Proto-Afroasiatic language

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Reconstruction ofAfroasiatic languages
RegionSee #Urheimat
Eraca. 16,000–10,000 BC
Lower-order reconstructions

Proto–Afroasiatic, sometimes referred to as Proto-Afrasian, is the reconstructed proto-language from which all modern Afroasiatic languages are descended. Though estimations vary widely, it is believed by scholars to have been spoken as a single language around 12,000 to 18,000 years ago (12 to 18 kya), that is, between 16,000 and 10,000 BC. The reconstruction of Proto-Afroasiatic is problematic and remains largely lacking. Moreover, no consensus exists as to the location of the Afroasiatic Urheimat, the putative homeland of Proto-Afroasiatic speakers.


Postulated expansion of Afroasiatic.

Reconstructed words for fauna and flora and evidence of linguistic contact with language families known to have been spoken in Eurasia suggest that its home was in the Middle East, probably the Levant. Some geneticists and archaeologists have argued for a back migration of proto-Afroasiatic speakers from Western Asia to Africa as early as the 10th millennium BC. They suggest the Natufian culture might have spoken a proto-Afroasian language just prior to its disintegration into sub-languages.[1][2] The hypothesis is supported by the Afroasiatic terms for early livestock and crops in both Anatolia and Iran.[3] Evidence of Cushitic being formerly spoken in the south of Arabia also speaks for a Middle Eastern origin, but some proposals also claim Northern Africa or the Horn of Africa as possible places of origin.[4][5]

Consonant correspondences[edit]

The following table shows consonant correspondences in Afroasiatic languages, as given in Dolgopolsky (1999), along with some reconstructed consonants for Proto-Afroasiatic.

Correspondences in Afro-Asian languages[6][7]
Proto-Afroasiatic Proto-Semitic Egyptian Berber East Cushitic West Chadic
*b *b b *β, ? *b, *-∅- *b *b, *ḅ1
*p *p p *f, ? *b *p *p, *f, *ḅ1
*f f f
*d *d d *d *d *d, *ḍ1
*t *t t *t *t *t
*ṭ *ṭ d(~t) *ḍ [dˁ] / *ṭ (→ *ṭṭ [tˁː]) *ṭ (→ *ḍ) *ḍ
*ǯ [dʒ] [8] ?? d *z *z *dʒ
*č [tʃ] [8] s, ?? š *s *s3(=*s)
*č̣ [tʃ'] [8] *θ̣ ḏ- *ẓ [zˁ] South Cushitic
*ʒ [dz] [8] *z z *z *z *dz
*c [ts] [8] *s (*s3) s *s- ? s1- *ts
*c̣ [ts’] [8] *ṣ [(t)sʼ] *ẓ [zˤ] *ṭṣ *ṭṣ
*s [8] (*s1) s *s *s1(=) s,
Central Chadic:
*ŝ [ɬ], *ĉ [tɬ] [8] (*s2) [ɬ] š, ? s *s, *z- *l,
*ĉ̣ [tɬʼ] [8] *ṣ́ [(t)ɬʼ] , ? d- *s2 ?,
*g [8] *g g, *g *g *g
*k [8] *k k, *k, ? *k *k
*ḳ [8] *ḳ q, , ? *ḳ (→ *ḳḳ [kˤː])
[8] -, ꜥ- ? *h2
[8] , , ħ *H- *h-, *-Ø- *-H-?
[8] *H- -, *-Ø-ʔ
[8] ħ *H- -, *-Øː-
*h [8] *h j- *h1, *h2 -
[8] j, ? ꜣ , -Ø-
*r *r r, l, *r -*r- *r
*l *l n-, [l-], r, *l -*l- *l
*n *n n, l [9] *n -*n- *n
*m *m m *m -*m- *m
*w *w w-, j, y *w, *Ø *w, *Ø *w-?
*y [j] *y j-, y-, -Ø- *y, *i, *Ø *y, *i, *Ø *y, *Ø
Proto-Afroasiatic Proto-Semitic Egyptian Berber East Cushitic West Chadic
  1. under special conditions[specify]


  1. š = /ʃ/
  2. Symbols with dots underneath are emphatic consonants (variously glottalized, ejective or pharyngealized).
  3. Transcription of Ancient Egyptian follows Allen (2000); see Transliteration of Ancient Egyptian. The following are possible values for the non-IPA symbols used for Ancient Egyptian: = [ç]; = [tʲ] or [t͡ʃ]; = [dʲ] or [d͡ʒ], or ejective [tʲʼ] or [t͡ʃʼ].


