- Official Status
- Origin and Prehistory
- Typological Characteristics
- Extinct Languages
- Comparative Vocabulary
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The Cushitic languages with the greatest number of total speakers are Oromo (37 million), Somali (22 million), Beja (3.2 million), Sidamo (3 million), and Afar(2 million). Oromo serves as one of the official working languages of Ethiopia and is also the working language of several of the states within the Ethiopian federal system including Oromia, Harari and Dire Dawa regional states and of the Oromia Zone in the Amhara Region. Somali is one of two official languages of Somalia and three official languages of Somaliland. It also serves as a language of instruction in Djibouti, and as the working language of the Somali Regionin Ethiopia. Beja, Afar, Blin and Saho, the languages of the Cushitic branch of Afroasiatic that are spoken in Eritrea, are languages of instruction in the Eritrean elementary school curriculum. The constitution of Eritrea also recognizes the equality of all natively spoken languages. Additionally, Afar i...
Christopher Ehret argues for a unified Proto-Cushitic language in the Red Sea Hills as far back as the Early Holocene. Based on onomastic evidence, the Medjay and the Blemmyes of northern Nubia are believed to have spoken Cushitic languages related to the modern Beja language. Less certain are hypotheses which propose that Cushitic languages were spoken by the people of the C-Group culture in northern Nubia, or the people of the Kerma culturein southern Nubia.
Most Cushitic languages have a simple five-vowel system with phonemic length (/a a: e e: i i: o o: u u:/); a notable exception are the Agaw languages, which do not contrast vowel length, but have one or two additional central vowels. The consonant inventory of many Cushitic languages includes glottalic consonants, e.g. in Oromo, which has the ejectives /pʼ tʼ tʃʼ kʼ/ and the implosive /ᶑ/. Less common are pharyngeal consonants /ħ ʕ/, which appear e.g. in Somali...
The phylum was first designated as Cushitic in 1858.The Cushitic languages usually include the following branches: 1. North Cushitic (Beja) 2. Central Cushitic (Agaw languages) 3. East Cushitic 3.1. Lowland East Cushitic 3.2. Highland East Cushitic 3.3. Yaaku-Dullay 3.4. Dahalo 4. South Cushitic These classifications have not been without contention, and many other classifications have been proposed over the years.
Beja constitutes the only member of the Northern Cushitic subgroup. As such, Beja contains a number of linguistic innovations that are unique to it, as is also the situation with the other subgroups of Cushitic (e.g. idiosyncratic features in Agaw or Central Cushitic). Hetzron (1980) argues that Beja therefore may comprise an independent branch of the Afroasiatic family. However, this suggestion has been rejected by most other scholars.The characteristics o...
Other divergent languages
There are also a few poorly-classified languages, including Yaaku, Dahalo, Aasax, Kw'adza, Boon, the Cushitic element of Mbugu (Ma'a) and Ongota. There is a wide range of opinions as to how the languages are interrelated. The positions of the Dullay languages and of Yaaku are uncertain. They have traditionally been assigned to an East Cushitic subbranch along with Highland (Sidamic) and Lowland East Cushitic. However, Hayward thinks that East Cushitic may not be a va...
A number of extinct populations have been proposed to have spoken Afroasiatic languages of the Cushitic branch. Marianne Bechhaus-Gerst (2000) proposed that the peoples of the Kerma Culture – which inhabited the Nile Valley in present-day Sudan immediately before the arrival of the first Nubian speakers – spoke Cushitic languages. She argues that the Nilo-Saharan Nobiin language today contains a number of key pastoralism related loanwords that are of proto-Highland East Cushitic origin, including the terms for sheep/goatskin, hen/cock, livestock enclosure, butter and milk. However, more recent linguistic research indicates that the people of the Kerma culture (who were based in southern Nubia) instead spoke Nilo-Saharan languages of the Eastern Sudanic branch, and that the peoples of the C-Group culture to their north (in northern Nubia) and other groups in northern Nubia (such as the Medjay and Belmmyes) spoke Cushi...
Christopher Ehret proposed a reconstruction of Proto-Cushitic in 1987, but did not base this on individual branch reconstructions. Grover Hudson (1989) has done some preliminary work on Highland East Cushitic, David Appleyard (2006) has proposed a reconstruction of Proto-Agaw, and Roland Kießling and Maarten Mous (2003) have jointly proposed a reconstruction of West Rift Southern Cushitic. No reconstruction been published for Lowland East Cushitic, though Paul D. Black wrote his (unpublished) dissertation on the topic in 1974.No comparative work has yet brought these branch reconstructions together.
Sample basic vocabulary of Cushitic languages from Vossen & Dimmendaal (2020:318) (with PSC denoting Proto-Southern Cushitic):
Comparison of numerals in individual Cushitic languages: