Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
Two Major Subcategories:
EGYPT & THE SAHARA
NOTE: each of these major subcategories is further divided
into many smaller sections on its own opening page.
"Internet African History Sourcebook": this is a huge, educationally-focused collection of links to all of Africa, both ancient and modern, country by country, issue by issue. It's compiled by Fordham's Paul Halsall and is one of several such sourcebooks designed by him that will be found in my pages.http://web.archive.org/web/20000621011728/http://www.he.net/~skyeagle/afro.htm
Afrocentric Debate Resource Homepage: This site is valuable in considering important issues raised by Martin Bernal's Black Athena. His argument, that Greece owes much of her mythology and culture to Afro-Egyptian influences, has caused a storm of protest among many, including classicists (with Mary Lefkowitz at the head of the debate). The site offers information on both sides of the Bernal - Lefkowitz debate. I found most interesting the balanced overview given by professional Africanist, Ibrahim Sundiata: Afrocentrism: The Argument We're Really Having. This website is linked to an Educating the Black Mind "ring" of other sites -- one can enter the ring at any point and keep clicking to the next in a series.http://web.ccsu.edu/afstudy/summer2.html#Z4: [Added 16 August 2009]
This is the archives page for Africa Update's Summer 1996. Here is its Table of Contents -- I've provided a direct link to the "Black Athena" discussion list sponsored in 1996 by Harper Collins. It provides many interesting details about this "sometimes fierce discussion."http://web.archive.org/web/19970630114347/http://www.library.nwu.edu/class/history/B94/B94lang.html
* Editorial: Multiparty Democracy in Botswana by Gloria Emeagw ali, Chief Editor
* F. Aiyejina, Visiting Scholar, Lincoln University , I, THE SUPREME
* Mpho G. Molomo, Multiparty Democracy in Botswana
* Paul Kekai Manansala Sacramento, California, The "Black Athena" debate in cyberspace
* Haines Brown, History Dept., C.C.S.U., Africa and the Net
* Abstracts from the 2nd Annual Conference of African Studies November 18, 1995
Dr. Peter A. Piccione, formerly of Chicago's Oriental Institute and Northwestern University, is both an Egyptologist and an archaeologist. In this paper based on a 1995 class lecture, Piccione discusses the "super family" of Egyptian and Afro-Asiatic languages. The paper is engrossing, especially in light of the Afrocentric debate (see above).
Piccione points out linguistic and anthropological flaws in earlier models (e.g., one that assumed a prehistoric Indo-Aryan conquest of Egypt). Most linguists now agree upon an Afro-Asiatic, or Hamito-Semitic, family of languages, which means that nearly all the languages of the Near East and Northern Africa are related. Especially intriguing are speculations on the geographical origin of the proto-language -- some linguists argue for the Sahara Desert (which was a fertile grassland 6,000 years ago); others for the Southern Sudan and Ethiopia. Here are some excerpts:...The language of ancient Egypt stood geographically between the semitic languages of the Middle East and the hamitic languages of northern and eastern Africa. Traditionally, Egyptian has been termed a "Hamito-semitic language," since it contained significant characteristics of semitic languages, as well elements of Berber and Chad, which are hamitic. The relationship of all these elements in Egyptian was, until recently, open to question....
...Initially, some Egyptololgists suggested that the Egyptian language represented a stage of linguistic development which predated the division of the languages of the Near East and Africa into semitic and hamitic branches. In this way, Egyptian was some great parent language of these two great language groups, i.e., a "mother tongue," from which they all descended. This theory had several difficulties, including how to account for the fact that it would then be contemporary with its so-called daughter-languages, and at the same time contained grammatical formations at variance with those of its "daughter-languages."
This theory was quickly rejected in favor of a comprehensive reassessment of all the languages of western Asia and Africa which showed similiarity. Linguists now agree in the identification of a "super family" in the tree of human languages, called the AFRO-ASIATIC FAMILY, or the HAMITO-SEMITIC FAMILY of languages.... The Afro-asiatic family consists of six coordinate branches, each branch with its own set languages.
Because Egyptian was only one branch in this family, it shared many features in common with the other branches, and yet also displayed significant and unique differences from them....
- Egyptian (ancient Egypt): Old Egyptian, Middle Egyptian, Late Egyptian, Demotic, Coptic
- Cushitic (East Africa south of the Sahara): Galla, Somali, Oromo, Bedawiye, Hadya
- Semitic (western Asia): Akkadian, Aramaic, South Arabic, Arabic, Hebrew, Eblaite, Amorite, Maltese, Ugaritic, Amharic, Canaanite, Phoenician
- Chadic (West Africa south of the Sahara): Hausa, etc.
- Berber (North Africa west of Egypt): Numidian, Tuareg, Riff
- Omotic (southern Ethiopia): Omotic
THE ROOT SYSTEM
In addition to a common source for their most ancient vocabulary, as well as other syntactic similarities, what binds the branches of the Afro-asiatic family together is their consonantal root system. In this system most words consist of three consonants, while a lesser number have two or (to an even lesser extent) four consonants. In any one word, these consonants are called the "root," and the root relates to the general concept behind the meaning of the word. Usually, the root is unalterable, although it can be inflected by the use of infixes (elements which are inserted within the root) and by prefixes and suffixes, all of which denote grammatical changes and which form new words with related meanings.
Most significantly, the vowels of the root--and hence its vocalization--change depending upon how the root is used in any given part of speech, e.g., as a noun, a verb, or in a certain mood, case or verb tense, etc. The pattern of vowel usage and change is called the "scheme." Thus, root and scheme are the two major elements which constitute the word in the Afro-asiatic languages. For example, in Arabic the root pertaining to the concept of teaching and learning is d-r-s. While the consonants drs will always remain the same, the scheme and vocalization will change depending upon usage, e.g.:
darasa, "to study, learn"
darrasa, "to teach"
dars, "lesson, class"
mudaaris, "teacher (male)"/mudaarisa, "teacher (female)"
The same system was true in ancient Egyptian. The consonats would remain the same, while the vowels and vocalization changed according to use. The vocalization generally followed a precise and unchanging pattern of speech. Because the speech patterns were already known and generally understood by the native speakers--at least in early times--they did not sense the need to record the vocalizations in their writing. For that reason, the ancients invented and wrote only the consonants of words and not the vowels. With a few exceptions, they probably did not even recognize the existence of vowels at that time....
Piccione also discusses hieroglyphs and other aspects of ancient Egyptian language. If you love languages and the mysteries of their origins, you'll be fascinated by this site. (See my Egyptian Hieroglyphs page if you're interested in exploring this topic further.)
If you have comments or suggestions,
my email address is near the bottom of my home page.
This page created with Netscape Gold 3.01
Technical assistance: William Weeks
Text and Design:
Copyright 1998 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
15 August 2009: added "Africa Update" link,
updated other links, added excerpt to Piccione page.