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Willem Adelaar

Supervisor Department of Anthropology


Willem F. H. Adelaar (born at The Hague in 1948) is a Dutch linguist on American autochthonous languages, specially Andean languages.

He is full Professor of indigenous American Linguistics and Cultures at Leiden University.

M.A. in Chinese language and literature, with a minor in General Linguistics (Quechua) in 1969. Ph. D. University of Amsterdam in 1977 (title of dissertation: "Tarma Quechua: Grammar, Texts, Dictionary"). Honorary doctor of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Lima (2007).

He has travelled widely in South America and has conducted fieldwork in Peru on different varieties of Quechua and minor languages of the Andes. He has taught a wide variety of courses in Amerindian languages and South American indigenous history. He has also worked on the historical-comparative reconstruction of South American languages, and since 1991 has been involved in international activities addressing the issue of language endangerment. Since 2003 he is an associate editor of the International Journal of American Linguistics (IJAL) for the University of Chicago Press. Willem Adelaar was among the first academicians to study extinct languages in northern Peru.

In his activities of the issue of language endangerment he makes his contributions in writing articles: "Unprotected Languages: the silent death of the languages of Northern-Peru", in Herzfeld and Lastra (1999); "Threatened Languages in Hispanic South America (2007)". Chapter 2 of the book 'Language Diversity Endanged', or organizes or participates in projects like "Giving them back their languages: The endangered Amerindian languages of the Guianas". Willem Adelaar is member of the selection panel of the Documentaton of Endangered Languages program of Volkswagen Foundation (DoBeS), Hannover (since 2007).

Willem Adelaar about studying indigenous American languages and cultures: "It is important that we study those American autochthonous languages still existing so that we do not allow knowledge of the past to be lost. The study of original American languages and cultures is neglected worldwide. In my opinion, it is an expression of colonial-style thinking if one accepts that one language may continue to exist and the other may not. Some indigenous groups of the Americas comprise more people than a member state of the EU. Moreover, the indigenous population is increasing, unlike their prosperity. In both North and South America there are some 900 living American autochthonous languages which differ enormously from one another. Most languages are found in South and Central America, the languages of North America have now largely died out. It is important that we study those languages still existing so that we do not allow knowledge of the past to be lost. New archeological sites are regularly being discovered. From an academic viewpoint there is still a lot to do." (Read his lecture entitled "De culturele en Linguïstische erfenis van indiaanse volkeren" in Acta Comparanda XXII, 2011).

Works (selection)

  • 2009 Unesco Interactive Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger. (regional editor for South America). Paris: UNESCO.
  • 2007 The Languages of the Andes. With the collaboration of P.C. Muysken. Cambridge language survey. Cambridge University Press. Revised edition. ISBN 9780521368315
  • 2007 The importance of toponymy, family names and historical documentation for the study of disappearing and recently extinct languages in the Andean region. In: L. Wetzels (ed.), Language Endangerment and Endangered Languages. Linguistic and anthropological studies with special emphasis on the languages and cultures of the Andean-Amazonian border area, pp. 325-331. Leiden: CNWS.
  • 2007 Ensayo de clasificación del katawixí dentro del conjunto harakmbut-katukina. In: A. Romero Figueroa, A. Fernández Garay and A. Corbera Mori (eds.), Lenguas indígenas de América del Sur: Estudios descriptivo-tipológicos y sus contribuciones para la lingüística teórica, pp. 159-169. Caracas: Universidad Católica Andrés Bello.
  • 2006 The Quechua impact in Amuesha, an Arawak language of the Peruvian Amazon. In: A.Y. Aikhenvald & R.M.W. Dixon (eds.), Grammars in Contact. A Cross-Linguistic Typology, pp. 290-312. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press
  • 1995 Raíces lingüísticas del Quichua de Santiago del Estero. In: A. Fernández Garay & J.P. Viegas Barros (eds.), Actas de las Segundas Jornadas de Lingüística Aborigen, pp. 25-50. Universidad de Buenos Aires.
  • 1994 La procedencia dialectal del manuscrito de Huarochirí en base a sus características lingüísticas. Revista Andina, 12:1, pp. 137-154. Cusco: Centro "Bartolomé de Las Casas".
  • 1987 Morfología del quechua de Pacaraos . Lima: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos.
  • 1987 Aymarismos en el quechua de Puno. Indiana, 11, pp. 223-231. Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag.
  • 1982 Léxico del quechua de Pacaraos. Lima: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos: Centro de Investigación de Linguística Aplicada: Documento de Trabajo No. 45.

Teaching activities

Languages and Cultures of Indian America: Yucatec Maya grammar and texts, introduction to Andean cultural history, introduction to Mesoamerican cultural history, introduction to Quechua, Amazonian culture and languages, extinct languages of the Andean region (Muchik, Puquina). Linguistic structures and diversity in the Andes, topics in Andean cultural history, contemporary Indian American societies and Amerindian historical-comparative linguistics.



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