Afro-Asiatic languages

Afro-Asiatic languages

Overview
The Afroasiatic languages (alternatively Afro-Asiatic), also known as Hamito-Semitic, constitute one of the world's largest language families
Language family
A language family is a group of languages related through descent from a common ancestor, called the proto-language of that family. The term 'family' comes from the tree model of language origination in historical linguistics, which makes use of a metaphor comparing languages to people in a...

, with about 375 living languages. The phylum is spoken by 200 to 300 million people primarily spread throughout the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

, North Africa
North Africa
North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and...

, the Horn of Africa
Horn of Africa
The Horn of Africa is a peninsula in East Africa that juts hundreds of kilometers into the Arabian Sea and lies along the southern side of the Gulf of Aden. It is the easternmost projection of the African continent...

, and parts of the Sahel
Sahel
The Sahel is the ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone of transition between the Sahara desert in the North and the Sudanian Savannas in the south.It stretches across the North African continent between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea....

.

The most widely-spoken Afroasiatic language is Arabic, including all its colloquial varieties
Varieties of Arabic
The Arabic language is a Semitic language characterized by a wide number of linguistic varieties within its five regional forms. The largest divisions occur between the spoken languages of different regions. The Arabic of North Africa, for example, is often incomprehensible to an Arabic speaker...

, with 230 million native speakers, spoken mostly in the Middle East and North Africa.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Afro-Asiatic languages'
Start a new discussion about 'Afro-Asiatic languages'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Recent Discussions
Encyclopedia
The Afroasiatic languages (alternatively Afro-Asiatic), also known as Hamito-Semitic, constitute one of the world's largest language families
Language family
A language family is a group of languages related through descent from a common ancestor, called the proto-language of that family. The term 'family' comes from the tree model of language origination in historical linguistics, which makes use of a metaphor comparing languages to people in a...

, with about 375 living languages. The phylum is spoken by 200 to 300 million people primarily spread throughout the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

, North Africa
North Africa
North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and...

, the Horn of Africa
Horn of Africa
The Horn of Africa is a peninsula in East Africa that juts hundreds of kilometers into the Arabian Sea and lies along the southern side of the Gulf of Aden. It is the easternmost projection of the African continent...

, and parts of the Sahel
Sahel
The Sahel is the ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone of transition between the Sahara desert in the North and the Sudanian Savannas in the south.It stretches across the North African continent between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea....

.

The most widely-spoken Afroasiatic language is Arabic, including all its colloquial varieties
Varieties of Arabic
The Arabic language is a Semitic language characterized by a wide number of linguistic varieties within its five regional forms. The largest divisions occur between the spoken languages of different regions. The Arabic of North Africa, for example, is often incomprehensible to an Arabic speaker...

, with 230 million native speakers, spoken mostly in the Middle East and North Africa. The second most spoken Afroasiatic language is the Berber language, with all of its dialects, which is spoken in Morocco
Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

, Algeria
Algeria
Algeria , officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria , also formally referred to as the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, is a country in the Maghreb region of Northwest Africa with Algiers as its capital.In terms of land area, it is the largest country in Africa and the Arab...

, Libya
Libya
Libya is an African country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west....

 and across the rest of North Africa and the Sahara Desert. Berber is spoken by about 25 to 35 million people. Amharic
Amharic language
Amharic is a Semitic language spoken in Ethiopia. It is the second most-spoken Semitic language in the world, after Arabic, and the official working language of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Thus, it has official status and is used nationwide. Amharic is also the official or working...

, the national language of Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

, with 18 million native speakers; Somali
Somali language
The Somali language is a member of the East Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Its nearest relatives are Afar and Oromo. Somali is the best documented of the Cushitic languages, with academic studies beginning before 1900....

, spoken by around 12 million in Greater Somalia
Greater Somalia
Greater Somalia refers to those regions in the Horn of Africa in which ethnic Somalis are and have historically represented the predominant population. Greater Somalia encompasses Somalia, Djibouti, the Ogaden of Ethiopia and the North Eastern Province of Kenya. Pan-Somalism refers to the vision...

; and Hausa
Hausa language
Hausa is the Chadic language with the largest number of speakers, spoken as a first language by about 25 million people, and as a second language by about 18 million more, an approximate total of 43 million people...

