Afroasiatic languages

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North Africa, Western Asia, Horn of Africa, Sahel, and Malta
Linguistic classification: One of the world's primary language families
Proto-language: Proto-Afroasiatic
ISO 639-2 / 5: afa
Glottolog: afro1255[2]
Distribution of the Afro-Asiatic languages

The Afroasiatic languages (or Afro-Asiatic), also known as Hamito-Semitic,[3] or Semito-Hamitic,[4] and sometimes also as Afrasian or Erythraean,[5] are a language family of about 300 languages that are spoken predominantly in Western Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and parts of the Sahara/Sahel.[6] With the exception of its Semitic branch, all other branches of the Afroаsiatic family are spoken exclusively on the African continent.

Afroasiatic languages have over 500 million native speakers, which is the fourth-largest number of native speakers of any language family (after Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan, and Niger–Congo).[7] The phylum has six branches: Berber, Chadic, Cushitic, Egyptian, Semitic, and Omotic.[5][8] The most widely spoken modern Afroasiatic language or dialect continuum by far 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 the Middle East and North Africa.[9]

In addition to the languages spoken today, Afroasiatic includes several important ancient languages, such as Egyptian, which forms a distinct branch of the family; and within the Semitic family, Akkadian, Biblical Hebrew, and Old Aramaic. While there is no consensus among historical linguists concerning the original homeland of the Afroasiatic family or the period when the parent language (i.e. Proto-Afroasiatic) was spoken, most agree that it was located within a region of Northeast Africa. Proposed specific locations include the Horn of Africa, Egypt, 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.[not in citation given][10] 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.[11] By the 1860s, the main constituent elements within the broader Afroasiatic family had been worked out.[10]

Friedrich Müller introduced the name "Hamito-Semitic" for the entire language family in his Grundriss der Sprachwissenschaft (1876).[12] 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.[13][page needed] In current scholarly usage, the most commonly used names are "Afroasiatic", "Hamito-Semitic", and "Semito-Hamitic".[14]

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.[15]

Distribution and branches

File:Afro-asiatic tree.png
A map showing the linguistic tree of Afroasiatic languages (Ehret 2006)
Some linguists' proposals for grouping within Afroasiatic

Scholars generally treat the Afroasiatic language family as including at least the following five branches:

A sixth family's inclusion in Afroasiatic is disputed:

Although there is general agreement on these six families, linguists who study Afroasiatic raise some points of disagreement, in particular:

  • The Omotic language branch is the most controversial member of Afroasiatic because the grammatical formatives to which most linguists have given the 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, whereas others have raised doubts about its being part of proper Afroasiatic at all (e.g. Theil 2006), proposing an earlier split from a common ancestral language.[1][16]
  • The Afroasiatic identity of Ongota 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 (2006) proposes that Ongota constitutes a separate branch of Afroasiatic.[17] Bonny Sands (2009) [18][page needed] finds the proposal by Savà and Tosco (2003) the most convincing: namely that Ongota is an East Cushitic language with a Nilo-Saharan substratum. In other words, it would appear that the Ongota people once spoke a Nilo-Saharan language but then shifted to speaking a Cushitic language but retained some characteristics of their earlier Nilo-Saharan language.[1]
  • Beja, sometimes listed as a separate branch of Afroasiatic, is more often included in the Cushitic branch, which has a substantial degree of internal diversity.
  • There is no consensus on the interrelationships of the five non-Omotic branches of Afroasiatic (see § Subgrouping below). This situation is not unusual, even among long-established language families: scholars also frequently disagree on the internal classification of the Indo-European languages, for instance.
  • The extinct Meroitic language has been proposed (Bruce Trigger, 1964,[19] 1977[20]) as an unclassified Afroasiatic language, because it shares the phonotactics characteristic of the family, but there is not enough evidence to secure a classification (Fritz Hintze, 1974,[21][22][page needed]
  • The classification of Kujargé within Afroasiatic is not agreed upon. Blench (2008) notes that much of the basic vocabulary looks Cushitic, and speculates that Kujargé could even be a conservative language transitional between Chadic and Cushitic.[23]


