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Afro Asiatic Language Family 

afroasiatic

Afro-Asiatic, formerly called Hamito-Semitic, is the largest language family of northern Africa. With a total number of speakers estimated at more than 300 million, it is spread throughout North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East. Since ArabicHebrewCoptic, and Syriac, are the languages of Islam, Judaism, and two sects of the Christian faith, the language family reaches many millions of people in addition to first-language speakers.

The Afro-Asiatic family consists of 375 genetically related languages (Ethnologue) that developed from a common ancestral language which existed in the 6th–8th millennium BC. No agreement exists about where the ancestral Proto-Afro-Asiatic speakers lived, although most scholars agree that the ancestral language originated in Northeast Africa. Some have proposed Ethiopia as the original homeland, while others have suggested the western Red Sea coast and the Sahara.

Classification

mapThe languages belonging to the Afro-Asiatic family are subdivided into six branches:

  1. Berber
  2. Chadic
  3. Cushitic
  4. Egyptian
    This branch has only one language — Coptic — which while extinct as a spoken language, is still being used as a liturgical language by the Arabic-speaking Coptic Orthodox Christians. The word Copt is derived from Arabic quft “Egyptian.”
  5. Omotic
    Some scholars classify West Cushitic as a separate branch, called Omotic.
  6. Semitic
    The Semitic languages form the only Afro-Asiatic subfamily that is extant outside of Africa.

Below is a list of the top languages within each branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family.

Language Where spoken
Berber (26 languages)  
Tachelhit Morocco
Tamazight Morocco
Kabyle Algeria
Tarifit Morocco
Tachawit Alteria
Tamajag Niger
Chadic (195 languages)
Hausa Nigeria
Ngas Nigeria
Kamwe Nigeria
Mlaghavul  Nigeria
Bura-Pabir Nigeria
Bade Nigeria
Cushitic (47 languages)
Somali Somalia
Oromo West Central  Ethiopia
Oromo Eastern  Ethiopia
Oromo Borana-Arsi-Guji Ethiopia
Sidamo Ethiopia
Afar Ethiopia
Bedawi Sudan
Hadiyya Ethiopia
Egyptian (1 language) Extinct but used in religious practice
Omotic (28 languages)
Gamo-Gofa-Dawro Ethiopia
Wolaytta  Ethiopia
Kafa Ethiopia
Bench Ethiopia
Aari Ethiopia
Koorete Ethiopia
Semitic (77 languages)
Arabic (35 varieties)  Middle East, North and East Africa
Amharic  Ethiopia
Tigrinya Ethiopia
Silt’e Ethiopia
Tigré (Xasa) Eritrea

 

Status

Most Afro-Asiatic languages are poorly described and there is relatively little literature written in them or about them. The majority of them are spoken by fewer than 100,000 people. Almost a quarter of them are spoken by communities of fewer than 5,000 people, and a large percentage is spoken by just a handful of people. Some are on the brink of extinction or are already extinct.

Several languages are national or official languages in their respective countries. Among them are:

Arabic Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian West Bank and Gaza, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Mauritania, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen
Amharic Ethiopia
Hausa Nigeria
Hebrew Israel
Somali Somalia
Tamazight Algeria
Tigrinya Ethiopia, Eritrea

Dialects

Most Afro-Asiatic languages have a number of varieties. Notable among them is Arabic with 35 varieties.

Structure

Sound system

The sound systems of Afro-Asiatic languages share certain phonological features. Not all of these features are present in all of them.

 

Grammar

The grammatical systems of all modern Afro-Asiatic languages share certain features. These features are not present in all Afro-Asiatic languages.

  • word roots that consist of three consonants;
  • use of infixes, rather than prefixes and suffixes, to represent grammatical relations and form new words;
  • three cases: nominativegenitive, and accusative with vestiges of the ergative case;
  • three numbers: singular, dual, and plural;
  • two genders in the singular;
  • similarities in the pronouns;
  • well-developed binary system of verbal aspects;
  • stem modifications whereby groups of related verbal stems, each with its own type of meaning, are derived from one root;
  • Verb – Subject – Object word order;

 

Vocabulary

Vocabulary
The differences in the vocabulary of individual languages belonging to the Afro-Asiatic language family can be explained by internal developments after these languages have lost contact with each other, and by the influence of languages that were spoken by people who inhabited the lands occupied by speakers of Afro-Asiatic languages.

Below are the numbers 1-10 in a representative sample of Afro-Asiatic languages.

Semitic
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Arabic
waahid
ithnaan
thalaathah
‘arba`ah
xamsah
sittah
sab`ah
thamaaniyyah
tis`ah
`asharah
Hebrew
‘axat
shtayim
shalosh
`arba
xamesh
shesh
sheva`
shmone
tesha
`eser
Amharic
and
hulat
sost
arat
ammist
siddist
sabat
simmint
zat`ann
asir
Berber
Tamazight
yun
sin
shradh
rb`a
hemsa
setta
seb`a
thmanya
tsa`a
`eshra
Kabyle
yiwen
wahed sin
juj tlata
rebea
xemsa
setta
sebea
tmanya
tesea
eecra
Cushitic
Somali
mid-ki
lába-di
sádehh-di
áfar
shán
li?
toddóbo
siyéed
sagáal
tómon
Oromo
tokko
lama
sadii
afur
shan
ja?a
torba
saddeet
sagal
kud’a
Chadic
Hausa
d`aya
biyu
ukù
hudù
bìyar
shidà
bakwài
takwàs
tarà
gooma

Writing

Afro-Asiatic languages are written in several scripts. Some of the major ones are listed below. Many Afro-Asiatic languages do not have writing systems.

Arabic Arabic alphabet
Hebrew Hebrew alphabet
AmharicTigrinya Ge’ez script
Oromo Adapted version of Latin alphabet
Somali Adapted version of Latin alphabet
Hausa Adapted Latin alphabet (boko) and adapted Arabic alphabet (ajami)
Tamazight Adapted Arabic alphabet and Tifinagh script
Kabyle Adapted Latin alphabet and Tifinagh script

Difficulty

Language Difficulty

How difficult is it to learn Afro – Asiatic languages?

Data exists for only two languages. Hebrew is a Category III language and Arabic is a Category IV language in terms of difficulty for speakers of English.

5 Responses to Afro Asiatic Language Family

  1. ABUREK ERIC ONGODIA

    What about the Hamitic tribes? e.g Bahima of Rwanda and Iteso of Uganda and Kenya and Nubian s of Sudan

     
    • Irene Thompson

      Teso or Ateso is a Nilo-Saharan language spoken in Uganda and Kenya by close to one million people. See Ethnologue (http://www.ethnologue.com/language/teo) for more information. It does not belong in the Afro-Asiatic language family which, as we understand it, was your question. Bahima, on the other hand, is not listed in Ethnologue (the most reliable inventory of world languages). Instead, there is a language called Hima (a dialect of Nyankore) spoken by 2.3 million people in Uganda. It does not belong to the Afro-Asiatic language family either. It belongs to the Niger-Congo language family. Bahima is the name for an ethnic group of people who speak many different languages, depending on where they live.

       
  2. Irene Thompson

    Adamawa Fulani, also known as Fufulde, is one of the languages of Cameroon (Ethnologue https://www.ethnologue.com/language/fub).

     
  3. SAYYIDKA

    Somalis or Somali speakers are more than 12M as you mentioned here, Some of Somali educator’s believe that Somali Ethnic is more than 30M, But we sure that Somalis are 16-20 and you can find the recourse online with single click on webs like Wikipedia.
    Respect your reader’s

    Here is the link
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somalis

     

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