"The Language Dynamics of the Ancient Central Andes"
Emmy Noether Junior Research Group

The Emmy Noether Junior Research Group "The Language Dynamics of the Ancient Central Andes" was established in 2017. Affiliated with the DFG Center, it is funded by a separate grant to its director Dr. Matthias Urban through the Emmy Noether Program of the German Research Foundation (DFG).

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.

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

Biography & Information

Matthias Urban received undergraduate and graduate training in linguistics at the University of Cologne and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. His postdoctoral work focused on the historical linguistics of the Central Andes and sought to investigate the use of different types of linguistic information –the areal distribution of linguistic features, place and personal names, substrate effects, other contact phenomena including lexical and grammatical borrowing, and the spread of language families–as windows to the prehistory of this culture area. He continues to pursue this approach, which also emphasizes the need to interpret the linguistic record against an interdisciplinary background, further as principal investigator of the Junior Research Group “The languages of the Central Andes”, funded by the German Research Foundation’s Emmy Noether Programme.

Position: Principal Investigator
Office: Rümelinstr. 23, Room 4.24
Email address: matthias.urban@uni-tuebingen.de
Telephone Number: +49-7071-29-74391
Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CcAwMF8AAAAJ&hl=de

Selected recent publications

Monographs :

2019 Lost languages ​​of the Peruvian North Coast. Berlin: Gebr. Mann / Ibero-American Institute.
2019 Sprachlandschaften. Über die Rolle von Sprache in der Beziehung zwischen Mensch und Umwelt. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann.
2017 Matthias Urban and Rita Eloranta (eds.) Hans Heinrich Brüning, Diccionario etnográfico de la Costa y Sierra Norte del Perú. Lambayeque: Fondo Editorial de la Facultad de Ciencias Historicas, Sociales y Educativas (FACHSE) / Universidad Nacional Pedro Ruiz Gallo.

Journal Articles :

To appear a  What color are your hearts? 'Liver' and 'lungs' in typological and areal perspective. Linguistic Typology.  
To appear b Language classification, contact, and prehistory in the Andes: the north. Language & Linguistics Compass.
2021a Matthias Urban and Steven Moran. Altitude and the distributional typology of language structure: ejectives and beyond. PLoS ONE 16 (2): e0245522. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0245522
2021b Mochica pronouns: their internal reconstruction and their significance for worldwide patterns of paradigmatic resemblances in pronominal shapes. International Journal of American Linguistics 87 (2): 279-296. https://doi.org/10.1086/712979
2021c The impact of language contact on the Quechua varieties of Northern Peru Exploring the lexical evidence. Language Dynamics and Change 11 (1): 77–129. https://doi.org/10.1163/22105832-00902007
2021d The geography and development of language isolates. Royal Society Open Science 8 (4): 202232 https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.20223
2021e Linguistic and cultural divisions in pre-Hispanic Northern Peru. Language Sciences 85: 101354. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.langsci.2020.101354
2020a Mountain linguistics. Language and Linguistics Compass 2020 14 (9): e12393 https://doi.org/10.1111/lnc3.12393
2020b Matthias Urban and Chiara Barbieri. North and South in the ancient Central Andes: contextualizing the archaeological record with evidence from linguistics and molecular anthropology. Journal of Anthropological Archeology 60: 101233. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaa.2020.101233
2020c The representation of the velar nasal in colonial grammars and other pre-modern sources on the languages of the Central Andean region. In: Astrid Alexander-Bakkerus, Rebeca Fernández Rodríguez, Liesbeth Zack, and Otto Zwartjes (eds.): Missionary linguistic studies from Mesoamerica to Patagonia, 299-312. Leiden/Boston: Brill. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004427006_012
2019a Is there a Central Andean linguistic area? A view from the perspective of the “minor” languages. Journal of Language Contact 12 (2): 271-304. https://doi.org/10.1163/19552629-01202002
2019b Spotlights on the notion of lexical motivation across languages ​​in the western linguistic tradition, from the 16th century to the present. Historiographia Linguistica 46 (1/2): 47-84. https://doi.org/10.1075/hl.00038.urb
2019c Matthias Urban, Hugo Reyes-Centeno, Kate Bellamy, and Matthias Pache. The areal typology of western Middle and South America: towards a comprehensive view. Linguistics 52 (6): 1403-1463. https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2019-0032
2019d Language Contact and the Linguistic Prehistory of the Central Andes. Academic Journal of Modern Philology 8: 205-213.
2019e Notes on Yurumanguí grammar and lexicon. LIAMES: Línguas Indígenas Americanas 19: 1-25. https://doi.org/10.20396/liames.v19i0.8656013
2018a A new approach to the reconstitution of the pronunciation of Timote-Cuicas (Venezuelan Andes). Cadernos de Etnolingüística 6 (1): 31-50. http://www.etnolinguistica.org/article:vol6n1p31-50
2018b Quechua terminology for internal organs of the body: diachronic, typological, and contact perspectives. Studies in Language 42 (3): 505-528. https://doi.org/10.1075/sl.16081.urb
2018c The lexical legacy of substrate languages: a test case from the Southern Ecuadorian highlands. Transactions of the Philological Society 116 (3): 435-459. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-968X.12129
2018d Maritime loanwords in languages of Pacific Meso- and South America? An explorative study.  In: Katerina Harvati, Gerhard Jäger, and Hugo Reyes-Centeno (eds.): New perspectives on the peopling of the Americas, 27-60. Tübingen: Kerns.
2018e Towards a semantically organized meaning list for cognate searches. Academic Journal of Modern Philology 7: 141-158.