File:Hamar Tribe (25995606468).jpg
The Afroasiatic Hamar people of Ethiopia are suggested to have preserved the original pastoralist lifestyle of the Proto-Afroasiatic-speaking peoples of Northeast Africa.[24][25]

In descending order of the number of speakers, widely-spoken Afroasiatic languages include:

Classification history

In the 9th century the Hebrew grammarian Judah ibn Quraysh of Tiaret in Algeria became 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.[12] In the course of the 19th century, Europeans also began suggesting such relationships. In 1844, Theodor Benfey proposed a language family consisting of Semitic, Berber, and Cushitic (he called the latter "Ethiopic").[41] 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 saw Hausa and Nama as 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 for grouping particular languages together.[42]

File:Africa ethnic groups 1996.png
Distribution of the Afroasiatic/Hamito-Semitic languages in Africa

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 in the 1940s.[42] 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'."[43] 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.[44]

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.[10] He also added (and sub-classified) the Chadic languages, and proposed a new name, "Afroasiatic", for the family. Almost all scholars have accepted this classification as the new and continued consensus.

Greenberg developed his model fully 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.[1] To Khoisan he also added the Tanzanian Hadza and Sandawe, though this view has been discredited as linguists working on these languages regard them as linguistic isolates.[45][46] Despite this, Greenberg's classification remains a starting point for modern work on many languages spoken in Africa, and the Hamitic category (and its extension to Nilo-Hamitic) has no part in this.[46]

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.[47]

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.[48] Most scholars, however, reject this proposal, and continue to group Beja as the sole member of a Northern branch within Cushitic.[49][50][page needed]

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, and Kujarge.


Proposed Afroasiatic sub-divisions
Greenberg (1963) Newman (1980) Fleming (post-1981) Ehret (1995)
  • Semitic
  • Egyptian
  • Berber
  • Cushitic
    • Northern Cushitic
      (equals Beja)
    • Central Cushitic
    • Eastern Cushitic
    • Western Cushitic
      (equals Omotic)
    • Southern Cushitic
  • Chadic
  • Berber–Chadic
  • Egypto-Semitic
  • Cushitic

(excludes Omotic)

  • Omotic
  • Erythraean
    • Cushitic
    • Ongota
    • Non-Ethiopian
      • Chadic
      • Berber
      • Egyptian
      • Semitic
      • Beja
  • Omotic
    • North Omotic
    • South Omotic
  • Erythrean
    • Cushitic
      • Beja
      • Agaw
      • East–South Cushitic
        • Eastern Cushitic
        • Southern Cushitic
    • North Erythrean
      • Chadic
      • Boreafrasian
        • Egyptian
        • Berber
        • Semitic
Orel & Stolbova (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 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.


  • Paul Newman (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.[51]
  • 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 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.[citation needed]
  • Like Harold Fleming, Christopher Ehret (1995: 490) divides Afroasiatic into two branches, Omotic and Erythrean. He divides Omotic into two branches, North Omotic and South Omotic. He divides Erythrean into Cushitic, comprising Beja, Agaw, and East-South Cushitic, and North Erythrean, comprising Chadic and "Boreafrasian." According to his classification, Boreafrasian consists of Egyptian, Berber, and Semitic.[citation needed]
  • Vladimir Orel 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 rather than a language family.[citation needed]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • Lionel Bender (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.[52]
  • Alexander Militarev (2000), on the basis of lexicostatistics, groups Berber with Chadic and both more distantly with Semitic, as against Cushitic and Omotic. He places Ongota in South Omotic.[citation needed]

Date of Afroasiatic

Speech sample in the Semitic Neo-Aramaic language, a descendant of Old Aramaic

The earliest written evidence of an Afroasiatic language is an Ancient Egyptian inscription dated to c. 3400 BC (5,400 years ago).[53] 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,[54] 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 7500 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.

Afroasiatic Urheimat

The Afroasiatic urheimat, 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, is unknown. 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.

Proposed migration and expansion routes of the Afroasiatic languages according to the indigenous African (Red Sea) origin model.

While there is no definitive agreement on when or where the original homeland of this language family existed, some link the first speakers to the first farmers in the Levant who would later spread to North and East Africa.[55] Others argue the first speakers were pre-agricultural and based in Northeast Africa.[55][56][57][58][59][16]

An indigenous African origin in Northeast Africa is supported by linguistic and archaeogenetic data, but not undisputed. This region includes the majority of the diversity of the Afroasiatic language family and has very diverse groups in close geographic proximity, sometimes considered a telltale sign for a linguistic geographic origin.[60] It is argued that a subset of Proto-Afroasiatic-speakers, having developed subsistence patterns of intensive plant collection and pastoralism, migrated northwards from the Horn of Africa or the Eastern Sahara into modern day Egypt and the Levant during the late Paleolithic, merging with local populations of largely West-Eurasian ancestry, resulting in a population which would later give rise to the Natufian culture, which is frequently associated with early Afroasiatic-speaking or specifically Semitic-speaking communities.[59][25][61][62][55][56][58]

Roger Blench has proposed southwestern Ethiopia as the most likely urheimat of the Afroasiatic language due to the high internal diversification of the Omotic branch spoken in that region.[57] A 2018 analysis of autosomal DNA using modern populations as a reference found that the ancient Natufian samples harbored a distinct ancestral component indigenous to the Horn of Africa, most prevalent among Omotic-speakers in southwestern Ethiopia.[59][63][64] This Omotic-related ancestry makes up 6.8% of the ancient Natufian ancestry, and may be associated with the spread of Proto-Afroasiatic and the specific Y-haplogroup sublineage E-M215, also known as "E1b1b", which is common among modern Afroasiatic-speaking groups and likely arose in Northeast Africa.[64][65][16][61]

Similarities in grammar and syntax

Verbal paradigms in several Afroasiatic languages:
Number Language → Arabic Kabyle Somali Beja Hausa
Verb → katab afeg imaad naw sha
Meaning → write fly come fail drink
singular 1 ʼaktubu ttafgeɣ imaadaa anáw ina shan
2f taktubīna tettafgeḍ timaadaa tináwi kina shan
2m taktubu tináwa kana shan
3f tettafeg tináw tana shan
3m yaktubu yettafeg yimaadaa ináw yana shan
dual 2 taktubāni
3m yaktubāni
plural 1 naktubu nettafeg nimaadnaa nínaw muna shan
2m taktubūna tettafgem timaadaan tínawna kuna shan
2f taktubna tettafgemt
3m yaktubūna ttafgen yimaadaan ínawna suna shan
3f yaktubna ttafgent

Widespread (though not universal) features of the Afroasiatic languages include:

  • A set of emphatic consonants, variously realized as glottalized, pharyngealized, or implosive.
  • VSO typology with SVO tendencies.
  • A two-gender system in the singular, with the feminine marked by the sound /t/.
  • All Afroasiatic subfamilies show evidence of a causative affix s.
  • Semitic, Berber, Cushitic (including Beja), and Chadic support possessive suffixes.
  • Nisba derivation in -j (earlier Egyptian) or (Semitic)[66]
  • Morphology in which words inflect by changes within the root (vowel changes or gemination) as well as with prefixes and suffixes.

One of the most remarkable shared features among the Afroasiatic languages is the prefixing verb conjugation (see the table at right), with a distinctive pattern of prefixes beginning with /ʔ t n j/, and in particular a pattern whereby third-singular masculine /j-/ 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.

The Berber and Semitic branches share certain grammatical features (e.g. alternative feminine endings *-ay/*-āy; corresponding vowel templates for verbal conjugations) which can be reconstructed for a higher-order proto-language (provisionally called "Proto-Berbero-Semitic" by Kossmann & Suchard (2018) and Putten (2018)). Whether this proto-language is ancestral to Berber and Semitic only, or also to other branches of Afroasiatic, still remains to be established.[67][68]

Shared vocabulary

Speech sample in Shilha (Berber branch)
Speech sample in Somali (Cushitic branch)
Speech sample in Classical Arabic (Semitic branch)

The following are some examples of Afroasiatic cognates, including ten pronouns, three nouns, and three verbs.

