South Arabian, Semitic’s centerpiece

When I first wrote about South Arabian on here, I thought it would be more like a footnote on this blog.

Not because I don’t care about the branch, on the contrary it holds equal weight in my heart when compared to Ethiopian Semitic. It’s because well, before actually reading deeply about Semitic I didn’t even know it existed. This was back in 2014, and I had no idea where this ever enigmatic branch of Semitic would take me in my studies. I devote so much time to Ethiopian Semitic and general Semitic phonology, but until maybe a month ago I hadn’t thought that I’d ever come up with an idea like a Semitic back-migration into the Horn of Africa that well, didn’t produce Ethiopian Semitic. On the contrary, the early Semitic languages that would become Ethiopian Semitic were the ones that would birth the rest of the branch, including South Arabian.

While emailing another blogger who kindly and so excellently had made the map of my proposal that will be featured later in this post, I had realized that in order to make sense of Semitic I needed to take a turn for a less “orthodox” interpretation of language divergence: only one branch of Semitic can really be said to have descended directly from “Proto-Semitic”. I’ve never really had to think too hard about this possibility but it’s seem to have had become well, unavoidable. Just how I, and well, Blench (1999), don’t see the entirety of Afroasiatic entirely descending directly from the “Proto-Afroasiatic” language itself. There’s not much discussion of this topic in the first place but opposing views to Blench’s such as Dimmendaal (2016) provide good discussion on scenarios like the possibility that one branch of Afroasiatic had birthed another (i.e. Cushitic birthed Chadic). But I’m not writing this post to talk about why Dimmendaal’s conclusion is confined to a box due to it’s typological approach and lack of consideration for non-linguistic evidence supporting Blench’s conclusions*.

I have my reasons for saying what I’m saying about Semitic. The proposed reconstruction is idealistic, out-dated, and unsubstantiated by the more diverse branches of Semitic (i.e. Ethiopian Semitic & South Arabian). It also reflects to some degree, well, old racist assumptions that the Semitic languages and cultures of the Horn of Africa are the byproducts of some unsubstantiated transmission of a “superior” culture into Africa that caused the blossom and foundation of “civilization“. But of course, I’ve  complained and ranted about this a lot. You get it, I get it, I’m sure half my family gets it; I don’t believe we know enough about Semitic to be going into a classroom and being like “this hypothesis is factual“.

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My proposal mapped out, thanks to EmeKur.

For a while on here, my ideas have gradually grown and progressed and sometimes I even had “breakthroughs” while writing posts and have gone back and edited the posts at least 30 times after publishing (the best example) but nonetheless it must be apparent that this post is nothing new on here. In reality, I’m mostly writing this to show the first map of my ideas ever made; even if not by my own means.

I must say, the map is excellent. Cushitic looks perfect, Omotic is absolutely beautiful and even without the inclusion of the smaller, lesser known independent families of the westernmost Horn of Africa (Koman, Nara, Kunama, Gumuz, etc.) the map is absolutely excellent and I cannot thank EmeKur enough for putting my ideas into a realistic and easy to understand visual format. Just, thank you so much.

*sidenote: my dismissal of Dimmendaal (2016) is partially due to the fact that Dimmendal has a history of saying one thing, and then another, based on typological observation as opposed to correlations found through multi-disciplinary approaches such as Blench (1999). It must also be noted that the editor of the volume in which Dimmendaal (2016) is Voigt, a linguist who relies on typology to the point of ignoring supporting evidence for classifications such as Omotic as a coherent family or branch of Afroasiatic. A number of other reasons such as well, historical analysis, also provide reasonable doubt in regards to Dimmendaal (2016) but this is a topic for a future post.
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