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Chaire Internationale 2019 : Professeur Tom Güldemann – « Areal linguistics in Africa before a

Nous accueillons à partir du 19 mars 2019 le professeur Tom Güldemann (Humboldt University – Berlin) pour une série de quatre séminaires sur le thème « Areal linguistics in Africa before a new approach to its genealogical language classification « .

Ces séminaires se dérouleront les mardis 19 et 26 mars et 02 et 09 avril 2019 de 16h00 à 18h00 au Campus CNRS de Villejuif – 7 rue Guy Môquet – 94801 Villejuif – Salle de conférence RDC Bâtiment D. ( Voir ici pour un plan d’accès).

Lecture 1: « African language classification beyond Greenberg »

The widely accepted genealogical classification of African languages to date is Greenberg’s (1963) scheme that comprises just four indigenous super-families, namely Khoisan, Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan, and Afroasiatic. Despite the long-standing popularity of his proposal, specialists of historical-comparative linguistics have noticed that it is methodologically and empirically questionable (cf., e.g., Campbell and Poser 2008). This lecture provides a new comprehensive approach to genealogical language classification in Africa according to Güldemann (2018b) that is based on unitary criteria oriented toward the standards of the general discipline. According to such criteria, the publicly available evidence is only sufficient for accepting two large language families, Niger-Congo and Afroasiatic, both in a narrower sense. Greenberg’s two other supergroups, Khoisan and Nilo-Saharan, should for the time being be broken down into a number of smaller units. According to this approach, Africa is far more diverse than commonly assumed in hosting 40 to 45 linguistic lineages.

Lecture 2: « The macro-areal profile of Afrabia »

In addition to his first comprehensive genealogical classification of African languages, Greenberg (1959, 1983) is also the first author to deal with a fuller areal survey of the continent. This work was followed by Heine’s (1975, 1976) continent-wide survey of word-order patterns. This lecture provides an updated survey of macro-areal feature aggregations in Africa based on similar research resumed since the late 1990s by Güldemann (e.g., 1998, 2005, 2008, 2010) and Clements and Rialland (e.g., 2008). A wider areal-linguistc approach to Africa, which should include the Arabian Peninsula, must not only recognize contact-induced zones of convergence but also large areas formed by linguistic spreads as well as areas characterized by more stable linguistic diversity. The macro-areal profile emerging from this perspective will be discussed, including potential geographical correlates.

Lecture 3: « Language contact as an alternative to assumed genealogical relationships »

There are various cases of African languages displaying considerable linguistic isoglosses that for a long time have been assumed but not proven to be explained by genealogical relationships. A possible way out of this longstanding problem is a more dedicated search for possible contact relations across major group boundaries. This lecture focusses on the results of language contact research that may provide an alternative explanation for linguistic similarities among presumably unrelated languages. Several such cases are discussed starting out from the case of the Kalahari Basin hypothesis (cf. Güldemann and Fehn 2017) that replaces Greenberg’s equivocal Khoisan hypothesis.

Lecture 4: « Language families in space and time »

It is well known that the modern profile of genealogical language groups is shaped by both family-internal dynamics and external factors relating to their geographical setting and the associated contact with unrelated languages. At the same time, it is not yet common practice to model the history of language families in a holistic way by taking both internal and external factors systematically into account. This lecture discusses several linguistic lineages in Africa that are argued to be better assessed historically as soon as their diverse macro-areal alliances are considered in order to trace their historical trajectories and structural diversification through space and time.


Campbell, Lyle and William J. Poser. 2008. Language classification: history and method. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Clements, Nick and Annie Rialland. 2008. Africa as a phonological area. In Heine and Nurse (eds.), 36-87

Greenberg, Joseph H. 1959. Africa as a linguistic area. In William R. Bascom and Melville J. Herskovitz (eds.), Continuity and change in African cultures. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 15-27.

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

Greenberg, Joseph H. 1983. Some areal characteristics of African languages. In Dihoff, Ivan R. (ed.), Current approaches to African linguistics 1. Publications in African Languages and Linguistics 1. Dordrecht/ Cinnaminson: Foris, 3-22.

Güldemann, Tom. 1998. The Kalahari Basin as an object of areal typology – a first approach. In Schladt, Mathias (ed.), Language, identity, and conceptualization among the Khoisan. Quellen zur Khoisan-Forschung 15. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe, 137-169.

Güldemann, Tom. 2005. Complex predicates based on generic auxiliaries as an areal feature in Northeast Africa. In Voeltz, F. K. Erhard (ed.), Studies in African linguistic typology. Typological Studies in Language 64. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 131-154.

Güldemann, Tom. 2008. The Macro-Sudan belt: towards identifying a linguistic area in northern sub-Saharan Africa. In Heine and Nurse (eds.), 151-185.

Güldemann, Tom. 2010. Sprachraum and geography: linguistic macro-areas in Africa. In Lameli, Alfred, Roland Kehrein and Stefan Rabanus (eds.), Language and space: an international handbook of linguistic variation, volume 2: language mapping. Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 30,2. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 561-585, Maps 2901-2914.

Güldemann, Tom. 2018a. Areal linguistics beyond contact, and linguistic areas of Afrabia. In Güldemann (ed.), 448-545.

Güldemann, Tom. 2018b. Historical linguistics and genealogical language classification in Africa. In Güldemann (ed.), 58-444.

Güldemann, Tom (ed.). 2018. The languages and linguistics of Africa. The World of Linguistics 11. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Güldemann, Tom and Anne-Maria Fehn. 2017. The Kalahari Basin area as a “Sprachbund” before the Bantu expansion. In Hickey, Raymond (ed.), The Cambridge handbook of areal linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 500-526.

Heine, Bernd. 1975. Language typology and convergence areas in Africa. Linguistics 144: 27-47.

Heine, Bernd. 1976. A typology of African languages based on the order of meaningful elements. Kölner Beiträge zur Afrikanistik 4. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer.

Heine, Bernd and Derek Nurse (eds.). 2008. A linguistic geography of Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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