In an alternative world where ancient Akkadian and Egyptian corpora didn't survive, if someone formulated the "Afroasiatic hypothesis" encompassing the branches that current consensus places in Afroasiatic, would they be able to prove their hypothesis? Specifically, would they be able to prove that Chadic languages should be included?

  • 4
    I wouldn't think Akkadian would be necessary, at least; the Semitic language family is very well-attested even without it, and Akkadian is not a very conservative branch. (The main reason scholars were able to decipher Akkadian in the first place was because Semitic was already so well-understood; it led to some interesting changes in our understanding of Proto-Semitic, but it wasn't a missing link or anything.)
    – Draconis
    Feb 14, 2021 at 18:50
  • 1
    @Draconis I'm trying to imagine how we'd reconstruct proto-semitic without akkadian. I'm guessing case would be pretty contentious (ugaritic & arabic might be a bit too closely related for some people to accept it at the proto-stage), and I imagine mimation/nunation might not be reconstructed at all. Like you say though, I don't think those changes would affect identification with the rest of afro-asiatic. The prefix conjugation and roots are still there and they're the core of the argument
    – Tristan
    Feb 15, 2021 at 10:24

1 Answer 1


First of all, I should say, I don't think the presence or absence of Akkadian would make any significant difference. The Semitic family is widely attested and was well-understood even before Akkadian was deciphered—in fact, scholars' understanding of Semitic was the main reason why Akkadian could be deciphered at all! And while it's led to some new re-evaluation of how Proto-Semitic worked, it hasn't drastically changed our understanding of the family and its connections.

But to answer your specific question:

Specifically, would they be able to prove that Chadic languages should be included?

As best I can tell, the first person to propose a relationship between Chadic and other Afro-Asiatic languages was Leo Reinisch, in his 1909 Das persönliche Fürwort und die Verbalflexion in den Chamito-Semitischen Sprachen ("Personal Pronouns and Verbal Inflection in the Hamito-Semitic Languages"). He used some evidence from Egyptian in his work, but seems to have focused mostly on the Cushitic languages as a point of comparison, so it seems likely to me that he would have made this connection even without the Egyptian corpus.

Reinisch's work doesn't seem to have been especially popular, but M. Cohen also apparently compared Hausa (Chadic) specifically with Semitic, and was cited by Greenberg (Studies in African Linguistic Classification: IV Hamito-Semitic, 1950), who criticized his methodology but agreed with his conclusions:

Unfortunately, up to now, Hausa forms have been cited in isolation and without much consideration of the other languages in the area to which Hausa is clearly related. This is easy to understand inasmuch as Hausa is a conspicuous language, perhaps the most widely spoken in Negro Africa, and material on it is relatively abundant. The bringing in of other languages of the Lake Chad area greatly strengthens the case for the entire group of languages as forming a branch of Hamito-Semitic. Other languages in the area show pronominal and verbal forms similar to those of Hausa, thus showing that they are not recent borrowings from Arabic as has sometimes been suggested. Vocabulary resemblances are similarly strengthened and further etymologies become possible which could not be discovered on the basis of Hausa alone.

("Hamito-Semitic" being an obsolete grouping of mainly-African languages that was eventually reworked into Afro-Asiatic, and "Negro Africa" being an obsolete name for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. Neither is an accepted term nowadays, but they were standard in Greenberg's era.)

So Egyptian doesn't seem to have been the key to connecting Chadic with the rest of Afro-Asiatic; I'm reasonably confident that the connection would have been made even without Egyptian evidence.

  • Just to clarify, does this mean that evidence from living languages is in fact sufficient to demonstrate that Chadic is AA? Feb 16, 2021 at 18:44
  • 1
    @SzczepanHołyszewski Not necessarily living languages, since e.g. a lot of dead Semitic languages contributed to our understanding of that family. But yes, it sounds like the comparisons that led most directly to the connection between Chadic and the rest of AA involved Cushitic, not Egyptian.
    – Draconis
    Feb 16, 2021 at 20:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.