, which serves as a lingua franca
Lingua franca
A lingua franca is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both mother tongues.-Characteristics:"Lingua franca" is a functionally defined term, independent of the linguistic...

 in large parts of the Sahel
Sahel
The Sahel is the ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone of transition between the Sahara desert in the North and the Sudanian Savannas in the south.It stretches across the North African continent between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea....

, with 25 million speakers. In addition to languages now spoken, Afroasiatic includes several ancient languages, such as Ancient Egyptian
Egyptian language
Egyptian is the oldest known indigenous language of Egypt and a branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Written records of the Egyptian language have been dated from about 3400 BC, making it one of the oldest recorded languages known. Egyptian was spoken until the late 17th century AD in the...

, Biblical Hebrew, and Akkadian
Akkadian language
Akkadian is an extinct Semitic language that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. The earliest attested Semitic language, it used the cuneiform writing system derived ultimately from ancient Sumerian, an unrelated language isolate...

.

Etymology


The term "Afroasiatic" (often now spelled as Afro-Asiatic) was coined by Maurice Delafosse
Maurice Delafosse
Maurice Delafosse was a French ethnographer and colonial official who also worked in the field of the languages of Africa...

 (1914). It did not come into general use until it was adopted by Joseph Greenberg
Joseph Greenberg
Joseph Harold Greenberg was a prominent and controversial American linguist, principally known for his work in two areas, linguistic typology and the genetic classification of languages.- Early life and career :...

 (1950) to replace the earlier term "Hamito-Semitic", following his demonstration that Hamitic
Hamitic
Hamitic is an historical term for the peoples supposedly descended from Noah's son Ham, paralleling Semitic and Japhetic.It was formerly used for grouping the non-Semitic Afroasiatic languages , but since, unlike the Semitic branch, these have not been shown to form a phylogenetic unity, the term...

 is not a valid grouping. The term "Hamito-Semitic" remains in use in the academic traditions of some European countries. Some authors now replace "Afro-Asiatic" with "Afrasian", or, reflecting an opinion that it is more African than Asian, "Afrasan". Individual scholars have called the family "Erythraean" (Tucker 1966) and "Lisramic" (Hodge 1972).

Distribution and branches



The Afroasiatic language family is usually considered to include the following branches:
  • Berber
    Berber languages
    The Berber languages are a family of languages indigenous to North Africa, spoken from Siwa Oasis in Egypt to Morocco , and south to the countries of the Sahara Desert...

  • Chadic
    Chadic languages
    The Chadic languages constitute a language family of perhaps 200 languages spoken across northern Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic and Cameroon, belonging to the Afroasiatic phylum...

  • Cushitic
    Cushitic languages
    The Cushitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family spoken in the Horn of Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan and Egypt. They are named after the Biblical character Cush, who was identified as an ancestor of the speakers of these specific languages as early as AD 947...

  • Egyptian
    Egyptian language
    Egyptian is the oldest known indigenous language of Egypt and a branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Written records of the Egyptian language have been dated from about 3400 BC, making it one of the oldest recorded languages known. Egyptian was spoken until the late 17th century AD in the...

  • Omotic
    Omotic languages
    The Omotic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic family spoken in southwestern Ethiopia. The Ge'ez alphabet is used to write some Omotic languages, the Roman alphabet for some others. They are fairly agglutinative, and have complex tonal systems .-Language list:The North and South Omotic...

  • Semitic
    Semitic languages
    The Semitic languages are a group of related languages whose living representatives are spoken by more than 270 million people across much of the Middle East, North Africa and the Horn of Africa...



While there is general agreement on these six families, there are some points of disagreement among linguists
Linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

 who study Afroasiatic. In particular:
  • The Omotic language branch is the most controversial member of Afroasiatic since the grammatical formatives which most linguists have given greatest weight in classifying languages in the family "are either absent or distinctly wobbly" (Hayward 1995). Greenberg (1963) and others considered it a subgroup of Cushitic, while others have raised doubts about it being part of Afroasiatic at all (e.g. Theil 2006).
  • The Afroasiatic identity of Ongota
    Ongota language
    Ongota is a moribund language of southwest Ethiopia. In 2008, it was said to be in a state of decline with only 6 elderly native speakers, the rest of their small village on the west bank of the Weito River having adopted the Tsamai language instead. The grammar follows a Subject Object Verb word...

     is also broadly questioned, as is its position within Afroasiatic among those who accept it, due to the "mixed" appearance of the language and a paucity of research and data. Harold Fleming
    Harold C. Fleming
    Harold Crane Fleming is 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...

