Workshop 3: Bantu historical linguistics

Bantu historical linguistics and multi/interdisciplinary approaches to the African past

Convenors: KongoKing Research Group


The KongoKing research group invites colleagues who work at the crossroads of Bantu language studies and other disciplines to exchange ideas on the application of historical linguistics in multi/interdisciplinary approaches to the African past.

Since 2012, the interuniversity KongoKing research project has aimed at contributing to a better understanding of the origins and early history of the Kongo kingdom through a multi- and interdisciplinary approach that combines historical linguistics, archaeology, history and ethnography (see KongoKing historical linguistic research has focused on three main areas: (1) the classification of the Kikongo Language Cluster (KLC), including models of genetic relationship as well as language contact, the latter to explain language change in relation to political centralization and economic integration; (2) the study of cultural vocabularies most relevant for the region’s political, social, economic and religious history through the Words-and-Things method; and (3) the building of a diachronic Kikongo language corpus through the analysis and digitization of historical Kikongo language sources dating back to the 17th century (see for published results).

Considering that the project comes to an end in December 2016, the 6th International Conference on Bantu Languages in Helsinki is the ideal venue for a dialogue with colleagues studying similar topics in other parts of Bantu-speaking Africa. We therefore organize a panel focusing on the use of Bantu historical linguistics in multi-and interdisciplinary approaches to the African past. We especially – though not exclusively – welcome papers dealing with themes close to those mentioned above, in other words:

  • Language classification relying on lexical, phonological and/or grammatical data through innovatory phylogenetic methods and/or the classical Comparative Method, preferably in conjunction with data from other disciplines and linked with the origins of complex societies and polities, such as the Kongo kingdom;
  • Linguistic convergence and contact-induced language change, especially through the process of dialectal diffusion involving the spread of linguistic features from a focal area to more peripheral areas, preferably under the influence of historical phenomena, such as state formation or trade networks;
  • The use of cultural vocabularies for the reconstruction of African history, preferably with regard to the rise of complex societies and polities;
  • The building and exploitation of diachronic Bantu language corpora aiming at doing historical linguistics in the true sense of the term, i.e. comparing successive historical stages of a single language, and/or diachronic Bantu corpus linguistics, i.e. the analysis of historical texts in support of a model of changing linguistic behavior founded on prototypical usage.