Afro-Asian languages

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The area of ​​the Afro-Asian languages ​​is colored in yellow on the map
Family tree of the Afro-Asian languages ​​according to Ehret 1995.

The Afro-Asian languages (traditionally referred to as Semito-Hamitic or Hamito-Semitic ) form a language family that is widespread in North and East Africa as well as in Western Asia. Afro-Asian consists of six branches: Egyptian , Berber , Semitic , Cushitic , Omotic and Chadic . These cover a total of around 350 languages ​​with around 350 million speakers. About 40 of the known languages ​​are now extinct.

Afro-Asian is also one of the four great families (phyla) of African languages that Joseph Greenberg established in his work from 1949 to 1963 and which today form the basis of all linguistic classifications in Africa. The area of ​​the ( recent ) language family of Afro-Asian languages ​​borders in the south on the language families of the Niger-Congo and Nilo -Saharan languages and in the northeast on the language area of the Indo-European and Turkic languages .


Joseph Greenberg introduced the term “Afro-Asian” (also “Afro-Asian”) for the language family. It has replaced the older term “Hamito-Semitisch” many times. This seems misleading insofar as it suggests a division into “Semitic” and “ Hamitic ” languages ​​and, in connection with the Hamite theory , can be perceived as having racist connotations. African ( Igor M. Diakonoff ), Lisramian ( Carleton T. Hodge ) and Erythrean ( Leo Reinisch ) were suggested as further names ; however, with the exception of African, these terms have hardly found any followers. Note: Erythrean should not be confused in this context with the name of a hypothetical subgroup of Afro-Asian proposed by Christopher Ehret .

The older term hamito-Semitic, which is widespread in specialist literature, goes back to the table of nations in the Bible , which locates the sons of Ham and Sems in the language area referred to here. The terms are not meant ethnically and group the languages ​​into two different zones: On the one hand, Coptic and Berber are more similar in North Africa than, for example, Coptic and the Semitic languages ​​Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic; on the other hand, the Semitic languages ​​show a closer relationship with one another, which sets them apart from the North African languages. Even if Hamitic is no longer in use today as a name for the "Afro-Asian" languages ​​that apparently originated on African soil, the term Semitic remains common.

Primary branches, outline and geographical spread

Map of Afro-Asian Languages

Today, a distinction is usually made between the following five or six primary branches of Afro-Asian, whereby the affiliation of the Omotic is particularly controversial:

  • Afro-Asian > about 354 languages, of which 43 are extinct, 347 million speakers: North Africa, Middle East
    • Egyptian-Coptic †> 1 language, extinct: Egypt
    • Berber > about 24 languages, 5 of which are extinct, 40 million speakers: North West Africa
    • Semitic > about 62 languages, 28 of which are extinct, 261 million speakers: North Africa, Western Asia, Malta, Ethiopia
    • Cushitic > about 47 languages, 2 of which are extinct, 38 million speakers: Northeast Africa
    • Chadic > about 193 languages, 7 of which are extinct, 31 million speakers: Southwest Chad, South Niger, North Nigeria
    • Omotic > about 27 languages, 4 million speakers: Ethiopia, Sudan

The exact number of languages ​​can hardly be determined conclusively because it is often unclear what is the dialect of a particular language and what is an independent language.

The following examples illustrate the relationships between the Afro-Asian languages, both in the lexical and morphological areas, with particular verb inflections ("preformative conjugation") being very similar (see the last three examples below), so much so that there is hardly any other explanation for the There are similarities between Semitic, Berber and Cushitic as a common original language. The relationship of these three to Egyptian and Chadian is less obvious and has also been questioned, while that to Omotic is highly controversial.

(Basic) meaning Berber Semitic Egyptian Cushy Chadian Omotic
"Tongue" Kabyle iləs Arabic lisān * lés   Bole lisìm Dime lits'- ("lick")
"Water" Kabyle aman Arabic māʾ * máw Dahalo maʔa Bole àmma Mocha amiyo ("to rain")
"he" Kabyle - s Akkadian - šu sw Somali isa- Hausa shi Dizi iz-n
"two" Kabyle sin Arabic ʾiṯn-āni * sinéwwVj      
"You (m.) Die" Tuareg tə-mmut Arabic ta-mūtu   Rendille ta-mut Hausa ka mutù *  
"he dies" Tuareg yə-mmut Arabic ya-mūtu   Rendille ya-mut Hausa ya mutù *  
"we die" Tuareg nə-mmut Arabic na-mūtu   Rendille na-mut    

* Past tense

The Ongota (Birale) language spoken in Ethiopia may also belong to the Afro-Asian family and, after H. Fleming, establish a further independent branch. Some scholars do not consider Cushitic to be a genetic unit, but rather assume that it consists of two or more primary branches directly subordinate to Afro-Asian.

The previous division into Semitic and Hamitic languages ​​is no longer used today (see the article on African languages ). There are several ideas about the order in which and when the individual primary branches split off from the Proto-Afro-Asian. Ehret 1995 provides a linguistically based scenario. According to this, the omotic branch was first separated from the nucleus - at least 10,000 years ago - (this is seen by almost all researchers today, while the further stages are quite controversial). The next branches split off from Cushitic and Chadian, the separation of the rest ( called Boreafrasian by Ehret ) into Egyptian, Berber and Semitic took place last. According to the current state of knowledge, it is not possible to give an even approximate absolute chronology of these splits. According to Ehret's model, the following "dynamic" family tree of Afro-Asian arises:

Family tree and internal structure of Afro-Asian (after Ehret 1995)

  • Afro-Asian
    • Omotic
    • Erythrean
      • Cushy
      • North Erythrean
        • Chadian
        • Boreafrasian
          • Egyptian
          • Berber
          • Semitic

The name Erythrean introduced here by Ehret (for Afro-Asian without Omotic) was used by other researchers for the entire Afro-Asian language family, but it could not prevail against Afro-Asian .


Egyptian is an exception among the Afro-Asian primary branches, as it consists of only one language that has been handed down over almost five millennia. Its last level, Coptic , died out as an everyday language in the early modern period. The range of the Egyptian in historical times encompassed little more than the northern third of the Nile valley , in the 3rd millennium BC. BC, however, an idiom that is closely related to Egyptian may have been spoken in the Egyptian western desert, of which individual personal names can be found in Egyptian tradition. Due to its long tradition, Egyptian is of particular linguistic interest, but despite the early tradition it lacks some basic morphological and possibly also phonological properties of Afro-Asian.


Stop sign in Arabic script qif (top) and Berber signature bedd (below) in Morocco

Before the expansion of Islam and the associated spread of Arabic, the Berber languages ​​were spoken almost throughout the Sahara. Today's main distribution area is in the states of Niger , Mali , Algeria , Morocco , Tunisia and western Libya ; small linguistic islands have also existed in the northeast of the Sahara in oases such as Augila (Libya) and Siwa (Egypt) as well as in western Mauritania . In contrast to the other branches of Afro-Asian (except Egyptian), the Berber languages ​​are closely related to one another and almost entirely belong to two dialect continua. The best-known Berber languages ​​are Kabyle , Central Atlas Tamazight , Taschelhit , Tarifit and the Tuareg . Most of the time, the little-known Libyan language in inscriptions in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco from the last centuries before Christianity is also counted as Berber. Likewise, Guanche, which was spoken on the Canary Islands until the 17th century, is likely to have been a Berber language.


Today, with around 260 million speakers, Semitic is the Afro-Asian language family with the largest number of speakers and is spoken in the Middle East , the Horn of Africa and large parts of North Africa, as well as in Malta , with Arabic accounting for the largest proportion of speakers . According to one consideration , it is assumed that the original home of the Semitic languages ​​was on the Arabian Peninsula and that the language family first spread through the South Arabian expansions to Ethiopia and later through the Arabian expansions via Egypt and North Africa and temporarily to Spain . Others locate the original home for the Semitic proto-language in northeastern Africa. Semitic is generally divided into two branches, one of which is the extinct Akkadian , which is of particular interest for the reconstruction of Proto-Semitic and thus also the Afro-Asian proto-language. The other, western, branch contains the Central Semitic languages such as Aramaic , Hebrew , Arabic and Old South Arabic , the Ethiosemitic languages such as Old Ethiopian and the New South Arabic languages .


The Cushitic languages ​​are spoken in East Africa in what is now Sudan , Eritrea , Ethiopia , Somalia , Kenya , Uganda and northern Tanzania . The unity of the Kushitic languages ​​is not without controversy, since the individual branches differ essentially; in particular the membership of the bedscha is discussed. In general, the following branches are distinguished:


Dissemination of the omotic languages

The omotic languages ​​are spoken by around 4 million speakers northeast of Lake Turkana in southern Ethiopia. At first they were considered to be a branch of Cushitic, but the breakdown established by Harold Fleming is now widely recognized. The omotic languages ​​are less well researched than the representatives of the other branches, but it can already be said that their structure differs greatly from the other Afro-Asian primary branches. Apart from the details, the following structure is generally recognized:

  • Südomotisch: Dime , Aari u. a. (together approx. 212,000)
  • Nordomotic (approx. 3.7 million)
    • Dizoid: Dizi u. a. (together approx. 53,000)
    • Gonga-Gimojan / Ta-Ne
      • Gonga: Kaffa , Mocha, etc. a. (together approx. 85,000)
      • Gimojan
        • Yem (approx. 80,000)
        • Gimira: Bench u. a. (together approx. 185,000)
        • Chara (approx. 7,000)
        • Ometo : Wolaytta et al. (Approx. 2.7 million)
    • Mao (approx.11,000)


The Chadian languages ​​are spoken around the eponymous Lake Chad , mainly in Chad , Niger and Nigeria . By far the best known and most important Chadian language is the Hausa , which serves as the lingua franca in a large area around Lake Chad . Chadian is divided into four branches:

Research and classification history

The relationship between the Semitic languages had been known to Jews and Muslims in the Orient and Spain for a long time; Guillaume Postel first recognized this in Christian Europe in 1538. Through the scientific research into African languages ​​in Europe, which began in the first half of the 17th century, the relationship of other languages ​​to Semitic was soon recognized. In 1700 , Job Ludolf included the Ethiopian languages Old Ethiopian and Amharic as Semitic for the first time, and soon afterwards similarities with Coptic and - after the hieroglyphs had been deciphered - ancient Egyptian became apparent . In 1781 August Ludwig von Schlözer introduced the term Semitic languages , based on which Johann Ludwig Krapf coined the term Hamitic languages ​​in 1850, initially for the non-Semitic black African languages. In 1877, F. Müller added the Afro-Asian Berber and Cushite languages ​​to this group, while the Afro-Asian Chadian remained unconsidered. At the same time, he combined certain Hamitic languages ​​and the Semitic languages ​​into Hamito-Semitic . The term Hamitic languages ​​was redefined by Karl Richard Lepsius , who now summarized the inflected languages ​​of Africa with the pleasure system under this name. With this, Lepsius had already covered the majority of the non-Semitic Afro-Asian languages, but in 1888 he expanded this group to include some non-Afro-Asian languages, and Carl Meinhof also used Hamitic in a very broad framework in his 1912 work The Languages ​​of the Hamites . In the period that followed, the Hamito-Semitic language stem was reduced by a few languages ​​and basically corresponded to today's classification, although the affiliation of the Chadian languages, which was only finally established in the 1950s by Joseph Greenberg , remained a contentious issue . At the same time, he coined the term Afro-Asian as a replacement for the unjustified division into Hamitic and Semitic languages, which implied hamito-Semitic and referred to the Hamit theory . The current form was given to the classification of Afro-Asian in 1969 through Harold Fleming's separation of some Ethiopian languages ​​from the Kushitic family, which from then on formed a separate primary branch of Afro-Asian as Omotic .

