Proto-Bantu (also Common Bantu) is the reconstructed common ancestor of most Bantu languages. It is thought to have originally been spoken in West/Central Africa in the area of what is now Cameroon.[better source needed] Approximately 3000–4000 years ago, it split off from other Niger–Congo languages when the Bantu expansion began to the south and east.
Proto-Bantu is generally reconstructed to have a relatively small set of sounds of 11 consonants and 7 vowels.
- Voiceless consonants *p, *t, *k were almost certainly articulated as simple [plosive consonant|plosives]] [p], [t], [k].
- Voiced consonants *b and *g may also have been fricatives [β] (or [v]) and [ɣ] in some environments.
- *d was a plosive [d] before a high vowel (*i, *u) and a lateral [l] before other vowels.
- *c and *j may have been plosives [c] and [ɟ], affricates [tʃ] and [dʒ] or even sibilants [s] and [z]. [j] is also possible for *j.
Consonant clusters did not occur except for the "pre-nasalised" consonants.
The so-called "pre-nasalised" consonants were sequences of a nasal and a following obstruent. They could occur anywhere a single consonant was permitted, including word-initially. Pre-nasalised voiceless consonants were rare, as most were voiced. The nasal's articulation adapted to the articulation of the following consonant so the nasal can be considered a single unspecified nasal phoneme (indicated as *N) which had four possible allophones. Conventionally, the labial pre-nasal is written *m while the others are written *n.
- *mb, *mp; phonemically *Nb, *Np
- *nd, *nt; phonemically *Nd, *Nt
- *nj, *nc; phonemically *Nj, *Nc (actually pronounced as *ɲj, *ɲc)
- *ng, *nk; phonemically *Ng, *Nk (actually pronounced as *ŋg, *ŋk)
The representation of the vowels may differ in particular with respect to the two "middle" levels of closedness. Most linguists write the "less closed" set as *ɪ and *ʊ. However, some prefer to denote them as *e and *o, with the more open set represented as *ɛ and *ɔ. Regardless of its representation, the third level (*e and *o in the table) was open-mid [ɛ] and [ɔ].
Syllables always ended in a vowel but could also begin with one. Vowels could also occasionally appear in a sequence but did not form diphthongs; two adjacent vowels were separate syllables. If two of the same vowel occurred together, that created a long vowel, but that was rare.
Proto-Bantu distinguished two tones, low and high. Each syllable had either a low or a high tone. A high tone is conventionally indicated with an acute accent (´), and a low tone is either indicated with a grave accent (`) or not marked at all.
Proto-Bantu, like its descendants, had an elaborate system of noun classes. Noun stems were prefixed with a noun prefix to specify their meaning. Other words that related or referred to that noun, such as adjectives and verbs, also received a prefix that matched the class of the noun ("agreement" or "concord").
The following table gives a reconstruction of the system of nominal classes. Spellings have been normalised to use the ɪ and ʊ notations.
|2||*ba-||*va-||*va-||*ba-||Plural of class 1|
|4||*mɪ-||*mɪ-||*mɪ-||*mɪ-||Plural of class 3|
|6||*ma-||*ma-||*ma-||*ma-||Plural of class 5, liquids (mass nouns)|
|7||*kɪ-||*kɪ-||*kɪ-||*kɪ-||Various, diminutives, manner/way/language|
|8||*bi-||*ʋi-, *li- ("8x")||*ʋi-, *di-||*bi-||Plural of class 7|
|10||*n-||*li-nɪ-||*di-n-||*n-||Plural of class 9 and 11|
|13||*tʊ-||*tʊ-||*tʊ-||*tʊ-||Plural of class 12|
|16||*pa-||*pa-||*pa-||*pa-||Locatives (proximal, exact)|
|17||*kʊ-||*kʊ-||*kʊ-||*kʊ-||Locatives (distal, approximate)|
- Erhet & Posnansky, eds. (1982), Newman (1995)
- Philip J. Adler, Randall L. Pouwels, World Civilizations: To 1700 Volume 1 of World Civilizations, (Cengage Learning: 2007), p.169.
- Newman (1995), Shillington (2005)
- The Bantu Languages - Derek Nurse, Gérard Philippson