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African Languages


AFRICAN LANGUAGES. Language and race have not necessarily common boundaries, but in classifying a group of languages the relation between the two must not be ignored. Apart from recent European immigration, Africa has four main types of people : Pygmy-Bushman, Negro, Hamitic and Semitic. These four races correspond to four types of languages, though the Negro group was later subdivided into two different units, viz., Sudanic and Bantu.

There is a certain unanimity regarding the main divisions, and the five groups : Bushman, Sudanic, Bantu, Hamitic, Semitic, may be considered as finally settled. Problems on which no agreement has been arrived at are : the position of Bushman (and Pygmy), the unity of the Sudanic languages, the relation between Sudanic and Bantu, and the comprehension of the term Hamitic languages.

Semitic Languages.

These tongues are spoken in Abyssinia, probably as a result of colonization from southern Arabia. Ge'ez is extinct, Amharic (q.v.) is in part a modern representative of Ge'ez. Out of Amharic two new languages have evolved : Tigre and Tigrinya. Other dialects are those of Gurague and Harar. Of greater importance is Arabic, which is the ruling language in north Africa and in parts of eastern Sudan ; through Islamic in fluence it has become a literary idiom in east Africa and the Sudan.

Bushman Languages.

The Bushman tribes speak a num ber of languages, which, however, are all allied and may be divided into three groups, southern, central and northern. Pho netically they are remarkable for the occurrence of the so-called clicks (q.v.). Another feature, not only in Bushman languages, but also in Hottentot, Sudanic and Bantu, is intonation (see TONES). Each syllable, and sometimes also a single-voiced con sonant, has its own level of tone, which is as essential a part of a word as the sounds. Words with identical sounds, but differing in tone, have no etymological relation whatever to each other.

A number of the features of the Bushman languages are found in Sudanic languages, e.g., intonation, monosyllabism, non-distinc tion between verb and noun in form, position of the genitive, formation of plural by "they," but as no etymological relations have as yet been ascertained it seems premature to ally the Bush man languages with the Sudanic group.

No Pygmy language is known. The Pygmies use their neighbours' speech. There seems to be evidence that some groups use a differ ent mode of speech—yet unrecorded—in internal life.

Sudanic Languages.

This group is found, roughly speaking, in the stretch of the continent situated between the Atlantic ocean (Senegambia-Cameroons) and the western slopes of Abys sinia. Some enclaves, as Nuba and Kunama in the north, Gaya and Nyifwa-Kavirondo in east Africa, lie beyond this region.

This large group, stretching through the whole breadth of the continent, does not form a unit in the same sense as do the Bantu languages. It is broken up into numerous subdivisions, each of which has evolved its own type, and in the case of some tongues the divergences are so great that up to the present time, their relationship with others has not been demonstrated. The Sudan has been invaded over its whole area from time immemorial by peoples and languages from north and east. Linguistic conditions are the result of this constant movement and shifting, which modified or destroyed original units and created new ones. Languages, probably whole groups of languages, have perished, or scanty remains have been embodied in new formations. As the invading tongues were largely of types differing radically from the Sudanic, these changes were radical and deeply influenced the original character of the language. Thus languages like Kanuri, Wolof and others, have been so transformed that as yet their clusion in the Sudanic group may seem to be merely theoretical.

Common Substratum.

While it is thus necessary to empha size the highly complicated linguistic situation in the Sudan, and the present incomplete exploration of many problems involved, yet the Sudanic group as a whole shows certain common character istics in phonology and structure, and there are also etymologi cal relationships. There exists a common substratum of Sudanic speech, which is strongest where the original Negro element is strongest in population. This common substratum justifies the use of the term Sudanic languages. Some illustrations may be given: (I) the prevalence of intonation. (2) Monosyllabic stems (Ewe ku "death," Nuba tu "belly"). (3) Nouns are formed from verbs by a vocalic or nasal prefix (Yoruba ra "to buy," o-ra "buyer," Shilluk bugo "to press the bellows," o-buk "bellows"). (4) Plural of nouns is formed by adding to the noun a plural noun or pronoun (Ewe ati "tree," ati-wo "trees," Nuer chak "tick," ke-chak "ticks," -wo and ke- are the pronouns of the third person plural in Ewe and Nuer). (5) Plural of nouns is formed by adding i or a (Ibo o-ru "slave," i-ru "slaves"; Nuer bel "art ist," bel-i "artists"; Edo o-ya, pl. a-ya "man"; Zande boro, pl. a-boro "man"). (6) Distinction between inanimate things and ani mate beings (or persons), the latter in most cases having the affix "o" (Twi o-nipa "man"; in Shilluk o designates persons as descend ants of other persons : nayo "the mother's brother," o-nayo "the mother's brother's child"). There is no grammatical sex-distinc tion. (7) In genitive relation the possessor precedes the possessed (Twi nipa dua "a man's figure," Kunama Ile masa "Ila's lance").

