Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences - Institute of Asian and African Studies

01.12. Colloquium on African linguistics: The Niger-Congo family (Güldemann)

"The Niger-Congo family in time and space: a first attempt" - Talk by Tom Güldemann (HU Berlin) given within the digital colloquium on African linguistics and languages
  • When Dec 01, 2020 from 04:15 to 05:45
  • Where via Zoom
  • iCal

In Güldemann (2018a, b), I have provided a major classificatory reassessment of African languages. My framework not only differs considerably from Greenberg’s (1963) 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). Against this background, I propose a holistic approach to historical language classification that takes into account both lineage-internal dynamics and external factors relating to a lineage's geographical setting and the associated contact with unrelated languages. The talk puts this approach into practice by discussing the largest African language group, Niger-Congo. Despite some qualifications vis-à-vis Greenberg’s original proposal, this is a robust language family. It can be assessed even better as soon as its diverse areal alliances are considered in order to trace its historical trajectories and structural diversification through space and time. I also discuss briefly a couple of language groups that I argue are only related to the Niger-Congo family in areal terms in the sense that isoglosses, to the extent they are real, are more likely to be contact-induced.


Greenberg, Joseph H. 1963. The languages of Africa. Publications 25. Bloomington: Research Center in Anthropology, Folklore, and Linguistics, Indiana University Press.

Güldemann, Tom. 2018a. Areal linguistics beyond contact, and linguistic areas of Afrabia. In Güldemann, Tom (ed.), The languages and linguistics of Africa. The World of Linguistics 11. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 448-545.

Güldemann, Tom. 2018b. Historical linguistics and genealogical language classification in Africa. In Güldemann, Tom (ed.), The languages and linguistics of Africa. The World of Linguistics 11. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 58-444.

Nichols, Johanna. 2010. Macrofamilies, macroareas, and contact. In Hickey, Raymond (ed.), The handbook of language contact. Oxford/ Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 361-379.


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