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the language of the inscriptions of the kingdom of Meroe on the middle Nile (southern part of present-day Egypt and northern Sudan) from the second half of the first millennium B.C. to the first to fourth centuries A.D.
The inscriptions were written in two variant scripts of the Meroitic alphabet, which was derived from Egyptian writing. The alphabet was deciphered by the English scholar F. Griffith in the early 20th century, but the language is still not fully understood. Judging from the script, Meroitic had few vowels (four) and a relatively simple system of consonants. Grammatical suffixes (indicating case, plurality, and a definite article) and, according to some scholars, prefixes, have been discovered. The meanings of several dozen words have been established. Analysis of these words and the grammatical affixes leads to the rejection of the hypothesis of the German scholars C. Meinhof and E. Zyhlarz concerning the Hamito-Semitic affinity of Meroitic. Some Meroitic words (“man,” “water,” “star”) and certain grammatical morphemes show a resemblance to the Nubian language and other Nilo-Saharan languages, which has prompted the American linguists B. Trigger and J. Greenberg to suggest that Meroitic is related to the Nilo-Saharan languages. This hypothesis, however, remains unproved.
REFERENCESGriffith, F. L. Karanòg: The Meroitic Inscriptions ofShablul and Karanog. Philadelphia, 1911.
Zyhlarz, E. “Das meroitische Sprachproblem.”; Anthropos, 1930, vol. 25.
Hintze, F. “Die sprachliche Stellung des Meroitischen.” Afrikanische Studien, 1955, no. 26.
Vycichl, W. “The Present State of the Meroitic Studies.” Kush, 1958, vol. 6.
Trigger, B. G. “Meroitic and Eastern Sudanic: A Linguistic Relationship?” Kush, 1964, vol. 12.
A. B. DOLGOPOL’SKII