Proto-language and original home

The reconstruction of the Afro-Asian proto -language turns out to be much more difficult than, for example, in the area of ​​grammar as well as in the lexical area due to the short history of most branches and the sometimes serious differences between the individual main branches. B. the reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-European . These serious differences can be traced back to the relatively large time depth of the Proto-Afro-Asian, according to glottochronological studies, the Proto-Afro-Asian is said to have been around 10,000-9,000 BC. Have been spoken of.

The location of the original home is controversial, but since the majority of Afro-Asian languages ​​are native to North Africa, an origin from North Africa is obvious. Especially the north-eastern Sahara or today's northern Libya are favored. Due to the lexical correspondence of Afro-Asian with Indo-European, the Caucasian languages ​​and Sumerian as well as the cultural position of the reconstructed Proto-Afro-Asian vocabulary, some scholars such as B. Alexander Militarev, on the other hand, has an original home in the Levant .

Writing and earliest evidence

The earliest Afro-Asian language documented by written sources is ancient or - more precisely - early Egyptian , the oldest evidence of which goes back to the end of the fourth millennium BC. A few centuries later, the tradition of the Semitic continues, first of the Akkadian and in the second millennium BC. West Semitic idioms. The Libyan inscriptions from North Africa from the centuries before the birth of Christ are generally counted as Berber, but are so far incomprehensible; the earliest evidence of the Cushitic, Chadian and Omotic can even be found in the Middle Ages and modern times. Only a small part of the countless Chadian, Cushitic and Omomic languages ​​have become written languages ​​today; languages ​​such as Somali, Hausa and Oromo are among these.

The transcription of words from Afro-Asian languages ​​in this article essentially follows the usual conventions in the relevant specialist literature. Due to the differences between the conventions in Semitic Studies, Egyptology and African Studies, the transliteration is not the same for all languages.



The consonant system of the Proto-Afro-Asian is reconstructed with about 33/34 phonemes and partly also velarized, palatalized and other variants. However, the phonetic correspondence of the main branches with one another is uncertain in numerous cases; the differences of opinion regarding Egyptian are particularly serious and have a strong effect on the discussion within Egypt. For example, it is controversial whether the Egyptian had emphatic consonants and whether the Egyptian phoneme ʿ, which has been used at the latest since the 2nd millennium BC. . According to the value AD [⁠ ʕ ⁠] had to proto-Afro-Asian ʕ or a series of voiced plosives and fricatives back. Nevertheless, some general statements can be made. In addition to voiced and unvoiced consonantic phonemes, most or all of the Afro-Asian main branches also have a third row, the members of which are glottalized , pharyngalized , ejective , velarized or implosive depending on the language and are traditionally referred to as emphatic . Voiced, unvoiced, and emphatic consonants often form triadic groups. In several main branches are pharyngale fricatives ( [⁠ ħ ⁠] , [⁠ ʕ ⁠] ) are present.

As a classic example of a typical Afro-Asian consonant system, that of Old South Arabic can be used. It shows the most conservative system within the Semitic and also comes close to the inventories reconstructed for the Proto-Afro-Asian:

Bilabial Dental Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
not emph. empathic not emph. empathic
Plosives stl. t k q ʔ
sth. b d G
Fricatives stl. f θ s / ʃ x H H
sth. ð ðˀ z ɣ ʕ
Nasals m n
Lateral l
Vibrants r
Approximants w j
lateral fricatives stl. ɬ ɬˀ

In Semitic, Berber and Egyptian the occurrence of consonants in roots is limited. In particular, different consonants with the same place of articulation are usually not allowed to appear in a root.


Proto-Semitic, Ancient Egyptian and possibly Proto-Berber had the three vowel phonemes a , i and u ; the relationships of these vowels to those of other languages, which consistently have more vowels, are hardly certain. According to Ehret 1995, the proto-language had the vowels a , e , i , o , u , which could appear long and short; the reconstruction by Orel and Stolbova 1995 differs. Although some Afro-Asian languages ​​are tonal languages , it is unclear whether Proto-Afro-Asian was therefore also a tonal language, as Ehret assumes in 1995.


For Semitic, Berber and Egyptian, extensive use of a root morphology is typical, in which the lexical information is transmitted almost exclusively by a purely consonantic root , to which the grammatical information is attached primarily in the form of vowels. In Chadian and Cushitic there is only a limited use of ablaut ; the morphology of the omotic, on the other hand, is based almost exclusively on suffocation and is partly agglutinating . In the scientific discussion it is assumed that the Proto-Afro-Asian had abbreviated forms , for example for the formation of plural and for the formation of aspect stems (see below), but only very few of the many vocalization patterns available in languages ​​can be used for the proto - Afro-Asian reconstruct.

