Afro-Asiatic languages



Afro-Asiatic languages (since -11,000) are those languages spoken mainly in northern Africa and South West Asia: Arabic, Hausa, Hebrew, Aramaic, Somali, Ancient Egyptian, etc. More or less what the Bible calls the sons of Ham and Shem. In fact, before 1970, the more common name for these languages was Hamito-Semitic.


There are six main branches. Listed roughly in order of age:

  • Cushitic – Ethiopia and Somalia
  • Omotic – Ethiopia
  • Egyptian – Egypt
  • Chadic – Chad, Niger, northern Nigeria
  • Berber – north-west Africa
  • Semitic – South West Asia, part of Ethiopia and the Arabic-speaking world

The Egyptian branch, which featured Ancient Egyptian and Coptic (two stages of the same language), has only a few hundred fluent speakers left. You mainly hear it at Coptic church services.

There are 300 or so Afro-Asiatic languages. Here are some of the larger ones (a rough idea of how many million speakers is given in…

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