Sunday, March 2, 2008

Revisiting exchanges with Clyde Winters on the Meroitic script Pt. 2

Continued from Part 1 of this topic, here: Revisiting exchanges with Clyde Winters on the Meroitic script

Clyde is convinced that Meroitic must belong to the Niger-Congo superphylum, as put forth in his own words below:

I would classify Meroitic as Niger-Congo langauge.

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) 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'
  • 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 above.

Mr. Winters' talks of some observed similarities between Meroitic and other African languages, which should not be unreasonable given the common origins of these languages, and close proximity of its speakers at some point or the other. Aside from C.A. Diop, other researchers have also noted similarities between Meroitic and other African languages; for instance, Kirsty Rowan was convinced of its closer relationship with the Afrasan superphylum, largely due to what she observed as a pattern of consonant co-occurrence restrictions, when other researchers, as exemplified in Mr. Rilly, were convinced of its closer relationship with Nilo-Saharan. Some of these links made are more tenuous than others; as an example, when Mr. Winters says:

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. may be of interest to note that when Rilly examined a basic vocabulary term like woman, the correspondances he noted down between Meroitic and Northern branch of Eastern Sudanic phylum seem to be relatively stronger than what Mr. Winters is describing above. In looking at the table below, courtesy of Mr. Rilly, one sees this:

kdi [kadi]or[Kandi] "woman"
*kari or *kandi "woman"
kede "sister"
*kari "female"
ke r "woman"

The issue of suffix and preffix pronouns, along with plural affixes, is a common phenomenon in many African language and African language-derived superphylums, perhaps going back to the point of shared origins between them. However, the most interesting thing to note about Mr. Winters' position above about the closer relationship between Meroitic and the Niger-Congo superphylum, is the idea that it was made possible largely due to decipherment of the Meroitic script using the Tocharian language and/or writing system...


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. Clyde Winters 

The question that then jumps at anyone in the slightest know about Meroitic and Tocharian writing systems, is this:  

How can you use Tocharian to decipher Meroitic when the question of what cognate terms are shared between Meroitic and Tocharian hasn't been addressed, and when they use completely different scripts, developed at completely different timeframes, with the Meroitic script apparently being much older?  

With that question having gone unanswered by Mr. Winters as far as my recollection takes me, while on the subject of similarities between Meroitic and other African languages, there is no harm in noting that the apparent influences between Ancient Egyptian and Meroitic weren't lost him, notwithstanding his overlooking and downplaying of Demotic and Hieratic script influences in Meroitic script vis-a-vis the supposed relationship between Kharosthi and Meroitic [proposed by none other than Mr. Winters himself]:  


Whereas Rilly is working from conjecture, my decipherment allows me to accurately and effectively compare Meroitic and Egyptian terms. Below is a discussion of the Meroitic and Egyptian relationship. 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 . 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' .... 

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.  

Naturally, the present author's response to this was:  

Not news. Nobody questions the relationship between Demotic and Meroitic scripts, which is the argument I've always put forth in our exchanges. Apparently, Demotic script was a basis for developing Meroitic script, which did take its own character notwithstanding. You acknowledge this link and yet, talk of this questionable origin from the much younger Tocharian script.    

Mr. Winters proceeds with this:  

There was no evidence that Meroitic was related to any African languages until my decipherment as outlined above. — Clyde Winters  

A disingenuous claim considering the point made above about other researchers having made links between Meroitic—including Mr. Winters own reference to Diop's viewpoint—and other African languages. Note: The so-called "decipherment as outlined above" was the discredited Kushana origins of Meroitic hypothesis, aspects of which will be revisited in posts to come.  

The comparative method was used to find the cognate language of Meroitic. Using this method Meroitic scholars have compared the "known" Meroitic terms to vernacular African languages to establish morphological cognition between Meroitic and an African language. Up to now these linguistic comparisons failed to reveal the cognate language of Meroitic — Clyde Winters  

That is actually false, as Rilly's demonstration was to show congnate lexicon relationship between Meroitic and sub-branches of the Nilo-Saharan superphylum, especially the Northern branch of the Eastern Sudanic subphylum. Now of course, Winters' approach to addressing Rilly's linguistic demonstrations, is to simply disregard it without actually engaging the specific points at hand, which is what the above citation really underlies.  

