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The Nubian Language

Nubian language is the common feature that characterizes Nubian of today and it is the centre of their identity. Ethnologically this spoken language is divided into two main groups. Both language group bear a lot of lexical similarities and a good number of people of Dongola and Kunuz understand the Fadidja-Mahas which is the tongue of the majority of Nubians.

The Spoken Nubian:
Nubian language is the common feature that characterizes Nubian of today and it is the centre of their identity. Ethnologically this spoken language is divided into two main groups:

FIADIDJA-MAHAS:
Sudan is the country of this language group, although slightly more than 50% of Nubian in Egypt is Fadidja. In Sudan it is the main spoken language group among the majority of Nubian south of Dongola and up to the borders with Egypt. While in Egypt it is spoken by all Nubian to the Kunuz areas in the north. Fadidja and Mahas are two variants of this group, but there is only a slight difference in accent between them.

KENUZI-DONGOLA:
This is talked by people of Dongola of Sudan and Kunuz of Egypt Both language groups bear a lot of lexical similarities and a good number of people of Dongola and Kunuz understand the Fadidja-Mahas, which is the tongue of the majority of Nubians.

The Written Nubian:
While old Nubia had had systems for archiving and documentation prior to the Christian Nubia era, most if not all of the ancient texts date back to this era. The context of these manuscripts are of Christian Nature and the most known of all is the 'MS or The Old Nubian Miracle of Saint Menas' from Qasr Ibrim and Serra East. This manuscript is one of the basic texts of Old Nubian literature.

The MS was purchased by the British Museum in 1908. According to Dr. Budge's description it measures about 15.5 by 110 cm and consists of 8 leaves of parchment in three quires, and is bound in covers of brown leather (Griffith). The scientific study of the Old Nubian language started very late, in 1913 by Griffith' monumental edition of all available Nubian text then. This was followed by several studies of other scholars.

During the Christian Nubian era the Old Nubian alphabets had resemblance to Old Greek and Coptic alphabets. Both Coptic (31 or 32 letters) and Old Nubian (26) had more letters than old Greek (24), either to add special letters with no equivalent in old Greek (the Old Coptic) or to represent special sounds (the Old Nubian).

As for today no standard method of writing Old Nubian has been adopted. However recently some scholars are active on establishing such a standard like Prof. Browne and Dr. M. M. Khalil. Recently the Nubian Archaeologist Dr. M. M. Khalil has drafted a textbook on how to write old Nubian. His study is based on an assumption that since Old Nubian relies mainly on produced tones (intonation or chanting) then a Nubian who talks and masters the language is more qualified and capable to establish a standard method of writing.

The structure and formation of the Old Nubian language is characterized by its reliance on produced tones that is known as intonation or chanting. In this respect the general structure of this language is not a group of words linked by a common syntax to form a sentence. The speaker tackles this formation by putting parts together integrally with intonation and Chanting. This takes place without interruption to conform to grammar thus most parts of a sentence are composed by adding a suffix or prefix to the word stem.

The Coptic language and its Greek alphabet:
The Coptic Language is the name used to refer to the last stage of the written Nubian language. Coptic should more correctly be used to refer to the script rather than the language itself. Even though this script was introduced as far back as the 2nd century BC. It is usually applied to the writing of the Nubian language from the first century AD.

The Nubian Coptic alphabet:
The Coptic alphabet is used for the Coptic language of Nubia. This was the religious language used by Nubian Christians, and Egyptian as well. It is derived from Greek and Nubian writing.



Introduction for the "New Nubian Alphabet"

The people of Meroe had their own language, called Meroitic. It is one of only a few known ancient languages that have not yet been deciphered. Archaeologists believe that the Meroitic people first began writing their language between 300 and 200 BCE.

The earliest dated inscriptions belong to the reign of the ruling queen Shanakdakheto (about 177-155 BCE), but archaeologists also think people were speaking the language at least as far back as 750 BCE and possibly many centuries before that.

