Abstract and Keywords
The Bantu family is the largest African language family in terms of geographic and demographic spread: the 450–500 Bantu languages are spoken in 27 countries, by about 240 million speakers. The close linguistic relation between Bantu languages has been recognized since the nineteenth century and was the focus of the earliest comparative linguistic studies in Africa, leading to the establishment of a reconstructed proto-language. Following the work of Bleek, Meinhof, and Guthrie, contemporary work on the internal classification of Bantu languages employs computational and phylogenetic methods, insights from comparative work on smaller subgroups, as well as models of language contact. A particular concern of comparative Bantu has for a long time been the relation between classification and social history, and hypotheses about the spread of Bantu languages across central, eastern, and southern Africa have had considerable influence on models of African history.
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