Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Egyptian, Black African Languages and Meroitic

The Kushites and Egyptians had a close relationship for millennia. As a result the Egyptians had a tremendous influence on the culture of the Kushites, especially in the area of religion[i].

As early as the 12th dynasty the Egyptians controlled Nubia. After 1674 BC, the Kerma rulers regained control of Nubia until the raise of the New Kingdom. Pharaohs of the New Kingdom ruled Egypt for 500 years.

Nubia gained independence after the decline of Egypt in 1085 B.C. During this period the Kushites developed a highly developed civilization at Napata and Meroe (880 B.C.-A. D. 350). Over time the Kushites became strong enough to conqueror Egypt and found the 25th Dynasty.

The long association of Egypt and Nubia suggest that the Egyptians may have influenced more than the culture of the Kushites. In this paper we will review the affinities between the Egyptian and Meroitic languages.

Ll. Griffith during his decipherment of Meroitic (M.) found many Egyptian (E.) terms . These terms were especially used in the political culture area e.g., E. p-sy-n-nsw 'son of king' >M. pesto 'king's foothold/foundation of light' .

Now that we have more evidence about the Meroitic language we can now compare Egyptian and Meroitic to determine if there are any other similarities between these languages. Below are some Meroitic terms that illustrate the influence of Egyptian on Meroitic.

Egyptian Meroitic
m 'do not' ma not, no
nd 'homage' net 'bow in reverence'
r 'to, into' r id.
se 'son' s id.
s y 'satisfaction' se-ne 'to be satisfied'
ss 'writing, scribe' ssor 'scribe'
s w 'to protect' s 'to protect'
di 'give' d id.
t ' thou' t id.
t 'earth' te 'land'
k i 'high' kha 'great'
hc'w 'body' khe 'spirit, body'
rc 'likewise' r 'like'
bi 'good deed' bli 'right, order'
b 'soul' b, be id.
ssmt 'stewart' ssimte id.
p-mr-msc 'general, stategus' pelmos id.
p-sy-n-nsw 'son of the king' pesto
st "Isis' Wos id.
Wsir 'Osiris Sore id.
nfr 'good' na, n
ti 'here' t

Several aspects of Demotic grammar agree with Meroitic structure. This is especially true in relation to the formation of the adjective case and the use of pronouns.

The Meroitic funerary tablets are written in the third or second person. Meroitic words are usually formed by the addition of post-positions or suffixes. The Meroitic pronouns are suffixed to Meroitic words. They include, -te 'you, thou'; -t 'her, he'; ne 'his'; -to 'your'; and the -n and a third person singular suffixes. For example:

-n s/he, it, her, his
i "go", i-n 'he goes'
de 'bequeathal', de-n 'his bequeathal'
qe 'make' , qe-n 'he makes'

In Demotic we see use of suffixial pronouns. For example:
sdm 'hear'
sdmy 'I hear'
sdm .f 'he hear'
sdm hr-f 'he will hear'

In Meroitic the adjective is placed behind the noun. For example,

e 'complete'
ŝ on tene 'The king commence(s) the rebirth'.
ŝ on tene-e 'The king commence(s) the complete rebirth'.

Adjectives in Demotic are also placed behind the noun. For example:
rmt hm ' small man'
ŝy nfr ' good fate'
ssw sbk ' few days'

The -m suffix was used in Meroitic to denote the negative effect. The negative particle -m, is often joined to verbs along with the pronoun. For example:

mi-n 'injure him', mi-m-n 'injure him not'.

In Meroitic tablets the negative suffix rarely appears.

The Egyptian negative particle m, agrees with Meroitic. In Demotic the negative particle mn-, is prefixed, e.g.,

mn lh gm hw 'no fool finds profit'.

In the short review above of Egyptian and Meroitic cognates we can see the obvious influence of Egyptian, especially Demotic on Meroitic. This influence was shown not only in vocabulary but also grammatical features.

This linguistic material discussed above clearly suggest some Egyptian substrata influence on Meroitic. It indicates Egyptian influence on both the structure and vocabulary of Meroitic.

It is very interesting to note that much of the affinity between Meroitic and Egyptian is based on Demotic examples. This may be explained by the fact that Demotic was used by the Kushites during the 25th Dynasty, and forms the foundation for the Meroitic writing.

Meroitic Relationships to African Languages

The great savant Cheikh Anta Diop (1974,1981) was convinced that many West African groups had formerly lived in the Egypto-Nubian region before they migrated to West Africa(Diop,1974). He supported this hypothesis with a discussion of the cognation between the names for gods in Egypt-Nubia and West Africa (Diop,1974), Egypto-Nubian and West African ethnomyns and toponyms common to both regions (Diop,1981)[1] and West African and Egyptian languages.

