African Languages c. 1000


Map Code: Ax01263

As befits the starting point for human evolution, the African continent has incredible linguistic diversity. The aboriginal languages of much of Africa were probably similar to the Khoisan linguistic group, now almost entirely confined to the Bushmen and Hottentots in southwestern Africa. A thousand years ago, two great waves of colonization, and attendant linguistic dissemination, were reaching their apex: the Islamic conquest of the north of the continent, and the Bantu expansion south from the equatorial regions. The Nilo-Saharan language, including Dinka and Maasai, was sandwiched between. Under the caliphates, Arabic became the lingua franca north of the tropics; related trade languages such as Hausa and Somali were widely spoken further south. The more gradual Bantu colonization, accompanying the spread of agriculture, produced a patchwork of sub-languages. Political impetus for Bantu linguistic dissemination would be consequential to the development of empires, either commercial (Swahili, along the Eastern seaboard) or military (Shona and Zulu).

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