     (2006) proposes that Ongota constitutes a separate branch of Afroasiatic. Bonny Sands (2009) believes the most convincing proposal is by Savà and Tosco (2003), namely that Ongota is an East Cushitic language with a Nilo-Saharan
    Nilo-Saharan languages
    The Nilo-Saharan languages are a proposed family of African languages spoken by some 50 million people, mainly in the upper parts of the Chari and Nile rivers , including historic Nubia, north of where the two tributaries of Nile meet...

     substratum
    Substratum
    In linguistics, a stratum or strate is a language that influences, or is influenced by another through contact. A substratum is a language which has lower power or prestige than another, while a superstratum is the language that has higher power or prestige. Both substratum and superstratum...

    . In other words, the Ongota people would appear to have once spoken a Nilo-Saharan language but then shifted to speaking a Cushitic language, while retaining some characteristics of their earlier Nilo-Saharan language.
  • Beja
    Beja language
    Beja or North Cushitic is an Afro-Asiatic language of the southern coast of the Red Sea, spoken by about two million nomads, the Beja, in parts of Egypt, Sudan, and Eritrea.-Classification:...

     is sometimes listed as a separate branch of Afroasiatic but is more often included in the Cushitic branch, which has a high degree of internal diversity.
  • Whether the various branches of Cushitic actually form a language family is sometimes questioned, but not their inclusion in Afroasiatic itself.
  • There is no consensus on the interrelationships of the five non-Omotic branches of Afroasiatic (see "Overview of classifications" below). This situation is not unusual, even among long-established language families: there are also many disagreements concerning the internal classification of the Indo-European languages
    Indo-European languages
    The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...

    , for instance.

Classification history


In the 9th century, the Hebrew grammarian Judah ibn Quraysh
Judah ibn Kuraish
Judah ibn Kuraish , was a Hebrew grammarian and lexicographer. He was born at Tahort, in northern Africa in the 10th century. While his grammatical works advanced little beyond his predecessors, he was the first in studying comparative philology in the languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic...

 of Tiaret in Algeria
Algeria
Algeria , officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria , also formally referred to as the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, is a country in the Maghreb region of Northwest Africa with Algiers as its capital.In terms of land area, it is the largest country in Africa and the Arab...

 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
Theodor Benfey
This is about the philologist. For the Theodor Benfey who developed a spiral periodic table of the elements in 1964 -- Otto Theodor Benfey -- see Alternative periodic tables....

 suggested a language family consisting of Semitic, Berber, and Cushitic (calling the latter "Ethiopic"). 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.

Friedrich Müller
Friedrich Müller (linguist)
Friedrich Müller was an Austrian linguist and ethnologist who originated the term Hamito-Semitic languages for what are now called the Afro-Asiatic languages.-Biography:He studied at the University of Göttingen...

 named the traditional "Hamito-Semitic" family in 1876 in his Grundriss der Sprachwissenschaft. He defined it as consisting of a Semitic group plus a "Hamitic" group containing Egyptian, Berber, and Cushitic; he excluded the Chadic group. These classifications relied in part on non-linguistic anthropological and racial arguments that have largely been discredited (see Hamitic hypothesis).

Leo Reinisch (1909) proposed linking Cushitic and Chadic, while urging a more distant affinity to Egyptian and Semitic, thus foreshadowing Greenberg, but his suggestion found little resonance.

Marcel Cohen
Marcel Cohen
Marcel Samuel Raphaël Cohen was a French linguist. He was an important scholar of Semitic languages and especially of Ethiopian languages. He studied the French language and contributed much to general linguistics.- Life :...

 (1924) rejected the idea of a distinct Hamitic subgroup and included Hausa (a Chadic language) in his comparative Hamito-Semitic vocabulary.

Joseph Greenberg
Joseph Greenberg
Joseph Harold Greenberg was a prominent and controversial American linguist, principally known for his work in two areas, linguistic typology and the genetic classification of languages.- Early life and career :...

 (1950) strongly confirmed Cohen's rejection of "Hamitic", added (and sub-classified) the Chadic branch, and proposed the new name "Afroasiatic" for the family. Nearly all scholars have accepted Greenberg's classification.

