Meroitic (Review article)
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Meroitic is attested by written records found in the Nile valley of northern Sudan and dating from the 3rd century B.C. through the 5th century A.D. They are inscribed in a particular script, either hieroglyphic or more often cursive, which has been deciphered, although our understanding of the language is very limited. Basing himself on about fifty words, the meaning of which is relatively well established, on a few morphological features and phonetic correspondences, Claude Rilly proposes to regard Meroitic as a North-Eastern Sudanic tongue of the Nilo-Saharan language family and to classify it in the same group as Nubian (Sudan), Nara (Eritrea), Taman (Chad), and Nyima (Sudan). The examination of the fifty words in question shows instead that most of them seem to belong to the Afro-Asiatic vocabulary, in particular Semitic, with some Egyptian loanwords and lexical Cushitic analogies. The limited lexical material at our disposal and the extremely poor knowledge of the verbal system prevent us from a more precise classification of Meroitic in the Afro-Asiatic phylum. In fact, the only system of classification of languages is the genealogical one, founded on the genetic and historical connection between languages as determined by phonological and morpho-syntactic correspondences, with confirmation, wherever possible, from history, archaeology, and kindred sciences.
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