Nominal morphology

For the Proto-Afro-Asian, a two-part pleasure system can be reconstructed with the genera masculine and feminine , which do not completely coincide with sex . The safest similarities in nominal - and Pronominalmorphologie has a feminine form element t , which is suffixed in many languages feminine nouns:

  • Egyptian: Middle Egyptian * sā́n.˘t "sister"
  • Berber: Kabyle t-aqšiš-t "girl"
  • Cushitic: Bedscha hamíʃ-t "cow"
  • Semitic: Akkadian šarr-at-um "queen"
  • Chadian: Miya tá-ká "those"

While the masculine is unmarked in the nominal morphology of Berber, Egyptian and Semitic , many languages ​​in other primary branches use morphemes such as k and n analogously to the feminine .

Cushitic, Berber and Semitic also have a case system in common, of which possible traces can also be found in Egyptian and Omotic, although the interpretation or even existence of the Egyptian findings is controversial.

function suffix Individual language reflexes
Semitic Cushy Berber Egyptian
Absolutely * - a * - a
* - a * ā- * - a  
Nominative * - u * - u * - i / * - u * wā- -w * - u
Genitive * - i * - i * - i   * - i * - i

The reflexes of the reconstructed absolute function in all languages ​​as an object of transitive verbs and in Berber and Cushitic also as a form of citation and an extracted topic ; there are also possible remnants of the latter use in Semitic. The subject is marked with reflexes of the nominative suffix; the proto language is therefore mostly regarded as an accusative language . Since the absolute is supposed to have been the unmarked case, some scholars suspect that Proto-Afro-Asian could have been an ergative language at an earlier stage in which the nominative affix - u was supposed to have been limited to the subjects of transitive verbs.

All branches of Afro-Asian know the numbers singular and plural , in Semitic and Egyptian a dual is added, for which a suffix * - y can be reconstructed. The plural formation is generally carried out in a variety of ways , with the exception of Egyptian, in which a suffix - w had prevailed. Due to their widespread use, the plural suffixes - n , - w and the formation of the plural by changing the vowel structure (especially according to the CVCaC pattern, etc.), gemination and reduplications can be viewed as proto-Afro-Asian features:

  • With - w :
    • Egyptian nbw.w "Herren" to nbw "Herr"
    • Berber: Tuareg măss-aw "gentlemen" to məssi "gentleman", măssawăte "mistresses" to măssa "mistress"
    • Cushitic: Afar lubak-wa "lion" to lubak "lion"
    • Semitic: Akkadian šarrū (<* šarruw ) "kings" to šarru- "king"
    • Chadian: Hausa itaat-uuwà "trees" to itààc-èè "tree"
  • With - a -:
    • Berber: ijḍaḍ "birds" to ajiḍiḍ "bird"
    • Cushitic: Beja bak "Ziegen" to book "Ziege"
    • Semitic: Arabic kilāb "dogs" to kalb "dog"
    • Chadian: Ngizim gàmsàk "men" to gə̀msə̀k "man"

There are also some prefixes for denominal and deverbal noun formation , for example * m -, which is used to form deverbal nouns:

  • Local:
    • Egyptian * mĕ́sḏ˘r “ear” to sḏr “sleep”.
    • Berber: Tuareg emăsăww "source" to əsəw "drink"
    • Semitic: Ethiopian mak w annān "courtroom" to k w annana "rule, judge"
    • Chadian: Bade màkfān "entrance" to ə̀kfu " to enter "
  • Instrumental:
    • Egyptian * mắ3q.t “ladder” to j3q “climb up”.
    • Semitic: Akkadian našpartum "letter" to šapāru "send"
    • Chadian: Bade marbə̀cən "key" to ə̀rbə̀cu "open"
  • Agent nominalization:
    • Egyptian mḏ3jw "adversary" to ḏ3j "cross, resist"
    • Berber: Tuareg amidi "friend" to idaw "accompany"
    • Semitic: Ethiopian mak w annən "ruler, judge" to k w annana "rule, judge"
    • Chadian: bath màsūyān "fisherman" to sūy "fish"

A suffix * - y to form denominal adjectives, which is often associated with the genitive ending * - i , is present in Egyptian and Semitic:

  • Egyptian "west" to jmn.t "west"
  • Semitic: Arabic taʔrīḫ-iyy-un "historical" to taʔrīḫ-un "history"

Similar suffixes for the formation of adjectives can also be found in the Cushitic Bedscha.


The morphology of personal pronouns is relatively consistent within Afro-Asian. The core was formed by the following series, preserved in all branches (table essentially based on Hayward 2000; the pronouns given are often distributed in several individual language series. The dual forms in Egyptian and Semitic are not taken into account here.):

person Proto-Afro-Asian Egyptian Proto-Semitic Berber: Tuareg Proto-Kushi table Chadian: Hausa Omotic: Dizi
Singular 1. * i , * yi - y , wj * - ī , * - yaʾ (genitive), * - (accusative) - i * yV ni , wa yin
2. m. * ku , * ka - k * - ka - k * ku ka  
2. f. * ki * - k > - , * km > ṯm > ṯn * - ki - m * ki ki , kin  
3. m. * si , * isi - sw * - šu - s * - su / * - sa shi iz-n
3. f. - s (j) * - ši - s * - sii ta iž-n
Plural 1. * (ʔ) ǎnn - / (ʔ) ǐnn- - n * - nV - năɣ * nV mu , mun in
2. m. * kuuna * - kn > - ṯn * - cumu - wăn * kun (V) / * kin (V) ku , kun  
2. f. * - kina - kmăt  
3. m. * su , * usu - sn * - šumu - săn * ʔisun (V) / * ʔisin (V) su , sun íš-n
3. f. * - šina - snăt

In all primary branches except the omotic, these pronouns appear as clitic object and possessive pronouns:

  • Object pronouns
    • Egyptian h3b = f wj "he sent me"
    • Berber: Tuareg i-nn asnăt "he told them"
    • Cushitic: Bedscha irhán-hokna "I saw you"
    • Semitic: Arabic taraa-hu "you see him"
    • Chadian: Bole íshí ɗòppée-nò "that he should follow me"
  • Possessive pronouns
    • Egyptian pr = f ' "his house"
    • Berber: Kabyle aḫḫam-is "his house"
    • Cushitic: Bedscha tóː-kʷaː-tóː-k "your sister"
    • Semitic: Arabic baytu-kunna "your (feminine) house"
    • Chadian: Bole mòrɗó-kò "your (m.) Millet"

In individual languages, formally related pronouns also have a number of other functions, so many languages ​​have formally similar subject pronouns. The intransitive copy pronouns of some Chadian languages ​​are also formally similar.

