George van DriemHidden riches of the Himalayas

Published in 1996icon-clockTime to read: 0min 45s

For more than 30 years, George van Driem has trekked the Himalayas on a mission to save the region’s indigenous languages from extinction.


Linguistics expert George van Driem spends several months each year trekking along river valleys to record the grammars of disappearing indigenous languages in the Himalayas. As it has grown, his project has embraced other disciplines, such as genetics and archaeology, to help map the linguistic and migratory history of one of the most complex regions in the world.

A written grammar bestows status and prestige on a minority language, and renders its teaching possible.

To document the linguistic riches, he and his fellow researchers have written more than 20 grammar books, which the Dutchman continues to co-author with his students in the Swiss capital of Bern. Van Driem, who spends up to five months a year in the Himalayas, immersing himself in the lives of the villagers he is studying, recently launched the Bern Summer School of Descriptive Linguistics.

In 2015, much of Nepal, a focal point for his research, was struck by earthquakes, claiming the lives of more than 9,000 people. Van Driem and his students have been raising funds for those who lost relatives and homes.

  • 3,600

    Length in kilometres of the Himalayas

  • 300-plus

    Indigenous languages of the Himalayas


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