Dr. Matthias Pache

Biography & Information

Matthias Pache holds a doctorate degree in linguistics from Leiden University. He is a postdoctoral researcher in the Research Group “The Language Dynamics of the Ancient Central Andes” and focuses on the numerous, often unclassified languages of the Andean region in terms of language contact and linguistic prehistory. So far, Matthias Pache has carried out in-depth research on Quechuan, Aymaran, Lengua X and Mapudungun. He has also extensively investigated languages of Central America and northern South America: Chibchan, Pumé and Chocoan. He has published on a number of topics in descriptive linguistics, the historiography of Native American linguistics and typology. Moreover, his research has a major focus on historical linguistics, including the application of the comparative method in the context of Native South and Central American languages.

Position: Postdoctoral Researcher
Office: Rümelinstr. 23, room 425
Email address: matthias.pache@uni-tuebingen.de
Telephone Number: +49 7071 2976509

Selected and recent publications

To appear a

Willem F.H. Adelaar and Matthias Pache. Are all language isolates equal? The case of Mapudungun. In: Language Change, Description and Documentation: Studies in Honour of Lyle Campbell, eds. Thiago Chacon, Nala Lee, and Wilson D.L. Silva. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

To appear b

Matthias Pache and Carlos Sánchez Avendaño. The Chibchan language family: An overview. In: Universos chibchas: nuevas aproximaciones a la unidad y la diversidad humana en el área istmo–colombiana, eds. Stephen Beckerman and Juan Camilo Niño Vargas. Bogotá: Universidad de los Andes.


Matthias Pache, Sérgio Meira, and Colette Grinevald. Languages of the Isthmo–Colombian Area and its southeastern borderland: Chibchan, Chocoan, Yukpa, and Wayuunaiki. In: Amerindian Socio-Cosmologies between the Andes, Amazonia and Mesoamerica: Toward an Anthropological Understanding of the Isthmo–Colombian Area, ed. Ernst Halbmayer, 61–87. Abingdon/New York: Routledge.


Matthias Urban, Hugo Reyes-Centeno, Kate Bellamy, and Matthias Pache. The areal typology of western Middle and South America: Towards a comprehensive view. Linguistics 57 (6): 1–61.


Lengua X: An Andean puzzle. International Journal of American Linguistics 84 (2): 265–285.


Contributions to Chibchan Historical Linguistics. Ph.D. dissertation, Universiteit Leiden.


Matthias Pache, Arjan Mossel, and Willem F.H. Adelaar. Language diversity, contact and change in the Americas: The model of Filippo Salvatore Gilij (1721–1789). In: Language Contact and Change in Mesoamerica and Beyond, eds. Karen Dakin, Claudia Parodi, and Natalie Operstein, 355–382. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.


Pumé (Yaruro) and Chocoan: Evidence for a new genealogical link in northern South America. Language Dynamics and Change 6 (1): 99–155.


The grammaticalization of plant-part terms in Chibchan languages. International Journal of American Linguistics 82 (4): 425–452.


Dr. Nicholas Q. Emlen

Biography & Information

Nicholas Q. Emlen is a linguistic anthropologist who has conducted extensive ethnographic research on multilingualism, migration, and coffee production on the Andean-Amazonian agricultural frontier of Southern Peru. He also works on the reconstruction of Quechua-Aymara language contact in the ancient Central Andes. In another project, he uses 17th century texts to study multilingualism among Quechua, Aymara, Puquina, and Spanish in the colonial Andes, and he is currently involved in creating digital interfaces for those texts.

Position: Postdoctoral Researcher
Office: Rümelinstr. 23, room 425
Email address: nicholas.emlen@uni-tuebingen.de
Telephone Number: +49 7071 2976509
Personal Pagehttps://www.rug.nl/staff/n.q.emlen/

Hermann Sonntag

Biography & Information

Hermann Sonntag started out as a philosopher studying Philosophy and Social Sciences at the University of Leipzig. Via his preoccupation with logic, semantics and language philosophy and his fateful encounter with Finnish, he chose linguistics as the major of his master studies. In his master’s thesis The Typology of Conditional Constructions: The Past-as-Irrealis Hypothesis in a Cross-linguistic Perspective he examined cross-linguistic similarities on the clause- and sentence-level. Now, as a member of Matthias Urban‘s junior research group The Language Dynamics of the Ancient Central Andes, his current 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. Furthermore, Hermann is interested in cross-linguistic grammaticalization paths and cyclic processes in language change, as well as in language complexity and the harnessing of resource-based approaches accounting for language structures and change.

Position: Doctoral Student
Office: Rümelinstr. 23, room 425
Email address: hermann.sonntag@uni-tuebingen.de
Telephone Number: +49 7071 2976509

Dr. Aviva Shimelman (External Collaborator)

Biography & Information

Aviva Shimelman has a PhD in Linguistics from Université Laval and MA's in Political Science and Philosophy from The University of California, Berkeley and the Universidad National Autónoma de México, respectively. She taught linguistics and writing at the University of California at Santa Cruz, California State University at Monterey Bay and San Jose State University, as well as at Beijing Normal University in Zhuhai, China. She has worked in Latin America, principally in Yauyos, Peru, as an independent scholar with the support of the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts and in Melanesia, principally in Malakula, Vanuatu, as part of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History team there.