(8) There is no formal distinction of case. The dative form is circumscribed by the verb "to give" (Ewe edi ga na fofo "he sought money gave father": he sought money for the father. Nuba it iga tir onam "you say give him": you say to him.

(9) Postpositions, i.e., space-denoting nouns, are used in the place of prepositions (Ewe ati to "tree's head": on the tree; Nuba ka tu "house's belly": in the house. (1 o) Verbal combinations are frequent (Ewe tso va na "take come give": to bring to ; Nuba atta-den from ed-ta-den "take come give": to bring to). (I I) The verbal stem is not changed in conjugation; tenses and modes are expressed by adding grammatical form words which in many cases can be traced to original nouns or verbs (in Twi the future is formed by prefixing be [from bia] "to come," in Nuba by pre fixing bi "to come"). (12) Sounds peculiar to the majority of Sudanic languages are the labio-velar kp and gb. A consid erable number of word-stems are identical. The characteristics just mentioned are not found in each sub-group, but there is no group which does not possess a number of them.

Divisions.—The Sudanic family may be geographically divided into an eastern, a central and a western group. The largest section of the eastern group are the Niloto-Sudanic lan guages comprising Shilluk with its many subdivisions, Dinka, Nuer and probably also Burun between the White and Blue Niles. Nuba on the Nile, in the Nuba mountains and in Kordofan, is connected with the Nilotic group, while other languages of these mountain regions are of a distinct character, having a class division of the noun.

The central group stretches between the 3oth and loth degree east long, and is subdivided by Delafosse into (a) group, which, however, contains languages that are more closely related to the eastern Sudanic group; (b) Ubangi group; (c) Shari-Wadai group; (d) Shari group; (e) Niger-Tshad group; (f) Niger-Cameroons group. Our present knowledge concerning the central Sudanic group is so insufficient that the grouping just given is only provisional.

The western Sudanic group is better known and the sub-groups are well-defined. They are the following : The Kwa lan guages, spoken on the coast of Upper Guinea between the lower courses of the Niger and St. Paul's River in Liberia. Their sub groups are: (a) Ewe-Akan group (Gold Coast, Togo, Dahome) ; (b) Lagoon group in the littoral regions of the Ivory Coast; (c) Kru group, reaching from the western Ivory Coast to the mouth of St. Paul's River; (d) Yoruba group; (e) Nupe group; (f) Ibo group; (g) Edo group; (h) Ijo (d–h in Nigeria). In the Kwa languages the majority of word-stems consists of one consonant and one vowel. Akan ka "to remain," wu "to die." They have vocalic and nasal nominal prefixes, whose function is to form nouns out of verbs, and which are only absent in Kru. The prefixes do not form class divisions of the noun, except in rudiments.

(2) Benue Cross River languages. They partly coincide with Delafosse's Niger-Cameroons group and with Johnston's group A in his Bantu and Semi-Bantu languages, group (b) including Johnston's groups B–G, and group (c) comprising Johnston's group H. The languages of this group have many stems which end in a consonant. Efik wut "to kill" against Ewe wu "to kill." They have the same nominal prefixes as in group (r) (Efik fame "to blow," o-fime "wind"), but some languages have a system of prefixes which forms classes. As the group lies on the border line between Sudanic and Bantu, some of its languages represent a stage of transition between the two.

