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Linguistic Structures of Native America


Admission requirements

BA in Linguistics or related discipline


This course is designed to give a thorough overview of the distinguishing characteristics and intricacies of the native languages of South America. We focus on two main areas, Amazonia and the Andes, looking at the spread and the diversity of the native languages, as well as the results of language contact situations. We will hone in on specific themes of descriptive and historical linguistic interest. Among others we will address such issues as demonstrative and classifier systems, nominal tense, truth and knowledge markers, evidentiality, verb formation and noun incorporation; ergativity and complex clauses. In the realm of semantics and pragmatics we will discuss inter alia adpositions of time and space and the language of emotions. Reading material for this course consists of two set books, one for each area, and additional reading material in the form of relevant articles pertaining to a given topic.

Course objectives

To acquire a deep knowledge of the linguistic diversity of the Americas and its historical and genetic background
To be able to identify a general typology of Amerindian languages
To compare and evaluate current research trends and outcomes of Amerindian linguistics


Timetable (in Dutch)

Mode of instruction

Seminar with presentations by the students

Assessment method

Students are required to give one presentation each during class, and to write two essays (6-10 pages each) which should be submitted before February 1st, one on a topic of Andean linguistics, the other on a topic of Amazonian linguistics.



Reading list Set literature: Dixon, R.M.W. & Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald. 1999. The Amazonian Languages. Cambridge Language Surveys. Cambridge: University Press.

Adelaar, F.H. with the collaboration of Pieter C. Muysken. 2004. The Languages of the Andes. Cambridge Language Surveys. Cambridge: University Press

Optional reading:
Mithun, Marianne. 1999. The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge Language Studies. Cambridge: University Press.


Register via uSis.

Not available for Exchange and Study Abroad students.

Contact information

Prof. dr. W. Adelaar