toponymy, lexical items with non-Quechuan origin in the expanding Quechuan varieties, and structural changes which they have undergone to tackle these questions; the approach should, with the necessary adaptations, in principle be applicable also in other regions. A case study of Southern Peru supports earlier statements in the literature to the effect that the Aymara language was much more widespread there than it is today.

Once the Quechuan expansion is thus partially “undone,” one can move further back into prehistory to the point of time before Quechuan (and Aymaran) began to spread from their homelands in Central Peru. It is generally accepted that even before their spread, while still in the homeland, the ancestors of the Quechuan and Aymaran lineages converged structurally and lexically, yielding a common language type that has often been taken to be representative of the (Central) Andes as a whole. The recovery of earlier linguistic distributions as sketched above, and the appreciation of what can be learned on the structures of the local languages that were replaced by Quechuan or later Spanish, allows to outline a more inclusive and refined picture of the areal typology of the Central Andes. Rather than being other instances of the common Quechuan-Aymaran language type, other languages differed significantly. In particular, a contrast between northern and southern spheres (which latter including Quechuan and Aymaran) in terms of language structure and ecology emerges. A similar divide is visible also in genomic studies, and appears deeply entrenched, too, in the material culture of the pre-Hispanic peoples of the Central Andes that is archaeologically recoverable for the Northern and Southern spheres.


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