Numidian language

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Numidian
Numidjanska stela3.jpg
Numidian inscription
Native toancient Numidia
RegionMainly modern day Algeria and Tunisia
EthnicityNumidians
ExtinctDeveloped into, or replaced with various modern Berber languages in the 3rd-4th century AD
Early form
Dialects
  • East-Numidian †
  • West-Numidian †
  • ? Mauretanian
  • ? Gaetulian
Libyco-Berber (Proto-Tifinagh)
Language codes
ISO 639-3nxm
nxm
Glottolognumi1241

Numidian was a language spoken in ancient Numidia, a territory covering much of northern Africa. Although the script in which it was written, Libyco-Berber (from which Tifinagh descended), has been almost fully deciphered and most characters (apart from a few exceptions restricted to specific areas) have known values, the language has barely been deciphered and only a few words are known. Libyco-Berber inscriptions are attested from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD. The language is scarcely attested and can be confidently identified only as belonging to the Afroasiatic family.

Dialects and relation to other ancient languages[edit]

Dialects and foreign influences[edit]

It is known that there was an ortographical difference between the western and eastern Numidian language. Starting at Kabylia, which was a kind of mixed region, the regions to the east all the way to what is modern day Tunisia used the east-Libyc writing system, while the regions to the west all the way to approximately the Moulouya river spoke the western Numidian dialect, and used the larger and still undecoded west-Libyc writing system.[1] The East-Numidian dialect was much more influenced by the Punic language than the West-Numidian, and West-Numidian is thought to be more ancient than East-Numidian.[2] Numidian was influenced mostly by Punic and then Roman, although Numidian and even some modern Berber vocabulary seem to have been also slightly influenced by the Paleohispanic languages and possibly by other Pre-Indo-European languages.[3][4]

Other ancient Berber or Berber-like languages[edit]

Not much is known about the variations of the old Libyc language(s) as none of them have been fully deciphered, and outside of some east-Numidian steles none of the various Old Libyc writings have been interpreted. It may be possible that the language of the neighbouring Mauri people of modern-day Morocco may have been a dialect of the larger Numidian, although there are little to no sources or researches into the language.[5] If Numidian was a Berber language then it is known that by that stage the breakup of Proto-Berber into various Berber languages was still not fully complete, and thus the ancient Berber languages of the time were very similar to each other, even more so than the modern ones.[6] In circa 500 B.C various nomadic Berber groups penetrated the Sahara from the north, corresponding the area of the later Gaetulians.[7] Although the area where these nomads lived yielded no writing and thus is incomparable to Numidian, it is known that Pliny the Elder described the Saharan Gaetulian language as very similar or the same as the Numidian one, implying that the Gaetulian language may have been a dialect of Numidian.[8]

Not much is known of the Numidian language, and even less of Berber or Proto-Berber languages and dialects at this time, although it is known that for example the language of the native Berbers of Cyrenaica contained many Greek loanwords according to Herodotus.[9] It is also unknown whether the Mauretanian language of the neighbouring Kingdom of Mauretania in what is approximately modern day Morocco formed a part of the Numidian language, or was a separate language from it, as there has been as of yet no major efforts into decoding it, and there are no known sources describing it.[10]

Categorization and reconstruction[edit]

As the Massylii, who spoke the language, were ethnically Berber,[11][12] it is supposed that Numidian was therefore a Berber language.[13] The Berber branch of Afro-Asiatic is sometimes called Libyco-Berber since it is not certain whether Numidian would fall within the modern Berber languages or form a sister branch to them. Some theorize that it constituted a group of its own, as there is no trace of the noun-case system shared by the modern Berber languages.[14] However, Proto-Berber is theorized to have no grammatical case either, which would also imply a later addition of the system. The Lybico-Berber tifinagh and the Phoenician alphabet being abjads without vowels complicates the matter even more.[15]

