‘Khoisan’ linguistic classification today

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Proposed by Greenberg (1950, 1963) as a language family, the currently available evidence indicates that ‘Khoisan’ in a linguistic sense can be viewed, at best, as a negative entity. It comprises a diverse range of languages in southern and eastern Africa which share the typological feature of phonemic clicks, yet cannot all be related genealogically to each other or any established lineage. This makes them different from other languages with a similar areal and typological profile which belong to the Bantu (Niger-Congo) and Cushitic (Afro-Asiatic) language families. This chapter attempts to give the state of the art about the inventory of Khoisan languages and the different types of linguistic classifications applied to them, namely within typological, areal, and historical-comparative linguistics. In addition, this introduction serves to provide a general background for the other contributions to this volume. Since these all address outstanding issues of genealogical and areal relations between Khoisan languages and peoples of southern Africa in particular, they are also embedded by the introduction within the complex problem of evaluating the population history of the Kalahari Basin before the Bantu expansion from a linguistic, anthropological, and genetic perspective.


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