In 1969, Harold Fleming
Harold C. Fleming
Harold Crane Fleming is 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...

 proposed that what had previously been known as Western Cushitic is an independent branch of Afroasiatic, suggesting for it the new name Omotic
Omotic languages
The Omotic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic family spoken in southwestern Ethiopia. The Ge'ez alphabet is used to write some Omotic languages, the Roman alphabet for some others. They are fairly agglutinative, and have complex tonal systems .-Language list:The North and South Omotic...

. This proposal and name have met with widespread acceptance.

Several scholars, including Harold Fleming and Robert Hetzron
Robert Hetzron
Robert Herzog sitting third from right]]Robert Hetzron, born Herzog , was a Hungarian-born linguist known for his work on the comparative study of Afro-Asiatic languages, as well as for his study of Cushitic and Ethiopian Semitic languages.-Biography:Born in Hungary, Hetzron studied at the...

, have since questioned the traditional inclusion of Beja in Cushitic.

Subgrouping

Proposed Afro-Asiatic sub-divisions
Greenberg (1963) Newman (1980) Fleming (post-1981) Ehret (1995)
  • Semitic
  • Egyptian
  • Berber
  • Cushitic
    • Western Cushitic
      (equals Omotic)
  • Chadic
  • Berber-Chadic
  • Egypto-Semitic
  • Cushitic

  • (excludes Omotic)
    • Omotic
    • Erythraean:
      • Cushitic
      • Ongota
      • Non-Ethiopian:
        • Chadic
        • Berber
        • Egyptian
        • Semitic
        • Beja
  • Omotic
  • Cushitic
  • Chadic
  • North Afro-Asiatic:
    • Egyptian
    • Berber
    • Semitic
  • Orel & Stobova (1995) Diakonoff (1996) Bender (1997) Militarev (2000)
  • Berber-Semitic
  • Chadic-Egyptian
  • Omotic
  • Beja
  • Agaw
  • Sidamic
  • East Lowlands
  • Rift
  • East-West Afrasian:
    • Berber
    • Cushitic
    • Semitic
  • North-South Afrasian:
    • Chadic
    • Egyptian

  • (excludes Omotic)
    • Omotic
    • Chadic
    • Macro-Cushitic:
      • Berber
      • Cushitic
      • Semitic
  • North Afrasian:
    • African North Afrasian:
      • Chado-Berber
      • Egyptian
    • Semitic
  • South Afrasian:
    • Omotic
    • Cushitic


  • Little agreement exists on the subgrouping
    Subgrouping (linguistics)
    Subgrouping in linguistics is the division of a language family into its constituent branches.-References:Greenberg, Joseph H. 1957. "The problem of linguistic subgroupings", in Essays in Linguistics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press....

     of the five or six branches of Afroasiatic: Semitic, Egyptian, Berber, Chadic, Cushitic, and Omotic. However, Christopher Ehret
    Christopher Ehret
    Christopher Ehret , a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, is a writer on African history and African historical linguistics, particularly known for his efforts to correlate linguistic taxonomy and reconstruction with the archeological record...

     (1979), Harold Fleming (1981), and Joseph Greenberg (1981) all agree that the Omotic branch split from the rest first.

    Otherwise:
    • Paul Newman
      Paul Newman (linguist)
      Paul Newman is an American linguist of great influence in the study of African languages. He is the world’s leading authority on the Hausa language of Nigeria and on the Chadic language family...

       (1980) groups Berber with Chadic and Egyptian with Semitic, while questioning the inclusion of Omotic in Afroasiatic. Rolf Theil (2006) concurs with the exclusion of Omotic, but does not otherwise address the structure of the family.
    • Harold Fleming (1981) divides non-Omotic Afroasiatic, or "Erythraean", into three groups, Cushitic, Semitic, and Chadic-Berber-Egyptian. He later added Semitic and Beja to Chadic-Berber-Egyptian and tentatively proposed Ongota
      Ongota language
      Ongota is a moribund language of southwest Ethiopia. In 2008, it was said to be in a state of decline with only 6 elderly native speakers, the rest of their small village on the west bank of the Weito River having adopted the Tsamai language instead. The grammar follows a Subject Object Verb word...

       as a new third branch of Erythraean. He thus divided Afroasiatic into two major branches, Omotic and Erythraean, with Erythraean consisting of three sub-branches, Cushitic, Chadic-Berber-Egyptian-Semitic-Beja, and Ongota.
    • Vladimir Orel
      Vladimir Orel
      -Biography:At the Moscow State University he studied theoretical linguistics and structural linguistics . He defended his Ph.D. in 1981 , on the comparative analysis of Balto-Slavic languages...