In addition, a second row can be reconstructed, the members of which could stand freely and which are often composed of an element ʔan and a suffix, which is also used for verbal conjugation. Ehret 1995 only reconstructs forms for the singular; In many languages ​​there are also plural forms formed in analog form.

person Proto-Afro-Asian Egyptian Proto-Semitic Berber: Tuareg Proto-Kushi table Proto-Chadian Omotic
Singular 1. * (ʔ) ân - / (ʔ) în- jnk * ʔn năkk * ʔâni * nV * in (Maji)
2. * (ʔ) ânt / (ʔ) înt- * ʔnt * ʔânt- * int-

Egyptian and Semitic have other free pronouns that are composed of the bound pronouns and - t , such as Egyptian kwt > ṯwt "you ( masc .)", Akkadian kâti "dich ( masc .)".

In many Afro-Asian languages, the demonstrative pronouns are composed of small elements, especially gender-indicating elements * n -, * k - (masculine), * t - (feminine), which are combined with other small elements:

  • Somali (Kushitic) kan (m.), Tan (f.), Kuwan (pl.) "This, -e, -e".
  • Ancient Egyptian pn (m.), Tn (f.), Jpn (pl. M.), Jptn (pl. F.), Nn (neutral) "this, -e, -e".
  • Miya (Western Chadian) náka (m.), Táka (f.), Níyka (pl.) "That, -e, -e".

Verbal morphology


The verb morphology shows similar differences between the primary branches as they were already recognizable in the noun declination : Semitic, Cushitic and Berber have the prefix conjugation , which distinguishes several aspect stems through ablaut (see below) and marks congruence with the subject via prefixes and suffixes. The following table illustrates the system of personal affixes for prefix conjugation:

  Semitic: Akkadian Cushitic: Bedscha Berber: Tamazight
1. P. Sg. a-prus ʔa-dbíl dawa-ɣ
2. P. Sg. M. ta-prus ti-dbil-à t-dawa-d
2. P. Sg. F. ta-prus-ī ti-dbil-ì
3. P. Sg. M. i-prus ʔi-dbíl i-dawa
3. P. Sg. F. ta-prus ti-dbíl t-dawa
1. P. Pl. ni-prus ni-dbíl n-dawa
2. P. Pl. M. ta-prus-ā ti-dbil-nà t-dawa-m
2. P. Pl. F. t-dawa-nt
3. P.Pl. m. i-prus-ū ʔi-dbil-nà dawa-n
3. P.Pl. f. i-prus-ā dawa-nt

In Egyptian no traces of prefix conjugation have survived; instead, the (Egyptian) suffix conjugation has been found here since the earliest texts, which had no personal conjugation, but expressed the pronominal subject through suffixed personal pronouns: sḏm = f "he hears", sḏm.n only "the God heard". The evolution of this type of conjugation is controversial, mainly verbal nouns and participles.

Chadian has a conjugation through mostly pre-verbal morphemes, but this is not genetically related to prefix conjugation, rather the Chadian persona prefixes represent modified forms of personal pronouns. Example: Hausa kaa tàfi "du went". In Omotic, conjugation takes place in various ways through pronominal elements; the verbal system of the proto-omotic can only be partially reconstructed.

In addition to the prefix conjugation, the Proto-Afro-Asian had a second conjugation method in which congruence with the subject was established exclusively through suffixes. This type of conjugation has been preserved in Semitic, Egyptian and Berber, it apparently gave the verb - in Akkadian also nouns and adjectives - a tripodic meaning. In the opinion of some scholars, the suffix conjugation of Cushitic is also genetically related, but it can also be a secondary formation of verbal stem plus prefix-conjugated auxiliary verb, as is now widely assumed. (The ancient Egyptian and Akkadian dual forms are not taken into account here. Paradigm words : Egyptian nfr “good”, Kabyle məqqər- “to be great”, Akkadian zikarum “man”):

  Ancient Egyptian Semitic: Akkadian Berber: Kabyle
1. P. Sg. zikar-āku məqqr-əɣ
2. P. Sg. M. zikar-āta məqqr-əḍ
2. P. Sg. F. zikar-āti
3. P. Sg. M. nfr.j cicar məqqər
3. P. Sg. F. zikar-at məqqr-ət
1. P. Pl. nfr.wjn zikar-ānu məqqr-it
2. P. Pl. M. nfr.twnj zikar-atunu
2. P. Pl. F. zikar-atina
3. P. Pl. M. nfr.wj zikar-ū
3. P. Pl. F. zikar-ā

Aspect roots

Aspect stems are formed by ablaut in many Afro-Asian languages, especially those with reflexes of prefix conjugation. It is usually assumed that the proto-language already knew at least two aspect stems: an imperfective and a perfect stem. While the vowel of the perfect stem was lexically defined, the imperfect stem ablaut after a and / or gemination of the penultimate stem consonant are assigned as typical educational features. Evidence for these forms of formation can be found in all main branches except Egyptian and Omotic, although their interpretation as remnants of an original past tense stem in Chadian is questioned:

  • Berber: Tuareg: -ə̀knəs- (aorist) - -kánnæs- (intensive)
  • Cushitic: Afar: -erd- (perfect tense) - -ard- (imperfect tense )
  • Semitic: Akkadian -kbit- (perfect) - -kabbit- (imperfect)
  • Chadian: Ron: mot - mwáat (habitative).

