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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, historical, and typological 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; nominalizations; adpositions of time and space. 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

Mode of instruction

2-hour weekly seminar

Assessment method

Students are required to give two presentations each during class (40%), and to write two essays (6-10 pages each), one on a topic of Andean linguistics (30%), the other on a topic of Amazonian linguistics (30%).


Yes Blackboard

Reading list

Set literature:
Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald. 2012. The Languages of the Amazon. Oxford: University Press. . NB: Thanks to Oxford University Press, students of this course will be able to buy this book at a special reduced price at van Stockum bookstore on the Breestraat in Leiden, in August.

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.


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