Abstract and Keywords
How does one write African history without documents? Comparative and historical linguistics is a good place to begin. First, one classifies related languages and reconstructs the sequence and locations of their divergences. Then, one describes the patterns of interaction between them and between languages not sharing a common ancestor by tracking transfers of language material between them. Lastly, one reconstructs lexical forms and their semantic histories, building up bundles of words that constitute semantic fields. Ideally, this work unfolds in collaboration with paleoecologists, archaeologists, and historical anthropologists before working with anthropological geneticists. Together, such teams can sort out issues of chronology and semantic vagueness which bedevil historical linguistics in much of Africa south of the Sahara.
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