Archaeology, Language, and the African Past

Article excerpt

Blench, Roger. Archaeology, Language, and the African Past. (African Archaeology Series, vol. 10. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press. 2006. Pp. xxv, 361. ISBN 0-7591-0446-2. Paperback. $44.95.

This book comprehensively surveys the history of African language families, integrating linguistics, archaeology, genetics and history. The three parts of the book cover methodology, language phyla, and evidence from the history of economic subsistence. The chapter "Developing general models" [3-31] emphasizes the value of an interdisciplinary approach, and reviews the disciplines of African archaeology, historical linguistics, genetics, and ethnography. "Contested methodologies" [33-87] focuses on disputes over the scientific validity of methods in historical linguistics, problems with focusing on written languages, and introduces glottochronology, lexicostatistics, historical reconstruction, methods of language classification, and the impact of language contact and shift for historical research.

Chapters on language phyla follow. "Nilo-Saharan" [95-108] presents Nilo-Saharan, its internal grouping, previous research on reconstruction, the age of the phylum, how it expanded, and the problem that many major subgroups tend to be single languages. "Niger-Congo" [109-139] discusses the history of classification in this phylum, which includes more languages than any other in the world. Blench proposes a new classification of Niger-Congo which is not as strongly guided by the principle of branch-reduction as is traditionally the case; a model of Niger-Congo expansion from West Africa 7,000 years ago is proposed. …