Research topic: African languages

Africans account for 12 % of the world's population, but speak over 30 % of the world's languages.

Africa has many languages – Tamazight, Fulfulde, Bamanankan, Kanuri, ǃXóõ, Zulu, Maasai, Kaffa, Oromo and over 2,100 others. African languages belong to nearly 15 language families and have very varied vocabularies, phonologies and grammatical systems.

Language probably originated in Africa. Homo sapiens – which first evolved in Africa – began to migrate to other parts of the world over 60,000 years ago, taking language with them.

Only Mesopotamia has an older written history than Africa. Written language has existed in Egypt for 5,000 years, further westwards in North Africa for nearly 3,000 years and in Ethiopia for over 2,500 years. Many African languages – such as Gogo, Wawa and Hehe – were first written down in the 20th century, while others still exist only in spoken form.

Researchers working with African languages are engaged in the widest possible range of language-research activities. They research as-yet unwritten languages with only a few surviving speakers, including the Ethiopian language Ongota, which is now spoken by only eight persons. They also research extinct languages that were last spoken over 1,000 years ago, such as Punic in North Africa, as well as well-established written languages with tens of millions of speakers, such as Hausa in West Africa.

Research group

African Linguistics

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Published Feb. 8, 2013 10:03 AM - Last modified Jan. 18, 2018 3:19 PM