       and Olga Stolbova (1995) group Berber with Semitic and Chadic with Egyptian. They split up Cushitic into five or more independent branches of Afroasiatic, viewing Cushitic as a Sprachbund
      Sprachbund
      A Sprachbund – also known as a linguistic area, convergence area, diffusion area or language crossroads – is a group of languages that have become similar in some way because of geographical proximity and language contact. They may be genetically unrelated, or only distantly related...

       rather than a language family
      Language family
      A language family is a group of languages related through descent from a common ancestor, called the proto-language of that family. The term 'family' comes from the tree model of language origination in historical linguistics, which makes use of a metaphor comparing languages to people in a...

      .
    • Christopher Ehret
      Christopher Ehret
      Christopher Ehret , a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, is a writer on African history and African historical linguistics, particularly known for his efforts to correlate linguistic taxonomy and reconstruction with the archeological record...

       (1995) groups Egyptian, Berber, and Semitic together in a "North Afro-Asiatic" subgroup.
    • Igor M. Diakonoff (1996) subdivides Afroasiatic in two, grouping Berber, Cushitic, and Semitic together as East-West Afrasian (ESA), and Chadic with Egyptian as North-South Afrasian (NSA). He excludes Omotic from Afroasiatic.
    • Lionel Bender
      Lionel Bender (linguist)
      Marvin Lionel Bender was an American author and co-author of several books, publications and essays regarding African languages, particularly from Ethiopia and Sudan. He retired from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He did extensive work in all four language families of Ethiopia: Semitic,...

       (1997) groups Berber, Cushitic, and Semitic together as "Macro-Cushitic". He regards Chadic and Omotic as the branches of Afroasiatic most remote from the others.
    • Alexander Militarev (2000), on the basis of lexicostatistics
      Lexicostatistics
      Lexicostatistics is an approach to comparative linguistics that involves quantitative comparison of lexical cognates. Lexicostatistics is related to the comparative method but does not reconstruct a proto-language...

      , groups Berber with Chadic and both more distantly with Semitic, as against Cushitic and Omotic. He places Ongota in South Omotic.

    Position among the world's languages


    Afroasiatic is one of the four language families of Africa
    Languages of Africa
    There are over 2100 and by some counts over 3000 languages spoken natively in Africa in several major language families:*Afro-Asiatic spread throughout the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and parts of the Sahel...

     identified by Joseph Greenberg in his book The Languages of Africa
    The Languages of Africa
    The Languages of Africa is a 1963 book of essays by Joseph Greenberg, in which he sets forth a genetic classification of African languages that, with some changes, continues to be the most commonly used one today...

     (1963). It is the only one that extends outside of Africa, via the Semitic branch.

    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:
    • Hermann Möller
      Hermann Möller
      Hermann Möller was a Danish linguist noted for his work in favor of a genetic relationship between the Indo-European and Semitic language families and his version of the laryngeal theory....

       (1906) argued for a relation between Semitic
      Semitic languages
      The Semitic languages are a group of related languages whose living representatives are spoken by more than 270 million people across much of the Middle East, North Africa and the Horn of Africa...

       and the Indo-European languages
      Indo-European languages
      The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...

      . This proposal was accepted by some linguists (e.g. Holger Pedersen
      Holger Pedersen (linguist)
      Holger Pedersen was a Danish linguist who made significant contributions to language science and wrote about 30 authoritative works concerning several languages....

       and Louis Hjelmslev
      Louis Hjelmslev
      Louis Hjelmslev was a Danish linguist whose ideas formed the basis of the Copenhagen School of linguistics. Born into an academic family , Hjelmslev studied comparative linguistics in Copenhagen, Prague and Paris...

      ) but has no currency today. Möller made his proposal before the relationship between the Semitic and the other Afroasiatic languages was observed.
    • Apparently influenced by Möller (a colleague of his at the University of Copenhagen
      University of Copenhagen
      The University of Copenhagen is the oldest and largest university and research institution in Denmark. Founded in 1479, it has more than 37,000 students, the majority of whom are female , and more than 7,000 employees. The university has several campuses located in and around Copenhagen, with the...

