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Revitalizing Older Linguistic Documentation (ROLD)




Astrid Alexander-Bakkerus, Rebeca Fernández Rodríguez, José Antonio Flores Farfán, Norval Smith, Manfred Woidich, Liesbeth Zack

External members

Cristina Altman, Sabine Dedenbach Salazar Sáenz, Wolf Dietrich, Gonçalo Fernandes, Henning Klöter, Anna Pytlowany, Joaquín Sueiro Justel, Toon Van Hal, Otto Zwartjes.

Current PhD project

Roxana Sarion: Supervisors Prof. dr. Carlos Cabanillas (Universitetet I Tromsø) and dr. O. Zwartjes. Title: Conversión de Píritu de indios cumanagotos, palenques y otros (1690):  prácticas transculturales y discursos subversivos en la literatura misionera colonial de Venezuela.


Description of the research group

The members of the group investigate older texts (colonial, postcolonial, missionary and non-missionary, word lists of travellers and historians) with the following objectives: historical linguistics, the history of linguistics and sociocultural analysis. The aim of historical linguistics is to describe older stages of languages as well as (processes of) language change, while the history of linguistics studies early thinking on languages and linguistics. Linguistic documentation is a crucial part of both branches. These studies are often interrelated with those of the cultural context in which colonial societies developed.

The members who work on missionary linguistics focus on the European expansion, colonization and Christianization after the discovery of the New World, which was accompanied by the study and recording of the native languages of the Americas. In the same period, Christian missionary activities culminated in Asia. Almost without exception, grammars, dictionaries and doctrinal texts in the indigenous languages were composed by missionaries for missionaries. The results of recent research demonstrate that many missionaries, if not most, had an excellent command of these ‘exotic’ languages and often focused on the idiosyncratic features of the native languages; they also approached the challenge of comprehending indigenous cultures through their languages. The work of these missionaries was hardly known in the Old World and, until today, many works have never been studied nor analysed in a satisfactory way. Other members work on non-missionary texts with the same objective, such as the pre-modern description of colloquial Arabic as it was spoken in Egypt and the disclosure of linguistic and ethnographic documentation in the Americas and the Philippines and networks of transcontinental information in the 18th century.

Areas of interest:

  • Historiography of Linguistics
  • Historiography of Missionary Linguistics (Phonology, Morphosyntax, Lexicography, Pragmatics)
  • Sociohistorical and Historical Anthropological Linguistics
  • Linguistics of Ethnohistory
  • Colonial, Postcolonial and Pre-modern Linguistics
  • Linguistic Documentation
  • Descriptive Linguistics
  • Typology
  • Translation Studies
  • Lexicology, Lexicography and Semantics
  • Early-modern documentation of linguistic variation and change.

Research highlights in 2019

- Cambridge World History of Lexicography (Cambridge University Press 2019), edited by John Considine, contains chapters written by ROLD members Gonçalo Fernandes, Toon Van Hal, Henning Klöter and Otto Zwartjes.

 - Lingüística Misionera: aspectos lingüísticos, discursivos, filológicos y pedagógicos (Fondo Editorial de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú 2019), edited by Rodolfo Cerrón-Palomino, Álvaro Ezcurra Rivero & Otto Zwartjes, contains chapters written by ROLD members Gonçalo Fernandes, Rebeca Fernández Rodríguez and Otto Zwartjes.

- Work continued on the ROLD publication Missionary Linguistic Studies from Mesoamerica to Patagonia, edited by Astrid Alexander-Bakkerus, Rebeca Fernández Rodríguez, Liesbeth Zack and Otto Zwartjes (published in the Brill series Brill’s Studies in Language, Cognition and Culture in 2020:

- Karien van der Mei’s MA thesis research (UvA, 2014, supervisor Otto Zwartjes) resulted in a publication:

Mei, Karien van der. 2019. “Las “Maneras de hablar comunes” en el Arte de la lengua mexicanade Andrés de Olmos”. Lingüística misionera. Aspectos lingüísticos, discursivos, filológicos y pedagógicos, edited by Citlalli Bayardi Landeros and Lucero Pacheco Ávila. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. p. 95-124.

- Manfred Woidich continued to work (with Peter Behnstedt) on the fourth volume of the Wortatlas der arabischen Dialekte, an atlas containing fully coloured onomasiological maps describing the terms used for more than 500 items all over the Arab world.

Some key publications

Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz, Sabine (ed.). 2019. Translating Wor(l)ds: Explaining Christianity across Cultural Boundaries. (Collectanea Instituti Anthropos 51.) 330 pp. Baden-Baden: Academia Verlag 2019. (For information see

[Dicionário de Língua Geral Amazônica], 1ª parte: Português – Língua Geral, 2ª parte: Língua Geral – Português. Manuscrito no 1136, anônimo e sem título, da Biblioteca Municipal de Trier (Alemanha). Missão de Piraguiri, Baixo Xingu, antes de 1756. Edição diplomática, revisada e ampliada com introdução, comentários e anexos por Wolf Dietrich, Ruth Monserrat e Jean-Claude Muller, com a colaboração de Candida Barros e Karl-Heinz Arenz. Transliteração por Gabriel Prudente. Potsdam: Universitätsverlag, 2019.

Fernandes, Gonçalo. 2019. “Contributions of Cunha Rivara (1809–1879) to the Development of Konkani”. Early Western and Portuguese descriptors of the Indian languages from the 16th century onwards, edited by Cristina Muru, special issue of Journal of Portuguese Linguistics, 18 (1): 1–17.

Fernández Rodríguez, Rebeca. 2019. “La importancia lingüística de la expedición de Malaspina.” In R. Cerrón-Palomino, Á. Ezcurra Rivero, & O. Zwartjes (eds.), Lingűística misionera: Aspectos lingűísticos, discursivos, filológicos y pedgógicos (pp. 389-408). Perú: Fondo Editorial

Zack, Liesbeth. 2019. “Historical Arabic Dialectology: Interpreting the Sources.” In W. Arnold, & M. Klimiuk (eds.), Arabic Dialectology: Methodology and Field Research (pp. 207-238). Harrassowitz Verlag.


Liesbeth Zack published an article about her ongoing research project on nineteenth-century Cairo Arabic in the “Language” issue of Zemzem, a non-specialist magazine about the Middle East, North-Africa and the Islam:

Zack, Liesbeth (2019). “Egyptisch-Arabisch in de negentiende eeuw: taalgidsen en taalpolitiek.” ZemZem, 15(2), 29-38.


The ROLD group organises annual meetings on older linguistic documentation at the UvA. International conferences on missionary linguistics are organised every other year. Details of the latter can be found in the archive (see pdf).

Next International Conference of Missionary Linguistics

The 11th International Conference of Missionary Linguistics will be held from 3 to 5 March 2020 at the Universidad Nacional de La Pampa, Argentina: