The term African languages is a collective name for the languages that were and are spoken on the African continent. The term “African languages” says nothing about a linguistic genetic relationship (→ language families of the world , language family ).
The African languages include first of all the languages that are spoken exclusively on the African continent. These are the Niger-Congo languages , the Nilosaharan languages and the Khoisan languages . The Afro-Asian languages are also traditionally added to the “African languages”, although languages of the Semitic subfamily of Afro-Asian were and are spoken also or only outside Africa - in the Middle East. On the one hand, the Semitic languages are also to a large extent represented in Africa (e.g. Arabic, many languages of Ethiopia and Eritrea), on the other hand, the Afro-Asian language family probably comes from Africa. In this broader sense, there are 2,138 African languages and idioms spoken by around 1.101 billion people. The language of Madagascar - Malagasy - belongs to the Austronesian language family and is therefore normally not counted among the "African languages", nor are the European Indo-European languages of the colonizers (English, Afrikaans, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and German).
The African is the science that deals with African languages and cultures.
The classification of the African languages
Since the 1950s, based on the work of Joseph Greenberg , the African languages have been divided into four groups or phyla:
- Afro-Asian with around 350 languages and 350 million speakers in North Africa and West Asia
- Niger-Congo with around 1400 languages and 370 million speakers in West, Central and South Africa
- Nilosaharan with around 200 languages and 35 million speakers from Sudan to Mali
- Khoisan with 28 languages and 355 thousand speakers, mainly in western South Africa
Research regards Greenberg's classification as methodologically inadequate to formulate actual language-genetic statements that are similarly reliable as the language-genetic statements about other language families. However, due to the lack of alternatives, this scheme now serves as a pragmatic ordering principle, e.g. B. for library classifications.
The internal structure of these language groups is dealt with in the individual articles. This article deals with the classification of African languages as a whole.
Discussion of the African Phyla
Whether these language groups or phyla form genetically defined language families is still debated in part in African studies. In any case, the only current standard work on African languages as a whole - B. Heine and D. Nurse, African Languages - An Introduction (Cambridge 2000) - published and written by leading Africanists of our time (B. Heine, D. Nurse, R. Blench , LM Bender, RJ Hayward, T. Güldemann, R. Voßen, P. Newman, C. Ehret, HE Wolff et al) from these four African phyla.
The fact that Afro-Asian and Niger-Congo each form a genetic unit has been proven and is generally accepted.
The Nilo-Saharan language is also understood by the specialists in this field (for example LM Bender and C. Ehret) as a secure unit, the main features of which are to be reconstructed. This view is not shared by all Africanists, however, although the core of Nilo-Saharan - Eastern Sudanese, Central Sudanese, and some smaller groups - as a genetic unit is fairly undisputed. Few people doubt whether the languages Kunama, Berta, Fur and the Maba group belong to Nilosaharan. Stronger doubts apply to the “outlier groups” Saharan, Kuliak and Songhai, whose affiliation to Nilo-Saharan is disputed by several researchers. Nevertheless, especially after the work of Bender and Ehret, there can be no question of the concept of the Nilo-Saharan languages as a whole having failed. Even if one or the other outgroup should prove to be independent, the greater part of the Nilo-Saharan language will endure as a genetic unit.
The situation is different with the Khoisan : the authors of this section in the above-mentioned review (T. Güldemann and R. Voßen) do not maintain the idea of a genetic unit of the Khoisan languages, which goes back to Greenberg and several predecessors, but instead assume at least three genetic units independent units (northern khoisan or ju, central khoisan or khoe, southern khoisan or Taa-ǃWi ), the languages Sandawe, Hadza and Kwadi, which were formerly part of the khoisan, are regarded as isolated. The Khoisan group forms an areal linguistic union of typologically related languages, which was created through long contact phases. This assessment of the Khoisan group as a linguistic union is widely accepted today.
History of the classification
The following illustration gives a tabular overview of the research history of African languages. The group names used are partly modern, so that even the non-specialist can follow the increase - or regression - of the knowledge gained.
- African languages have been described in Arabic documents since the 10th century ; The relationship between Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic has long been known to Jewish and Islamic linguists
- 1538 G. Postel is the first European to establish the relationship between the Semitic languages known at the time . The term “Semitic languages” was first introduced by Schlözer in 1781
- 17th century First academic study of African languages in Europe: Coptic (1636), Nubian (1638), (Ki-) Congo (1652), Nama (1643), Old Ethiopian (1661) and Amharic (1698)
- 1700 H. Ludolf extends the Semitic group to include the Ethiopian languages Old Ethiopian and Amharic
- Eighteenth-century European scholars note similarities between Coptic and Semitic languages
- 1776 LB Proyart recognizes the genetic relationship of some Bantu languages
- 1778 W. Marsden describes the outline of the Bantu family and realizes that the Bantu languages are about as closely related as the Romance languages, published only in 1816
- 1781 von Schlözer introduces the term "Semitic Languages"
- 1808 H. Lichtenstein shares the South African languages in Bantu and Nama (Khoisan) languages a
- 1820 Champollion discovers similarities between the Egyptian and the Semitic languages while deciphering the hieroglyphs
- 1826 A. Balbi tries the first general overview and classification of the African languages in Atlas ethnographique du globe ou classification des peuples anciens et modern d'après leurs langues
- 1850 JL Krapf coined the term " Hamitic languages " - later heavily controversial and now abandoned - for the non-Semitic sub-Saharan languages, although the Khoisan languages are probably excluded; he differentiates between "Nilo-Hamitisch" (including, for example, the Bantu languages) and "Nigro-Hamitisch" (for the West African languages)
- 1877 F. Müller adds the Berber and Kushitic languages to the "Nilo-Hamitic" languages. Despite similarities, he does not count Hausa as Hamitic. Müller combines the "Nilohamitic" and Semitic languages into the "Hamito-Semitic" language strain (works 1876–88)
- 1880 The German linguist and Egyptologist KR Lepsius summarized all non-Semitic inflected languages in Africa that have a gender system into the "Hamitic languages" and thus redefined this term. He is convinced that Hamitic also includes Hausa (and the other Chadian languages) and the Berber languages.
- 1888 KR Lepsius also includes the Nama Bushman languages as Hamitic; a wrong classification that lasted for a long time and falls behind the 1850 classification. The classification of Maasai (today: Nilosaharan language) as a Hamitic language was also incorrect
- 1912 C. Meinhof extends the Hamitic languages to include the Nama-Bushman languages (Khoisan) and Maasai (like Lepsius), but also Fulani (today: Niger-Congo language) and others. This overall classification of African languages, which lasted for a very long time , then includes the Bantu languages, the Hamitosemitic languages (in the broad sense of Meinhof) and Sudan languages . C. Meinhof postulates that the Bantu languages with their characteristic nominal class systems are a mixture of the Hamitic languages, which have a grammatical gender, and the Negro languages (which have no grammatical gender). The Negro languages Saharan summarized under the term Meinhof Sudan languages together. Meinhof also uses ablaut laws, word structures and sound inventories to help classify languages into his "Hamitic group". Where these typological criteria were insufficient (which had no genetic relevance), he supplements them with folkish classification patterns. This approach - completely wrong according to today's ideas - led to the classification of languages from four different language groups - Khoisan, Ful (Niger-Congo), Somali (Kushitic) and Maasai (Nilo-Saharan) - into his "Hamitic" group. This classification was the dominant opinion in German African studies until around 1950
- 1927 As early as 1911, D. Westermann (a student of C. Meinhof) made an internal distinction between the Sudan languages in West and East Sudanese languages. In 1927 Westermann researched the historical development of Western Sudan together with Hermann Baumann. They compared the result with the Proto-Bantu by C. Meinhof, but did not yet conclude that there was a genetic relationship. In 1935 Westermann established the thesis of a relationship between the Western Sudan languages and Bantu through his work “Character and Classification of Sudan Languages” and thus lays the core of today's “Niger-Congo” against the opinion of his teacher; he also recognizes that the eastern Sudan languages - also contrary to the view of his teacher - are not related to the western ones. The East Sudanese languages are later classified by Greenberg as "Nilosaharan"
- 1948–63 J. Greenberg classifies the African languages from scratch. He introduced the term “Afro-Asian” instead of the burdened “Hamito-Semitic” and established Chadian as the fifth subfamily of Afro-Asian. The Niger-Congo is defined as a new term for the Western Sudan languages, it also includes the Fulani group, the Adamawa-Ubangi and especially the Bantu languages (as a sub-sub-unit). The East Sudanese languages are combined with a few smaller groups as "Nilo-Saharan". Through various intermediate stages, it comes to the today largely accepted division of African languages into (1) Afro-Asian, (2) Nilo-Saharan, (3) Niger-Kordofan (today Niger-Congo) and (4) Khoisan
- 1969 H. Fleming identifies Omotic as the sixth branch of Afro-Asian
- Further development: All African research, insofar as it is active in the field of classification, works on the basis of Greenberg's model, even if it does not recognize this in all details. Above all, there is criticism of the Nilosaharan language, later also - with more justification - of the Khoisan
Greenberg's contribution to the classification of African languages
- Greenberg dispenses with non-linguistic criteria such as race and culture, which led to the misconception of Hamitic; consequently he eliminates the Hamitish unity.
