|Malta, Horn of Africa, North Africa, Sahel, West Asia|
|Linguistic classification||One of the world's primary language families|
|ISO 639-2 / 5||afa|
Distribution of the Afro-Asiatic languages
Afroasiatic (Afro-Asiatic), also known as Afrasian and in older sources as Hamito-Semitic or Semito-Hamitic, is a large language family of about 300 languages that are spoken predominantly in West Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and parts of the Sahel.
Afroasiatic languages have over 495 million native speakers, the fourth largest number of any language family (after Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan and Niger–Congo). The phylum has six branches: Berber, Chadic, Cushitic, Egyptian, Omotic and Semitic. By far the most widely spoken Afroasiatic language or dialect continuum is Arabic. A de facto group of distinct language varieties within the Semitic branch, the languages that evolved from Proto-Arabic have around 313 million native speakers, concentrated primarily in West Asia and North Africa.
In addition to languages spoken today, Afroasiatic includes several important ancient languages, such as Ancient Egyptian, which forms a distinct branch of the family, and Akkadian, Biblical Hebrew and Old Aramaic, all of which are from the Semitic branch. The original homeland of the Afroasiatic family, and when the parent language (i.e. Proto-Afroasiatic) was spoken, are yet to be agreed upon by historical linguists. Proposed locations include the Horn of Africa, North Africa, the Eastern Sahara and the Levant.
In the early 19th century, linguists grouped the Berber, Cushitic and Egyptian languages within a "Hamitic" phylum, in acknowledgement of these languages' genetic relation with each other and with those in the Semitic phylum.[ failed verification ] The terms "Hamitic" and "Semitic" were etymologically derived from the Book of Genesis, which describes various Biblical tribes descended from Ham and Shem, two sons of Noah. By the 1860s, the main constituent elements within the broader Afroasiatic family had been worked out.
Friedrich Müller introduced the name "Hamito-Semitic" for the entire language family in his Grundriss der Sprachwissenschaft (1876). Maurice Delafosse (1914) later coined the term "Afroasiatic" (often now spelled "Afro-Asiatic"). However, it did not come into general use until Joseph Greenberg (1950) formally proposed its adoption. In doing so, Greenberg sought to emphasize the fact that 'Hamitic' was not a valid group and that language cladistics did not reflect race.
Individual scholars have also called the family "Erythraean" (Tucker 1966) and "Lisramic" (Hodge 1972). In lieu of "Hamito-Semitic", the Russian linguist Igor Diakonoff later suggested the term "Afrasian", meaning "half African, half Asiatic", in reference to the geographic distribution of the family's constituent languages.
The term "Hamito-Semitic" remains in use in the academic traditions of some European countries, as well as in the official census of the government of India.
Scholars generally treat the Afroasiatic language family as including the following branches:
Although there is general agreement on these six families, linguists who study Afroasiatic raise some points of disagreement, in particular:
Arabic, the most widely-spoken Afroasiatic language, has over 300 million native speakers. Other widely-spoken Afroasiatic languages include:
In the 9th century, the Hebrew grammarian Judah ibn Quraysh of Tiaret in Algeria was the first to link two branches of Afroasiatic together; he perceived a relationship between Berber and Semitic. He knew of Semitic through his study of Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic. In the course of the 19th century, Europeans also began suggesting such relationships. In 1844, Theodor Benfey suggested a language family consisting of Semitic, Berber, and Cushitic (calling the latter "Ethiopic").[ citation needed ] In the same year, T.N. Newman suggested a relationship between Semitic and Hausa, but this would long remain a topic of dispute and uncertainty.[ citation needed ]
Friedrich Müller named the traditional Hamito-Semitic family in 1876 in his Grundriss der Sprachwissenschaft ("Outline of Linguistics"), and defined it as consisting of a Semitic group plus a "Hamitic" group containing Egyptian, Berber, and Cushitic; he excluded the Chadic group.[ citation needed ] It was the Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius (1810–1884) who restricted Hamitic to the non-Semitic languages in Africa, which are characterized by a grammatical gender system. This "Hamitic language group" was proposed to unite various, mainly North-African, languages, including the Ancient Egyptian language, the Berber languages, the Cushitic languages, the Beja language, and the Chadic languages. Unlike Müller, Lepsius considered that Hausa and Nama were part of the Hamitic group. These classifications relied in part on non-linguistic anthropological and racial arguments. Both authors used the skin-color, mode of subsistence, and other characteristics of native speakers as part of their arguments that particular languages should be grouped together.
