Hamito-Semitic languages

Hamito-Semitic languages:

see Afroasiatic languagesAfroasiatic languages
, formerly Hamito-Semitic languages
, family of languages spoken by more than 250 million people in N Africa; much of the Sahara; parts of E, central, and W Africa; and W Asia (especially the Arabian peninsula, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hamito-Semitic Languages


the traditional name for the family of Afrasian, or Afro-Asiatic, languages found in North Africa and southwestern Asia.

The Hamito-Semitic languages evidently have five branches: Semitic, Egyptian, Berbero-Libyan, Cushitic, and Chad. Some researchers refer to the Western Cushitic languages as the Om-otic branch. The Semitic languages have the greatest number of speakers, about 120 million. The Egyptian branch died out in the 17th century, although a late form of Egyptian—Coptic—is still used in the liturgy of Egyptian Christians. The Berber branch consists of dialect groups that closely resemble each other. The ancient Libyan-Numidian language and, less probably, the extinct language of the Canary Islands— Guanche—appear to have belonged to the Berber branch as well. The Cushitic languages are divided into five subbranches. The Chad group includes Hausa, Kotoko, and many other languages. Preliminary classification indicates that the Chad group consists of ten subgroups.

The Hamito-Semitic languages are characterized by three groups of consonants: voiced, voiceless, and “emphatic,” the last type being glottalized, preglottalized, or velarized consonants. They use y, w, and glottal stops as consonants. Some ancient Afrasian phonemes, such as laterals, pharyngeals, and affricates, were lost by the Berbero-Libyan branch, Late Egyptian, and certain Semitic, Cushitic, and Chad languages; emphatic consonants were also lost in some languages. The northern groups—Semitic, Berbero-Libyan, Egyptian, and, to some extent, Cushitic—are characterized by roots consisting of three consonants, patterns of word-formation involving vowel gradations of the root, and the use of a small number of affixes. Prefixal conjugation of verbs of action is characteristic of the Semitic and Berbero-Libyan branches and the northern, eastern, and central subgroups of the Cushitic branch; originally, the imperfective, or durative, aspect was formed from roots with a full vowel scheme, and the perfective, or punctual, aspect was formed from roots with a reduced vowel scheme.

A noteworthy archaic feature is the suffixally conjugated predicate, which expresses a quality or state; this feature is found in the Semitic languages (Akkadian), the Berber languages (Kabyle), the Chad languages (Musgu), Egyptian, and other languages. In all the Cushitic languages, a new conjugation of the verb developed that historically derives from a combination of the prefixally conjugated form of an auxiliary verb and the nominal form of the main verb. The same phenomenon may be seen in the Chad group; in the Cushitic languages, however, the verb element corresponding originally to the auxiliary verb is placed at the end of the complex verb form, whereas in Hausa and other Chad languages it is placed at the beginning. Egyptian developed a special verb system based on attributive and prepositional constructions with the verbal noun; the logical subject coincided grammatically with the attribute and the predicate coincided with the determinatum. Only verb forms expressing a quality or state followed the archaic Common Afrasian pattern in Egyptian. All of the Hamito-Semitic languages are characterized by derived forms of the verb, such as causative, iterative, and reflexive.

Because Common Afrasian became divided into branches in remote antiquity, the modern Hamito-Semitic languages are less closely related to each other than are the languages of the Indo-European family. There are appreciable similarities between pronouns, verbal prefixes, and a relatively small number of very ancient words. Most of the Hamito-Semitic languages have not preserved the ancient suffixal pattern of inflection, including the original nominal declension.


D’iakonov, I. M. Semitokhamilskie iazyki. Moscow, 1965.
D’iakonov, I. M. Iazyki Perednei Azii. Moscow, 1967.
Dolgopol’skii, A. B. Sravnitel’no-istoricheskaia fonetika kushitskikh iazykov. Moscow, 1973.
Cohen, M. Essai comparatif sur le vocabulaire et la phonétique du chamito-sémitique. Paris, 1947.
Greenberg, J. The Languages of Africa, 2nd ed. The Hague, 1966.
Current Trends in Linguistics, vol. 6. Edited by T. A. Sebeok. The Hague-Paris, 1970.
Hamito-Semitica. Edited by T. By non and J. Bynon. Paris, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
131-52); and a factual survey of Hamito-Semitic languages that focuses on much debated definitions and terminology (pp.