Sunday, February 1, 2009

Kharosthi and Meroitic Writing

Some researchers argue that the Meroites did not adopt the writing system of the Kushana/Tokharian people which was Kharosthi. Although this is their opinion a comparison of the Meroitic and Kharosthi symbols make it clear that both writing systems share many cognate signs.

Meroitic Script

Comparison Kharosthi and Meroitic Writing
Kharosthi Script

Any student of Egyptian writing knows that whereas hieratic is based on Egyptian hieroglyphics, demotic has no relationship to Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Let's look at what Antonio Loprieno, says about demotic in his book Ancient Egyptian: A linguistic introduction:
"Demotic (seventh century BCE, to fifth century CE), the language of administration and literature during the Late Period. While grammatically closely akin to Late Egyptian, it differs from it radically in its graphic system" (p.7)."Hieratic (2600BEC to third century CE) represents a direct cursive rendering....Demotic (seventh century BCE to fifth century CE) modifies radically the writing conventions by introducing a shorthand-like simplification of Hieratic signs....It should be noted that the concersion from Demotic into hieroglyphs is a purely artificial exercise of modern scholars and was never practiced in antiquity" (p.18)."Unlike Hieratic, whose sign groups mirror the shape of the original hieroglyphs rather closely, Demotic signs break away from this tradition and adopt a relatively small set and stylied, conventional forms, in which the connection to the hierglyphic counterpart is hardly perceivable and which therefore more likely to be used in purely phonetic function....While the demotic system was neither syllabic nor alphabetical, and precisely because the limited number of shapes it used to represent the language required a high degree of professional training on the part of the Late Period scribes...." (pp.22-23).
These quotes make it clear that if the Meroites could learn to write demotic which was different from hiractic and hieroglyphics, it would not have been hard for them to learn to use Kharosthi to write Kushana/Tokharian.
Let's not forget that Welsby in The Kingdom of Kush, notes that "only four of the letters resemble the equivalent Egyptian demotic signs" (p.193) But as you can see from the above there are more than four demotic signs that match Meroitic, and even more of these signs match Kharosthi.

Meroitic was a lingua franca that allowed the diverse people of the Meroitic Empire to communicate in a common language. I have never argued that the Kushites abandoned their native language or that Meroitic was spoken anywhere except in the Meroitic Sudan.
I have argued, and supported with evidence the fact that the Kushites. never wrote their inscriptions in a Kushite language. They used lingua francas to unite the diverse speakers in the Napatan and Meroitic civilizations first Egyptian and later Meroitic.
This is supported by the abundance of Kushite documents written in Egyptian before the introduction of Meroitic.As I point out in post below, the Napatans and Meroites wrote their inscriptions in Egyptian until the Egyptians became a sizable minority in the Meroitic Empire.
The Kushites had a tradition of using a non-Kushite language to record their administrative and political religious activities due to the numerous and diverse subjects from different tribes they ruled. Since the Meroitic and Napatan documents were written in Egyptian there is no lexical evidence of the languages spoken by the Kushites and other groups in the inscriptions left by these people.

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