Meroitic funerary stele of Waleye, son or daughter of Kadeye, from Saï, North Sudan, now at the Sudan National Museum
The Meroitic language (/mɛroʊˈɪtɪk/) was spoken in Meroë and the Sudan during the Meroitic period (attested from 300 BCE) and went extinct about 400 CE. It was written in two forms of the Meroitic alphabet: Meroitic Cursive, which was written with a stylus and was used for general record-keeping; and Meroitic Hieroglyphic, which was carved in stone or used for royal or religious documents. It is poorly understood owing to the scarcity of bilingual texts.
The classification of Meroitic is uncertain due to the scarcity of data and difficulty in interpreting it. Since the alphabet was deciphered in 1909, it has been proposed that Meroitic is related to Nubian and similar languages of the Nilo-Saharan phylum. Claude Rilly (French: [ʁiji]) is the most recent proponent of the Nilo-Saharan idea: he proposes that it is Eastern Sudanic, the Nilo-Saharan family that includes Nubian (Rilly 2004, 2007, 2012). Rowan (2006, 2011), on the other hand, notes that the Meroitic sound inventory and phonotactics (the only aspects of the language which are secure) are similar to those of the Afroasiatic languages, and dissimilar from Nilo-Saharan languages. For example, very rarely does one find the sequence CVC, where the consonants (C) are both labials or both velars. This is similar to consonant restrictions found throughout the Afro-Asiatic language family, suggesting that Meroitic might have been an Afroasiatic language like Egyptian. The issue is unresolved and most classifications list Meroitic either as questionably Nilo-Saharan or as unclassified (as Joseph Greenberg did).
^"What seems clear is that there is no simple linguistic solution waiting in the wings....Greenberg, writing in 1955, was pessimistic about Meroitic: 'the language does not appear to be related to any existing language of Africa.'" Andrew Robinson. 2002. Lost Languages (McGraw-Hill). Page 154.
Bender, Marvin Lionel, The Meroitic problem, In Bender, M. L. (Ed), Peoples and cultures of the Ethio-Sudan borderlands, East Lansing : African Studies Center, Michigan State University., pp. 5–32., 1981
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