Language contact between migrating Bantu speakers and resident Khoisan speakers in southern Africa

October 2018 to September 2021
Bantu speakers
language contact
Research fields
Languages and Literatures

Bantu languages are Africa’s largest language family, found in virtually all areas of Africa below the equator. In southern Africa, however, small groups remain that speak languages of a very different family, the so-called “click” languages, which are referred to as Khoisan languages. These are spoken by southern Africa’s first populations, who came into contact with speakers of Bantu languages when they arrived in southern Africa some 2,000 years ago. This contact with speakers of radically different languages caused the languages of the migrating Bantu speakers to change, by adopting words, sounds, and grammatical patterns from Khoisan languages. As it is well known that the kind of language change that takes place in contact situations is determined by its social circumstances, we can study the social settings of past contact situations by looking at the linguistic traces that are preserved in the languages of today. These results from linguistics can becombined with insights from research in molecular anthropology, which studies population histories by looking at DNA of modern individuals. These have already shown that historically, men of Bantu ancestry married women with a Khoisan background, but that the integration of Khoisan men into Bantu societies was much more rare. This project will add insights from the field of linguistics to these findings, in order to understand how migrating Bantu speakers and resident Khoisan speakers interacted in southern Africa.