6 blocks of 2 hours each

The course will provide an overview of the linguistic landscape of the linguistically and culturally highly diverse Hindukush mountain region. The students will get acquainted with an emerging typological profile of the approximately 40-50 distinct varieties spoken in the region. While focusing on the numerically dominant Indo-Aryan languages, languages belonging to other genera, such as Iranian, Nuristani, Tibeto-Burman and the language isolate Burushaski will be represented and exemplified. This will include a discussion of various phonological, morpho-syntactic as well as lexical features. Some more detailed case studies will also be presented, as well as glimpses of what fieldwork in this highly sensitive and volatile region may look like, particularly paying attention to the importance of collaborative efforts with local scholars/activists and with community-based organizations, as well as the positive effects that cross-community initiatives have had for language revitalization in this region.

Some useful websites


  • Bashir, Elena L. 2003. Dardic. In G. Cardona & D. Jain, eds. The Indo-Aryan Languages. London: Routledge, pp. 818-894.
  • Masica, Colin P. 2001. The definition and significance of linguistic areas: Methods, pitfalls, and possibilities (with special reference to the validity of South Asia as a linguistic area). In The yearbook of South Asian languages and linguistics 2001. London. SAGE, pp. 205-267.
  • Summer Institute of Linguistics. 1992. Sociolinguistic survey of northern Pakistan (5 volumes). Islamabad: National Institute of Pakistan Studies and Summer Institute of Linguistics. [Availabe online: http://www-01.sil.org/sociolx/pubs/ssnp.asp]
  • Tikkanen, Bertil. 2008. Some areal phonological isoglosses in the transit zone between South and Central Asia. In Proceedings of the third International Hindu Kush Cultural Conference. Karachi: Oxford University Press, pp. 250-262.


The Greater Hindukush Region and its linguistic landscape

This is a big picture introduction of the Hindukush region and its geographic, cultural and linguistic significance. We will discuss language classification (including the so-called “Dardic issue”), the thorny issue of language versus dialect, language stratification, contact patterns, and the evidence for a linguistic area comprising north-western Afghanistan, northern-most Pakistan and the disputed Kashmir region.

Fieldwork, documentation and some key factors in language revitalization

Building on my own experience of fieldwork in northern Pakistan and from developing the regional language centre Forum for Language Initiatives, we will talk about the special challenges and opportunities for documentation and revitalization in this multilingual and volatile context. Some crucial factors will be illustrated and expanded upon, such as research collaboration, institutional support, regional networking, growing professionalism and the indispensability of practical applications that are appreciated and seen as actual needs by local communities.

Retroflexion, xenophones and tonal proliferation in the Hindukush

The results of an interim typological study of Hindukush phonologies will be presented, including e.g. the size of consonant and vowel inventories, voicing contrasts, the presence of various retroflex sets, affricate sets, aspiration, nasalization, syllable structure and tone. We will take a more detailed look at Kalkoti, an Indo-Aryan language in which complex tonal contrasts are developing. The latter will also include a methodological discussion having a bearing on fieldwork in the area of phonetics and phonology.

Alignment diversity and quirky case assignment

We will have a look at the great range of variation in alignment patterns displayed in Hindukush languages, a diversity primarily evidenced in the case marking of core argument noun phrases and verbal person marking properties. Along these parameters, I will show how six distinct alignment types emerge, each, in combination with language-specific developments, reflecting contact-induced changes that can be attributed to three significant areas or subareas that conflate in the region. We will also discuss the special treatment of experiencer subjects.

Where have all the verbs gone?

The Complex Predicate (also Conjunct Verb) phenomenon as it is found in the Hindukush region and in the larger surrounding areas is here introduced and further defined along the following lines: formed by a small class of verbs, being of high lexical frequency, verified across genera and throughout time, and being of significant “borrowability”. Illustrative examples from a variety of languages will be given. It will be argued that the phenomenon is better understood from a construction approach than from a componential approach.

Multi-level lexical convergence along the Silk Road

Here we will look at lexical convergence resulting from language contact in the wider Hindukush region where a few influential “culture carriers” of change have been identified: Islam; a common Persian culture; poetry; and, in more recent times, media in which regional lingua franca-filtered English plays an increasing role. This lexical convergence can be observed on three interrelated levels: a) a micro-level characterized by shared internal semantic structure, b) a meso-level, whereby the structure of entire semantic domains display significant similarities, and c) a macro-level, with shared features of lexicon organization.