George van Driem
2023 picture of George van Driem
Born1957 (age 66–67)
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 was the chair of Historical Linguistics and directed the Linguistics Institute.[2] He became professor emeritus in 2022.



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

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.