What is the relationship between the Meroitic and Nubian languages? This is an important question because Griffith and other researchers over the years, have claimed that the Nubian languages were not related to Meroitic. They reached this conclusion when they compared the words Griffith claimed were Meroitic words to Nubian vocabulary items. My decipherment of Meroitic indicates that the Nubian and Meroitic languages share a linguistic genetic relationship.
Welsby in The Kingdom of Kush wrote, "Early scholars of the [Meroitic] language hoped that it may have been related to Old Nubian but this has been shown not to be the case, although both are agglutinative, lack gender and the place of inflexions taken by post-positions and suffixes. Whether it was related to the language of the Kerma culture is another unknown, as no inscriptions in Kerman have come to light"(p.190).
Lazlo Torok, in The Kingdom of Kush: Handbook of the Napatan-Meroitic Civilization , wrote "Since so far no bilingual text has been discovered nor any related language found, very little of Meroitic can be understood. Some linguists see a relationship between Berber and Chadic on the one hand and Meroitic, on the other. Others regard it as related to Nubian. On geographical grounds, it has been suggested that Meroitic may be related to the following language groups (in describing order of probability). Eastern Sudanic; Nilo-Saharan; Cushitic/Omotic; Kordofanian. The efforts based on such assumptions produced, however, very few results, if any. While the linguistic classification of Meroitic remains obscure, there is hardly any doubt that it was originally spoken in the northern Butana" (p.50).
As you can see, using Griffith’s alleged Meroitic words, Meroitic has not been found to be related to Nubian, other languages in the Nilo-Saharan family ,or any other language spoken in the Sudan. The Nubian speakers that belonged to the Meroitic Confederation were absorbed into the Confederation.
Although Nubian was not related to the Meroitic words recovered by Griffith, it is related to Meroitic. In this paper I will outline the relationship between Nubian and Meroitic , based on my decipherment of the Meroitic language.
My decipherment of Meroitic has allowed me to publish Meroitic Vocabularies that we can compare to languages spoken in the Sudan and West Africa. Griffith (1911a) has divided the Meroitic writing into two different forms according to the shape of Meroitic signs at various points in history. The two stages of Meroitic writing were called Archaic and late. In deciphering Meroitic inscriptions it is important that you refer to Giffith (1911a) so you can learn how each Meroitic symbol appeared at various stages in the evolution of the Meroitic writing.
During my research I learned that the Dravidian and Nubian languages were related. I thought this was an aberration, because the historical data suggested that the Nubians appeared in the Nile Valley during Roman Times. If the Nubian term for god is Ku, and Nubian is related to Dravidian indicated that the Nubians had to have been in the Nile Valley 5000 years ago, and that these Nubians probably migrated into Eurasia.
The historical evidence finds first mention of the Beja, in Kerma literature 700BC. This is interesting because the earliest literature of the Buddhists mention Beja. This means that the Beja were in Asia thousands of years ago.
The climate in the Southern Sahara and Sahel has been fluctuating. Between 5000-2000 BC, there were expanding Lakes in this region. A dry period developed between 2500-1500 BC. At this time most lakes in the southern Sahara and Sahel were at low levels. During this period the Nubians, Beja and other Nile Valley nomadic tribes migrated into Arabia and thence Eurasia.
The evidence of the Beja and Nubians in Eurasia indicate to me , at least, that the Nubians and Beja were among the Nile Valley people that settled Tihama in Arabia.
It further, suggests, that the Beja and Nubians migrated from Tihama into India and beyond. Although remnants of the Beja and Nubians never migrated out of the Nile Valley, after 1000 BC, as the Indo Aryans began to expand into Eurasia Nubian and Beja speakers proibably began to migrant back into Africa. Because the Horn was highly populated the Beja and Nubians from Eurasia had to invade the Nile Valley that would explain the conflicts between the Beja and Meroites, and Nubians and Meroites. The Nubians and Beja, who did not migrate out of Africa were probably considered to be Kushites, that might explain the word Kushiab, which implies that anyone who was the descendant of the Kushites could be enslaved.
