Languages of Africa

The term African languages ​​is a collective term for the languages ​​that were spoken on the African continent and are. The term " African Languages ​​" says nothing about a language- genetic relationship (→ language families of the world, linguistic family ).


Among the first African languages ​​are the languages ​​which are spoken only on the African continent. These are the Niger - Congo languages ​​, Nilo-Saharan languages, and the Khoisan languages. The Afro-Asiatic languages ​​are expected to total traditional " African languages ​​" added, although the languages ​​of the Semitic subfamily of the Afro Asiatic also or only outside Africa - were spoken and - in the Middle East. Firstly, the Semitic languages ​​also essential in Africa represented ( eg, the Arab, many languages ​​of Ethiopia and Eritrea ), on the other Afro-Asiatic language family probably comes from Africa. In this extended sense, there are nearly 2,000 African languages ​​, spoken by some 750 million people. The language of Madagascar - Malagasy - belongs to the Austronesian language family and is therefore typically not counted among the " African languages ​​", also not the European Indo-European languages ​​of the colonizers (English, Afrikaans, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and German ).

The African is the science that deals with the African languages ​​and cultures.

The classification of African languages

Since the 1950s, the African languages ​​are divided on the basis of the work of Joseph Greenberg in four groups or phyla:

  • Afro-Asiatic with about 350 languages ​​and 350 million speakers in North Africa and West Asia
  • Niger - Congo languages ​​with about 1400 and 370 million speakers in western, central and southern Africa
  • Nilo-Saharan with about 200 languages ​​and 35 million speakers from Sudan to Mali
  • Khoisan with 28 languages ​​and 355 thousand speakers, especially in the western South Africa

The research considers the Greenberg'sche classification as methodologically inadequate to formulate actual spoke Genetic statements that are similar resilient, like the spoke Genetic statements to other language families. However these Schematics used today for lack of alternatives consistent as a pragmatic principle of order, eg for library classifications.

The internal structure of these language groups is treated in the individual articles. This article deals with the classification of African languages ​​as a whole.

Discussion of African phyla

Whether these language groups or phyla form genetically defined language families, is discussed in the African still partly controversial. In any event, it is also the only current standard work on African languages ​​in total - B. Heine and D. Nurse, African Languages ​​- An Introduction ( Cambridge 2000) - edited 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 and others) of these four phyla of African.

That Afro-Asiatic and Niger - Congo each form a genetic unit is proven and is generally accepted.

Also the Nilo-Saharan is by the specialists of the area (for example, LM Bender and C. Ehret ) construed as secured unit, the proto-language is to reconstruct the main features. This opinion is not shared by all Africanists, although the core of the Nilo-Saharan - Ostsudanisch, Zentralsudanisch and some smaller groups - as a genetic unit is fairly uncontroversial. With few will doubt the affiliation of the languages ​​Kunama, Berta, Fur and the Maba group to Nilo-Saharan. Stronger doubt apply to the " outlier groups " Saharanisch, Kuliak and Songhai, whose membership is denied to the Nilo-Saharan by several researchers. However, no question can be especially after the work of Bender and Ehret, that the concept of the Nilo-Saharan languages ​​had failed as a whole. Even if one or the other out-group but should prove to be independent, so the greater part of the Nilo-Saharan is a genetic unit endure.

The situation is different when Khoisan: the authors of this section in the above mentioned overview plant ( T. Güldemann and R. Voßen ) keep going back to Greenberg and several previous concept of a genetic unit of the Khoisan languages ​​are not upright, but go instead of at least three genetically independent units ( Nordkhoisan or Ju, Zentralkhoisan or Khoe, Südkhoisan or Taa! Wi) from that used for the Khoisan languages ​​calculated Sandawe, Hadza and Kwadi be regarded as isolated. The Khoisan group fancy a areal Sprachbund typologically related languages ​​, which is caused by long contact phases. This assessment of the Khoisan group as Sprachbund place today wide agreement.

History of classification

The following table provides a tabular overview of the research history of African languages. The group designations used are partly modern, hence the non-expert to increase - can track the findings - or regress.

