SV: SV: Paired Horse and PIE breakup

Miguel Carrasquer Vidal mcv at WXS.NL
Mon Nov 9 10:14:14 UTC 1998

Paul Kekai Manansala <kekai at JPS.NET> wrote:

>There was never any such racial criteria for the older classification of
>languages. In fact, it was more racially neutral than the current
>classification.  For example, Cushitic languages were grouped together
>with Semitic ones.  Now they are separated.

They're not.  You've got it backwards.

Let's see how "racially neutral" pre-Greenberg classifications of
African languages were, and how "racist" Greenberg's is.

Starting point for the history of African language classification are
the two obvious and long recognized language families of the
continent: Semitic (which besides Arabic, now widely spoken in
Northern Africa, includes the Ethiopic languages [Ge'ez, Amharic,
Tigrinya, etc.]) and Bantu (the group where most languages from
Central, Eastern and Southern Africa belong).

Beyond these obvious families, linguists studying the African
languages soon came to realize that some of the other 900 ~ 1000
languages spoken in the continent showed affinities with either Bantu
or Semitic.  The first attempt at a full classification was that of
the German Egyptologist Lepsius.  He divided the African languages
into three groups (1880):

1. Semitic
2. Hamitic (Egyptian, Berber-Hausa, Cushitic, Nama [Hottentot])
3. Bantu-Negro

Note that the "Hamitic" group consists of those languages which show
"Semitoid" characteristics (such as noun gender), but they are not
included within the same group as Semitic.  On the other hand, the
"Negro" subgroup, classified with Bantu, consists of languages with
"Bantoid" characteristics, plus all other languages spoken by
black-skinned peoples (except such as already included in Hamitic).

A different classification was arrived at by an Austrian scholar,
Friedrich Mueller.  Using mainly hair types [sic] as a criterion, he
arrived at the following classification:

1. Semitic
2. Hamitic (Egyptian, Berber, Cushitic)
3. Nuba-Fula-Maasai
4. Khoisan (Nama, San)
5. Negro
6. Bantu

But the most influential classification before Greenberg's was
undoubtedly that of Meinhof, as published in his "Die Sprachen der
Hamiten" (1912).  Meinhof divided African languages in three groups:

1. Hamito-Semitic:
   a. Semitic
   b. Hamitic (Egypt., Berber, Cushitic, Hausa, Fulani, Maasai, Nama)
2. Sudanic (East-Sudanic, West-Sudanic)
3. Bantu

Meinhof's "Hamitic" group included languages with obvious linguistic
links to Semitic (Ancient Egyptian, Berber, Cushitic and
Hausa/Chadic), but also languages that only share typological traits
with Semitic, like grammatical gender (Masai/Nilo-Hamitic, Fulani,
Nama/Hottentot).  In general, Meinhof thought he had discovered a
correlation between languages with such "Semitoid" characteristics
and peoples whose main mode of subsistance was pastoralism, and who
were known to have been dominant politically (e.g. the Fulani in
Western Africa, and the "Nilo-Hamitic" Maasai/Tutsi in Eastern
Africa).  This was interpreted as evidence of a Semitic-derived
"Hamitic master race" which had invaded Africa in ancient times from
the Near East, establishing Egyptian civilization, and had further
penetrated in the African continent, providing it with its more
vigorous, war-like peoples, despite subsequent admixture of Negroid

Unfortunately for Meinhof, the linguistic evidence shows that the
"Nilo-Hanmitic" languages are most closely related to those of the
more sedentary Nilotic peoples (Dinka, Nuer) of S. Sudan, and that
Fulani is a branch of the equally sedentary West Atlantic (Wolof,
Serer) language family.  There was some opposition to Meinhof's
scheme, principally from his erstwhile pupil Westermann and from
French anthropologists and linguists.  Westermann's scheme (roughly
equivalent to the French one of Delafosse, Homburger, Cohen etc.)

1. Hamito-Semitic
   a. Semitic
   b. Hamitic (Egyptian, Berber, Cushitic)
2. Khoisan (Nama, San)
3. Negro (Bantu, Semi-Bantu/Western Sudanic, Eastern Sudanic)

Note that in this scheme (which is apparently still current in France
today), Hamitic is stripped of languages which on linguistic grounds
do not belong (Nama, Masai, Fulani, Nubian), but also of Hausa and
the Chadic group, languages which are clearly related to the other
"Hamito-Semitic" ones on linguistic grounds, but which were
classified within Negro/Western Sudanic, presumably because the Hausa
are racially indistinguishable from their black West African
neighbours.  Also, Semitic is still seen as related to, but distinct
from a single "Hamitic" group.

What Greenberg did in the 1950's and 60's, was to simply look at the
linguistic evidence, independent of race, hair-type or mode of
subsistance, and teh conclusion he reached were the following:

1. There is no reason to divide the "Hamito-Semitic" into Semitic
versus "all the rest".  Pending further research on the
subclassification, it should be renamed to "Afro-Asiatic", consisting
of four coordinate branches: Semitic, Ancient Egyptian, Cushitic,
Berber and Chadic.
2. Chadic (Hausa and related languages) belongs with Afro-Asiatic.
3. The other languages classified as "Hamitic" by Meinhof belong with
Niger-Kordofanian (Fulani), Nilo-Saharan (Nuba, "Nilo-Hamitic") or
Khoisan (Nama/Hottentot).
4. Bantu is a subgroup of the much wider Niger-Kordofanian family,
which consists of most of teh languages previously classified as
"Western Sudanic" (but excluding Chadic, and including Fulani, as
well as the Kordofanian languages of Sudan).
5. Most of the so-called Eastern Sudanic languages (including Nubian
and "Nilo-Hamitic", excluding Kordofanian) can be grouped into a high
level group called Nilo-Saharan.
6. The Nama language (Hottentot) belongs with the San (Bushman)
languages, and so do the two "click" languages of Eastern Africa,
Hatsa and Sandawe.  This group was labelled "Khoisan" by Greenberg.

Greenberg's conclusions 1-4 are now fully accepted and
uncontroversial (despite initial opposition from Bantuists to point
number 4).  Point 5, the Nilo-Saharan hypothesis, is accepted as a
working theory by linguists working on these languages, although
further evidence for the genetic unity of Nilo-Saharan is still
required.  Point 6 remains controversial.  The genetic unity of
Khoisan is not accepted by most specialists, and even less so the
inclusion of Hatsa and Sandawe.  It is possible that Greenberg was
wrong here, led astray, like his predecessors in African
classification, by racial (the Khoi-San physical type) and
typological (the presence of clicks in these languages) criteria.

>> Greenberg saying two language groups are unrelated?  Reference!
>Well, let's just say that the current language classification in vogue
>is that accepted by Greenberg.

That's either a really good joke, or a sign of complete ignorance
about Greenberg's position and how it's regarded by "establishment"
linguists.  Please, next time you throw around accusations of racism,
get yourself informed first of what those people's views actually

Miguel Carrasquer Vidal
mcv at

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