Work on deciphering the language has not been decisive, although especially recently some tried to reconstruct words by comparing Numidian script to proto and modern Berber languages. Most remaining scripts are funerary, and follow the formula of "X w-Y" (X son of Y). BNS is also an often returning words in this script, which probably meant "tomb of". Many words had an H at the end of them, the function of which is unclear. A few gravestones show a different word between the two personal names, plausibly interpreted as a kinship term based on Berber comparisons: wlt "daughter (of)" (modern Berber wəlt), and, more rarely, mt "mother (of)" (modern Tuareg ma). Similar to the modern berber languages, the ta-...-t circumfix signified feminine version of the word with a silent h added to the end .[16] In the Dougga inscriptions some political positions are mentioned, such as "gld" (lord) which based on this technique, can be translated into the modern berber word "agellid"[17] which originates from the proto-berber word "*a-gəllid". A few verbs have been unambiguously identified in the various inscriptions. Comparison with modern Berber suggests that ṣkn, probably read as "eṣ(ə)k-n based on modern berber comparison which means"built" is to be analysed as ṣk "build" plus -n, marking 3pl subject agreement (-ən).[18][19]

An example of translation using this method can be demonstrated on a part of a Numidian inscription which is read as "Msnsn. gldt. w-gjj."[20] "Msnsn" is the name of king Massinissa while "gldt" is the word for king. Finally, "w-gjj" means "son of Gaia". Thus by attempting to translate the Numidian text through modern and proto-Berber the inscription would read "Massinissa the king, son of Gaia".[21][19]

Numidian also featured and shared most or all of its prepositions "n" (of) and "d" (and) with modern Berber, along with various prefixes, such as "ta...-t", "m-" etc. with modern Berber.[22]

These facts would strongly suggest that Numidian is a now extinct branch of the Berber languages, although this is not completely accepted and some linguists still criticize this theory.[14]

Naming conventions[edit]

Numidian names generally often followed a complicated, but well documented naming convention of Berber antiquity and medieval times. While this wasn't the case, this was especially true for nobles or higher leaders. The way it worked was simple: Verb in the 3rd person + personal pronouns as an affix (direct or indirect) in 3rd person plural form (he/she-X-they/of them).[23]

For example, the actual name of Jughurta most likely sounded as "y-uger-ten" (he who surpasses them), while the name of king Massinissa (MSNSN in Libyco-Berber)[24] was "mas-nsen" (their seignor)

Known words[edit]

Here is a comparison of the few known Numidian words to modern Northern Berber languages and the tuareg Tamashek language. Normalized words with vowels added are written in the brackets. Underlined words are based on etymologic reconstructions from Numidian names.

Numidian Northern Berber languages Tamasheq language English
Political positions and jobs
GLD (a-gəllid) agellid or a-žellid æ-mænókɑl chief or king
TGLT(H) (Ta-gəllit) Tagellidt or Tagellit Timnokalt queen
MNKD(H) (amenkad) amenkad amenkaḍ emperor
MSWH (amsiweɣ?) aserdas əssærdɑ́si Possibly soldier or guard based on linguistic reconstruction
GLDMṢK (a-gellid ameṣka) agellid imeska æ-mænókɑl ælbǽnnɑ Unknown, corresponds with Punic "chief of fifty", may be reconstructed as "chief of the builders/masons"
NBBN (inababen?) imahalen, yixeddamen i-mə̀s-ɡuyyɑ workers
MWSN(H) (amawsan) amussnaw amûssen sage or wise man
GẒB (agẓab) Unknown, possibly "inspector of construction"
MṢṢKW (amṣeṣkaw) amasgad, ameṣkad possibly architect
Verbs
rna or erna ernu, erna, or erni ernu achieve victory, inflict defeat upon someone
ṢK (eṣk) eṣk or bnu kɑ́nn or dæ̀y build
YS (yusa) yusa or as-d ə̀qqæl come or came
Materials
ZLH (uzzal) uzzal tă-zoli iron[3]
Š?RH (a-šɣarh?) a-sɣar e-săɣer wood
Affixes and prepositions
NS (-ennes) -nnes, -is or -es -ənnes its
N (n) n n of (pertaining to something)
D (d) d d and
-ten -ten -san them
-nsen -nsen -nesən their
Kinship terms
W (u- or w-) u- ăw- son of
WLT (wəlt-) wəlt wəlt daughter of
MT (mat?) yimma, yemma ma mother of
Others
SBS (asəbbas) assewas, assegwas or asseggas Awetai, Iwitian Possibly year, although Numidian translation is unsure
ẒK (aẓekka) aẓekka ì-z̩əkw-ɑn tomb
ugər or agər uger or agar ager to surpass
yif or if if or af uf to be superior
MSKR or MSKRH (ameskar or miskiri) Unsure, either cognate to Kabyle and Tuareg word ameskar,[Note 1] or denoting the Misciri tribe

