Typology of African Languages

Bernd Heine bernd.heine at UNI-KOELN.DE
Fri Nov 15 09:37:43 UTC 2002

I'd like to ask for your cooperation. It seems that on the basis of the
eleven linguistic properties listed below it is somehow possible to define
African languages as against the rest of the world. A survey of 70 African
languages suggests that any given African language can be expected to have
between five and ten of the properties (Ethiopian Semitic and Cushitic
languages are an exception, having roughly between three and five
properties). My question is: Is this a valid hypothesis? I would be
grateful if you could help to answer this question by filling the
questionnaire below for "your" language(s).

I know that filling questionnaires is not among your favorite activities;
still, since you know "your language()s" it would be a job of less than
five minutes. Thanks!

Bernd Heine
Language (sub-family, family):
Expert's name:

The language has the following properties (e.g., "(1) +, (2) -, (3) + A/B",

(1) Labiovelar stops
(2) Implosive stops
(3) Lexical (A) and/or grammatical tones (B)
(4) Vowel harmony based on an advanced tongue root position (ATR)
(5) Verbal derivational suffixes (passive, middle, causative, benefactive,
(6) Nominal modifiers follow the noun
(7) Semantic polysemy 'drink (A)/pull (B), smoke'
(8) Semantic polysemy 'hear (A)/see (B), understand'
(9) Semantic polysemy 'animal, meat'
(10) Comparative construction of inequality based on a schema of the type
'X is big exceeds/(sur)passes Y'
(11) Noun 'child' used productively to express diminutive meaning

Bernd Heine
Institut für Afrikanistik
Universität zu Köln
50923 Köln, GERMANY
Phone: (0049) 221 470 2708
Fax:   (0049) 221 470 5158

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