(3) Middle Togo group. Most of these occupy a very small area, being situated in the mountainous region between the 7th and 8th degree N. lat. ; some of them are disappearing or have already disappeared, being absorbed by Ewe and Akan. Among those which continue to exist are Avatime, Likpe, Adele, Kposso, Kebu. The word-stems in this group consist mainly of one con sonant and one vowel. Kposso wu "to kill." A class division of nouns is formed by prefixes ; some languages use class-suffixes besides the prefixes. The group stands between groups ( r) and (4), having distinct connections with both.

(4) Gur (Goor) languages, in the northern section of the Ivory and Gold Coast, of Togo and of Dahome, and in the adjacent parts of Haute Volta. They include the following sub groups: (a) Mossi group (Mossi, Dagomba, etc.), (b) Grussi or Gurunsi group, (c) Tem group, (d) Bargu, (e) Gurma group, (f) Kilina, (g) Senufo or Siena group, (h) Songai. The latter is in fact an isolated language having its own type, but is remotely connected with the Gur languages. Stems of the form consonant plus vowel are very frequent, though perhaps not in the majority. Dyan wu "to kill." All have class division of nouns by suffixes; Gurma and Tem use prefixes and suffixes.

(5) West Atlantic languages. These are found in part of the territory between the Senegal and the Atlantic, with a number of enclaves farther east, and are sub-divided into an eastern group, comprising Temne, Bulom, Limba, Kissi, Gola and Adjukru, and a western group, represented by (a) Dyola, (b) the Bissao Bolama cluster (Bola, Sarar, Pepel, Kanyop), (c) the Geba cluster (Biafada, Padjade), (d) Banyun, Nalu, Bulanda, (e) Konyagi, (f) Bidjogo, (g) Wolof and Serer. Neither in general type nor in phonology and etymology do the members of this group form such a close unit as those of the preceding group. Almost all have class division of nouns; some, as Bulom, Temne, Adyukru, by prefixes, Gola by prefixes and suffixes, Wolof and Serer have suffixes, but also change the beginning consonant, which perhaps points to prefixes. Stems consisting of a conso nant and a vowel are frequent (Bulom wu "to die"), but they are in a minority.

(6) Mandingo or Mande languages, in the western Sudan between groups (4) and (5). They fall into two groups, named after the numeral for "ten" prevailing in each group: (a) Mande tan, with Bambara, Soninke, Malinke, Dyula, as main represent atives, (b) Mande fu, comprising Susu, the Kpelle-Mende cluster, in Sierra Leone and Liberia (Mende, Kpelle, Gbande, Gbunde, Toma, Mano, Gio), Djalonka in French Guinea, and a number of small languages reaching as far east as the north-west corner of Nigeria (Boko-Busa). In the Mandingo tongues two-syllabic words prevail; many of these are compositions of two mono syllabic stems, each consisting of a consonant and a vowel. There are no word forming prefixes, except in rudimentary forms. The word may often have a verbal and a nominal meaning : Bambara ti "thatch" and "to thatch." Bantu Languages.—These, spreading through the southern half of the continent, form a closely united family with clearly defined features. Though the most prominent of these, the class division of nouns by prefixes, also exists in Sudanic groups, it has in Bantu reached a fuller development and has become the dominating factor in their structure. These prefixes also form the plural ; thus m-swahili a Swahili, wa-swahili, Swahili people, ki-swahili the Swahili language. The prefix belonging to a noun is repeated (though sometimes in a changed form) before every adjective, noun or pronoun agreeing with the noun; Swahili: ki-su ki-kali ki-moja ki-me-potea "knife sharp one has been lost": one sharp knife has been lost ; -su "knife" has ki- as its class prefix, and this is repeated before every word agreeing with -su. The plural prefix corresponding to ki- is vi-; thus the plural of the preceding sentence is : vi-su vi-kali vi-nane vi-me-potea "eight sharp knives have been lost." The main nominal classes are : (a) for "man as an independent personality"; (b) for "man in dependent position" (slave, messenger, workman), also for physical agents, spirits, diseases, parts of the human body, ani mals, plants; (c) for objects existing in double or divisible form, the plural also designating collectives and liquids; (d) for "customs, usages, tools"; (e) for animals; (f) for individual ob jects and abstract nouns; (g) for diminutives; (h) for infinitives; (i) (or rather three) for locatives. Clicks (probably borrowed from Bushman and Hottentot) and lateral sounds are peculiar to some South African Bantu languages. Intonation is in most tongues not so important as in the Sudanic family. Stress accent is more developed than in the latter, the accent lying generally on the penultimate. Two-syllabic stems are prevalent. There is no grammatical gender, sex being indicated as in Sudanic lan guages, and no case inflection. The genitive follows the govern ing noun. The verb has a large number of derivative forms, which afford a remarkable richness in expression, e.g., Swahili vunja "to break," vunjika "to be broken"; penda "to love," pendana "to love each other"; takata "to be clean," takasa "to cleanse"; from pata "to obtain" the following derivatives may be formed: patana "make an agreement," patanisha "unite," patia "obtain for somebody," patika "be seized," patilia "reach out for something," patiliza "make one vexed," patilizina "vex each other." It is more difficult to group the Bantu languages in subdivisions than the Sudanic languages, where the evolution of independent types is evident at first sight.