Rilly recently claimed that Meroitic is related to Nubian , eventhough Griffith and Haycock failed to read Meroitic using Nubian. — Clyde Winters  

Partially true, in that that previous attempts to classify Meroitic into the Nilo-Saharan superphylum had failed, using Nubian, but Rilly provided a good example of what caused such failures:  

1)impossible to prove a genetic relation between given languages if only a few basic words are available, as was the case **until recently**. 2) Moreover, in the list of the allegedly translated Meroitic words, some were actually wrong.

...and he goes onto give a specific example, by referring to Bruce Triggers' attempt to determine the relationship between Meroitic and the Nilo-Saharan superphylum, using Nubian:  

Moreover, in the list of the allegedly translated Meroitic words, some were actually wrong. In 1964, Bruce Trigger tried to prove that Meroitic was a Nilo-Saharan - and more specifically an Eastern Sudanic - language. He used a list of Meroitic words compared with Nubian and Nara, a language from Eritrea. But the list was still very scanty, and half the words he used, taken from Zyhlarz's articles, were erroneously translated - or simply did not exist at all. Although he was right in his conclusion, he was wrong in the way he reached them. — Claude Rilly 

Clyde Winter then rationalizes that:  

Rilly's hypothesis is that Meroitic can be read by reconstructing the proto-language of the Sudani language. — Clyde Winters  

Another glaringly false statement, as Rilly's objective was to show family association of Meroitic, NOT reading Meroitic by using the so-called proto-language of "Sudani language". Rilly figured that:

In spite of the scanty available data, the result is obvious : Meroitic is more than probably a member of the North Eastern Sudanic family.   

However, proto-NE Sudanic, proto-Nubian, proto-Taman, or any given language, can be reconstructed by cognate and phonetic correspondences across languages determined to be related and part of a 'monophyletic unit' via comparative analysis.  

Rilly claims that Meroitic is Nilo-Saharan. He claims that this is supported by comparing the Proto-Nilo-Saharan to Meroitic, because the people living in Kush today are remnants of the Meroites. — Clyde Winters  

False. He proclaimed Meriotic's family relationship with the Nilo-Saharan phylum, after having compared Meroitic with contemporary Nilo-Saharan dialects of the NE Sudanic family. Moreover, Rilly did also analyze Meroitic with other language families outside of Nilo-Saharan, and found no strong correspondence, further rendering Mr. Winters' rationale invalid.  

We can disconfirm this theory because it is not supported by the historical and linguistic evidence we have concerning the linguistic and political history of Kush. — Clyde Winters  

Simple: One can't disconfirm something that he/she hasn't gotten right. In Clyde's case, none of the charges he attributes to Mr. Rilly, as just demonstrated, has managed to stick, because quite simply, he hasn't gotten any of Mr. Rilly's premises right. He is simply busy setting up strawman points and knocking them down, rather than confront the actual points Rilly makes in his paper.  

Rilly claims that Meroitic is Nilo-Saharan. He claims that this is supported by comparing the Proto-Nilo-Saharan to Meroitic, because the people living in Kush today are remnants of the Meroites. — Clyde Winters   

In what appears to be a broken-record style of argument, Mr. Winters now turns to a similar claim as the one made above two citations ago, but this time substituting "proto-Nilo-Saharan" with "proto-Sudani language". Fact is, for anyone who simply has read Mr. Rilly's piece, that Mr. Rilly makes no such deduction; rather, Meroitic was compared with contemporary actual subphylums of Nilo-Saharan, and was found to be relatively closer to the northern branch of the Eastern Sudanic subphylum of Nilo-Saharan. In fact, Mr. Rilly did not make any mention of proto-Nilo-Saharan in entire his piece. 

