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To: "NUAFRICA: Program of African Studies Mailing List" <nuafrica@listserv.acns.nwu.edu>
Subject: Origins of Africa

Origins of "Africa"

A dialog from the nuafrica list
January 1996

Message-Id: <199601191456.JAA21022@piranha.acns.nwu.edu>
Date: Fri, 19 Jan 96 09:55 EST
From: "Pier M. Larson" <PML9@PSUVM.PSU.EDU>

There seems to be substantial agreement among the references I consulted that the geonym Africa derives from the ethnonym of ancestors to today's Berbers. Some sources claim that ethnonym was Afer (sg.) and Afri (pl.) while others give the names Afrigii and Afridi, supposedly derived from the Arabic "afira" = "to be dusty" (afar = dust). The Afri or Afridi supposedly inhabited the region to the south of Carthage. When Romans added Carthage to their empire, the ethnonym was transformed into a geonym to name the entire province, Ifriquia. From thence, the Latin term Africanus eventually enters English as African.

Fine. But virtually every one of the reference works ends with the Roman province of Ifriquia and the statement that the name "gradually spread southwards." Has any work been done regarding the generalization of Africa from the north to the rest of the continent? The whole topic is rather fascinating.

Thinking here: the Arabic derivation from "sand" must be bogus? especially if it is claimed to have existed by the Roman invasion of 2nd century BC.

Pier M. Larson
Penn State University, USA

Message-Id: <960119.101742.EST.DSCHOENB@UGA.CC.UGA.EDU>
Date: Fri, 19 Jan 96 10:13:56 EST
From: david lee schoenbrun <DSCHOENB@uga.cc.uga.edu>


Arabic and Berber both belong to the Afrasian language family and it would not surprise me to learn that they attest cognate forms for such a common meaning. Check C. Ehret Proto Afrasian (U of California Press, 1995). The matter of loan spread, it seems to me, must follow the matter of learning when and under what social conditions the semantic field was reanalysed to include the referent with wider reach than the ethnonym. No doubt the two pro- cesses went hand in hand--but in whose mouths were the double meanings spoken and in whose ears were both meanings to be heard? Would love to know. Best,


Message-Id: <199601192205.RAA25409@piranha.acns.nwu.edu>
Date: Fri, 19 Jan 96 17:04 EST
From: "Stephen Belcher" <SPB3@PSUVM.PSU.EDU>

On the question of Africa, I perceive some confusion. The Roman name for the province remains Africa, as in the famous quote 'Ex Africa semper quid novi.' Ifriquia is a transliteration of the Arabic term for the region, adopted fairly naturally as the Moslems conquered North Africa from the Byzantine/Roman empire, and extended as awareness of the size of the continent grew. The term remains in usage as long as Latin remains the language of scholarship in Europe.

That explains why Africa is used by outsiders to designate the continent. It's worth recalling that there were a number of other names in usage to distinguish the different parts: bilad es-Sudan in Arabic, Guinea etc., in Spanish/Portuguese. And it doesn't look at sub-Saharan African usage of terminology, which is a different question altogether.

Message-Id: <199601211827.NAA02495@mail2.sas.upenn.edu>
Date: Sun, 21 Jan 1996 13:27:53 -0500 (EST)
From: dbamos@sas.upenn.edu (Dan Ben-Amos)


You can include also the biblical country of Ofir as a possible early designation of Africa. King Solomon sent his fleet there, and in some interpretations their destiny was countires along the shores of East Africa. The syllable /a/ (interchangeable with /o/ in this case) and the consonants /f/ and /r/ are in the name. The text preceeds the documents to which you refer.

Dan Ben-Amos

Message-Id: <199601212038.OAA14629@kimbark.uchicago.edu>
Date: Sun, 21 Jan 1996 14:38:58 -0600 (CST)
From: David Graeber <gr2a@midway.uchicago.edu>

On the subject of the Roman province of Africa: isn't there a very similar story behind the word Asia? Both terms originally referred to that very small part of the continent that happened to be closest to the Romans (or in the case of Asia maybe Greeks.) I seem to remember that "Asia" was originally the name of what was sometimes called the Troad, the area immediately surrounding Troy, which was the first part of Anatolia one got to after crossing the Hellespont from Europe. In Hittite documents the area was already being referred to as Assuwa. Later the term Asia was revived by the Roman empire, which maybe (my memory gets hazy here) named that district Asia, though the term quickly spread until all of Anatolia was being referred to as "Asia Minor", with all the rest up to India and China presumably being the Major part.