- G. recognizes that the branches of the Hamito-Semitic group have equal rights and gives up the division into Semitic and Hamitic; As a result, he renames this unit Afro-Asian, as the old name suggests this dichotomy.
- G. establishes Chadian as an independent branch of Afro-Asian, which thus consists of the equal branches Semitic, Egyptian, Berber, Cushitic and Chadian. (The omotic is later separated from the cushitic through the work of H. Fleming.)
- G. removes the groups that Lepsius and Meinhof had wrongly added to Hamitic and assigns them to other families: Fulani was assigned to the Niger-Congo, Nama to the Khoisan, and Nilo-Hamitish or Nilotic to a subfamily of Nilosaharan.
- G. assigns the Adamawa-Ubangi to the Niger-Congo.
- G. recognizes the correct position of the Bantu as a sub-subgroup of the Niger-Congo.
- G. introduces Nilosaharan as a residual category of languages that belong neither to Afro-Asian, nor to Niger-Congo, nor to Khoisan. Thus they include the East Sudan languages and some smaller language groups. He tries to prove the genetic unity of this group. (This latter assessment in particular was criticized by Greenberg's opponents, although Meinhof had defined Sudan as a residual category that even includes today's Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan.)
Methodically, its classification is highly controversial due to the chosen method ( lexicostatistics , or lexical mass comparison ), as this method is firstly purely statistical and secondly is based on inadequate material (exclusively word lists of mostly dubious quality) and thirdly, goes back to ages that were compared to other linguistic or archaeological ones Methods could never be recorded let alone confirmed. Therefore, the Greenberg classification is widely accepted today as a classification system (e.g. for the production of systematic library catalogs) due to the lack of an alternative, but its genetic information content is only accepted with strong reservations.
Sociolinguistic situation in Africa
The national borders in Africa do not coincide with the borders of languages and ethnic groups. With a few exceptions, no uniform cultural nations have emerged, so that there is no connection between language, people and state.
The sociolinguistic situation in sub-Saharan Africa is largely shaped by a triglossia . In addition to the numerous native languages of the individual ethnic groups (→ vernacular language ), certain languages have emerged as a result of migration movements, trade, pre-colonial empire formation, religious missionary work and, in some cases, the support of the colonial rulers within the framework of "tribal self-administration" and the British " policy of indirect rule " developed as African lingua franca, which take on the task of facilitating communication between the members of the various ethnic groups. In particular, they play an important role in African cities, where a population lives that, unlike the rural population, is no longer primarily characterized by an ethnic group affiliation. These lingua franca are also important in popular education and are used in some media and in literature. Swahili in East Africa, Hausa , Fulfulde , Kanuri , Igbo , Yoruba and the Mandes languages Bambara , Dioula and Malinke in West Africa are counted among these lingua franca . In Central Africa, Lingála , Kikongo and Sango play a role. In addition to the vernacular languages and the African lingua franca, French, English and Portuguese have been introduced since colonial rule. In most sub-Saharan Africa, these languages continue to be used as official , judicial, teaching and scientific languages in universities and higher education institutions. Knowledge of European languages varies considerably depending on the level of education, country and degree of urbanization. The policy of exoglossy appears to be preferable to many states because of the linguistic diversity . In particular, the accusation of discrimination against the other ethnic groups that do not support the state (→ tribalism ) and economic isolation should be avoided. The only exceptions to the triglossia are Burundi and Rwanda . Swahili is promoted in Kenya , Uganda and Tanzania and is also anchored as an official language.
The situation in North Africa and the Horn of Africa is completely different . Before the Islamic conquests of the Arabs in the Magreb, the predominant Berber languages have been pushed into the background by Arabic . The Egyptian-Coptic became extinct in Egypt . Arabic is the mother tongue of the vast majority of North Africans. Unlike in sub-Saharan Africa, the North African states have replaced the colonial rulers' language, French, with Arabic as the official language. In Ethiopia acts Amharic as a lingua franca; there is no colonial language. In Somalia is Somaliland predominant. Italian has lost a lot of ground there.
Literature - in chronological order
- Richard Lepsius : Nubian Grammar. With an introduction about the peoples and languages of Africa. Hertz, Berlin 1880, ISBN 3-8364-2105-4 .
- Diedrich Westermann : The Sudan languages. Friederichsen, Hamburg 1911.
- Carl Meinhof : The languages of the Hamites. Friederichsen, Hamburg 1912.
- Diedrich Westermann: The western Sudan languages and their relationship to Bantu. Reimer, Hamburg 1927.
- Malcolm Guthrie : The Classification of the Bantu Languages. Oxford University Press 1948.
Joseph Greenberg : Studies in African Linguistic Classification. 7 parts. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology.
University of New Mexico Press. Albuquerque 1949-1950.
- Part I: The Niger-Congo Family. 1949.
- Part II: The Classification of Fulani. 1949.
- Part III: The Position of Bantu. 1949.
- Part IV: Hamito-Semitic. 1950.
- Part V: The Eastern Sudanic Family. 1950.
- Part VI: The Click Languages. 1950.
- Part VII: Smaller Families; Index of Languages. 1950.
- Joseph Greenberg: The Languages of Africa. Mouton, The Hague and Indiana University Center, Bloomington 1963 (3rd edition), ISBN 0-87750-115-7 .
- Malcolm Guthrie: Comparative Bantu. 4 volumes. Gregg, Farnborough 1967-71.
- Achiel E. Meeussen: Bantu Grammatical Reconstructions. Annales du Musée Royale de l'Afrique Central 1967.
- Carleton T. Hodge (Ed.): Afroasiatic. A survey. Mouton, The Hague - Paris 1971.
- AE Meeussen: Bantu Lexical Reconstructions. Annales du Musée Royale de l'Afrique Central 1980.
- Bernd Heine and others (ed.): The languages of Africa. Buske, Hamburg 1981, ISBN 3-87118-496-9 .
- Herrmann Jungraithmayr and others: Lexicon of African Studies. Reimer, Berlin 1983, ISBN 3-496-00146-1 . ( largely out of date )
- John Bendor-Samuel: The Niger-Congo Languages: A Classification and Description of Africa's Largest Language Family. University Press of America. Lanham / New York / London 1989, ISBN 0-8191-7375-4 .
- Christopher Ehret: Reconstructing Proto-Afroasiatic. University of California Press, Berkeley - Los Angeles - London 1995, ISBN 0-520-09799-8 .
- Rainer Voßen: The Khoe languages. Köppe, Cologne 1997, ISBN 3-927620-59-9 .
- Lionel M. Bender : The Nilo-Saharan Languages. A Comparative Essay. 2nd Edition. Lincom Europa, Munich / Newcastle 1997, ISBN 3-89586-045-X .
- Bernd Heine, Derek Nurse (Ed.): African Languages. An Introduction. Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-521-66629-5 .
- Christopher Ehret: A Historical-Comparative Reconstruction of Nilo-Saharan. Köppe, Cologne 2001, ISBN 3-89645-098-0 .
- Derek Nurse, Gérard Philippson (Ed.): The Bantu Languages. Routledge, London / New York 2003, ISBN 0-7007-1134-1 .
- Ernst Kausen: The language families of the world. Part 2: Africa - Indo-Pacific - Australia - America. Buske, Hamburg 2014, ISBN 978-3-87548-656-8 . (Chapter 1)
- Languages of Africa at Ethnologue
- African languages and linguistics on the Internet (excerpt from the website database of ilissAfrica )