      ), Holger Pedersen
      Holger Pedersen (linguist)
      Holger Pedersen was a Danish linguist who made significant contributions to language science and wrote about 30 authoritative works concerning several languages....

       included Hamito-Semitic (the term replaced by Afroasiatic) in his proposed Nostratic
      Nostratic languages
      Nostratic is a proposed language family that includes many of the indigenous language families of Eurasia, including the Indo-European, Uralic and Altaic as well as Kartvelian languages...

       macro-family (cf. Pedersen 1931:336–338), which also included the Indo-European, Finno-Ugric
      Finno-Ugric languages
      Finno-Ugric , Finno-Ugrian or Fenno-Ugric is a traditional group of languages in the Uralic language family that comprises the Finno-Permic and Ugric language families....

      , Samoyed, Turkish
      Turkic languages
      The Turkic languages constitute a language family of at least thirty five languages, spoken by Turkic peoples across a vast area from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean to Siberia and Western China, and are considered to be part of the proposed Altaic language family.Turkic languages are spoken...

      , Mongolian
      Mongolic languages
      The Mongolic languages are a group of languages spoken in East-Central Asia, mostly in Mongolia and surrounding areas plus in Kalmykia. The best-known member of this language family, Mongolian, is the primary language of most of the residents of Mongolia and the Mongolian residents of Inner...

      , Manchu
      Tungusic languages
      The Tungusic languages form a language family spoken in Eastern Siberia and Manchuria by Tungusic peoples. Many Tungusic languages are endangered, and the long-term future of the family is uncertain...

      , and Yukaghir languages
      Yukaghir languages
      The Yukaghir languages are a small family of two closely related languages – Tundra and Kolyma Yukaghir – spoken by the Yukaghir in the Russian Far East living in the basin of the Kolyma River. According to the 2002 Russian census, both Yukaghir languages taken together have 604 speakers...

      . This inclusion was retained by subsequent Nostraticists, starting with Vladislav Illich-Svitych
      Vladislav Illich-Svitych
      Vladislav Markovich Illich-Svitych was a Russian linguist and accentologist, also a founding father of comparative Nostratic linguistics.Of Ukrainian descent, he was born in Kiev but later moved to work in Moscow. He resuscitated the long-forgotten Nostratic hypothesis, originally expounded by...

       and Aharon Dolgopolsky
      Aharon Dolgopolsky
      Aharon Dolgopolsky is a Russian-born Israeli comparative linguist and one of the modern founders of comparative Nostratic linguistics.Born in Moscow, he arrived at the long-forgotten Nostratic hypothesis in the 1960s, at around the same time but independently of Vladislav Illich-Svitych...

      .
    • Joseph Greenberg
      Joseph Greenberg
      Joseph Harold Greenberg was a prominent and controversial American linguist, principally known for his work in two areas, linguistic typology and the genetic classification of languages.- Early life and career :...

       (2000–2002) did not reject a relationship of Afroasiatic to these other languages, but he considered it more distantly related to them than they were to each other, grouping instead these other languages in a separate macro-family, which he called Eurasiatic
      Eurasiatic languages
      Eurasiatic is a language macrofamily proposed by Joseph Greenberg that includes many language families historically spoken in northern Eurasia. The eight branches of Eurasiatic are Etruscan, Indo-European, Uralic–Yukaghir, Altaic, Korean-Japanese-Ainu, Gilyak, Chukotian, and Eskimo–Aleut, spoken in...

      , and to which he added Chukotian
      Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages
      The Chukotko-Kamchatkan or Chukchi–Kamchatkan languages are a language family of extreme northeastern Siberia. Its speakers are indigenous hunter-gatherers and reindeer-herders....

      , Gilyak
      Nivkh language
      Nivkh or Gilyak is a language spoken in Outer Manchuria, in the basin of the Amgun , along the lower reaches of the Amur itself, and on the northern half of Sakhalin. 'Gilyak' is the Manchu appellation...

      , Korean
      Korean language
      Korean is the official language of the country Korea, in both South and North. It is also one of the two official languages in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in People's Republic of China. There are about 78 million Korean speakers worldwide. In the 15th century, a national writing...

      , Japanese-Ryukyuan
      Japonic languages
      Japonic languages is a term which identifies and characterises the Japanese which is spoken on the main islands of Japan and the Ryukyuan languages spoken in the Ryukyu Islands. This widely accepted linguistics term was coined by Leon Serafim....

