Term of Art: Afroasiatic Languages

“Afroasiatic languages formerly Hamito-Semitic languages: Superfamily of about 250 languages presently spoken by and estimated 250-300 million people ethnically and physically diverse people in North Africa and parts of sub-Saharan Africa and in southwest Asia. The major branches of Afroasiatic are Semitic, Berber, Egyptian, Cushitic and Chadic. Berber is a group of closely related languages spoken by perhaps 15 million people in enclaves scattered across North Africa from Morocco to northwest Egypt and in parts of the western Sahara. Cushitic is a family of about 30 languages spoken by more than 30 million people in northeast Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya, and a few areas of northeast Tanzania. Omotic, formerly classified as part of Cushitic, is a cluster of perhaps more than 30 languages spoken by 2-3 million people, most of whom live near the Omo River in southwest Ethiopia. Chadic comprises about 140 languages, most poorly known to linguists, spoken in northern Nigeria, southern Niger, southern Chad, and northern Cameroon; except for Hausa, probably no individual Chadic language has more than half a million speakers.”

Excerpted/Adapted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.

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