In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Afroasiatic Languages

  • Introduction
  • Foundational Works
  • Textbooks
  • Edited Collections
  • Conference Proceedings
  • Text Collections
  • Linguistic Atlases
  • Reference Resources
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Egyptian
  • Omotic
  • Phonetics
  • Phonology
  • Morphology and Syntax
  • Language Contact
  • Areal Linguistics
  • Language Endangerment
  • Writing Systems

Linguistics Afroasiatic Languages
Bonny Sands
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0048


Afroasiatic languages are found across North Africa and throughout much of East Africa and the Middle East. Afroasiatic is generally considered to be comprised of the language families Berber, Chadic, Cushitic, Egyptian, Omotic, and Semitic. Well-known Afroasiatic languages include Arabic, Ancient Egyptian, Somali, Tuareg, and Hausa. There are approximately 400 Afroasiatic languages, either living or recorded but extinct. They have been written with scripts ranging from hieroglyphs and cuneiform to alphabets and abjads (alphabets with independent vowel letters and integrated consonant-vowel letters).

Foundational Works

There are very few general introductions to Afroasiatic languages or to Afroasiatic comparative-historical linguistics. Readers may first want to look at Hayward 2000, and then at Diakonoff 1988 for a more detailed survey. Other foundational works include Brockelmann 1908, Cohen 1947, and Greenberg 1963.

  • Brockelmann, Carl. 1908. Grundriss der vergleichenden Grammatik der semitischen Sprachen. Vol. 1. Berlin: Reuther & Reichard.

    This foundational work in comparative Semitic studies is still often cited today. Reprinted, Hildesheim: Olms, 1999.

  • Cohen, Marcel. 1947. Essai comparatif sur le vocabulaire et la phonétique du chamito-sémitique. Bibliothèque de l’École des hautes études sciences historiques et philologiques 291. Paris: Librairie Honoré Champion.

    This landmark work includes a comparative lexicon, including Semitic, Egyptian, Berber, and Cushitic languages, Hausa (Chadic), and Kafa (Omotic).

  • Diakonoff, Igor M. 1988. Afrasian languages. Moscow: Nauka.

    This foundational work in Afroasiatic comparative linguistics proposes a Proto-Afroasiatic phonological inventory and discusses other linguistic features such as root structure, gender, case, number, and word order.

  • Greenberg, Joseph H. 1963. The languages of Africa. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

    Widespread acceptance of Afroasiatic followed the publication of Greenberg’s classificatory proposal (chapter 3, “Afroasiatic,” pp. 42–65), a version of which was originally published in 1949 in the Southwestern Journal of Anthropology.

  • Hayward, Richard J. 2000. Afroasiatic. In African languages: An introduction. Edited by Bernd Heine and Derek Nurse, 74–98. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This article discusses evidence for Afroasiatic as a language family, looking at personal pronouns, case markers, conjugational features of the verb, and plural formatives.

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