Afroasiatic languages have over 495 million native speakers, the fourth largest number of any language family (after Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan and Niger–Congo). The phylum has six branches: Berber, Chadic, Cushitic, Egyptian, Omotic and Semitic.
By far the most widely spoken Afroasiatic language is Arabic. A language within the Semitic branch, it includes Modern Standard Arabic as well as spoken colloquial varieties. Arabic has around 290 million native speakers, who are concentrated primarily in West Asia, North Africa and the Horn of Africa.
Other widely spoken Afroasiatic languages include:
In addition to languages spoken today, Afroasiatic includes several important ancient languages, such as Ancient Egyptian, Akkadian, Biblical Hebrew and Old Aramaic. It is debated when and where the original homeland of the Afroasiatic family existed. Proposed locations include North Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Eastern Sahara and the Levant.
During the early 1800s, linguists grouped the Berber, Cushitic and Egyptian languages within a "Hamitic" phylum, in acknowledgement of these languages' genetic relation with each other and with those in the Semitic phylum. The terms "Hamitic" and "Semitic" were etymologically derived from the Book of Genesis, which describes various Biblical tribes descended from Ham and Shem, two sons of Noah. By the 1860s, the main constituent elements within the broader Afroasiatic family had been worked out.