      , Eskimo–Aleut, and Ainu
      Ainu languages
      The Ainu languages were a small language family spoken on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaidō, the southern half of the island of Sakhalin, and the Kuril Islands, an island chain that stretches from Hokkaidō to the southern tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula. They are alternately considered a...

      .
    • Most recently, Sergei Starostin
      Sergei Starostin
      Dr. Sergei Anatolyevich Starostin was a Russian historical linguist and scholar, best known for his work with hypothetical proto-languages, including his work on the reconstruction of the Proto-Borean language, the controversial theory of Altaic languages and the formulation of the Dené–Caucasian...

      's school has accepted Eurasiatic as a subgroup of Nostratic, with Afroasiatic, Dravidian, and Kartvelian in Nostratic outside of Eurasiatic. An even larger Borean group would contain Nostratic as well as Dene–Caucasian and Austric.
    • As of 2011, there is no consensual dictionary of Afroasiatic roots (Christopher Ehret's dictionary and the one published by Orel-Stolbova are divergent and disagree). Until a reconstructed set of Afroasiatic roots is agreed upon, it is difficult to classify Afroasiatic within a bigger frame, or to compare it with established proto-languages.

    Origins and common features

    Verbal paradigms in several Afroasiatic languages:
    ↓ Number Language → Arabic  Coptic
    Coptic language
    Coptic or Coptic Egyptian is the current stage of the Egyptian language, a northern Afro-Asiatic language spoken in Egypt until at least the 17th century. Egyptian began to be written using the Greek alphabet in the 1st century...

     
    Kabyle
    Kabyle language
    Kabyle or Kabylian is a Berber language spoken by the Kabyle people north and northeast of Algeria. Estimates about the number of speakers range from 5 million to about 7 million speakers worldwide, the majority in Algeria.-Classification:The classification of Kabyle is Afro-Asiatic, Berber and...

     
    Soomaali
    Somali language
    The Somali language is a member of the East Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Its nearest relatives are Afar and Oromo. Somali is the best documented of the Cushitic languages, with academic studies beginning before 1900....

     
    Beja
    Beja language
    Beja or North Cushitic is an Afro-Asiatic language of the southern coast of the Red Sea, spoken by about two million nomads, the Beja, in parts of Egypt, Sudan, and Eritrea.-Classification:...

     
    Hausa
    Hausa language
    Hausa is the Chadic language with the largest number of speakers, spoken as a first language by about 25 million people, and as a second language by about 18 million more, an approximate total of 43 million people...

    Meaning → write die fly come eat drink
    singular 1 ʼaktubu timou ttafgeɣ imaadaa tamáni ina shan
    2f taktubīna temou tettafgeḍ timaadtaa tamtínii kina shan
    2m taktubu kmou tamtíniya kana shan
    3f smou tettafeg tamtíni tana shan
    3m yaktubu fmou yettafeg yimaadaa tamíni yana shan
    dual 2 taktubāni
    3f
    3m yaktubāni
    plural 1 naktubu tənmou nettafeg nimaadnaa támnay muna shan
    2m taktubūna tetənmou tettafgem timaadtaan támteena kuna shan
    2f taktubna tettafgemt
    3m yaktubūna semou ttafgen yimaadaan támeen suna shan
    3f yaktubna ttafgent

    Common (but not universal) features of the Afroasiatic languages include:
    • A two-gender
      Grammatical gender
      Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

       system in the singular, with the feminine marked by the /t/ sound
    • VSO typology
      Linguistic typology
      Linguistic typology is a subfield of linguistics that studies and classifies languages according to their structural features. Its aim is to describe and explain the common properties and the structural diversity of the world's languages...

       with SVO tendencies
    • A set of emphatic consonant
      Emphatic consonant
      Emphatic consonant is a term widely used in Semitic linguistics to describe one of a series of obstruent consonants which originally contrasted with series of both voiced and voiceless obstruents. In specific Semitic languages, the members of this series may be realized as pharyngealized,...

      s, variously realized as glottalized, pharyngealized, or implosive
    • Morphology
      Morphology (linguistics)
      In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

       in which words inflect by changes within the root (vowel changes or gemination
      Gemination
      In phonetics, gemination happens when a spoken consonant is pronounced for an audibly longer period of time than a short consonant. Gemination is distinct from stress and may appear independently of it....