There are many relationships between Meroitic and other African languages. For example, In Oromo/Galla, the term for queen is 'gifti'; and both 'naaga-ta" in Somali and Wolof 'jigen' mean woman. These terms appear to be related to Kdi > gti/e.

Yet even though we find cognition between some Cushitic and Nubian we can not use these languages to completely decipher Meroitic as proven by many past researchers. The Tocharian language on the otherhand, does allow us to read Meroitic and show its relationship with other African languages.

A comparison of Meroitic to African langauges indicate that Meroitic is closely related to langauges spoken in West Africa. Like Meroitic, the pronoun is often a suffix in other African languages. This suffix of the third person singular is usually n-, in other African languages. For example:

Bambara: no p r i 'his house'
Kpelle: nyin 'his tooth'
Akan: ni dan 'his house'

The Meroitic a- third person singular affix is also found in other African languages. For example:

Swahili: (1) a-ta kwenda 'he's going to go'
(2) a-li-kwenda 'he is here'
Manding: (1) ya zo 'he has come'
(2) ya shirya mana 'he prepared (it) for us'.

The use of -i particle to form nouns in Meroitic correspond to the use of the -it and -ayy suffixes to form nouns in Wolof. The Wolof abstract noun formative suffix is -it, -itt, e.g., dog 'to cut', dogit 'sharpness'.

In Wolof abstract nouns are also formed by the addition of the suffix -ayy, and in Dyolo -ay, e.g.,

baax 'good', baaxaay 'goodness'.

Prefixes are rarely used in Meroitic. The most common prefixes include the prefix of reinforcement -p, the intensive prefix -a and the imperfect prefix -b. The p-, can be either the prefix of reinforcement e.g., ŝ 'patron', p-ŝ 'the patron' ; or the imperfect prefix e.g.,ŝiñ'satisfaction', p-ŝiñ "continuous satisfaction'.

The Meroitic p- affix, means ‘the’. This Meroitic grammatical element corresponds to the Egyptian demonstrative pi 'the'.

In Meroitic, the –o element is used to change a noun into an adjective. The Meroitic –o suffix, agrees with the use affix –u, joined to a vowel, in other African languages to form adjectives. In Swahili, many adjectives are formed by the k- consonant plus the vowel -u : Ku. For example:

(1) imba 'sing' ; zuri 'fine'
Kuimba kuzuri 'Fine singing'
(2) -bivu 'ripe' Kuiva 'to ripen'
(3) -bovu 'rotten' Kuoza 'to rot'.

In Meroitic the plural case was made by the suffix -b, or reduplication. Reduplication was also used as a plural effect in Meroitic, e.g., d'donations',d-d 'considerable donations'.

Reduplication is also used in other African languages to express the idea of abundance and diversity. For example,
Swahili: Chungu kikavunjika vipande vipnade.
"The cooking pot broke into pieces".

The Meroitic use of the -b suffix to make the plural number, corresponds to the use of the -ba- affix in African languages. In the Bantu languages the plural is formed by the ba- affix. In the Manding group of languages we see use of the -ba suffix. In Manding, the -ba affix is joined to nouns to denote the idea of physical or moral greatness. For example:

(1) na-folo 'good, rich'
na-folo-ba 'great fortune'
(2) so-kalo 'piece'
so-kalo-ba 'considerable quarter of a village'.

In the Meroitic inscriptions there is constant mention of the khi 'body, spirit', the kha 'the abstract personality', the kho 'a shinning or translucent spirit soul'; and the Ba 'soul'. In many African languages the term Ba, is used to denote the terms 'soul or to be'. For example:

Egyptian: Ba
Mbachi : Ba
Coptic : Bai
Bambara : Be
Fang : Be.

The kha, existed within and without the human body. It would remain with the body until its flesh decayed, then it would either leave the tomb or hunt it. The Meroitic idea of Kha, as a spirit corresponds to Ka, in many African languages. For example:

Egyptian : Ka
Manding : Ka
Banda : Ka.

The linguistic evidence makes it clear that some of the Meroites may have spoken languages that belonged to the Niger-Congo-Mande family of languages. This is supported by the linguistic evidence of shared grammatical forms and lexical items between Meroitic and Niger-Congo-Mande discussed in this chapter.


[i].J.H. Taylor, Egypt and Nubia, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press,1991 and D. O'Connor, Ancient Nubia, Philadelphia: The University Museum, 1993)

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