Unravelling East Africa’s Early Linguistic History


The project aims to reconstruct the earliest possible linguistic history of East Africa with focus on Tanzania and Kenya and to a provide a comprehensive overview of its linguistic history in the last five thousand years. In the traditional view, East Africa was populated by KhoiSan speaking hunter-gatherer communities before successive populations of Cushitic, Bantu, and Nilotic people moved in, bringing agriculture, animal husbandry, and iron. Recent advances in archaeology show a more complex picture. Also, genetic studies have become available, including studies on ancient human and cattle DNA. Furthermore, historical linguists no longer consider the various East African Khoi-San languages as related to each other. It is therefore time to fully reconsider how the linguistic evidence relates to early populations. Over the last decades, new lexical and grammatical data has become available. This project provides an open on-line database containing this lexical material with a critical evaluation of its origins (sub-project 1 PD and PI). In order to establish a new timeline for the language history of East Africa, we develop a revised and drastically expanded linguistic reconstruction of Proto Core Cushitic (sub-project 2 PhD), and of South Omotic (sub-project 3 Addis Ababa PhD). This results in an overview of which language groups were where and in which chronology based on linguistic evidence which serves as input for an interdisciplinary workshop with archaeologists and geneticists that will provide a new and detailed picture for the peopling of East Africa, linking linguistic groups with archaeological finds and DNA results.





Prof. dr. M.P.G.M. Mous

Verbonden aan

Universiteit Leiden, Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Leiden University Centre for Linguistics (LUCL)


01/09/2019 tot 31/08/2023