According to Homburger, Bantu is divided into the following groups (of the individual languages belonging to each group only a certain number can be mentioned here) : ( r) Northern or Ganda group (Ganda, Nyoro, Kerewe. (2) Ruanda group (Ruanda, Rundi). (3) North-eastern or Kilimanjaro group (Kikuyu, Kamba, Djagga, Moshi, Siha). (4) Northern group of the east coast (Taveta-Taita, Chassu, Pokomo, Nika, Shambala, Bondei, Zigula, Swahili, Comore, Zaramo, Kami, Matumbi). (5) East African group (Nyamwezi, Nyaturu, Gogo, Hehe, Pogoro, Kaguru, Konde, Yao, Nyanja, Sene, Tete, Chwabo or Kilimane). (6) South-eastern group (Makua, Ronga or Thonga, Gwamba or Hlengwe, Chopi or Lenge, Venda, Sotho, Kololo, Chwana). (7) Zulu group (Kafir or Xosa, Zulu, Tebele, Ngoni). (8a) Central group (Tabwa, Bemba, Mambwe, Bisa or Wisa, Lala-Lamba, Senga, Tonga, Subiya). (8b) Western group (Herero, Ndonga, Kwanyama, Nyaneka, Mbunda, Luyi, Umbundu, Kimbundu, Lunda, Luba or Lua). (9) Congo group (Congo, Kanioka, Kutsu, Kele, Lolo, Nkundu). (1o) North-western group (Bangi, Teke, Kalai or Kele, Galoa, Duma, Benga, Noho, Basa, Duala, Bube, Kwiri, Isubu). This division appears to call for a new investiga tion based on a careful observation of sound-shifting, for which a good start has been made by van Warmelo in his study on South African Bantu languages.

Hamitic Languages.