Source: Christopher Ehret, Reconstructing Proto-Afroasiatic (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).
Note: Ehret does not make use of Berber in his etymologies, stating (1995: 12): "the kind of extensive reconstruction of proto-Berber lexicon that might help in sorting through alternative possible etymologies is not yet available." The Berber cognates here are taken from the previous version of the table in this article and need to be completed and referenced.
Abbreviations: NOm = 'North Omotic', SOm = 'South Omotic'. MSA = 'Modern South Arabian', PSC = 'Proto-Southern Cushitic', PSom-II = 'Proto-Somali, stage 2'. masc. = 'masculine', fem. = 'feminine', sing. = 'singular', pl. = 'plural'. 1s. = 'first person singular', 2s. = 'second person singular'.
Symbols: Following Ehret (1995: 70), a caron ˇ over a vowel indicates rising tone, and a circumflex ^ over a vowel indicates falling tone. V indicates a vowel of unknown quality. Ɂ indicates a glottal stop. * indicates reconstructed forms based on comparison of related languages.
Proto-Afroasiatic Omotic Cushitic Chadic Egyptian Semitic Berber
*Ɂân- / *Ɂîn- or *ân- / *în- ‘I’ (independent pronoun) *in- ‘I’ (Maji (NOm)) *Ɂâni ‘I’ *nV ‘I’ jnk '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) .j (1s. suffix) *-i ‘me, my’ inu / nnu / iw ‘my’
*Ɂǎnn- / *Ɂǐnn- or *ǎnn- / *ǐnn- ‘we’ *nona / *nuna / *nina (NOm) *Ɂǎnn- / *Ɂǐnn- ‘we’ jnn ‘we’ *Ɂnn ‘we’ nekni / necnin / neccin ‘we’
*Ɂânt- / *Ɂînt- or *ânt- / *înt- ‘you’ (sing.) *int- ‘you’ (sing.) *Ɂânt- ‘you’ (sing.) ntk, *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’, sj, *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?’ mj ‘what?’, ‘who?’ (Arabic, Hebrew) / mu? (Assyrian) ‘what?’ ma? / mayen? / min? "what?"
*wa, *wi ‘what?’ *w- ‘what?’ *wä / *wɨ ‘what?’ (Agaw) *wa ‘who?’ wj ‘how ...!’ mamek? / mamec? / amek? "how?
*dîm- / *dâm- ‘blood’ *dam- ‘blood’ (Gonga) *dîm- / *dâm- ‘red’ *d-m- ‘blood’ (West Chadic) jdmj ‘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’ smj ‘to report, announce’ *ism (Arabic) / shǝma (Assyrian) ‘name’ isen / isem "name"
*-lisʼ- ‘to lick’ litsʼ- ‘to lick’ (Dime (SOm)) *alǝsi ‘tongue’ ns, *līs ‘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’ bni / bnu / bna "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.[69] The following table contains the thirty roots or so (out of thousands) that represent a fragile consensus of present research:

Number Proto-Afroasiatic Form Meaning Berber Chadic Cushitic Egyptian Omotic Semitic
1 *ʔab father
2 (ʔa-)bVr bull
3 (ʔa-)dVm red, blood
4 *(ʔa-)dVm land, field, soil
5 ʔa-pay- mouth
6 ʔigar/ *ḳʷar- house, enclosure
7 *ʔil- eye
8 (ʔi-)sim- name
9 *ʕayn- eye
10 *baʔ- go
11 *bar- son
12 *gamm- mane, beard
13 *gVn cheek, chin
14 *gʷarʕ- throat
15 *gʷinaʕ- hand
16 *kVn- co-wife
17 *kʷaly kidney
18 *ḳa(wa)l-/ *qʷar- to say, call
19 *ḳas- bone
20 *libb heart
21 *lis- tongue
22 *maʔ- water
23 *mawVt- to die
24 *sin- tooth
25 *siwan- know
26 *inn- I, we
27 *-k- thou
28 *zwr seed
29 *ŝVr root
30 *šun to sleep, dream

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. 1995. Reconstructing Proto-Afroasiatic (Proto-Afrasian): Vowels, Tone, Consonants, and Vocabulary (= University of California Publications in Linguistics 126). Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
  • 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



