Proto-Afroasiatic language

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One proposal of possible expansion routes of Afroasiatic languages.

Proto–Afroasiatic is the reconstructed proto-language from which all modern Afroasiatic languages are descended. It is believed by scholars to have been spoken as a single language around 15,000 to 18,000 years ago in the Horn of Africa, most likely within the Ethiopian Highlands and the adjacent lowland Red Sea Hills of Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia, and the Sudan.

Consonant correspondences[edit]

The following table shows consonant correspondences in Afroasiatic languages, along with some reconstructed consonants for Proto-Afroasiatic.

Correspondences in Afro-Asian languages[1][2]
Proto-Afroasiatic Proto-Semitic Egyptian Berber East Cushitic West Chadic
*b *b b *β, ? *b, *-∅- *b *b, *ḅ1
*p *p p *f, ? *b *p *p, *f, *ḅ1
*f f f
*d *d d *d *d *d, *ḍ1
*t *t t *t *t *t
*ṭ *ṭ d(~t) *ḍ [dˁ] / *ṭ (→ *ṭṭ [tˁː]) *ṭ (→ *ḍ) *ḍ
?? d *z *z *dʒ
s, ?? š *s *s1(=*s)
*θ̣ ḏ- *ẓ [zˁ] South Cushitic
*z z *z *z *dz
*s *s s *s- ? s2- *ts
*ṣ [(t)sʼ] *ẓ [zˤ] *ṭṣ *ṭṣ
(*s2) s *s *s2(=) s,
Central Chadic:
(*s3) [ɬ] š, ? s *s, *z- *l,
*ṣ́ (*ṣ3) [(t)ɬʼ] , ? d- *s1 ?,
*g g, *g *g *g
*k k, *k, ? *k *k
*ḳ q, , ? *ḳ (→ *ḳḳ [kˤː])
χ-, ʕ- ? *h2
χ, , ħ *H- *h-, *-Ø- *-H-?
ʕ *H- -, *-Ø-ʔ
ħ *H- -, *-Øː-
*h ı͗- *h1, *h2 -
ı͗, ? ꜣ , -Ø-
*r , r *r -*r- *r
*l n-, [l-], r, *l -*l- *l
*w w-, ı͗, y *w, *Ø *w, *Ø *w-?
*y ı͗-, y-, -Ø- *y, *i, *Ø *y, *i, *Ø *y, *Ø
Proto-Afroasiatic Proto-Semitic Egyptian Berber East Cushitic West Chadic
  1. under special conditions


  1. š = /ʃ/
  2. Symbols with dots underneath are emphatic consonants (variously glottalized, ejective or pharyngealized).
  3. Transcription of Ancient Egyptian follows Allen (2000); see Transliteration of Ancient Egyptian. The following are possible values for the non-IPA symbols used for Ancient Egyptian: = [ç]; = [tʲ] or [t͡ʃ]; = [dʲ] or [d͡ʒ], or ejective [tʲʼ] or [t͡ʃʼ].


Ehret (1995) reconstructs the following pronouns, most of which are supported by at least five of the six branches:

Proto-Afroasiatic Pronouns[3]
Singular, bound Singular, independent Plural
1 *i, *yi *(ʔ)ân-/(ʔ)în- *(ʔ)ǎnn-/(ʔ)ǐnn-
2 m. *ku, *ka *(ʔ)ânt/(ʔ)înt- *kuuna
2 f. *ki
3 *si, *isi *su, *usu


Ehret (1995) reconstructs the following cardinal numbers (Ehret does not include Berber in his reconstruction):

Cardinal Numbers in Afroasiatic[3]
Number Proto-Afroasiatic Proto-Semitic Egyptian Proto-Cushitic Proto-Chadic Proto-Omotic
two *tsan, *can *θny snwj
*tsîr(n), *cîr(n) *θər *sər
*ɬâm- *ɬmʔl "left hand" *ɬâ(a)m- *lam-
three *xaynz- *knɗ- *x2ayz-
four *fâzw- fdw *fʷaɗə

The first root for "two" has been compared to Berber (Tamazight) sin.[4] There are other proposed cognate sets:

  • "six": Egyptian srs, Proto-Semitic *šidṯ-, Berber (Tamazight) sdˁis.[4]
  • "seven": Egyptian sfḫ, Proto-Semitic *šabʕ-, Berber (Tamazight) sa.[4]

The Afroasiatic homeland has been pinpointed by genetic and linguistic studies to have been located in the present-day Red Sea Hills of Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia and the inland Afroalpine Ethiopian Highlands of Ethiopia. Early proposals have included a Levantine and Middle Eastern origin, but these proposals have long been debunked as an African homeland for proto-Afroasiatic became supported by linguistic reconstructions and genetic and archeological evidence of ancient African migrations into the Middle East found to perfectly correspond with the glottochronology of the proposed spread of Proto-Afroasiatic migrants from the Horn of Africa.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dolgopolsky (1999), pp. 38-39.
  2. ^ Prasse (2000), p. 346.
  3. ^ a b Ehret (1995)
  4. ^ a b c Takács, Gábor (1999-). Etymological Dictionary of Egyptian. Brill.  Check date values in: |date= (help)


  • Dolgopolsky, Aron (1999). From Proto-Semitic to Hebrew. Milan: Centro Studi Camito-Semitici di Milano. 
  • Ehret, Christopher (1995). Reconstructing Proto-Afroasiatic (Proto-Afrasian): vowels, tone, consonants, and vocabulary. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-09799-8. 
  • Prasse, Karl G. (2000). Études berbères et chamito-sémitiques: mélanges offerts à Karl-G. Prasse. 

External links[edit]