Research Focus Area
Evolution of Human Languages
Reconstruction of Proto-Afroasiatic
Alexander Militarev, Russian State University for the Humanities
The Reconstruction of Proto-Afroasiatic Project aims at a step-by-step reconstruction of subgroup, group and branch
proto-languages within the Afroasiatic (Afrasian, Semito-Hamitic) macrofamily, with a special focus on the insufficiently
studied Chadic, Cushitic and Omotic languages. Militarev and Stolbova are particularly interested in constructing
a genealogical classification of Afroasiatic that is mainly based on lexicostatistics / glottochronology
(the latter following Sergei Starostin's improved version of the method) and in properly defining its limits, which,
in the case of Cushitic and especially Omotic, have not yet been fully determined to general satisfaction (for instance,
in the controversial case of Ongota, our data support its Omotic rather than Nilo-Saharan origins; there is also
increasing, although not yet decisive, evidence for the Afroasiatic origin of Kuliak languages).
Originally developed from a much smaller and "rawer" auxiliary database for the Hamito-Semitic Etymological Dictionary
by Vladimir Orel and O. Stolbova, the present Proto-Afroasiatic (PA) etymological database relies on, and is
linked to, a set of 16 subbases for lower taxa. Among its 3,700 PA entries, there are both reliable lexemes, well
represented in two or more Afroasiatic branches, and merely tentative parallels that require further confirmation
or else are liable to elimination. The same is true of all the subbases, even those that are the most elaborate
from the etymological point of view: Semitic (3,300 entries) and Egyptian (1,600 entries).
As for Omotic, Cushitic and Chadic subbases, their lexicostatistical versions are larger and better developed than
the etymological versions; some of the former are already linked to the PA database).
The work is performed by Olga Stolbova, who is responsible for the by far most difficult Chadic materials
covering data from a few hundred languages (three Chadic subbases, comprising in sum over 5,000 entries) and
Alexander Militarev, responsible for the rest of Afroasiatic. The choice of cognates between branches and the
shape of Proto-Afroasiatic reconstructions are the result of their discussions and eventual consensus (not that
it is always easy to reach one!).
Olga Stolbova, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences