Even if they are shared between two geographically close-by branches of the phylum, it can be argued that they’re simply shared vocabulary inherited from “Proto-Indo-European” as opposed to being loaned from one into the other. Good examples of such a thing can be found in words such as ‘doors‘ in geographically close yet distantly related Indo-European languages such as Tocharian B “twere” and Sanskrit “dvāraḥ“. Yet, when one thinks of lexical items shared between two geographically close branches of Afroasiatic it seems to be commonly assumed that they’re contact induced, as opposed to being inherited forms from “Proto-Afroasiatic“.
Before I start this post, I am going to make this clear: I’m not claiming that Semitic and Cushitic are necessarily closely related within Afroasiatic. There’s not much reason to claim such a thing, unless you take into account that I place fairly close time frames and geographical points of emergence for “Proto-Cushitic” and “Proto-Semitic“. What I am claiming though, is that because of the closeness of Ethiopian Semitic with “Proto-Semitic” means that there is more retention of lexical items from “Proto-Afroasiatic” in this branch of Semitic than there is in others. As can be demonstrated, Ge’ez has various examples of such developments:
- “hair” – Ge. */t͡ʃ’agʷr/ ~ Heb. /ʃeʕar/ ~ Som. /ɖagur/ ~ Bil. /ʃagar/
- “taste, drink” – Ge. */t’ɨʕma/ ~ Ar. /tˤaʕima/ ~ Or. /ɗam/ ~ Som. /ɖam/
- “trickle” – Ge. */nɐt’ɐbɐ/ ~ Heb. /naːtˤap/ ~ Sah. /t’obb/ ~ Gaw. /ɗib-/
To those who may be a bit confused by the above examples, the order is going Ethiopian Semitic > Central Semitic > Lowland East Cushitic and the last example being either Lowland East, Central, or Transversal Cushitic. A good source on lexical items considered to be loans from Central Cushitic into Ethiopian Semitic would be Fallon (2015), although it is notable to mention he notes that many of the supposed loans into Ethiopian Semitic can be argued in reverse as loans from Ethiopian Semitic into Central Cushitic; yet nonetheless it’s a great place to start my point on the possibility that these words are merely shared ancestral vocabulary as opposed to loans from one branch into the other.
As I’ve discussed on here too many times, there’s very little chance of any extensive, early contact between the Central Cushitic and Ethiopian Semitic languages prior to the beginning of the last millennium. The likelihood of let’s say, Somali, having had inherited the term “taste” from any Semitic language including Arabic is very low at that. So, that leaves us with the question of how. How could two branches of Afroasiatic share a common lexical item? How is such a thing possible? Well, it’s not illogical; it just seems to be an overlooked possibility. Such things are not entirely excluded, and as much as I dislike Wolf Leslau’s quest to find Cushitic elements in the Ethiopian Semitic languages not even he ignores this.
This can cause a bit of confusion. To some degree, both my idea for Semitic originating in the Horn of Africa and indeed the lexical correspondences between Semitic and Cushitic being at a higher rate in the most “archaic” branch of Semitic could argue for a closer relationship between the two, but that somewhat ignores the morphological similarities shared between Semitic, Egyptian, and Berber. This can be linked to some degree to the “centum-satem” isogloss so well known in Indo-European linguistic circles. The Tocharian languages are like Semitic in this case, being the odd member out in their respective geographic locations. Tocharian is the “centum” island in a “Satem” sea, just as Semitic is a nonconcatenative island in a concatenative sea. It’s not impossible that Egyptian and Berber share a larger degree of closeness, and Semitic may simply have an independent innovation similar to the other two; but I cannot say with certainty what the case is.
There’s also the case of the age of Afroasiatic, which may lead to some doubt regarding whether or not such lexical items between two branches that are not closely related. Afroasiatic is, at the least, an “old” phylum i.e it’s a lot older than Indo-European and it’s hard to judge just how old this phylum actually is. But, if there is still some lexical items that fall in the same semantic range and can still be recognized in the Dene-Yeniseian phylum, as demonstrated from the works of the linguist Edward Vajda:
- “foot” – Ket /təˀs/ ~ Navajo /tsé/
- “old” – Ket /sīn/ ~ Navajo /sání/
Based on the Swadesh list found available on Wikipedia, it seems that despite a time depth of at least 15,000~13,000 kya according to Vajda himself there is at least still some similarity of lexical items still remaining in the same semantic range. So at least to me, a person very pleased with and impressed by the finding of Dene-Yeniseian, this somewhat eases any doubt on any long range sharing of lexical items between two distant branches of Afroasiatic from the same respective geographical region. In reality, the only issues I have at this current moment with things such as lexical items shared between Semitic and Cushitic are entirely revolved around the idea of closeness between the two, and how one would measure such an occurrence especially if you go by the fairly common split of Afroasiatic into Northern (Semitic, Egyptian, Berber) and Southern (Cushitic, Omotic, Chadic, Ongota?) groupings.
It’s hard to put into perspective being there’s just that much that isn’t known (or is overlooked) about Afroasiatic as a whole, but nonetheless the stability of items such as taste, hair, etc. is not in it’s entire something surprising. In regards to lexical items, Semitic itself is fairly conservative in regards to these items, as is Cushitic. Part of the issue as well is that these lexical items are only looked for when anyone is trying to make a claim to a reconstruction for “Proto-Afroasiatic“, as opposed to creating a corpus of lexical items retained through out Afroasiatic as a whole from the proto-language.
This will have to need a follow up post, but I just felt the need to write this post because it hit me in the moment. To think I was originally planning to write this post on Ge’ez loanwords in Xamt’anga.