This is intended to be a collection of papers the origin of which is the
set of lectures given by selected scholars from different Universities of
Europe at Charles University in Prague in 1997-1998 on present-day problems
of language classification and description, with particular attention to
Africa. In these lectures, particular attention is paid to languages,
language families/or branches and areas the status of which still remains
to some extent open to discussion, despite years of more or less
concentrated and concerted efforts. Most such lectures were subject to
further discussions in the Czech Grant Agency Research Team 403-96- 0787
and the Groupement de Recherche Européen No 1172 du Centre National de la
Recherche Scientifique, Paris, and then re-written and extended for the
purpose of this volume.
It is in this context that several lectures of the above-mentioned set are
devoted to problematic languages, language branches, families and areas of
Africa south of the Sahara. This is, in fact, a region where even today,
more than two hundred years after the publication of S.W.Koelle's
Polyglotta Africana and more than thirty-five years after the publication
of J.H. Greenberg's Languages of Africa, open options in language
classification and description remain almost as frequent as cases of the
firmly and reliably established ones. That is why only such attempts at
language classification (be they traditionally oriented or be their
orientation an attempt at some sort of a new methodological and theoretical
platform) were accepted for publication within this volume, which were
based on genuine experience in describing the languages concerned. In this
respect, new methodological and theoretical concepts originating from
recent experience with field work in Africa are also supposed to be of
crucial importance. Hence it follows that synthetic approaches to
comparative studies and/or areal classification of such "problematic"
language families/branches or areas as Chadic, Khoisan, Mande, Saharan etc.
were accepted, as well as cases of such "problematic" language and dialect
clusters as Fula, Hausa or Songhay. In this respect, the volume may perhaps
serve some of the aims of a future team work oriented to present a sort of
Introduction to African linguistics, its pretentions being restricted,
obviously, to certain language groups and areas of Africa for the research
of which the respective authors feel competent.
While disputable cases and options concerning classification of language
families and areas of Africa south of the Sahara were in the focus of most
contributions in this volume, there was another, much broader pretention
behind the efforts to compile it. Tending to stress either the genetic
comparison of languages or their areal contrastive confrontantion, many
linguists are well aware of the fact that while both approaches serve
different purpose using different methods (which are not to be mixed
together), there is a profound link between particular methods and areas.
Or better, one could say there are links between the
historico-sociolinguistic types of language communities in question and
methods chosen to analyse them.
For the complete abstract, please see:
2nd printing 2007.