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Monday, March 20, 2017
Northern African Sprachbünde
The Northern African language-groups Semitic and Berber (and Egyptian of course) each came from their own single community, as the Indo-European languages came from the charioteers of the Ukraine. Yesterday I asked if the Northern African base-communities ever have come from a single “Afro Asiatic” group. Here is a model explaining their similarities if they didn't.
During the classical era, which we’ll roughly set 1200 BC to 700 AD, and from the Mediterranean perspective, which is the perspective that bequeathed to us the bulk of the documentation, North Africa was an archipelago of large semi-isolated islands. Like Sardinia and Corsica. Southwestern Morocco at the edge of the Corrupting Sea might as well be Australia.
A trader doesn’t stick around on an island any longer than he has to, to make a profit. Empires will stay as long as there’s a problem; otherwise, the Emperor won’t be laying out the funds to occupy it either – like no-one bothered with Ireland. Religious evangelists will hang around to “convert” the locals, who might then join the mission, but they also might not.
As far as language goes, the surest way to change the language is to change the people. If traders quit showing up, the islanders quit teaching their counterparties. The army will have to learn the native tongue if it’s not parked with a colonia of veteran civilians; their language won’t stick either. Religious conversion has a better record of staying-power, at least in North Africa, but even here this can get delayed if a group goes heretic, as the Barghawata did. Or if the locals just lock the priests into convents as the Irish did.
Trade, military, and religious networks can, however, encourage all the languages involved into sharing similar rules, to make translation easier. These rules then wash back to the original languages. In historical times this has happened to the Balkan languages. NativLang points to Precolumbian Mesoamerica for another example. The German term is Sprachbund.
This may have happened in the Sahara when it was more naturally navigable. (I am assuming no dromedary camel; I think this came later, alongside decent Mediterranean navigation.) Lake Chad corresponded with Tuaregs, the Tuaregs with other Berbers, the Berbers with Phoenician Semites, the Semites with each other, the South Arabian Semites with the Cushites. The Egyptians were there too; these mediated between the Semites and the Berbers, and to a lesser extent with the Cushites of Punt. I think.
The northern African correspondences were so piecemeal and tenuous, but still over such a long period, that I think patches of Sprachbund could spread. And then came the camel and the ship, and Islam, forcing the issue harder. We now have the illusion that northern Africa is genetically related in language.
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