The Journal of African History

‘Bantu Expansion’ Reconceptualized

New Linguistic Evidence and ‘The Bantu Expansion’

J. Vansinaa1

a1 University of Wisconsin-Madison

New linguistic evidence about the classification of the Bantu languages does not support the current view that these languages spread as the result of a massive migration or ‘expansion’ by its speakers. Rather the present geographic distribution of Bantu languages is the outcome of many complex historical dynamics involving successive dispersals of individual languages over a time span of millennia and involving reversals as well as successes. This is as true for eastern and southern Africa, where a close correlation between the archaeological evidence documenting the diffusion of basic food-related technologies, including metallurgy and the spreading of Bantu languages has become an axiom, as it is elsewhere. The linguistic evidence concerning the dispersal of Bantu languages in these regions of Africa is completely incongruent with the archaeological record. The existing Bantu expansion hypothesis must be totally abandoned. The scrapping of the hypothesis will make room for more realistic and quite different interpretations and research hypotheses. For example, it follows that the local or regional contribution of speakers of other languages, autochthons and others, to the development of later cultures and societies was probably considerably greater than has hitherto been acknowledged and that the continuities in historical dynamics of all sorts between the Bantu-speaking parts of Africa and areas further north and west are greater than has been hitherto realized.