George van Driem

George van Driem
Sjors 2.jpg
Undated picture of George van Driem
Academic background
Alma materLeiden University
ThesisA Grammar of Limbu (1987)
Academic work
InstitutionsUniversity of Bern
Main interestsTrans-Himalayan languages, human evolutionary genetics
Notable worksLanguages of the Himalayas (2001)
Notable ideasFather Tongue hypothesis, East Asian languages, "Fallen leaves"

George "Sjors" van Driem (born 1957) is a Dutch linguist associated with the University of Bern,[1] where he is the chair of Historical Linguistics and directs the Linguistics Institute.[2]



George van Driem has conducted field research in the Himalayas since 1983. He was commissioned by the Royal Government of Bhutan to codify a grammar of Dzongkha, the national language, design a phonological romanisation for the language known as Roman Dzongkha, and complete a survey of the language communities of the kingdom. He and native Dzongkha speaker Karma Tshering co-authored the authoritative textbook on Dzongkha. Van Driem wrote grammars of Limbu and Dumi, Kiranti languages spoken in eastern Nepal, and the Bumthang language of central Bhutan. He authored Languages of the Himalayas, a two-volume ethnolinguistic handbook of the greater Himalayan region.[4] Under a programme named Languages and Genes of the Greater Himalayan Region, conducted in collaboration with the Government of Nepal and the Royal Government of Bhutan, he collected DNA from many indigenous peoples of the Himalayas.

In Bern, George van Driem currently runs the research programme Strategische Zielsetzungen im Subkontinent (Strategic Objectives in the Subcontinent),[5] which aims to analyse and describe endangered and poorly documented languages in South Asia. This programme of research is effectively a diversification of the Himalayan Languages Project, which he directed at Leiden University, where he held the chair of Descriptive Linguistics until 2009. He and his research team have documented over a dozen endangered languages of the greater Himalayan region, producing analytical grammars and lexica and recording morphologically analysed native texts.

His interdisciplinary research in collaboration with geneticists has led to advances in the reconstruction of Asian ethnolinguistic prehistory. Based on linguistic palaeontology, ethnolinguistic phylogeography, rice genetics and the Holocene distribution of faunal species, he identified the ancient Hmong-Mien and Austroasiatics as the first domesticators of Asian rice and published a theory on the homelands and prehistoric dispersal of the Hmong-Mien, Austroasiatic and Trans-Himalayan linguistic phyla. His historical linguistic work on linguistic phylogeny has replaced the unsupported Sino-Tibetan hypothesis with the older, more agnostic Tibeto-Burman phylogenetic model, for which he proposed the neutral geographical name Trans-Himalayan in 2004. He developed the Darwinian theory of language known as Symbiosism, and he is author of the philosophy of Symbiomism.

Selected publications

  • — (1987). A Grammar of Limbu. Mouton De Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-011282-5.
  • — (1997). "Sino-Bodic". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 60 (3): 455–488. doi:10.1017/S0041977X0003250X. S2CID 246638512.
  • — (2001). Languages of the Himalayas: An Ethnolinguistic Handbook of the Greater Himalayan Region. Brill. ISBN 90-04-12062-9.
  • — (2003). "The Language Organism: The Leiden theory of language evolution". In Mírovský, Jiří; Kotěšovcová, Anna; Hajičová, Eva (eds.). Proceedings of the XVIIth International Congress of Linguists, Prague, July 24–29, 2003. Prague: Matematicko-fyzikální fakulty Univerzity Karlovy.
  • — (2002). "Tibeto-Burman Phylogeny and Prehistory: Languages, Material Culture and Genes". In Bellwood, Peter; Renfrew, Colin (eds.). Examining the farming/language dispersal hypothesis. pp. 233–249. ISBN 1-902937-20-1.
  • — (2004). "Language as organism: A brief introduction to the Leiden theory of language evolution". In Lin, Ying-chin; Hsu, Fang-min; Lee, Chun-chih; Jackson, T.S. (eds.). Studies on Sino-Tibetan Languages: Papers in Honor of Professor Hwang-cherng Gong on his Seventieth Birthday. Language and Linguistics Monograph Series W-4. Taipei: Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica. pp. 1–9.
  • — (2007). "Austroasiatic phylogeny and the Austroasiatic homeland in light of recent population genetic studies" (PDF). Mon–Khmer Studies: A Journal of Southeast Asian Languages and Cultures (37): 1–14.
  • — (2007). "The diversity of the Tibeto-Burman language family and the linguistic ancestry of Chinese". Bulletin of Chinese Linguistics. 1 (2): 211–270. doi:10.1163/2405478X-90000023.
  • — (2007). A Holistic Approach to the Fine Art of Grammar Writing: The Dallas Manifesto.

Awards and honours

See also


  1. ^ "Bern University". Retrieved 2014-03-04.
  2. ^ "Linguistics Institute". Retrieved 2014-03-04.
  3. ^ "George van Driem". Retrieved 15 March 2018.
  4. ^ "Languages of the Himalayas". Retrieved 2014-03-04.
  5. ^ "Strategische Zielsetzungen im Subkontinent". Retrieved 2014-03-04.
  6. ^ "George van Driem : Overview". Rolex Awards for Enterprise. Retrieved 15 March 2018.

External links

  • George Van Driem's home page at Himalayan Languages Project
  • Publication list
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