Because there are no cognate Meroitic terms and lexical items in the Eastern Sudanic Languages, Rilly has begun to reconstruct Proto-Eastern Sudanic, and attempt to read Meroitic text using his Proto-Eastern Sudanic vocabulary. — Clyde Winters  

The claim about Mr. Rilly using Proto-Eastern Sudanic or any "Proto-Sudani language", as Clyde calls it, to read Meroitic, has already been falsified several posts ago — above. As to the issue of there being "no cognate Meroitic terms and lexical items in the Eastern Sudanic languages", it is a matter of fact that Rilly demonstrated lexical cognition in the tables. One of those tables specifically represents relationship via lexicostatistic analysis, using contemporary Nilo-Saharan languages and available Meroitic lexicons. The comparative analysis revealed that Meroitic was relatively closer to the northern branch of the Eastern Sudanic subphylum than any other Nilo-Saharan subphylum.  

Even if I hadn’t deciphered the Meroitic writing this method would never lead to the decipherment of this or any other language. — Clyde Winters 

When it is obvious that Mr. Winters hasn't even grasped the proclaimed goal of Mr. Rilly, then how can anyone take it for granted that he has understood the body of Rilly's piece, which has correctly been demonstrated time and again nonetheless, that he hasn't?!  

The problem with Rilly’s method, is there is no way he can really establish the IPLs in Eastern Sudanic because we have not textual evidence or lexical items spoken by people who lived in the Sudan in Meroitic times. As a result, the languages spoken by people in this area today may not reflect the linguistic geography of the Sudan in the Meroitic period. — Clyde Winters  

First glaringly ridiculous claim in that statement, is the notion that the "IPLs" (Intermediate Proto-languages) in the Eastern Sudanic branch is not possible, simply because there is no textual evidence or lexical items spoken by "people who lived in Sudan in Meroitic times". One doesn't need such evidence to reconstruct an 'intermediary' proto-language; all one needs as a prerequisite, are a number of related languages of the given subphylum, understand their relationship both lexically and morphologically, and henceforth, reconstruct the proto-terms. 

Secondly, Mr. Rilly apparently has not come across any such problem of reconstructing the proto-language of certain subphylum(s) of the eastern Sudanic branch. Additionally, one need not establish that these languages were specifically spoken in Sudan in the Meroitic times with textual evidence; rather, only that comparative linguistic analysis has shown genetic relationship between Meroitic and these languages, after exhaustive comparative analysis between Meroitic and language phylums from other language superphylums...and Mr. Rilly has made it known that this is in fact what he had done. 

Thirdly, Mr. Winters himself has no evidence that NO single contemporary Eastern Sudanic language spoken in the Nile Valley today existed therein since the Meroitic period, if not longer.  

This is most evident when we look at modern Egypt. Today the dominant language is Arabic, and yet Arabic has no relationship to Egyptian. If we accept Rilly’s method for deciphering Egyptian we would assume that once me reconstructed proto-Semitic , we could read Egyptian—but as you know Egyptian is not a Semitic language. — Clyde Winters 

Mr. Winters proceeds with the above in an attempt to buttress his strawmen arguments, but it still fails to lend them any semblance of legitimacy. As a matter of fact, Arabic is deemed to have some relationship with Egyptian, as both are determined to be part of the northern branch of the Afrasan superphylum, and both are proclaimed to be largely non-tonal in their sound system. That aside though, Arabic isn't indigenous to Egypt, but is derived from a single source, 'Arabic' [albeit infused with some surviving local lexicon] from the Arabian peninsula. The same can't be said of the Nilo-Saharan dialects spread along Sudan to southern Egypt. These are 'indigenous' languages. If Mr. Winters' point is related to the above, which would be that Eastern Sudanic languages may not have existed in Sudanese Nile Valley back in the Meroitic times, then it would still go back to the aforementioned point about having utilized exhaustive comparative analysis, using various language superphylums to determine family association, which was the proclaimed goal of Mr. Rilly. Now of course, when Mr. Winters was asked if he was suggesting that *all* the different dialects of Eastern Sudanic language in the Nile Valley today suddenly replaced *all* the former languages of the region, leaving no trace of the original languages of the region, the question was met with graveyard silence. As invalid as ever before, Mr. Winters' analogy of using proto-Semitic to read Egyptian, on the account that Egyptian is not deemed to be Semitic, has no bearing on Mr. Rilly's premise, because time and again, Mr. Rilly didn't attempt to, nor did he have to read Meroitic by using some proto-Eastern Sudanic subphylum.   