My opinion about the relationship between Old Nubian and Meroitic is under development. It is under development because I believe there was formerly a dichotomy between nomadic and urban Nubians. I believe that shortly before the Romans took control of Egypt nomadic Nubians driven out of Eurasia returned to the Nile Valley and began to fight the Meroites for control of the Meroitic Empire, which would have included Nubian speakers that had not migrated into Eurasia. Since Meroitic was a lingua franca it may include some Nubian terms because of the Nubian-Meroites being members of the Confederation. Anas Elbashir discovery of cognate Colloquial Sudanese Arabic and Meroitic terms suggest that, we may find some cognate Nubian and Meroitic terms in the future.
There appears to have been a dichotomy between nomadic rural and urban Nubian populations. There is a genetic relationship between the Tamil and Nubian languages. This suggest that the Nubian speakers may have migrated into Eurasia and formerly lived among Dravidian speakers.
This is the best explanation to explain why Nubian elements are found in the Meroitic language. The existence of Nubian elements in Meroitic means that Nubian speakers belonged to the Meroitic Empire. The rural Nubians that were in major conflicts with the Meroites, were probably Nubians who had migrated back into the Sudan around the time Romans were advancing into ancient Egypt.
There are some representations of Nubian or Noba prisoners, in Meroitic art that suggest that Nubian speakers were enemies of the Meroites. The Noba are believed to have spoken a Nubian language.
The rural Nubians or Nobatai lived in the area from Aswan to Maharraqa called the Dodekaschoenas which was first under the rule of the Ptolemies and later the Romans. Most researchers believe that by 200 BC most of the region was occupied by Nubians. Ptolemy, noted that in the mid-2nd Century AD that the Nubae lived on the Westside of the Nile, and that they were not subjects of the Kushites. These Nubian speakers, were probably Nubian speakers that were not part of the Merowe Confederation
The Meroitic language was a lingua franca. As a result it includes many words from the languages spoken in the Meroitic Empire.
For a long time we were unable to recover the languages spoken during the Meroitic period because Meroitic was not deciphered. Since my decipherment of Meroitic now we can recover some of the languages spoken by the Meroites.
Brother Anas Elbashir, after comparing Colloquial Sudanese Arabic to words in my Meroitic Word List, has illustrated the continued use of classical Meroitic terms among contemporary Sudanese.
1.1To determine the past of man, scientists use historical and comparative linguistics. Historical linguistics seeks to describe the way languages change or maintain their structure over a period of time. The present state of a language is its synchronic state; whereas the transition from one state to the next is the diachronic state. Comparative linguistics is that branch of linguistics which discloses and studies similarities and difference between related languages.
1.2There are two types of relatedness between languages: genetic and typological. The closeness of languages depends on the number of rules the languages have in common. A genetic relationship means that a group of languages descend from a common ancestor. A typological relationship means that languages have a few common structural features. The closeness of languages depends on the number of rules the languages have in common.
1.3There is an ethnic relationship behind a genetic relationship of languages because a genetic relationship suggests a family relationship. The basic objective of the comparative linguist is to isolate words with common or similar meanings that have systematic consonantal agreement with little regard for the location of the vowels. Consonantal agreement is the regular appearance of consonants at certain locations in words having similar meanings and representing similar speech sounds.
1.4Meroitic and Nubian share a genetic linguistic relationship. These two languages share many kinship terms, nouns and verbs. The Nubian terms are from Dongolawi, Modern Nubian, and Old Nubian.
1.5 In Tables 1 and Tables 1a, we see 34 cognate Meroitic and Nubian terms. Analogy exist between Nubian and Meroitic terms. In relation to Meroitic and Nubian terms 41% show full correspondence and 59% had partial correspondence.