Some scientists also consider an intransitive or static trunk with - a -, whose reflexes are to be found in Berber, Semitic and Cushitic, to be reconstructable. The Bedscha (North Cushitic) and the Berber languages ​​also have negative verb stems in the prefix conjugation, but their relation to the proto-linguistic system has hardly been researched. The verbal stem that is used in the suffix conjugation has the form CaCVC- in Semitic and Egyptian for three-consonant primary verbs, in (proto-) Berber, however, mostly * Cv̆Cv̄C. Therefore, no more detailed statements can be made about the proto-language. Depending on the distribution and quantity of the vowels in the prefix conjugation, the verbs can be divided into different classes, which can also be found in a similar form in Egyptian and which can partly go back to the proto language.

In almost all Afro-Asian languages, affixes and infixes are also used to form verbal stems, which mark aspectual, temporal and modal distinctions and, in some Chadian and omotic languages, also question sentences. So far, however, no such affixes for the Proto-Afro-Asian could be reconstructed.

Verbal formation

All the main branches of Afro-Asian have a system in common, consisting mainly of affixes, for the deverbal formation of verbs. An affix * - s -, which is used to form causative, factual and transitive verbs, is very common :

  • Egyptian s-mn "fix" to mn "stay"
  • Berber: Kabyle ss-irəd "wash" to irid "to be washed"
  • Cushitic: Oromo dammaq-s "wake up" to dammaq "wake up"
  • Omotic: Aari: lanq-s- "make you tired" to lanq- "be tired".
  • Semitic: Ugaritic šlḥm "feed" to lḥm "eat"
  • Chadian: Hausa karànta-s / karànta-r "teach" to karàntaa "learn"

Other popular affixes are * - t - and * - m -, which express reflexivity , reciprocity , passivity, intransiveness and the medium :

  • Berber: Kabyle m-ẓər "see (each other)" to ẓər "see"
  • Cushitic: Afar - m-ḥukum - "to be judged" to - ḥkum "to judge"
  • Omotic: Gamo bakˀ-ett-ees "to be beaten" to bakˀkˀ-ees "to beat"
  • Semitic: Akkadian mitḫurum "confront each other" to maḫarum "face"
  • Chadian: bath jədù "take" to ju "go"

Reduplication is used in many languages ​​to express verbal intensity or plurality:

  • Egyptian: wnwn "to go around" to wnj "to hurry"
  • Cushitic: Oromo duddubbaddh "to speak again and again" to "speak" to dubbaddh .
  • Omotic: Aari míksmiks-da "he is begging" to miks - "begging"
  • Chadian: Hausa sàssayàà "buy again and again" to sàyaa "buy"


Some features of the syntax are particularly common within Afro-Asian. Whether these could also be features of the proto-language has not yet been extensively investigated. In most languages, objects follow the verb, and pronominal objects often come before nominal objects. If both objects are pronominal, the direct follows the indirect; however, indirect nominal objects follow direct ones. These three rules are almost universally valid in older Egyptian, many Semitic languages, Chadian and Berber:

aṭrud battery pack šu
I sent to you him
"I sent it to you."
Ancient Egyptian
rḏj.n = j n = k jr.t Ḥr.w
I hereby give to you Eye of horus
"I hereby give you the eye of Horus."
Bamoi kàppū mòrɗo ḿ bō-nì yes
Bamoi planted millet For Father - be With hoe
"Bamoi planted millet with a hoe for his father."


The vocabulary that can be reconstructed for the proto-language is likely to be several hundred lexemes, but its reconstructions (Diakonoff et al. 1993-7, Ehret 1995, Orel-Stolbova 1995) differ greatly, not least because of the uncertainties regarding the reconstruction of the phonetic correspondence. There is evidence in all six primary branches for only a few lexemes. The following table provides examples of possible word equations .

The reconstructions of proto-Afro-Asian roots were taken from Ehret in 1995 (there: ă = low tone; â = high tone). The individual language reflexes are taken from various publications. Individual reflexes require opposing sound correspondences , so the equation jdmj "red linen fabric" <Proto-Afroasiatisch * dîm - / * dâm- "blood" demands the relationship Egyptian d <proto-Afroasian * d, while Egyptian ˁ3j "be big" as a reflex of * dăr- “to grow / make bigger” the relationship Egyptian ˁ <proto-Afroasian * d presupposes. Consequently, only one of these two equations can be correct (unless more complex rules for * d are reconstructed); both sound relationships are represented in research. Where the meaning of the individual linguistic reflex matches the reconstructed root meaning, this was not repeated.