In 1912, Carl Meinhof published Die Sprachen der Hamiten ("The Languages of the Hamites"), in which he expanded Lepsius's model, adding the Fula, Maasai, Bari, Nandi, Sandawe and Hadza languages to the Hamitic group. Meinhof's model was widely supported into the 1940s. Meinhof's system of classification of the Hamitic languages was based on a belief that "speakers of Hamitic became largely coterminous with cattle herding peoples with essentially Caucasian origins, intrinsically different from and superior to the 'Negroes of Africa'." However, in the case of the so-called Nilo-Hamitic languages (a concept he introduced), it was based on the typological feature of gender and a "fallacious theory of language mixture." Meinhof did this although earlier work by scholars such as Lepsius and Johnston had substantiated that the languages which he would later dub "Nilo-Hamitic" were in fact Nilotic languages, with numerous similarities in vocabulary to other Nilotic languages.
Leo Reinisch (1909) had already proposed linking Cushitic and Chadic, while urging their more distant affinity with Egyptian and Semitic. However, his suggestion found little acceptance. Marcel Cohen (1924) rejected the idea of a distinct "Hamitic" subgroup, and included Hausa (a Chadic language) in his comparative Hamito-Semitic vocabulary. Finally, Joseph Greenberg's 1950 work led to the widespread rejection of "Hamitic" as a language category by linguists. Greenberg refuted Meinhof's linguistic theories, and rejected the use of racial and social evidence. In dismissing the notion of a separate "Nilo-Hamitic" language category in particular, Greenberg was "returning to a view widely held a half century earlier." He consequently rejoined Meinhof's so-called Nilo-Hamitic languages with their appropriate Nilotic siblings. He also added (and sub-classified) the Chadic languages, and proposed the new name Afroasiatic for the family. Almost all scholars have accepted this classification as the new and continued consensus.
Greenberg's model was fully developed in his book The Languages of Africa (1963), in which he reassigned most of Meinhof's additions to Hamitic to other language families, notably Nilo-Saharan. Following Isaac Schapera and rejecting Meinhof, he classified the Khoekhoe language as a member of the Khoisan languages, a grouping that has since proven inaccurate and excessively motivated on the presence of click sounds. To Khoisan he also added the Tanzanian Hadza and Sandawe, though this view has been discredited as linguists working on these languages consider them to be linguistic isolates. Despite this, Greenberg's classification remains a starting point for modern work of many languages spoken in Africa, and the Hamitic category (and its extension to Nilo-Hamitic) has no part in this.
Since the three traditional branches of the Hamitic languages (Berber, Cushitic and Egyptian) have not been shown to form an exclusive (monophyletic) phylogenetic unit of their own, separate from other Afroasiatic languages, linguists no longer use the term in this sense. Each of these branches is instead now regarded as an independent subgroup of the larger Afroasiatic family.
In 1969, Harold Fleming proposed that what had previously been known as Western Cushitic is an independent branch of Afroasiatic, suggesting for it the new name Omotic. This proposal and name have met with widespread acceptance.
Based on typological differences with the other Cushitic languages, Robert Hetzron proposed that Beja has to be removed from Cushitic, thus forming an independent branch of Afroasiatic. Most scholars, however, reject this proposal, and continue to group Beja as the sole member of a Northern branch within Cushitic.
Glottolog does not accept that the inclusion or even unity of Omotic has been established, nor that of Ongota or the unclassified Kujarge. It therefore splits off the following groups as small families: South Omotic, Mao, Dizoid, Gonga–Gimojan (North Omotic apart from the preceding), Ongota, Kujarge.
|Greenberg (1963)||Newman (1980)||Fleming (post-1981)||Ehret (1995)|
|Orel & Stobova (1995)||Diakonoff (1996)||Bender (1997)||Militarev (2000)|
Little agreement exists on the subgrouping of the five or six branches of Afroasiatic: Semitic, Egyptian, Berber, Chadic, Cushitic, and Omotic. However, Christopher Ehret (1979), Harold Fleming (1981), and Joseph Greenberg (1981) all agree that the Omotic branch split from the rest first.
Afroasiatic is one of the four major language families spoken in Africa identified by Joseph Greenberg in his book The Languages of Africa (1963). It is one of the few whose speech area is transcontinental, with languages from Afroasiatic's Semitic branch also spoken in the Middle East and Europe.