1.6There is Nubian and Meroitic Consonantal Correspondence
tak 'to cover' te 'to put. To lay'
t'a 'to come' tña 'come into being'
tok, tuk 'leave, set in motion tk
tay 'girl' to 'feminine suffix
aba, abo father ab
essi sister šr
samil chief,king sr, sl
ur king wl,wr
toud son mte
wel dog wle
*den,tir to give d
diya 'place' te
diya 'village' to 'to dwell'
da country' t
ker pick up' kd 'to bear'
nukt glory' ñt ‘honor’
unn 'to give birth' tn 'to be born'
uȠur 'to know' aḫ 'to learn
ɛrri, έrr 'new' er 'produce, evoke'
dawi 'road' ato down the road'
ursέ 'root' ro 'foundation'
n'al 'see' ni ' to shine,to illuminate
en 'women' -ñ '3rd per promoun 'her'
Ƞul 'white' in-ne 'radiance'
màša 'sun' mš 'Sun God'
1.7Nubian and Meroitic also share vowel correspondence
1.8In conclusion, the Meroitic Empire was made of diverse African nations speaking a variety of African languages. Some of the speakers of these languages migrated into West Africa, while other Meroites remained in the Nile Valley. This comparison of Meroitic and Nubian illustrates that Nubia was spoken in the Meroitic Empire.
1.9Some linguists would question the ability to compare Meroitic to modern Nubian languages. We can compare these languages due to the linguistic continuity theory .
1.10The rate at which languages change is variable. It appears that linguistic change is culture specific. Consequently, the social organization and political culture of a particular speech community can influence the speed at which languages change.
1.11 Based on the history of language change in Europe most linguists believe that the rate of change for all languages is both rapid and constant (Diagne, 1981,238). The idea that all languages change rapidly is not valid for all the World's languages.
1.12Dr. Clyde Winters, ( 1996), explained that the rate at which languages change is variable. It appears that linguistic change is culture specific. Consequently, the social organization and political culture of a particular speech community can influence the speed at which languages change. Based on the history of language change in Europe most linguists believe that the rate of change for all languages is both rapid and constant (Diagne, 1981, p.238).
1.13The idea that all languages change rapidly is not valid for all the World's languages.The continuity of many African languages may result from the steady state nature of African political systems, and long standing cultural stability since Neolithic times (Diop, 1991 ; Winters 1996).
1.14This cultural stability has affected the speed at which African languages change.The political stability of African political institutions has caused languages to change very slowly in Africa (Winters 1996). Diop (1987, 1991) argue that a sedentary life style may account for the conservative nature of a language.
1.15This leads to the hypothesis that linguistic continuity exist in Africa due to the continuity or stability of African socio-political structures and cultural systems. This relative cultural stability has led African languages to change more slowly then European and Asian languages. Diop (1974) observed that: First the evolution of languages, instead of moving everywhere at the same rate of speed seems linked to other factors; such as , the stability of social organizations or the opposite, social upheavals. Understandably in relatively stable societies man's language has changed less with the passage of time (pp.153-154). In the case of Nubian languages, we know that while some Nubian speakers migrated into Eurasia after 1500 BC, most Nubian speakers probably remained in the Nile Valley.
1.16This comparison of Meroitic and Nubian shows a genetic linguistic relationship exist between these two languages. The linguistic evidence of a relationship between Nubian and Meroitic supports the African linguistic continuity concept.
Diagne,P. (1981). In J. Ki-Zerbo (Ed.), General history of Africa I: Methodology and African prehistory (233-260). London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd.
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The Inscriptions of Tanyidamani, https://www.academia.edu/35372293/Ins_criptions_of_Tanyidamani
Meroitic is related to Niger-Congo Languages, https://bafsudralam.blogspot.com/2017/11/meroitic-relationships-to-african.html
Beja and Meroitic , https://bafsudralam.blogspot.com/2010/04
Anas Elbashir Ahmed Musa , Old Sudanese Language and Meroitic , https://bafsudralam.blogspot.com/2018/02/old-sudanese-language-and-meroitic.html
Clyde Winters (1996) . Linguistic Continuity and African and Dravidian languages ,International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics, 23 (2):34-52.