The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, April 24, 2016


Grouping "Hamito-Semitic", or "Afro-Asiatic", has been hard but it might be getting easier. If we had a language for it. Here's Carsten Peust, On the subgrouping of Afroasiatic: Egyptian broke off first, and then Semitic.

It seems to me that for both "Hamito-Semitic" and "Afro-Asiatic", given the language-groups known to inhabit it... "Semitic" and "Asiatic" mean the same damn thing. There never was a language from this family in (Eur)asia that wasn't Semitic. (Unless we're counting the odd Somali-ish word in the Yemen.) Semitic is a well-defined language-group, perhaps the best-documented language-group in the literature next to Indo-European and Egyptian. The Semitic peoples also don't mind the Biblical label like, say, the Amazighen mind that Classical insult "Berber".

Anyway, both labels beg the question: they assume a family-tree with Semitic = Asiatic on one side. "-Asiatic" implicitly performs the same definitional function here as "Indo-" performs in "Indo-European".

The reader will recall that I don't count Anatolian when discussing Indo-European; I am ambivalent about Tocharian as well ("Indo-Eurasian"?). By that token, if Peust's chart is right - then "Afro-Asiatic" must exclude Egyptian.

Failing that, we got problems. Perhaps we could bring back "Hamito-" and announce that this just means Copts now, and none of those Kushites etc, not even Amazighen. Even if we do that, which we shouldn't, what do we do with the Somalis and Jews on the other side? (No, alt-righters; please don't offer suggestions...) Anyway, "Hamito-Semitic" was always too tribal-focused by contrast with the geographical "Indo-European".

What we're missing is a good geographical expression for the region going from Africa north and northeast of the Sahara, crossing the Red Sea to Arabia, and running up to the Fertile Crescent. All we got is that Orientalist term "Near East". Which hardly works from, say, Prague.

UPDATE 2/10/2017: Ran across "Erythraean". As a geographical expression, it may exclude Berber / Chadic; although if we can prove those languages drifted west from the Nile, we might be okay.

posted by Zimri on 12:02 | link | 0 comments

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