With its approximately 2000 languages, Africa is home to some of the world’s greatest linguistic diversity (e.g. Nigeria, where some 500 languages are spoken). Studies of African languages have been crucial in understanding early human history and culture, as well as in the development of linguistic theory.

This course aims to provide an overview of language in Africa, both from a historical perspective and in terms of its use and features today. Emphasis will be placed on Mande and Bantu languages. In addition to a broad introduction to languages across the continent, we will focus on topics such as phonology, morphosyntax, semantics, sociolinguistics (including multilingualism and language contact) and anthropological linguistics (including ritual speech and storytelling).

Grades will be based on a student journal consisting of a mixture of reflections on lecture notes and self-study of a Bantu or a Mande language grammar. More information will be given during the first lecture.

Students should be familiar with the contents of the required readings before the lecture under which they are listed. We also suggest optional, supplementary readings for students interested in investigating a particular topic in more depth.

10.12.2019 at 09:00 - 13.1.2020 at 23:59


Here is the course’s teaching schedule. Check the description for possible other schedules.

Mon 13.1.2020
14:15 - 15:45
Fri 17.1.2020
16:15 - 17:45
Mon 20.1.2020
14:15 - 15:45
Fri 24.1.2020
16:15 - 17:45
Mon 27.1.2020
14:15 - 15:45
Fri 31.1.2020
16:15 - 17:45
Mon 3.2.2020
14:15 - 15:45
Fri 7.2.2020
16:15 - 17:45
Mon 10.2.2020
14:15 - 15:45
Fri 14.2.2020
16:15 - 17:45
Mon 17.2.2020
14:15 - 15:45
Fri 21.2.2020
16:15 - 17:45
Mon 24.2.2020
14:15 - 15:45
Fri 28.2.2020
16:15 - 17:45


This course is an elective course of the study track Studies in Diversity Linguistics (LDA-D3100), and as such belong to the MA programme Linguistic Diversity in the Digital Age.

    It is recommended, but not strictly required, that LDA-D3101 Theory and Method in Language Sciences and LDA-D3102 Diversity and Variation are completed prior to taking this class.

    The courses LDA-D3104 Language history, LDA-D3105 Language contact, LDA-D3106 language typology, LDA-G3101 Language typology, LDA-G3109 Historical linguistics and or LDA-G3110 Language contact complement this course in that they focus on theoretical issues, models and methods in the respective field of study. The area-specific course African linguistics illustrates many of the concept addressed in those courses in the specific context of African languages studies.

    The following competences are acquired while completing this course. Students are able to:

    • List the language phyla, families, primary sub-branches and language isolates on the African continent
    • Explain the main models of African language classification
    • Restate main trends in the research history of African language studies
    • Draft a sociolinguistic outline (what is that?) of a given language area or country in Africa

    Students may take this course at any point during their studies. We strive to offer this course in the format of an actual teaching event at least every other year.

    African linguistics encompasses a number of relevant issues. These range from sociolinguistic and cultural-linguistic features of language in Africa to core linguistic features common in the grammars of African languages. It also addresses historical aspects - how did the current African language diversity come into being?

    Concrete examples of study contents that may be dealt with in relevant courses include the following:

    Factual-conceptual knowledge packages:

    • African language families and main languages
    • Research historical aspects concerning the study of African languages
    • African language dynamics: sociolinguistic profiles of emblematic countries

    Practical skills training

    • Assessment strategies for linguistic similarity among African languages
    • Identification of research-relevant linguistic traits of African languages

    The following literature is recommended and serves as the basis for self-study in case the course is completed by literature exam.

    • Dimmendaal, Gerrit J. 2011. Historical linguistics and the comparative study of African linguistics. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
    • Heine, Bernd & Derek Nurse (eds.) 2000. African languages: An introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Depending on the focus of actual teaching events, teachers can of course choose different or additional material.

    Student activities can include some or all of the following:

    • Reading and discussing of seminal literature
    • Participation in lecture sessions
    • Short written assignments

    Students will demonstrate their acquired competences in different ways, according to how the emphasis placed on procedural skills versus conceptual-factual knowledge in teaching events. The grading scale is typically 0-5.

    There are different options to complete this course.

    1. Take a lecture course of a relevant topic offered by regional specialists in a given language area
    2. Study the recommended literature (Dimmendaal 2011, Heine & Nurse 2000) and enroll for the exam