There are no generally accepted relations between Afroasiatic and any other language family. However, several proposals grouping Afroasiatic with one or more other language families have been made. The best-known of these are the following:
The earliest written evidence of an Afroasiatic language is an Ancient Egyptian inscription dated to c. 3400 BC (5,400 years ago). Symbols on Gerzean (Naqada II) pottery resembling Egyptian hieroglyphs date back to c. 4000 BC, suggesting an earlier possible dating. This gives us a minimum date for the age of Afroasiatic. However, Ancient Egyptian is highly divergent from Proto-Afroasiatic (Trombetti 1905: 1–2), and considerable time must have elapsed in between them. Estimates of the date at which the Proto-Afroasiatic language was spoken vary widely. They fall within a range between approximately 7,500 BC (9,500 years ago), and approximately 16,000 BC (18,000 years ago). According to Igor M. Diakonoff (1988: 33n), Proto-Afroasiatic was spoken c. 10,000 BC. Christopher Ehret (2002: 35–36) asserts that Proto-Afroasiatic was spoken c. 11,000 BC at the latest, and possibly as early as c. 16,000 BC. These dates are older than those associated with other proto-languages.
The term Afroasiatic Urheimat (Urheimat meaning "original homeland" in German) refers to the hypothetical place where Proto-Afroasiatic language speakers lived in a single linguistic community, or complex of communities, before this original language dispersed geographically and divided into distinct languages. Afroasiatic languages are today primarily spoken in West Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and parts of the Sahel. Their distribution seems to have been influenced by the Sahara pump operating over the last 10,000 years.
There is no agreement when or where the original homeland of this language family existed. The main theories of Urheimat are the Levant/Fertile Crescent, the Eastern Sahara, North Africa and the Horn of Africa.
|↓ Number||Language →||Arabic||Kabyle||Somali||Beja||Hausa|
Widespread (though not universal) features of the Afroasiatic languages include:
One of the most remarkable shared features among the Afroasiatic languages is the prefixing verb conjugation (see the table at the start of this section), with a distinctive pattern of prefixes beginning with /ʔ t n y/, and in particular a pattern whereby third-singular masculine /y-/ is opposed to third-singular feminine and second-singular /t-/.
According to Ehret (1996), tonal languages appear in the Omotic and Chadic branches of Afroasiatic, as well as in certain Cushitic languages. The Semitic, Berber and Egyptian branches generally do not use tones phonemically.
|*Ɂân- / *Ɂîn- or *ân- / *în- ‘I’ (independent pronoun)||*in- ‘I’ (Maji (NOm))||*Ɂâni ‘I’||*nV ‘I’||ink, *ʲānak 'I'||*Ɂn ‘I’||nek / nec ‘I, me’|
|*i or *yi ‘me, my’ (bound)||i ‘I, me, my’ (Ari (SOm))||*i or *yi ‘my’||*i ‘me, my’ (bound)||-i, *-aʲ (1s. suffix)||*-i ‘me, my’||inu / nnu / iw ‘my’|
|*Ɂǎnn- / *Ɂǐnn- or *ǎnn- / *ǐnn- ‘we’||*nona / *nuna / *nina (NOm)||*Ɂǎnn- / *Ɂǐnn- ‘we’||—||inn, *ʲānan ‘we’||*Ɂnn ‘we’||nekni / necnin / neccin ‘we’|
|*Ɂânt- / *Ɂînt- or *ânt- / *înt- ‘you’ (sing.)||*int- ‘you’ (sing.)||*Ɂânt- ‘you’ (sing.)||—||nt-, *ʲānt- ‘you’ (sing.)||*Ɂnt ‘you’ (sing.)||netta "he" (keyy / cek "you" (masc. sing.))|
|*ku, *ka ‘you’ (masc. sing., bound)||—||*ku ‘your’ (masc. sing.) (PSC)||*ka, *ku (masc. sing.)||-k (2s. masc. suffix)||-ka (2s. masc. suffix) (Arabic)||inek / nnek / -k "your" (masc. sing.)|
