African language groups in time and space

  • Date: –17:00
  • Location: Engelska parken 16-0043
  • Lecturer: Tom Güldemann (Humboldt U, Berlin)
  • Contact person: Harald Hammarström
  • Seminarium

Speaker: Tom Güldemann (Humboldt U, Berlin)
Title: African language groups in time and space

Speaker: Tom Güldemann (Humboldt U, Berlin)
Room: 16-0043
Time/date: 25 Sept 15-17
Title: African language groups in time and space
Abstract: While Africanist linguists have until recently been treating Greenberg's (1963) continental language classification comprising just four super-families as the unchallenged reference point, general linguists working in the historical-comparative framework have characterized it as “badly in need of major reinvestigation and reworking” (Campbell and Poser 2008: 128). With Güldemann (2018a, b) I have provided such a classificatory reassessment from inside African linguistics. My framework not only differs from Greenberg’s genealogical model as such but also takes macro-areal linguistic patterns into account, which in certain regions can be as informative for historical research as genealogical relations (Nichols 2010). There are numerous cases of African language groups displaying linguistic isoglosses interpreted by Greenberg as evidence for genealogical relationships that after more than half a century remain undemonstrated. A possible way out of this longstanding problem is a holistic approach to historical language classification that takes into account both lineage-internal dynamics and external factors relating to the lineages' geographical setting and the associated contact with unrelated languages. The talk will attempt to put such an approach into practice by discussing various major African language groups. Some groups are robust language families that are assessed even better as soon as their diverse macro-areal alliances are considered in order to trace their historical trajectories and structural diversification through space and time. Other groups turn out to be areal language groups that cannot be treated as linguistic lineages but whose isoglosses, to the extent they are real, are more likely to be contact-induced. The new linguistic approach to African language classification has crucial repercussions for the multidisciplinary modelling of the continent's population history.