Cushitic Languages

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Cushitic Languages


a language group of the Hamito-Semitic family in northeastern and eastern Africa. It consists of five subgroups: (1) Northern Cushitic (the Bedauye language on the shores of the Red Sea in Sudan and Ethiopia); (2) Central Cushitic (the Agau languages in isolated settlements in northern and central Ethiopia); (3) Eastern Cushitic (Somali Democratic Republic, the French territory of the Afars and Issas, eastern, southern, and part of southwestern Ethiopia, northern Kenya), which includes the Afar-Saho languages, the Galla-Somali languages (Somali, Boni, Bayso, Rendile, Galla, Tsamai), the Sidamo languages (Sidamo, Hadiya, Burji), and possibly the Konso-Geleba languages (Konso, Gato, Gidole, Arbore, Geleba); (4) Western Cushitic (Ometo, Kaffa, and others in southwestern and western Ethiopia); and (5) Southern Cushitic: the Iraqu languages (in Tanzania), Asa and Ngomwia (in Tanzania, Kenya). The little-known Mogogodo, Dume, and Sanye languages (in eastern Kenya) are also related to the Cushitic languages. The Cushitic languages are spoken by approximately 12.7 million people (1967, estimate).

The Cushitic languages are characterized by a large number of consonants: many languages have glottalized ejectives (ḳ and, less frequently, ṭ, c̣, and č̣), the glottalized injective , retroflex d, labialized kw, gw, xw, and Arabic-type laryngeals and pharyngeals. Most of the Cushitic languages distinguish masculine and feminine noun gender. The rich system of verb inflection (conjugation according to person, number, and gender of subject, derived [verb] stems; tenses; morphological markers of syntactic verbal functions, which correspond to subordinating conjunctions in European langauges) and noun inflection (number, singularity; less often, cases) are achieved by means of suffixes, sometimes prefixes (the old Hamito-Semitic prefixai conjugation in Bedauye, Afar-Saho, and other languages) and internal inflection (Bedauye, Afar-Saho, the Agau languages).


Dolgopol’skii, A. B. Sravnitel’no-istoricheskaia fonetika kushitskikh iazy-kov. Moscow, 1973.
Cerulli, E. Studi etiopici, vols. 1–4. Rome, 1936–51.
Tucker, A. N., and M. Bryan. Linguistic Analyses: The Non-Bantu Languages of Northeastern Africa. London, 1966.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.