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Sands 2009, pp. 559–580.
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Afro-Asiatic". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Katzner 2002, p. 27.
  4. Robert Hetzron, "Afroasiatic Languages" in Bernard Comrie, The World's Major Languages, 2009, ISBN 113426156X, p. 545
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Afro-Asiatic languages". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 25 May 2021.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Eberhard, Simons & Fennig 2021, Browse by Language Family.
  7. Eberhard, Simons & Fennig 2021, Summary by language family.
  8. Baker, Jennifer L.; Rotimi, Charles N.; Shriner, Daniel (8 May 2017). "Human ancestry correlates with language and reveals that race is not an objective genomic classifier". Scientific Reports. 7 (1): 1572. Bibcode:2017NatSR...7.1572B. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-01837-7. ISSN 2045-2322. PMC 5431528. PMID 28484253.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Eberhard, Simons & Fennig 2021, Arabic.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Ruhlen 1991, pp. 76, 87.
  11. Gregersen, Edgar A. (1977). Language in Africa: An Introductory Survey. Taylor & Francis. p. 116. ISBN 978-0677043807. Retrieved 1 September 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 Lipiński 2001, pp. 21–22.
  13. Dimmendaal 2008.
  14. Frajzyngier & Shay 2012, p. 3.
  15. The New Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 8; Volume 22. Encyclopædia Britannica. 1998. pp. 722. ISBN 978-0-85229-633-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Ehret, Christopher; Keita, O. Y.; Newman, Paul (2004). "The Origins of Afroasiatic". Science. American Association for the Advancement of Science. 306 (5702): 1680. doi:10.1126/science.306.5702.1680c. PMID 15576591. S2CID 8057990.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Harrassowitz Verlag – The Harrassowitz Publishing House". Archived from the original on 29 June 2017. Retrieved 14 April 2018.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Sands 2009.
  19. Trigger, Bruce G., ‘Meroitic and Eastern Sudanic: A Linguistic Relationship?’, Kush 12, 1964, 188–194.
  20. Trigger, Bruce, G.,‘The Classification of Meroitic: Geographical Considerations’, Schriften zur Geschichte und Kultur des Alten Orients 13, 1977, 421–435.
  21. Hintze, Fritz, ‘Some Problems of Meroitic Philology’, Abdel Gadir Mahmoud Abdalla (ed.), Studies of the Ancient Languages of the Sudan, Sudanese Studies 3, Khartoum University Press, Khartoum, 1974, 73–78.
  22. Hintze 1979, pp. 1–214.
  23. Blench 2008, p. [page needed].
  24. Petrollino, Sara (1 January 2022). "The Hamar cattle model: the semantics of appearance in a pastoral linguaculture". Language Sciences. 89: 101448. doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2021.101448. ISSN 0388-0001. S2CID 244754430 Check |s2cid= value (help).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. 25.0 25.1 Ehret, Christopher (1979). "On the Antiquity of Agriculture in Ethiopia". Journal of African History. 20 (2): 161–177. doi:10.1017/S002185370001700X. JSTOR 181512. S2CID 162986221.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Eberhard, Simons & Fennig 2021, Hausa.
  27. Eberhard, Simons & Fennig 2021, Amharic.
  28. "Somaliland profile". BBC News. 14 December 2017. Retrieved 19 October 2021.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Eberhard, Simons & Fennig 2021, Somali.
  30. Eberhard, Simons & Fennig 2021, Tigrigna.
  31. Eberhard, Simons & Fennig 2021, Afar.
  32. Eberhard, Simons & Fennig 2021, Tachelhit.
  33. Eberhard, Simons & Fennig 2021, Kabyle.
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  35. Eberhard, Simons & Fennig 2021, Tamazight, Central Atlas.
  36. Eberhard, Simons & Fennig 2021, Tarifit].
  37. Eberhard, Simons & Fennig 2021, one Gurage language.
  38. "Tigre". Encyclopedia Britannica. Britannica. 19 September 2012. Retrieved 28 April 2021.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. Borg 1998.
  40. Eberhard, Simons & Fennig 2021, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic.
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  43. Shillington 2005, p. 797.
  44. Ruhlen 1991, p. 109.
  45. Sands 1998, p. 14.
  46. 46.0 46.1 Ruhlen 1991, p. 117.
  47. Everett Welmers, William (1974). African Language Structures. University of California Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-0520022102.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  50. Güldemann 2018.
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Works cited

General references

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External links