The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A warning for Afro-Asiatic scholars

What if I told you... that Berber, Semitic, Chadic, Egyptian, and Cushitic are not related? Let alone that weird outlier Omotic, which Rolf Thiel personally doubted; or those Old Libyan languages which may or may not be Berber; Canary-Islander ditto; or whatever the hell Ongota is (or was).

Claudia A. Ciancaglini is here to tell you that there are some languages that follow some regular rules, and that those languages may be grouped as families and their correspondences demonstrated over time. Indo-Hittite has contained such languages. So has Semitic. English and modern Romance, not so much; but that doesn't matter because these have an historical record, where the authors doggedly wrote down the language as spoken at nearly every step.

This does matter for Korean and Japanese. They don't have a written record before the Tang or so, much less a phonetic one. So every attempt to relate them so far has failed. And they will continue to fail, unless and until someone finds a book that describes their languages in 1500 BC.

I get a similar bad feeling about Afro-Asiatic studies. Whenever I look up language-groupings, I see a profusion of mutually-contradictory charts. This tells me that Afro-Asiatic linguists don't have a good data-set.

We have a good handle on proto-Semitic, sure; and Egyptian is just Egyptian, the only riverboat-gamble on the lower Nile. Proto-Berber studies are coming along; I haven't kept up myself, but I'm sure the best Frogs are on it. However: I have no clue what's been done on proto-Chadic or proto-Cushitic. And then there's the juggling around Omotic, Ongota, et al.

It's probably a good idea to sort out those Deep Saharan and East African languages, first.

posted by Zimri on 19:49 | link | 0 comments

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