Afrika und Übersee was established in 1910 by Carl Meinhof under the name Zeitschrift für Kolonialsprachen (Vol. 1–9). As a result of geopolitical changes, the journal was renamed twice: in 1919 to Zeitschrift für Eingeborenen-Sprachen (Vol. 10–35) and in 1951 to Afrika und Übersee: Sprachen und Kulturen (Vol. 36–92). From Volume 93 onwards, Afrika und Übersee bears the subtitle Trilingual Journal of African Languages and Cultures / Revue trilingue des langues et cultures africaines / Dreisprachige Zeitschrift für afrikanische Sprachen und Kulturen to reflect the language policy of the journal.

Carl Meinhof held the first professorship for African languages, which at the time was still located at the Seminar für Kolonialsprachen. Meinhof’s call for an academically-sound study of African languages was also decisive for the orientation of the journal. In the foreword to the first issue he wrote: "...first and foremost, [linguistics] is a discipline that is concerned with promoting itself". However, the journal had an interdisciplinary focus from the outset. Whereas in the founding times, the interdisciplinarity was based on the institutional framework, today it is rather the conviction that one cannot analyse language without considering the cultural and historical context. The close connection between languages and cultures is reflected in the journal’s current articles.

Statement on the past and present of Afrika und Übersee

The editors of Afrika und Übersee acknowledge the past of the journal which is tellingly reflected in the sequence of its former names. Afrika und Übersee was established during colonial times in 1910 as Zeitschrift für Kolonialsprachen (vol. 1–9) and continued as Zeitschrift für Eingeborenen-Sprachen (vol. 10–35), i.e. in times when Germany, and Hamburg in particular, participated in the exploitation of people in the former colonies, several of them on the African continent.

The journal Afrika und Übersee and its editors strongly reject all racist notions and chauvinist ideas that, to varying degrees, formed the underpinnings of the study of African languages during colonial and national-socialist times in the past. In particular, the editors distance themselves from the fatal Hamitic theory that had tremendous influence on the colonial policies in Africa and has caused immense suffering of African people until today.

Afrika und Übersee continues to pursue the scientific goals of its predecessors in terms of furthering the knowledge of African languages and contributing to the understanding of their lexico-grammatical structures as well as their sociocultural and historical contexts.

In its effort to advance and disseminate the knowledge of African languages in all their cultural, social and historical dimensions, Afrika und Übersee publishes online and open access since 2020. The free access to all newly published articles also supports African scholars in participating in the international discourse of African linguistics and thus living a spirit of intercultural cooperation in African linguistics worldwide.

For further reading on the history of African linguistics in Europe, Germany, and Hamburg in particular, please consult:

Kießling, Roland. 2019. Western Europe: African linguistics and the colonial project. In H. Ekkehard Wolff (ed.), A History of African Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 21–45. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108283977.002

Kießling, Roland. 2021 (in print). Ein ganzer Kontinent mit über 1.500 Sprachen. Zu 110 Jahren Afrikanistik in Hamburg. In Nicolaysen, Rainer, Eckart Krause, Gunnar B. Zimmermann (eds.), 100 Jahre Universität Hamburg. Studien zur Hamburger Universitäts- und Wissenschaftsgeschichte in vier Bänden. Band 2. Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag. 431–453.

Meyer-Bahlburg, Hilke & Ekkehard Wolff. 1986. Afrikanische Sprachen in Forschung und Lehre. 75 Jahre Afrikanistik in Hamburg (1909-1984). Berlin & Hamburg: Dietrich Reimer.

Möhle, Heiko (ed.). 2017. Branntwein, Bibeln und Bananen. Der deutsche Kolonialismus in Afrika - eine Spurensuche. Berlin: Assoziation A.