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29. Qafar (East Cushitic)


Subject Theoretical Linguistics » Morphology

Place Africa » Eastern Africa

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631226949.2001.00032.x


The language described in this chapter is spoken by at least three million people who call themselves ‘Qafar’, though earlier European writers and travellers usually referred to them as ‘Dankali’ or ‘Danakil’. The Qafar inhabit that vast tract of land which stretches from the Red Sea coast south and west as far as the scarplands of the Ethiopian plateau, an area generally referred to as the ‘Danakil Depression’. With the exception of narrow belts of luxuriant jungle along the banks of rivers, such as the Awash and the Mille, which descend into the Depression, the country is largely desert; though even quite short spells of rain can resurrect grass and other seasonal plant life. Although Qafar living in large coastal towns such as Djibouti and Assab and those on the Red Sea coast who live by fishing have clearly abandoned pastoralism as a way of life, the majority of Qafar remain pastoralists, and this is strongly reflected in the lexicon of their language. The Qafar language belongs to the Northern Lowland (Saho-Qafar) division of East Cushitic, a sub-family of Cushitic whose two best-known members are Somali and Oromo. At a remoter level of genetic affinity, Cushitic is classified, along with Semitic, Omotic, Berber, Chadic and Egyptian, as a family of the Afro-Asiatic phylum. Although generally not so well known as Somali or Oromo, Qafar has not escaped the attention of linguists, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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