  • Since the 10th century, African languages ​​are described in Arabic documents; the relationship of Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic is Jewish and Islamic Lore language has long been known
  • 1538 G. Postel represents the first European to establish the relationship of the known Semitic languages ​​. The term " Semitic languages ​​" is not introduced until 1781 by Schlozer
  • 17th century The first scientific study of African languages ​​in Europe: Coptic ( 1636), Nubian (1638 ), ( Ki ) Congo ( 1652), Nama ( 1643), Ge'ez (1661 ) and Amharic ( 1698 )
  • 1700 H. Ludolf extends the Semitic group of languages ​​, the Ethiopian Ge'ez and Amharic
  • 18th century European scholars fall on similarities of Coptic with the Semitic languages
  • 1776 L.B. Proyart recognizes the genetic relationship of some Bantu languages.
  • 1778 W. Marsden describes the outline of the Bantu family and recognizes that the Bantu languages ​​are related about as close as the Romance languages ​​, published in 1816
  • 1781 by Schlozer introduces the term " Semitic languages ​​" a
  • 1808 H. Lichtenstein shares the South African languages ​​in Bantu and Nama ( Khoisan ) languages ​​a
  • 1820 Champollion discovered in the deciphering of the hieroglyphs similarities between the Egyptian and the Semitic languages
  • 1826 A. Balbi tried the first complete overview and classification of African languages ​​in Atlas du ethnographique globe ou classification des peuples anciens et modernes d'après leurs langues
  • 1850 J. L. Donut shapes the - later highly controversial and now discontinued - term " Hamitic languages ​​" for the non- Semitic black African languages ​​, with the Khoisan languages ​​probably remain excluded; he distinguishes " Nilo- Hamitic " ( this he counts as the Bantu languages) and " Nigro - Hamitic " (for the West African languages)
  • 1877 F. Müller adds the " Nilo- Hamitic " languages ​​added the Berber languages ​​and the Cushitic languages. Despite similarities he does not count the Hausa to the Hamitic. The " nilohamitischen " and Semitic languages ​​summarizes Müller as " Hamito - Semitic " language family together ( working 1876-88 )
  • 1880 The German linguist and Egyptologist KR Lepsius took all non-Semitic inflected languages ​​of Africa who have a gender system to the " Hamitic languages ​​" together, thereby defining new this term. He is convinced that belonged to the Hamitic and the Hausa ( and other Chadian languages ​​) and the Berber languages.
  • 1888 K.R. Lepsius expects the Nama Bushman languages ​​to Hamitic; an incorrect classification, which had long inventory and falling behind the classification of 1850. Also inaccurate classification of Maasai was (now the Nilo-Saharan language ) as a Hamitic language
  • 1912 C. Meinhof extends the Hamitic languages ​​around the Nama Bushman languages ​​( Khoisan ) and Maasai ( as Lepsius ), but also Fulani (today: Niger -Congo language ). Etc. These overall classification of African languages ​​, which very long inventory had, then includes the Bantu languages ​​, which Hamitosemitische languages ​​( in the broad sense Meinhof ), and Sudanese languages. C. Meinhof postulated that the Bantu languages ​​, with their characteristic noun class systems, a mixing of the Hamitic languages ​​, which have a grammatical gender, and the Negro languages ​​are ( who know no grammatical gender). The Negro languages ​​of sub-Saharan Meinhof summed up under the term Sudan languages. Meinhof also takes Ablautgesetze, word structures and phonetic inventories for the classification of languages ​​in his " Hamitic group " for help. Where this typological criteria were not sufficient (which no genetic relevance had ), he supplements them with ethnic classification pattern. This - according to today's idea completely wrong - approach led to the classification of languages ​​from four different language groups - Khoisan, Ful (Niger- Congo ), Somali ( Cushitic ) and Maasai ( Nilo-Saharan ) - in his " Hamitic " group. This classification survives mainly in the German African studies as prevailing view until about 1950
  • 1927 in 1911 took D. Westermann (a pupil of Meinhof C. ) an internal differentiation of the Sudan languages ​​in West and ostsudanesische languages. 1927 explored Westermann together with Hermann Baumann the historical development of Westsudanischen. They compared the result with the Proto - Bantu of C. Meinhof, but concluded not on genetic relatedness. 1935 established Westermann through his work " character and disposition of the Sudan languages ​​" the hypothesis of a relationship between the western Sudan to the Bantu languages ​​and is laying against the opinion of his Lehreres the core for today's " Niger - Congo "; He also recognizes that the Eastern Sudan languages ​​- are not related to the Western - also in contrast to the view of his teacher. The ostsudanischen languages ​​are later classified by Greenberg as " Nilo-Saharan "
  • 1948-63 J. Greenberg classifies the African languages ​​from scratch. He introduces the term " Afro-Asiatic " instead of the loaded " Hamito - Semitic " and established the Chadian as a fifth subfamily of the Afro Asiatic. The Niger - Congo is defined as a new term for the westsudanischen languages, it also includes the Fulani group, the Adamawa - Ubangi and especially the Bantu languages ​​( as a sub-sub - unit ) with a. The ostsudanischen languages ​​are combined with some smaller groups as " Nilo-Saharan ". He passes through various intermediate stages to today widely accepted classification of African languages ​​in (1) Afro-Asiatic, (2) Nilo-Saharan, (3) Niger Kordofanisch (now Niger - Congo ) and ( 4) Khoisan
  • 1969 H. Fleming Omotisch identified as the sixth branch of the Afro Asian
  • Further development: the entire afrikanistische research, where it is classificatory active, works on the basis of Greenberg 's model, even if it does not recognize this in detail '. Criticism there especially on the Nilo-Saharan, later - with more authority - the Khoisan