And to recap: 

Rilly did also analyze Meroitic with other language families outside of Nilo-Saharan, and found no strong correspondence, further rendering Mr. Winters' rationale invalid in all counts to the citation above It is at this point, Mr. Winters revisits the idea of the key to unlocking the secret of Meroitic and its language family association by turning to the Kushana and their script:     

This made it necessary to turn to the historical literature concerning the Kushites to form a new hypothesis related to possible sources of the Meroitic language. The historical literature of the Kushites comes from Egyptian and classical sources. It was the Classical authors who noted the influence of the Indians on Meroitic civilization. — Clyde Winters 

The present author has already made the point about Meroitic being more like Demotic script [followed by Hieratic] than Kharosthi, and the fact that Meroitic is dated older than Kharosthi, not to mention the issue of geographical distance. We'll revisit the ideas laid down by Mr. Winters about the notion of the relationship between the Meroitic script and Kharosthi in the next part, the 3rd part, of this subject in my next posting. So watch this space. In the meantime... 

The present author has amply demonstrated that Mr. Winters doesn't seem to have grasped the concepts Rilly is applying and what is being relayed. For instance, he keeps talking of Rilly's supposed reconstruction of proto-Nilo-Sahara, as a means to translate Meroitic, when there is no such thing to be found in the Rilly piece at hand. He keeps talking about Rilly's focus on geography, in that he chooses to focus on groups in Sudan simply because this is where the Meroitic complex used to be situated. Fact is, before even considering Nilo-Saharan, Rilly first sought after possible cognative association between Merotic and the Niger-congo and Afrasan families, only to find out that there was no strong correspondence, just as previous attempts by other researchers had demonstrated. On the other hand, stronger correspondence was observed in the Nilo-Saharan family, particularly the eastern Sudanic family, with the northern branches of this family being yet closer. 

Rilly himself had this to say about the demographic events in the region: 

According to the most recent archaeological work carried out by the University of Geneva, Kerma was founded around 2400 years BC and did not undergo any dramatic ethnic or cultural changes until its final stage. So the origin of Meroitic can now be placed very probably around this date or even a little earlier... 

Nowadays, these languages are scattered from Chad to Eritrea, but in the past, there was a link between their present situations : the Wadi Howar, an ancient river, now dried up, once an important tributary of the Nile. In the fourth millenary BC, all the region around this river was still a green country convenient for cattle-breeding. But around this time, this part of the Sahara became arid. Very probably, the pastoral populations living in the region were progressively obliged to gather together along the banks of the Wadi Howar. There they lived together for centuries and acquired a common language : Proto-North Eastern Sudanic. But in the beginning of third millenary BC, the river itself progressively dried up. So a first population migrated to the Nile, where they founded the Kingdom of Kerma, not far from the confluence of the Wadi Howar and the Nile. The geographical, historical and climatic data offer a common support to this theory. The Taman group went East, towards the springs of the river, to the place where they still live today. Another refugee group, the ancestors of Nubian and Nyima speakers, went South to Kordofan, where they still live today. Later on, in the first centuries AD, Nubian groups invaded the dying Kingdom of Meroe and founded their own kingdoms along the Nile. As for Nara people, I think they first went to the Nile, like the future Meroites, and later went up the Nile and the Atbara toward Eritrea, where they live nowadays.   

Although current work have linked Kerma settlements with earlier settlements in pre-Kerma phases, suggesting settlements stretching further back in time than what's been detailed here, clearly, Rilly notes certain population movements that Clyde accuses him to be ignorant of, and hence, not considering them in his analysis. Mr. Winters is just totally disengaged with the real specifics at hand. __________________________________________________________ 
*Reference material: