Family of about 250 languages spoken in North Africa, parts of sub-Saharan African, and the Middle East. It includes such languages as Arabic, Hebrew, Amharic, and Hausa. The total number of speakers is estimated to be more than 250 million. The major branches of Afro-Asiatic are Semitic, Berber, Egyptian, Cushitic, Omotic, and Chadic. Berber languages are spoken by perhaps 15 million people in enclaves scattered across North Africa from Morocco to northwestern Egypt and in parts of the western Sahara. Cushitic consists of some 30 languages spoken by more than 30 million people in northeastern Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya, and a few areas of northeastern Tanzania. Omotic, formerly classified as part of Cushitic, is a cluster of perhaps more than 30 languages spoken by 2–3 million people, most of whom live near the Omo River in southwestern Ethiopia. Chadic comprises about 140 languages (most of which are poorly known to linguists), spoken in northern Nigeria, southern Niger, southern Chad, and northern Cameroon; except for Hausa, it is likely that no individual Chadic language has more than half a million speakers.
Learn more about Afro-Asiatic languages with a free trial on Britannica.com.