Cushitic languages

Cushitic languages
Horn of Africa
Linguistic classification: Afroasiatic
  • Cushitic
? Beja (North)
Agaw (Central)
Sidamic (East Highlands)
? Rift (South)
ISO 639-2 and 639-5: cus

The Cushitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family spoken in the Horn of Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan and Egypt. They are named after the Biblical character Cush, who was identified as an ancestor of the speakers of these specific languages as early as AD 947 (in Masudi's Arabic history Meadows of Gold). The most populous Cushitic language is Oromo with about 35 million speakers, followed by Somali with about 18 million speakers, and Sidamo in Ethiopia with about 2 million speakers. Other languages with more than one million speakers are Hadia (1.6 million), Kambata (1.4 million), and Afar (1.5 million).


There are eight clearly valid groups of languages which are or have been included in the Cushitic family, and there is a wide range of opinions as to how they are interrelated.

The Beja language, or North Cushitic, is sometimes placed outside Cushitic proper, though there is no evidence that the rest of Cushitic forms a valid group.

The positions of the small Dullay languages and Yaaku are uncertain. These have traditionally been assigned to an East Cushitic branch along with Highland (Sidamic) and Lowland East Cushitic. However, Richard Hayward believes East Cushitic may not be a valid node and breaks it into three well-supported families: Highlands, a diverse Lowlands family (with Afar, Somalic, and Oromic branches), and Dullay (he apparently leaves Yaaku unclassified), which he believes should be considered separately when attempting to work out the internal relationships of Cushitic.

Hetzron (1980:70ff) and Ehret (1995) have suggested that the Rift languages (South Cushitic) are a part of Lowland East Cushitic.[citation needed]

Cushitic was traditionally seen as also including the Omotic languages, then called West Cushitic. However, this view has largely been abandoned, primarily due to the work of Harold C. Fleming (1974) and M. Lionel Bender (1975). These scholars consider Omotic to be an independent branch of Afroasiatic. While some scholars including Zaborski (1986) and Lamberti (1991) have kept the issue alive and suggested that Omotic can still be classified as part of Cushitic, Rolf Theil (2006), in keeping with the noted Chadicist Paul Newman, excludes Omotic from Afroasiatic altogether.[1]


  1. ^ Is Omotic Afro-Asiatic? by Rolf Theil
  • Ethnologue entry for Cushitic languages
  • Bender, Marvin Lionel. 1975. Omotic: a new Afroasiatic language family. Southern Illinois University Museum series, number 3.
  • Bender, M. Lionel. 1986. A possible Cushomotic isomorph. Afrikanistische Arbeitspapiere 6:149-155.
  • Fleming, Harold C. 1974. Omotic as an Afroasiatic family. In: Proceedings of the 5th annual conference on African linguistics (ed. by William Leben), p 81-94. African Studies Center & Department of Linguistics, UCLA.
  • Roland Kießling & Maarten Mous. 2003. The Lexical Reconstruction of West-Rift Southern Cushitic. Cushitic Language Studies Volume 21
  • Lamberti, Marcello. 1991. Cushitic and its classification. Anthropos 86(4/6):552-561.
  • Zaborski, Andrzej. 1986. Can Omotic be reclassified as West Cushitic? In Gideon Goldenberg, ed., Ethiopian Studies: Proceedings of the 6th International Conference, pp. 525–530. Rotterdam: Balkema.

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