Ehret (1995) reconstructs the following pronouns, most of which are supported by at least five of the six branches:

Proto-Afroasiatic Pronouns[10]
Singular, bound Singular, independent Plural
1 *i, *yi *(ʔ)ân-/(ʔ)în- *(ʔ)ǎnn-/(ʔ)ǐnn-
2 m. *ku, *ka *(ʔ)ânt/(ʔ)înt- *kuuna
2 f. *ki
3 *si, *isi *su, *usu


Ehret (1995) reconstructs the following cardinal numbers (Ehret does not include Berber in his reconstruction):

Cardinal Numbers in Afroasiatic[10]
Number Proto-Afroasiatic Proto-Semitic Egyptian Proto-Cushitic Proto-Chadic Proto-Omotic
two *tsan, *can *θny snwj
*tsîr(n), *cîr(n) *θər *sər
*ɬâm- *ɬmʔl "left hand" *ɬâ(a)m- *lam-
three *xaymz- ḫmt.w *knɗ- *x2ayz-
four *fâzw- fdw *fʷaɗə

The first root for "two" has been compared to Berber (Tamazight) sin.[11] There are other proposed cognate sets:

  • "six": Egyptian srs, Proto-Semitic *šidṯ-, Berber (Tamazight) sdˁis.[11]
  • "seven": Egyptian sfḫ, Proto-Semitic *šabʕ-, Berber (Tamazight) sa.[11]


It has been proposed that Proto-Afroasiatic had marked nominative case marking, where the subject was overtly marked for nominative case, while the object appeared in unmarked default case. Marked nominative case marking is still found in languages of the Cushitic, Omotic and Berber branches. Its syntax possibly featured an exclusively default, strict word ordering of VSO. Although some Afroasiatic languages have developed free word order, it is generally surmised that PAA was originally a VO language.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dziebel, German (2007). The Genius of Kinship: The Phenomenon of Human Kinship and the Global Diversity of Kinship Terminologies. Cambria Press. p. 366. ISBN 978-1-934043-65-3. Retrieved 2013-08-13.
  2. ^ Nöth, Winfried (1 January 1994). Origins of Semiosis: Sign Evolution in Nature and Culture. Walter de Gruyter. p. 293. ISBN 978-3-11-087750-2. Retrieved 2013-08-13.
  3. ^ Quantitative Approaches to Linguistic Diversity: Commemorating the Centenary of the Birth of Morris Swadesh. p. 73.
  4. ^ Blench, Roger. (2006). Archaeology, Language, and the African Past. Rowman: Altamira. ISBN 9780759104662.
  5. ^ Blažek, Václav. "Afro-Asiatic linguistic migrations: linguistic evidence" (PDF).
  6. ^ Dolgopolsky (1999), pp. 38-39.
  7. ^ Prasse (2000), p. 346.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Takács (1999), pp. 263-270
  9. ^ Takács (1999), p. 263
  10. ^ a b Ehret (1995)
  11. ^ a b c Takács, Gábor (1999). Etymological Dictionary of Egyptian. Brill.
  12. ^ Satzinger, Helmut (2018). "Did Proto-Afroasiatic have Marked Nominative or Nominative-Accusative Alignment?". In Tosco, Mauro (ed.). Afroasiatic: Data and perspectives. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. pp. 11–22. Open-access preprint version available.


  • Dolgopolsky, Aron (1999). From Proto-Semitic to Hebrew. Milan: Centro Studi Camito-Semitici di Milano.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Ehret, Christopher (1995). Reconstructing Proto-Afroasiatic (Proto-Afrasian): vowels, tone, consonants, and vocabulary. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-09799-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Prasse, Karl G. (2000). Études berbères et chamito-sémitiques: mélanges offerts à Karl-G. Prasse.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Diakonoff, Igor M. (1988). Afrasian Languages. Moscow: Nauka.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Takács, Gabór (1999). Etymological Dictionary of Egyptian. Leiden, Boston, Köln: Brill. ISBN 90-04-11538-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Orel, Vladimir & Olga Stolbova (1995). Hamito-Semitic Etymological Dictionary. Leiden, Boston, Köln: Brill. ISBN 90-04-10051-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Dolgopolsky, Aharon (1998). The Nostratic Macrofamily and Linguistic Paleontology. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. ISBN 0-9519420-7-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Bomhard, Allan R. (2008). "A Sketch of Proto-Afrasian Phonology", Ed. G. Takács, Semito-Hamitic Festschrift for A. B. Dolgopolsky and H. Jungraithmayr, Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, pp. 79–92.

External links[edit]