What is it about?

With almost 200 languages, the Chadic family is the largest, and possibly most diverse, language family within the Afroasiatic phylum. 66 languages and language varieties from its Central ('Biu-Mandara') branch have most recently been subjected to two book-length research publications (Wolff 2022, forthcoming) on their common phonological history and lexical reconstruction of some 220 widely-spread lexical items. It turns out that the common proto-language of both Central Chadic and Chadic as a whole likely only knew one phonemic vowel */a/ and operated a vocalic domain in which conditioned allophones of */y/ and */w/, plus a likely non-phonemic intrusive vowel schwa, created a phonetic surface-vowel system of four basic vowel qualities, namely a, i, u, and schwa. An almost identical system is found to underly Northern Berber Tashelhiyt that has no parallels in other Berber languages or elsewhere in Afroasiatic. This raises new questions about the history of 'vowel sytems' in modern Afroasiatic languages that could challenge received wisdom in Afroasistic comparative and typological linguistics.

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Why is it important?

Since Chadic languages have hitherto remained widely underresearched in particular regarding their historical phonology and lexical reconstructions, the impact of Chadic comparative and typological linguistics on Afroasiatic linguistics has been minimal. Central Chadic languages appeared to escape the application of the classic comparative method based on regular sound correspondences between pairs of languages, in particular with regard to vowels. The foundations for vowel comparisons within Central Chadic have now been laid. The paper opens a broad inroad into comparative Afroasiatic vowel system typology from a thorough fresh and innovative Central Chadic perspective.

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This page is a summary of: Proto-Chadic reconstruction and Afroasiatic vowel system typology, Brill s Journal of Afroasiatic Languages and Linguistics, June 2022, Brill, DOI: 10.1163/18776930-01401004.
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