|*ki ‘you’ (fem. sing., bound)||—||*ki ‘your’ (fem. sing.)||*ki ‘you’ (fem. sing.)||-ṯ (fem. sing. suffix, < *ki)||-ki (2s. fem. sing. suffix) (Arabic)||-m / nnem / inem "your" (fem. sing.)|
|*kūna ‘you’ (plural, bound)||—||*kuna ‘your’ (pl.) (PSC)||*kun ‘you’ (pl.)||-ṯn, *-ṯin ‘you’ (pl.)||*-kn ‘you, your’ (fem. pl.)||-kent, kennint "you" (fem. pl.)|
|*si, *isi ‘he, she, it’||*is- ‘he’||*Ɂusu ‘he’, *Ɂisi ‘she’||*sV ‘he’||sw, *suw ‘he, him’, sy, *siʲ ‘she, her’||*-šɁ ‘he’, *-sɁ ‘she’ (MSA)||-s / nnes / ines "his/her/its"|
|*ma, *mi ‘what?’||*ma- ‘what?’ (NOm)||*ma, *mi (interr. root)||*mi, *ma ‘what?’||m ‘what?’, ‘who?’||mā (Arabic, Hebrew) / mu? (Assyrian) ‘what?’||ma? / mayen? / min? "what?"|
|*wa, *wi ‘what?’||*w- ‘what?’||*wä / *wɨ ‘what?’ (Agaw)||*wa ‘who?’||wy ‘how ...!’||mamek? / mamec? / amek? "how?|
|*dîm- / *dâm- ‘blood’||*dam- ‘blood’ (Gonga)||*dîm- / *dâm- ‘red’||*d-m- ‘blood’ (West Chadic)||i-dm-i ‘red linen’||*dm / dǝma (Assyrian) / dom (Hebrew) ‘blood’||idammen "bloods"|
|*îts ‘brother’||*itsim- ‘brother’||*itsan or *isan ‘brother’||*sin ‘brother’||sn, *san ‘brother’||aẖ (Hebrew) "brother"||uma / gʷma "brother"|
|*sǔm / *sǐm- ‘name’||*sum(ts)- ‘name’ (NOm)||*sǔm / *sǐm- ‘name’||*ṣǝm ‘name’||smi ‘to report, announce’||*ism (Arabic) / shǝma (Assyrian) ‘name’||isen / isem "name"|
|*-lisʼ- ‘to lick’||litsʼ- ‘to lick’ (Dime (SOm))||—||*alǝsi ‘tongue’||ns, *nīs ‘tongue’||*lsn ‘tongue’||iles "tongue"|
|*-maaw- ‘to die’||—||*-umaaw- / *-am-w(t)- ‘to die’ (PSom-II)||*mǝtǝ ‘to die’||mwt ‘to die’||*mwt / mawta (Assyrian) ‘to die’||mmet "to die"|
|*-bǐn- ‘to build, to create; house’||bin- ‘to build, create’ (Dime (SOm))||*mǐn- / *mǎn- ‘house’; man- ‘to create’ (Beja)||*bn ‘to build’; *bǝn- ‘house’||—||*bnn / bani (Assyrian) / bana (Hebrew) ‘to build’||*bn(?) (esk "to build")|
There are two etymological dictionaries of Afroasiatic, one by Christopher Ehret, and one by Vladimir Orel and Olga Stolbova. The two dictionaries disagree on almost everything. The following table contains the thirty roots or so (out of thousands) that represent a fragile consensus of present research:
|4||*(ʔa-)dVm||land, field, soil||✔||✔|
|6||ʔigar/ *ḳʷar-||house, enclosure||✔||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|18||*ḳa(wa)l-/ *qʷar-||to say, call||✔||✔|
|30||*šun||to sleep, dream||✔||✔|
Some of the main sources for Afroasiatic etymologies include:
The Chadic languages form a branch of the Afroasiatic language family. They are spoken in parts of the Sahel. They include 150 languages spoken across northern Nigeria, southern Niger, southern Chad, Central African Republic and northern Cameroon. The most widely spoken Chadic language is Hausa, a lingua franca of much of inland Eastern West Africa.
The Cushitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family. They are spoken primarily in the Horn of Africa, as well as the Nile Valley, and parts of the African Great Lakes region. Speakers of Cushitic languages and the descendants of speakers of Cushitic languages are referred to as Cushitic peoples. The phylum was first designated as Cushitic in 1858. Major Cushitic languages include Oromo, Somali, Beja, Agaw, Afar, Saho and Sidamo.
The languages of Africa are divided into several major language families:
The Omotic languages are group of languages spoken in southwestern Ethiopia. The Ge'ez script is used to write some of the Omotic languages, the Latin script for some others. They are fairly agglutinative and have complex tonal systems. The languages have around 6.2 million speakers. The group is generally classified as belonging to the Afroasiatic language family, but this is disputed by some.
The Eastern Berber languages are a group of Berber languages spoken in Libya and Egypt. They include Awjila, Sokna and Fezzan (El-Fogaha), Siwi and Ghadamès, though it is not clear that they form a valid genealogical group.
Christopher Ehret, who currently holds the position of Distinguished Research Professor at UCLA, is an American scholar of African history and African historical linguistics particularly known for his efforts to correlate linguistic taxonomy and reconstruction with the archeological record. He has published ten books, most recently History and the Testimony of Language (2011) and A Dictionary of Sandawe (2012), the latter co-edited with his wife, Patricia Ehret. He has written around seventy scholarly articles on a wide range of historical, linguistic, and anthropological subjects. These works include monographic articles on Bantu subclassification; on internal reconstruction in Semitic; on the reconstruction of proto-Cushitic and proto-Eastern Cushitic; and, with Mohamed Nuuh Ali, on the classification of the Soomaali languages. He has also contributed to a number of encyclopedias on African topics and on world history.
Lowland East Cushitic is a group of roughly two dozen diverse languages of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family. They are spoken mainly in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, and by many groups in northern Kenya.
The South Cushitic or Rift languages of Tanzania belong to the Afro-Asiatic family. The most numerous is Iraqw, with half a million speakers. These languages are believed to have been originally spoken by Southern Cushitic agro-pastoralists from Ethiopia, who in the third millennium BC began migrating southward into the Great Rift Valley.
The Modern South Arabian, or Eastern South Semitic languages, are a group of endangered languages spoken by small populations inhabiting the Arabian Peninsula, in Yemen and Oman, and Socotra Island. Together with the modern Ethiopian Semitic languages, the Western branch, they form the South Semitic sub-branch of the Afroasiatic language family's Semitic branch.
South Semitic is a putative branch of the Semitic languages. Semitic itself is a branch of the larger Afro-Asiatic language family found in Africa and Western Asia.
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, 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.
The languages of Ethiopia refers to the various spoken forms of communication in Ethiopia. It includes the nation's official languages, its national and regional languages, as well as its minority and foreign languages.
There are over 525 native languages spoken in Nigeria. The official language of Nigeria is English, the former language of colonial British Nigeria. As reported in 2003, Nigerian English and Nigerian Pidgin were spoken as a second language by 60 million people in Nigeria. Communication in the English language is much more popular in the country's urban communities than it is in the rural areas, due to globalization.
Harold Crane Fleming was an American anthropologist and historical linguist, specializing in the cultures and languages of the Horn of Africa. As an adherent of the Four Field School of American anthropology, he stresses the integration of physical anthropology, linguistics, archaeology, and cultural anthropology in solving anthropological problems.
The Aroid or Ari-Banna languages possibly belong to the Afro-Asiatic family and are spoken in Ethiopia.
Proto-Berber or Proto-Libyan is the reconstructed proto-language from which the modern Berber languages descend. Proto-Berber was an Afroasiatic language, and thus its descendant Berber languages are cousins to the Egyptian language, Cushitic languages, Semitic languages, Chadic languages, and the Omotic languages.
The Afroasiatic Urheimat is the hypothetical place where speakers of the proto-Afroasiatic language lived in a single linguistic community, or complex of communities, before this original language dispersed geographically and divided into separate distinct languages. This speech area is known as the Urheimat. Afroasiatic languages are today distributed in parts of Africa and Western Asia.
The Indo-Semitic hypothesis maintains that a genetic relationship exists between Indo-European and Semitic and that the Indo-European and the Semitic language families descend from a prehistoric language ancestral to them both. The theory has never been widely accepted by contemporary linguists in modern times, but historically it has had a number of supporting advocates and arguments, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Human habitation in the North African region occurred over one million years ago. Remains of Homo erectus during the Middle Pleistocene period, has been found in North Africa. The Berbers, who generally antedate by many millennia the Phoenicians and the establishment of Carthage, are understood to have arisen out of social events shaped by the confluence of several earlier peoples, i.e., the Capsian culture, events which eventually constituted their ethnogenesis. Thereafter Berbers lived as an independent people in North Africa, including the Tunisian region.
Alexander Militarev is a Russian scholar of Semitic, Berber, Canarian and Afroasiatic languages, comparative-historical linguistics, Jewish and Bible studies.
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