Greenberg's contribution to the classification of African languages

  • Greenberg dispensed with non- linguistic criteria such as race and culture, which led to the misguided concept of Hamitic; consequently, he eliminated the unit Hamitic.
  • G. acknowledges that the branches of Hamito - Semitic group are equal, and returns the dichotomy between Semitic and Hamitic on; as a result, it renames this unit into Afro-Asiatic, as the old name suggests this dichotomy.
  • G. establishes the Chadian as an independent branch of the Afro Asiatic, which thus consists of equal branches Semitic, Egyptian, Berber, Cushitic and the Chad. ( The Omotische is separated later by the work of H. Fleming from the Cushitic. )
  • G. removed the groups that were incorrectly added to the Hamitic Lepsius and Meinhof, and assigns them to other families: as Fulani was the Niger - Congo, Nama associated with the Khoisan, Nilo- Hamitic and Nilotic or to a subfamily of the Nilo-Saharan.
  • G. assigns the Adamawa - Ubangi the Niger - Congo.
  • G. detects the correct position of the Bantu as a subgroup of the Niger - Congo.
  • G. leads the Nilo-Saharan as a residual category of languages ​​, nor belong to the Afro Asiatic, nor to the Niger - Congo to the Khoisan. Thus, they comprise the ostsudanischen languages ​​and some smaller language groups. He tried to demonstrate the genetic unit of this group. (Especially this latter assessment was criticized by Greenberg's opponents, although Meinhof had the Sudanese defined as a residual category that includes even the present-day Niger - Congo and Nilo-Saharan, the. )

Methodically, he will be assigned based on the selected method ( lexicostatistics, or Lexical mass comparison) is highly controversial, since this method firstly statistically going on and secondly, insufficient material basis sets (excluding lists of words usually of dubious quality ) and, thirdly, dates back to the era, with other linguistic or archaeological methods could be never recorded let alone confirmed. Therefore, the Greenberg classification is today, although lack of alternatives (such as for the production of systematic library catalogs ) is widely accepted as an ordering system, but accepted her statement genetic content only with strong reservations.

Sociolinguistic situation of Africa

  • Afrikaans
  • Arabic
  • English
  • Portuguese
  • Spanish
  • Swahili
  • Other African languages

The state borders in Africa agree not coincide with the boundaries of languages ​​and ethnic groups. There have, with few exceptions, no single cultural nations emerged, so that there is no connection between language, nation and state.

The sociolinguistic situation in sub-Saharan Africa is dominated in large parts by a Triglossie. There were in addition to the number of native languages ​​of the various ethnic groups (→ Vernakulärsprache ) due to migration, trade services, pre-colonial empire-building, religious proselytizing, and partially also by the support of the colonial masters as part of a " tribal self-government" and the British " policy of indirect rule " certain languages emerged as an African lingua franca, which take over the tasks to enable the communication between the members of different ethnic groups. They play an important role especially in African cities where the population lives, which is no longer first and foremost shaped differently than the rural population by ethnicity. These traffic languages ​​are also in the national education system of meaning and are used in some of the media and in literature. These traffic languages ​​are mainly Swahili in East Africa, Hausa, Fulfulde, Kanuri, Igbo, Yoruba and the Mande languages ​​Bambara, Jula and Malinke in West Africa. In Central Africa, Lingala, Kikongo and Sango play a role. In addition to the vernacular and African lingua franca of colonial rule in French, English and Portuguese have been introduced since. These languages ​​are still used in most black African states as an official language, and court languages ​​as teaching languages ​​and science in the universities and institutions of higher learning. The knowledge of European languages ​​is quite different depending on the level of education, country and degree of urbanization. The policy of Exoglossie appears many states because of the linguistic diversity as preferable. In particular, the charge of discrimination against the other, not state-supporting ethnic groups (→ tribalism ) and economic isolation should be avoided. Exceptions to the Triglossie are only Burundi and Rwanda. In Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania Swahili is encouraged and is also enshrined as an official language.

Completely different is the situation in North Africa and the Horn of Africa designed. The front of the Islamic conquests of the Arabs in the Maghreb prevailing Berber languages ​​have been urged by the Arab in the background. In Egypt, the Egyptian- Coptic died out. Arabic is for the vast majority of North Africans native language. Unlike in sub-Saharan Africa, the North African states have replaced the language of the colonial masters, French by Arabic as an official language. In Ethiopia Amharic acts as a lingua franca; a colonial language does not exist. In Somalia, Somaliland is predominant. Italian has very strong there lost ground.

Literature - in chronological order

  • Lepsius, Richard: Nubian grammar. With an introduction on the peoples and languages ​​of Africa. Hertz, Berlin 1880, ISBN 3-8364-2105-4.
  • Westermann, Diedrich: The Sudan languages. Friederichsen, Hamburg 1911.
  • Meinhof, Carl: The languages ​​of the Hamites. Friederichsen, Hamburg 1912.
  • Westermann, Diedrich: The Western Sudan languages ​​and their relations with the Bantu. Reimer, Hamburg 1927.
  • Guthrie, Malcolm: The Classification of the Bantu Languages ​​. Oxford University Press 1948.
  • Greenberg, Joseph: Studies in African Linguistic Classification. 7 Parts. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology. University of New Mexico Press. Albuquerque from 1949 to 1950. Part I: The Niger -Congo family. In 1949.
  • Part II: The Classification of Fulani. In 1949.
  • Part III: The position of Bantu. In 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.