Archaeologists of language ("philologists" or "epigraphists") have been able to decipher many ancient languages and writing systems. The most famous examples of ancient languages that have been decoded in modern times are ancient Egyptian (with its hieroglyphic script), ancient Sumerian, Babylonian, and Hittite (with their cuneiform scripts), and, most recently, ancient Mayan (with its hieroglyphic script).

Language researchers can decipher ancient languages and writing systems using several means. First, they may need to find and learn a language that is the modern descendant of the ancient language. This gives them clues to the structure of the ancient language and the meanings of some of its words, even though the passage of centuries may have changed the language very much. Second, they may also need to find inscriptions in the unknown language that have a translation in a known language.

The most famous example of such an object is the "Rosetta Stone" from Egypt, which was inscribed with the same text translated in ancient Egyptian as well as in ancient Greek. The ancient Greek text, which could be translated, helped to translate the Egyptian text, which still could not be read when the stone was discovered.

In 1907, a British archaeologist, Francis L. Griffiths, compared ancient Egyptian writing and ancient Meroitic writing and discovered that many Meroitic letters, both hieroglyphic and cursive, were derived from ancient Egyptian. He used this technique to figure out the sounds of each of the Meroitic letters, but he was able to understand the meanings of only a few of the words spelled out by these letters. To this day, no one has been able to decipher this ancient language. Meroitic will remain a mystery to us until we find an African language similar enough to Meroitic to help us to understand its vocabulary or until we find an ancient object or document with the same passage written in both Meroitic and a language that we can understand.

We may not know how to understand Meroitic, but we know how it sounds. Because we know the sounds, we can read the names of kings and queens whose names were written in their tombs. We can also write English words phonetically using Meroitic letters. This application (avilable in the net: wwwdignubia.com) will allow you to see your name written phonetically in Meroitic hieroglyphs or Meroitic cursive script. You will notice that the letters in the Meroitic version of a word fill in from right to left. This is because the Meroitic people wrote from right to left, just as the ancient Egyptians did and just as the modern Arabs still do.



New Nubian Alphabet based on an Old Nubian (Merotic) Alphabet.
Creation of new Truetype and handwriting font for the Nubian language

In this project I do my bit in the broader project of cultural rescue, I work with the indigenous language of Nubia, creating a new letter based on inscription dated about (750 BC). After the collapse of this civilization the language survived only orally and are now in the process of defining writing systems based on old Greek, Latin or Arabic alphabet. This artificial appropriation, or imposition, of such structurally different language creates visual and typographic problems, ease of reading and writing.

The Nubian Language is the common feature among all Nubian. Nubian of today talks the language but don't write it. Several scholars have conducted researches and studies on the Old Nubian. Except for one single Nubian-speaking Scholar (the Late Dr. Mukhtar M.Khalil of the Dept. of Archaeology- Cairo University) all others are non-Nubian and their researches and studies are based mainly on findings. Dr. Khalil believed that talking the language itself makes a lot of difference in verification of the Old Nubian Language and scripts. In his book "The Nubian Language - Writing in Nubian Script.?" (by Nubian Publishing House-faye - Dr. Shallabi and others -Sudan) there are answers to many frequently asked questions on this Old Nubian language. The script or characters he used are almost similar to those verified by other acknowledged scholars like Griffith and Browne. The Old Nubian Miracle of Saint Menas Manuscript (British Museum) is considered as the most significant finding in this respect. There is a set of TrueType Nubian Fonts for Microsoft Windows used by almost all scholars nowadays, which I am referring to. The first manual on writing in Old Nubian based on the late Dr. Mukhtar's set of Characters has been published by The Nubian Studies and Documentation Center-NSDC- Dec. 1997.

Historically: The inhabitants of the emporium of Meroe (on the ground of Ethiopia) were the first people to use a letteral script. The signs for this script they took from the Egyptians - the Hieroglyphics (they did not use all the many hundreds of Hieroglyphics, but selected just 23 of them). They used two different scripts: Hieroglyphics and Demotic (compare it with our printed and written scripts!!!)


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100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan Weinschenk

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