Proto-Afro-Asian Semitic Egyptian Chadian Omotic Berber Cushy
Arabic Akkadian Hausa Ngizim Bole dime Bench Mocha Tamazight Kabyle Oromo Somali
* k'os- "bone" * qĕs ƙàshii ḳus ixṣṣ īɣəs
* sŭm-, sĭm- "name" ism šumu smj "report" suunaa sun sum isəm
* -pîr- "fly" farra "flee" naparruru "diverge" p3 "fly up", prj "go out" fìrá "to whiz in the air" (from the bird) farfaran afru for “flutter”; fel "go away, cross" barara fuul- "ascend"
* dîm-, * dâm- "blood" dam dâmu sb "(red?) linen fabric" jinii dədəm dòm 'damo idamn idamən
* -dăr- "become / make bigger" darr "to be in abundance" ˁ3j "to be tall" dorg "fat, strong" dheeraa "big, high"
* -gâd-, * -gûd- "be big" ǧadd "significant" ḏd3 "bold" gòdoŋ "a lot" gääd "big" guddaa "a lot, big"
* nim-, nam- "person" nummā "anyone" nə̀n "someone" naamo "son" nama nin
* -maaw- "die" māta mâtu mwt mutù mə̀tu motu mmut əmmət
* -ʔâr "know" raʔā "see, recognize" * jī́r-Vt "eye", jr "see!" (?) he "know" arihä "know" il "eye"
* -lis'- "lick" lisān "tongue" lišānu "tongue" * lĕs "tongue" harshèè "tongue" lisìm "tongue" lits'- iləs "tongue"
* ma, mi "what?" mannum "who?" m "who? what?" mèè
* -m- "be wet" māʾ "water" must "water" * măw "water" (plural) at the water" àmma "water" màss- "wash" mask "wash" 'amiyo "raining" aman "water"



  • Igor M. Diakonoff: Afrasian languages. Nauka, Moscow 1988.
  • Richard Hayward: Afroasiatic. In: Bernd Heine, Derek Nurse (Ed.): African Languages. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2000, ISBN 0-521-66629-5 .
  • Joseph Greenberg : The Languages ​​of Africa. 3. Edition. Mouton, The Hague and Indiana University Center, Bloomington 1963, ISBN 0-87750-115-7 .
  • Ernst Kausen: The language families of the world. Part 2: Africa - Indo-Pacific - Australia - America (Chapter 2). Buske, Hamburg 2014, ISBN 978-3-87548-656-8 .
  • Hans-Jürgen Sasse: Afro-Asian. In: Bernd Heine, Thilo C. Schadeberg, Ekkehard Wolff (eds.): The languages ​​of Africa. Buske, Hamburg 1981, ISBN 3-87118-496-9 , pp. 129-148.

Lexicon and Phonology

  • Igor M. Diakonoff et al .: Historical-Comparative Vocabulary of Afrasian. In: St. Petersburg Journal of African Studies. Volume 2-6. St. Petersburg 1993–1997.
  • Christopher Ehret: Reconstructing Proto-Afroasiatic (Proto-Afrasian), Vowels, Tone, Consonants, and Vocabulary. (=  University of California Publications in Linguistics. Volume 126). University of California Press, Berkeley 1995, ISBN 0-520-09799-8 .
  • Vladimir E. Orel, Olga V. Stolbova: Hamito-Semitic Etymological Dictionary. Materials for a Reconstruction. (=  Handbook of Oriental Studies. Department I. Volume 18). Brill, Leiden 1995, ISBN 90-04-10051-2 (heavily criticized due to methodological inadequacies).
  • Marcel Cohen: Essai comparatif sur la vocabulaire et la phonétique du chamito-sémitique. Champion, Paris 1947 (of historical interest).

Web links

Commons : Afro-Asian languages ​​category  - collection of images, videos and audio files