These represent a linguistic type which is more closely allied with the Semitic than with any other group of African languages. Their main divisions are (I) Eastern Hamitic in north-east Africa, including, among others: Bedauye, Bogos, Danakil, Somali, Galla, Agau, Kaffitsho. (2) Niloto-Hamitic : Masai, Ndorobbo, Tatoga, Nandi, Suk, Turkana, Gimirra. (3) Western Hamitic : The Berber dialects from western Morocco to the oasis of Siwa, Tuareg, and probably the extinct language or languages of the Guanches on the Canary islands. Hausa (q.v.), may be called a remoter member of this sub-group. Though it has adopted many elements from neighbouring Sudanic tongues, its Hamitic affinity cannot be doubted. Hottentot in South Africa also shows certain Hamitic features, but recent investigations, especially those undertaken by Schapera, reveal such undeniable affinities between the Hottentot and Bushman languages (q.v.), as can hardly be explained by borrowing, but seem to point to a genetic relation between the two. Distinction of sex, always one of the prominent reasons for including Hottentot in the Hamitic family, is also found in Naron, a Bushman tongue, being in both cases expressed by a suffix. Both Nama and Naron have a dual form besides singular and plural, lxam and Nama have inclusive and exclusive forms of the first person plural (including or ex cluding the person addressed). There are other common features in grammar and a considerable number of words common to both. Schapera's conclusion is "that in spite of the many notice able differences between them the Hottentot and Bushman tongues must be regarded as belonging to one and the same family of languages." The characteristic features of Hamitic speech are: (1) Gram matical gender. Schilh masc. idilli, fern. t-idilli-t "black," Masai of dia "male dog," en dia "female dog," Nama khoib "man," khois "woman," Hausa ya "he," to "she." (2) a richness in plural formation, which may form such distinctions as distributive, collective, general and universal plurality. Bilin dimmii-rd "an individual of the cat family," pl. dimmii-t; but: dimmii "cat," pl. diamfi "cats." Chamir ieslema "a Muslim," pl. ieslem-en, but ieslem-en-t "the Muslim world." In Hausa (q.v.), most nouns have several plural forms; kunba "finger-nail" has the plural forms kunbabi, kunbuna, kunbai, kunbaibai. Here as in other Hamitic (and Sudanic) languages re-duplication is frequently used in forming the plural. (3) Inner vowel change (ablaut) : Shilh iliwi, pl. ilaw-an "thorn"; a-fulu, pl. i-fel-en "string" (the changes are, however, caused by vowel-assimilation, and are thus a phenomenon found likewise in Sudanic languages) ; in verbs: Shilh of-aji "I find," ufi-ji "I have found." (4) As in Bantu, the genitive follows the governing noun. In Hottentot, however, as in Bushman and Sudanic (and also Bedauye), the possessor pre cedes the possessed.

Fulfulde.—Meinhof includes Fulfulde, the language of the Fulbe, in the Hamitic family, but calls it Proto-hamitic or Pre hamitic. Fulfulde has the usual Hamitic genitive position, in which the governing noun precedes the genitive, but other fea tures regarded as Hamitic are absent. Fulfulde has no gram matical gender; there is no different plural form of nouns, and there is no inner vowel change. It is decidedly a class language, i.e., like Bantu and many Sudanic languages it divides nouns into classes by affixes, and this fact separates Fulfulde from the Hamitic stock and draws it near Bantu languages and the Sudanic class languages. The connection between Fulfulde and Bantu is recognized by Meinhof, his opinion being that "originally in the whole of the present Bantu region languages of a Sudanic type were spoken, until from the north tribes with a language similar to Fulfulde penetrated and made themselves lords over the old inhabitants. The result of a mixture of these two elements was Bantu." (c D. Kolonial-Lexikon i. p. 133.) The essential identity of the class-affixes as used in Fulfulde, in Sudanic class languages and in Bantu, in their etymological form as well as in their function, is evident, while in point of vocabulary Fulfulde and Bantu differ widely.

On the other hand there is an original affinity between Bantu and Sudanic languages. This refers not only to class-affixes, but also and still more to etymology. The two families have a con siderable number of word-stems in common, and also certain for mative elements, apart from class-affixes, are identical in both families.

The situation may be summed up as follows : The Negro popula tion of Africa, comprising the Bantu and the Sudanic speaking peoples, has in etymology and in a number of formative elements a common linguistic substratum. The class division of nouns existing in Fulfulde, in Bantu and in certain Sudanic languages is evidently of common origin, where or from what language it may have originated we do not know.

According to Struck, the number of African languages is as follows: Bushman i 1, Sudanic 264, Bantu 182, Hamitic 47, Semitic i o. Many of these occupy a small area, and perhaps not more than 12 are spoken by more than a million people. From the practical point of view, some of the most important African languages are (Semitic) : Amharic, Arabic; (Hamitic) : Hausa; (Bantu) : Ganda, Kikuyu, Kongo, Luba-Lulua, Mbundu, Ngala, Nyanja, Sukuma-Nyamwezi, Ruanda-Rundi, Sotho-Pedi-Chwana, Swahili, Swina-Karanga-Ndau, Zulu-Xosa ; (Sudanic) : Akan, Dinka-Nuer, Efik-Ibibio, Ewe-Aneho-Dahome, Ibo, Kanuri, Kpelle-Mende, Malinke-Djula-Bambara, Mossi-Dagomba, Nupe Gbari, Temne, Wolof, Yoruba, Zande.

sudanic, bantu, hamitic, plural and nouns