The Nilo-Saharan languages are African languages spoken mainly in the upper parts of the Chari and Nile rivers (hence the term "Nilo-"), including historic Nubia, north of where the two tributaries of Nile meet. The languages extend through 17 nations in the northern half of Africa: from Mali in the west; to Benin, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the south; and Sudan to Tanzania in the east (excluding the Horn of Africa).
The largest part of its major subfamilies are found in the modern nation of Sudan, through which the Nile River flows in all its incarnations: the White and Blue Nile, which join to form the main Nile at Khartoum. As seen in the hyphenated name (compare map at right), Nilo-Saharan is primarily a family of the African interior, including the greater Nile basin and its tributaries as well as the central Sahara desert.
Joseph Greenberg named the group and argued it was genetic in his 1963 book The Languages of Africa and earlier papers. It includes languages not included in the Niger-Congo family Greenberg introduced in the same work or in the Afroasiatic or Khoisan families.
Roughly 11 million people spoke Nilo-Saharan languages as of 1987, according to Merritt Ruhlen's estimate.
A characteristic feature of the family is a tripartite singulative–collective–plurative number system, which is found in every branch but Gumuz. Internally, Nilo-Saharan is quite diverse.
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