References and comments

  1. ^ Numbers of speakers according to Ernst Kausen: The Classification of Afro-Asian Languages.
  2. Harold C. Fleming: Ongota: A Decisive Language in African Prehistory. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2006, ISBN 3-447-05124-8 .
  3. Gerhard Fecht: The Ḥ3.tjw-ˁ von Ṯḥnw, an Egyptian people in the western desert. In: Journal of the German Oriental Society. Volume 106, Issue 1 1956 (= New Series. Volume 31). Steiner, Wiesbaden 1956, pp. 37-60. Disputed by: Rafed El-Sayed: Leaned vocabulary of African origin in older Egyptian: Studies on Egyptian-African lexical interference in the third and second millennium BC Chr. Peeters, Leuven 2011, ISBN 978-90-429-2572-4 .
  4. ^ Edward Lipiński: Semitic Languages: Outline of a Comparative Grammar. 2nd Edition. Leuven 2001.
  5. Orel-Stolbova 1995, p. 9; A. Militarev: Sovremennoe sravnitel'no-istoricheskoe afrazijskoe jazykoznanie: chto ono mozhet dat 'istoricheskoj nauke? In: Lingvisticheskaja reconstrukcija i drevnejshaja istorija Vostoka. Part 3, Moscow 1984, pp. 3-26, 44-50.
  6. ^ J. Zarins: Early Pastoral Nomadism and the Settlement of Lower Mesopotamia. In: Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 1990.
  7. In particular: Ehret 1995 and Orel, Stolbova 1995.
  8. ^ Reconstruction based on: N. Nebes, P. Stein: Ancient South Arabian. In: Roger D. Woodard (Ed.): The Cambridge encyclopedia of the World's ancient languages. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2004, ISBN 0-521-56256-2 , pp. 454-487.
  9. ^ Joseph Greenberg: The Patterning of Root Morphemes in Semitic . In: Word . tape 6 , 1950, pp. 162-181 . , Lionel M. Bender: Consonant Co-occurrence Restrictions in Afroasiatic Verb Roots . In: Pelio Fronzaroli (ed.): Atti del Secondo Congresso Internazionale di Linguistica Camito-Semitica . Istituto di linguistica e di lingue orientali universita di firenze, 1978.
  10. Russel Schuh: Gender and Number in Miya. In: Zygmunt Frajzyngier (Ed.): Cuurent Progress in Chadic Linguistics. John Benjamin, Amsterdam / Philadelphia 1989, pp. 171-181.
  11. Overview: Hayward 2000, Václav Blažek: Traces of a common case system in Afroasiatic . In: Giorgio Borbone, Alessandro Mengozzi, Mauro Tosco (eds.): Loquentes Linguis. Linguistic and oriental studies in honor of Fabrizio A. Pennacchietti . Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2006, ISBN 3-447-05484-0 , p. 91-102 .
  12. Compare: Hans-Jürgen Sasse: Case in Cushitic, Semitic and Berber. In. James Bynon (Ed.): Current Progress in Afro-Asiatic Linguistics. John Benjamin, Amsterdam / Philadelphia 1984, ISBN 90-272-3520-1 , pp. 111-126.
  13. ^ Reconstruction based on: Karl-G. Prasse: Manuel de grammaire touarègue (tăhăggart). 3 volumes. Copenhagen 1972–1974, ISBN 87-500-1489-7 , ISBN 87-500-1310-6 , ISBN 87-505-0205-0 .
  14. ^ Hayward 2000.
  15. Diakonoff 1988. Further literature in: Helmut Satzinger: Absolute state and absolutive case in Afro-Asiatic . In: Marco Moriggi (Ed.): XII Incontro Italiano di Linguistica Camito-semitica (Afroasiatica) . Rubettino, 2007, p. 63 ( [PDF]).
  16. For this derivation: Josef Tropper: Thoughts on the plural marker ū in Semitic . In: Journal of Semitic Studies . tape 49 , no. 2 , 2004, p. 199-213 , doi : 10.1093 / jss / 49.2.199 . In Semitic studies, this plural formation is often interpreted as an extension of the case ending, compare: Robert R. Ratcliffe: The "Broken" Plural Problem in Arabic and Comparative Semitic: Allomorphy and Analogy in Non-Concatenative Morphology . John Benjamin, Amsterdam / Philadelphia 1998, ISBN 1-55619-884-1 .
  17. ^ According to Newman but not traceable to Proto-Chadian. Paul Newman: Nominal and verbal plurality in Chadic. Foris, Dordrecht 1990, ISBN 90-6765-499-X , p. 36.
  18. E. Roper: Tu Beḍawiɛ. An Elementary Handbook for the Use of Sudan Government Officials. Stephen Austin, Hertford 1928, p. 20.
  19. a b c d e f Ehret 1995.
  20. a b Karl-G. Prasse: Manuel de grammaire touarègue (tăhăggart). Volume 1, Copenhagen 1972, ISBN 87-500-1489-7 , p. 164 ff.
  21. Especially on pronominal formations with n : Stephen J. Lieberman: The Afro-Asiatic Background of the Semitic N-Stem: Towards the Origins of the Stem-Afformatives of the Semitic and Afro-Asiatic Verb. In: Bibliotheca Orientalis. Nederlands Instituut voor het nabje Oosten te Leiden, Leiden 43.1986, pp. 577–628. ISSN  0006-1913
  22. ↑ Recently, some scientists have also advocated the separate existence of a dynamic and a static conjugation pattern , compare: Wolfgang Schenkel: śč̣m.t-Perfect and śč̣m.ti-Perfect. The two pseudo-participles of Egyptian. In: Heike Behlmer (Ed.): Quaerentes scientiam. Festgabe for Wolfhart Westendorf on his 70th birthday. Seminar for Egyptology and Coptic Studies, Göttingen 1994, pp. 157–182 (online) ; Rainer Voigt: The two suffix conjugations of Semitic (and Egyptian). In: magazine for ancient Hebrews. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 15/16/2002/2003, pp. 138-165. ISSN  0932-4461
  23. ^ Ekkehard Wolff: New Proposals Concerning the Nature and Development of the Proto-Chadic Tense / Aspect System . In: J. Bynon (Ed.): Current progress in Afro-Asiatic linguistics: Papers of the Third International Hamito-Semitic Congress, London 1978 . Amsterdam 1984, p. 225-239 . ; Ekkehard Wolff: Consonant-Tone Interference and Current Theories on Verbal Aspect Systems in Chadic Languages . In: H. Jungraithmayr, WW Müller (Ed.): Proceedings of the Fourth International Hamito-Semitic Congress. Marburg 1983 (=  Current Issues in Linguistic Theory ). tape 44 . Amsterdam 1987, p. 475-496 . ; Ekkehard Wolff: Another look at “internal a” in Chadic . In: Eva Rothmaler (Ed.): Topics in Chadic Linguistics V (=  Chadic Linguistics - Linguistique tchadique - Tschadistik ). tape 6 . Köppe, Cologne 2009, p. 161-172 .
  24. Jeffrey Heath: Grammar of Tamashek (Tuareg of Mali) . ( Mouton Grammar Library. 35). Mouton de Gruyter, Den Haag 2005, ISBN 3-11-018484-2 , p. 331.
  25. Maarten Kossmann and Benjamin D. Suchard: A reconstruction of the system of verb aspects in proto-Berbero-Semitic . In: Bulletin of SOAS . tape 81 , no. 1 . London 2018, p. 41-56 , doi : 10.1017 / S0041977X17001355 .
  26. ^ Reconstruction based on: Karl-G. Prasse: Manuel de grammaire touarègue (tăhăggart). 3 volumes. Copenhagen 1972–1974, ISBN 87-500-1489-7 , ISBN 87-500-1310-6 , ISBN 87-505-0205-0 .
  27. Hans-Jürgen Sasse: East Kushitic and Semitic Verbal Classes . In: W. Diem, W. Wild (ed.): Studies from Arabic and Semitic studies . Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1980, p. 153-174 .
  28. The vocalized reconstructions follow the rules of Jürgen Osing: Die Nominalbildung des Ägyptischen . Zabern, Mainz 1976, ISBN 3-8053-0031-X .
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