      ) as well as with prefixes and suffixes
    • All Afroasiatic subfamilies show evidence of a causative
      Causative
      In linguistics, a causative is a form that indicates that a subject causes someone or something else to do or be something, or causes a change in state of a non-volitional event....

       affix s. Semitic, Berber, Cushitic (including Beja), and Chadic support possessive suffix
      Possessive suffix
      In linguistics, a possessive affix is a suffix or prefix attached to a noun to indicate its possessor, much in the manner of possessive adjectives. Possessive suffixes are found in some Uralic, Altaic, Semitic, and Indo-European languages...

      es.


    Tonal languages appear in the Omotic, Chadic, and Cushitic branches of Afroasiatic, according to Ehret (1996). The Semitic, Berber, and Egyptian branches do not use tones phonemically
    Phoneme
    In a language or dialect, a phoneme is the smallest segmental unit of sound employed to form meaningful contrasts between utterances....

    .

    Cognates


    Some Afroasiatic cognate
    Cognate
    In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. This learned term derives from the Latin cognatus . Cognates within the same language are called doublets. Strictly speaking, loanwords from another language are usually not meant by the term, e.g...

    s are:
    • *b-n- 'build' (Ehret: *bĭn), attested in Chadic, Semitic (*bny), Cushitic (*mĭn/*măn 'house'), Berber (*bn) and Omotic (Dime bin- 'build, create').
    • *m-t 'die' (Ehret: *maaw), attested in Chadic (for example, Hausa mutu), Egyptian (mwt *muwt, mt, Coptic mu), Berber (mmet, pr. immut), Semitic (*mwt), and Cushitic (*umaaw/*-am-w(t)- 'die'). Also Mot, Canaanite god of death.
    • *s-n 'know', attested in Chadic (for example, Hausa san), Berber, Egyptian and Semitic (Hebrew š-n-n 'learn, study').
    • *l-s 'tongue' (Ehret: *lis' 'to lick'), attested in Semitic (*lasaan/lisaan 'tongue'), Egyptian (ns *ls, Coptic las), Berber (ils), Chadic (for example, Hausa harshe), and possibly Omotic (Dime lits'- 'lick').
    • *s-m 'name' (Ehret: *sŭm / *sĭm), attested in Semitic (*sm), Berber (ism), Chadic (for example, Hausa suna), Cushitic, and Omotic (though some see the Berber form, ism, and the Omotic form, sunts, as Semitic loanwords.) The Egyptian smi 'report, announce' offers another possible cognate.
    • *d-m 'blood' (Ehret: *dîm / *dâm), attested in Berber (idammen), Semitic (*dam), and Chadic. Compare Cushitic *dîm/*dâm, 'red'.

    Etymological bibliography


    Some of the main sources for Afroasiatic etymologies include:
    • Cohen, Marcel. 1947. Essai comparatif sur le vocabulaire et la phonétique du chamito-sémitique. Paris: Champion.
    • Diakonoff, Igor M. et al. 1993–1997. "Historical-comparative vocabulary of Afrasian", St. Petersburg Journal of African Studies 2–6.
    • Ehret, Christopher. 1996. Reconstructing Proto-Afroasiatic (Proto-Afrasian): Vowels, Tone, Consonants, and Vocabulary (University of California Publications in Linguistics 126). Berkeley, California.
    • Orel, Vladimir E. and Olga V. Stolbova. 1995. Hamito-Semitic Etymological Dictionary: Materials for a Reconstruction. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 90-04-10051-2.

    See also

    • African languages
      African languages
      There are over 2100 and by some counts over 3000 languages spoken natively in Africa in several major language families:*Afro-Asiatic spread throughout the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and parts of the Sahel...

    • Afroasiatic Urheimat
      Afroasiatic Urheimat
      The term Afroasiatic Urheimat refers to the place where Proto-Afroasiatic 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 spoken today in many parts of...

    • Asian languages
      Languages of Asia
      There is a wide variety of languages spoken throughout Asia, comprising a number of families and some unrelated isolates. Many languages have a long tradition of writing.-Central and North Asian languages:*Turkic**Azeri**Kazak**Kyrgyz**Tatar**Turkish...

    • Nostratic languages
      Nostratic languages
      Nostratic is a proposed language family that includes many of the indigenous language families of Eurasia, including the Indo-European, Uralic and Altaic as well as Kartvelian languages...

    • Proto-Afroasiatic language

    External links