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Thread: Language as a Clue to Prehistory

  1. Top | #111
    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    First, Niger–Congo languages sometimes called Niger-Kordofanian ones.

    It is something of a hand-wave, it must be conceded. Its highest-level split is between the Atlantic–Congo languages and some languages in West Africa, mostly "Far West" Africa: Ijo, Dogon, Mande, Katla, and Rashad. Mande, especially, is only doubtfully related to the rest of Niger-Congo.

    Turning to Atlantic-Congo, its genetic unity is generally accepted. It is composed of Volta–Congo languages and some Far-West "Atlantic" languages.

    In turn, Volta-Congo is composed of Benue–Congo languages and several West African languages, like Volta-Niger langs Igbo and Yoruba, and the North-Central Zande langs.

    The Benue-Congo langs extend only a tiny bit west of the Central-Southern-Africa Atlantic coast. Wiktionary lists Appendix:Proto-Benue-Congo reconstructions - Wiktionary and notes a book, The Noun-Class System of Proto-Benue-Congo | De Gruyter

    I checked that Wiktionary pages, and the two sets of reconstructions differ almost completely. The first style is from de Wolf 1971, and the second style from Blench 2004.
    belly *-bumu
    belly *-mani
    20. #-koo belly

    buffalo *-zati
    buffalo *-poŋ
    145. #(n)-(g)yati buffalo

    egg *-kiŋ, *-tiŋ
    4. #eje egg

    headpad *-kata
    12. ekãta head-pad

    salt *-nunu
    salt *-mu
    307. #mana salt

    scorpion *-nan
    scorpion *-get
    15. #keNkere scorpion

    water *-izi (±)
    water *-ni (±)
    218. #-mbal- water

  2. Top | #112
    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    The Benue-Congo langs contain the Cross-River ones of Nigeria and nearby, and the Bantoid languages. Those are in turn divided into Northern Bantoid languages and Southern Bantoid languages, and the latter contains the Bantu languages The non-Bantu Bantoid languages are a tiny sliver on the northwest end of the total distribution.

    The Bantu languages are spoken over much of central and southern Africa, and they are very recognizably related. A Proto-Bantu language has been reconstructed with some success. The Bantu languages have several noun classes marked out with prefixes, and Proto-Bantu is reconstructed as also having them. The classes are marked out with prefixes, with singular and plural ones unpredictably different, and they are used for both adjective and verb agreement.

    Appendix:Swahili noun classes - Wiktionary

    Examples:

    Watu wazuri wawili wale wameanguka (watu = people; -zuri = good; -wili = two; -le = those; -anguka = fall down)
    Kenya (“Kenya”) → Mkenya (“Kenyan”)
    -gonjwa (“sick”) → mgonjwa (“sick person”)
    tende (“date”) → mtende (“date palm”)
    Uingereza (“England”) → Kiingereza (“English”)
    -baya (“bad”) → ubaya (“badness”)
    -Ganda (“Ganda”) → Uganda (“Uganda”)
    Kristo (“Christ”) → Ukristo (“Christianity”)
    -soma (“read”) → kusoma (“reading; to read”)

    Also
    Kiswahili ("Swahili language") - Waswahili("Swahili people")

  3. Top | #113
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    So we get a picture of speakers of Proto-Niger-Congo living in Far-West Africa and inventing agriculture. They slowly spread eastward, and when they reach what's now Cameroon, they start spreading much faster.

    Proto-Bantu language, Bantu expansion - the Proto-Bantu speakers likely lived some 3,500 - 4,000 years ago (1,500 - 2,000 BCE) in Cameroon. They then spread eastward to the Pacific coast, then southward into southern Africa. Some of them went southward along the Atlantic coast to southern Africa.

    Thus, Africa's Holocene prehistory resembles that of Europe and the Pacific islands, where a population of farmers spread over a large land area, mixing with and displacing the people already present. While that is evident from the language history of Africa (Niger-Congo) and the Pacific islands (Austronesian), it is much less apparent in Europe, because a later migration came along and erased most of the earlier one's linguistic evidence. There is a little bit that survives, like various words for "goat", "sheep", "rye", "barley", "chickpea", and the like.


    That Sahara wet period was the African humid period - roughly 14,500 years ago to 5,500 years ago. Afro-Asiatic speakers would have had an easier time spreading during it than today.


    Nilo-Saharan languages is not very strongly supported. "Nilo-Saharan languages present great differences, being a highly diversified group. It has proven difficult to reconstruct many aspects of Proto-Nilo-Saharan. Two very different reconstructions of the proto-language have been proposed by Lionel Bender and Christopher Ehret."


    Khoisan languages - they share click consonants, but not much else. It has three families, Khoe-Kwadi, Kx'a, and Tuu, and two isolates, Hadza and Sandawe, with very little evidence of relationship.

    Some Southern African Bantu languages have also have clicks, but they may have been borrowed from local Khoisan speakers.

  4. Top | #114
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    Sub-Saharan Africa is Africa south of the Sahara Desert. From "Genetic history",
    In addition, whole genome sequencing analysis of modern populations inhabiting sub-Saharan Africa has observed several primary inferred ancestry components: a Pygmy-related component carried by the Mbuti and Biaka Pygmies in Central Africa, a Khoisan-related component carried by Khoisan-speaking populations in Southern Africa, a Niger-Congo-related component carried by Niger-Congo-speaking populations throughout sub-Saharan Africa, a Nilo-Saharan-related component carried by Nilo-Saharan-speaking populations in the Nile Valley and African Great Lakes, and a West Eurasian-related component carried by Afroasiatic-speaking populations in the Horn of Africa and Nile Valley.
    noting
    Early Back-to-Africa Migration into the Horn of Africa
    The genetics of East African populations: a Nilo-Saharan component in the African genetic landscape | Scientific Reports

    Pygmies themselves nowadays speak Bantu languages, so they can't provide much linguistic evidence.

  5. Top | #115
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    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    ... I can see where debates and academic politics can seem off-putting or even ridiculous to the interested layman, but mutual critique and review are actually a very important part of the scientific process by which we improve our theories over time.
    I'm not alone in finding Ruhlen's critics overly shrill. Michael Witzel, distinguished Harvard Professor and President of the Association for the Study of Language in Prehistory since 1999 writes:

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Witzel
    Another Severe Attack on Ruhlen

    Some linguists criticized me last year for being too harsh in some of my comments on linguists. I said I was sorry. But now, good colleagues one and all can read something very very harsh from the other side. Even Lyle Campbell and Ives Goddard are pussycats compared to some of the critics of Greenberg, and more recently Ruhlen.

    Get a copy of Anthony Grant's review of Merritt Ruhlen's On the Origin of Languages: Studies in Linguistic Taxonomy, 1994 which appears in Anthropological Linguistics 37, number 1, 1995,93-96. After reading that piece of academic Schadenfreude, no one will ever again accuse me or Lyle Campbell of being harsh. By the way, that journal (AL) seems to have joined Language and IJAL in being totally biased. Like the three famous monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil -- where the Amerind theory is evil incarnate, in the body of Joe Greenberg. Heavens!
    I'd post more examples, but paywalls are popping up everywhere.

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