The East Asian languages do not distinguish r and l. The PIE had r/l alternation in suffixes: -tlom/-trom, -dhlom/-dhrom, -ter/-tel, -ros/-los.

What can be said in this context about Afro-Asiatic branch?

  • 3
    Only a minority of languages of East and Southeast Asia, including Ainu, the Japonic languages, and the Hmong-Mien languages, do not distinguish between an /l/-like and /r/-like phoneme. Most other languages of East and Southeast Asia do, including Nivkh, the Tibeto-Burman, Koreanic, Turkic, Tungusic, Mongolic, Austroasiatic, and Austronesian languages.
    – limetom
    Apr 23, 2016 at 18:19
  • Semitic languages definitely do distinguish /r/ vs. /l/, and I believe the same is true of the other Afro-Asiatic branches.
    – TKR
    Apr 23, 2016 at 22:56

1 Answer 1


With the possible exception of Ancient Egyptian where no grapheme for "l" existed, the r/l distinction seems to be well-maintained in the Afroasiatic languages. It exists in Semitic, Berber, Chadic, and Cushitic. Also the Coptic language has it.

  • What is the reflex of Proto-Afro-Asiatic *l in Ancient Egyptian? Apr 30, 2016 at 19:47
  • @sumelic: Don't know about Proto-Afro-Asiatic, but Ancient Egyptian used r or n when a letter l was expected. I am not sure whether this is just an artefact of the writing system or genuine–a closer look on Koptic may help. May 1, 2016 at 19:25
  • Thanks! I should have checked Wikipedia (it suggests that /l/ was genuinely pronounced at some point, but lost in some dialects). May 1, 2016 at 19:30

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