IntroductionAfroasiatic languages (ăfˌrōāˌzhēătˈĭk) [key], formerly Hamito-Semitic languages hămˈĭtō-səmĭtˈĭk, family of languages spoken by more than 250 million people in N Africa; much of the Sahara; parts of E, central, and W Africa; and W Asia (especially the Arabian peninsula, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel). Since four of the Afroasiatic tongues, Arabic, Hebrew, Coptic, and Syriac, are also respectively the languages of Islam, Judaism, and two sects of the Christian faith, the language family reaches many millions in addition to its native speakers.
The Afroasiatic family is divided into six branches: Egyptian, Semtic, Berber, Cushitic, Omotic, and Chadic. According to one theory, the languages of the Afroasiatic family are thought to have first been spoken along the shores of the Red Sea. Another theory holds that the language family came into being in Africa, for only in Africa are all its members found, aside from some Semitic languages encountered in SW Asia. The existence of the Semitic languages in W Asia is explained by assuming that African Semitic speakers migrated from E Africa to W Asia in very ancient times. At a later date, some Semitic speakers returned from Arabia to Africa.
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