This comparison suggests that Numidian may be closest to the modern Northern Berber languages such as the Zenati languages, Shilha language, and the Kabyle language although the modern northern Berber languages have gone through grammatical changes, and they have also taken loanwords from Arabic, Latin, and French. Kabyle may be the closest to Numidian, but has absorbed loanwords and phrases from the other languages mentioned.[25]

According to many linguists the H at the end of many numidian words were either silent or disappeared by modern times,[26] or that in many cases such as MSWH or MWSNH was possibly used as a replacement for, or possibly was the ancestor of the modern berber ɣ sound.[22]

Thugga inscription[edit]

The Thugga inscription is the longest known Numidian inscription as of yet, and has served with the most clues regarding the language.

Numidian script

ṢKN•TBGG•BNYFŠ•MSNSN•GLDṮ•WGYY•GLDṮ•WZLLSN•ŠFṬ

SBSNDH•GLDṮ•SYSH•GLD•MKWSN

ŠFṬ•GLDṮ•WFŠN•MWSNG•ŠNK•WBNY•WŠNK•DŠFṬ•WM

WTNKW•MṢṢKW•MGN•WYRŠTB•WSDYLN•GẒB•MGN•WŠFṬ•MW

WŠMN•GLDṮ•GLDGMYL•ZMR•WMSNF•WŠMN•GLDMṢK•M

WŠYN•GLDṮ•WMGN•GLDṮ•ṬNYN•ŠYN•WNKKN•WFṬŠ•DR

ŠFṬ•WŠNK•

[26]

Normalization and adding of known or possible vowels

əṣk(ə)-n Tubgag BNYFŠ[?] Masnsen a-gəllidṯ u-Gayya a-gəllidṯ u-Zelalsen šufeṭ

Asəbbas NDH a-gəllidṯ(?) s-yusa a-gəllid Mikiwsan[26]

Translation from Punic

The people of Thugga built this temple for Masinissa the King son of Gaia the King son of Zilalsan the Judge, in the tenth year since Micipsa ruled, in the year of Shufet the King son of Afshan the King, The Centurion: Shanok son of Banay and Shufet son of Magon son of Tanaku. The ms s kwy Magon son of Yirashtan son of Sadyalan, and gzby: Magon son of Shufet the Centurion son of Abdeshmun the King. Erectors of this property: Ashyan son of Ankikan son of Patash and Arash son of Shufet son of Shanok.

Example texts[edit]

These texts are examples of bilingual inscriptions with known meanings, most of which are funerary texts

The first published sketch of the Ateban inscription

Bilingual texts[edit]

Cenotaph inscription[edit]

Punic

[mn]ṣbt š'ṭbn bn ypmṭt bn plw

hbnm š'bnm ʕb'rš bn ʕbdštrt

zmr bn 'ṭbn bn ypmṭt bn plw

mngy bn wrsbn

wb'zrt šl' **t* zzy wṭmn wwrskn

hḥršm šyr msdl bn nnpsn w'nkn b[n] 'šy

hnskm šbrzl špṭ bll wppy bn bby

Punic to English translation

The monument of 'ṭbn son of Ypmṭt son of Plw. 

Builders of the stones: ʕb'rš son of ʕbdštrt;

Zmr son of 'ṭbn son of Ypmṭt son of Plw;

Mngy son of Wrsbn. 

And for its ???, Zzy son of Ṭmn and Wrskn. 

Workers of the wood: Msdl son of Nnpsn and 'nkn son of 'šy.

Casters of the iron: Šfṭ son of Bll and Ppy son of Bby.

Numidian

****N WYFMṬT W*******DRŠ WWDŠTR

*****BN WYFMṬṮ WFLW

MNGY WWRSKN

KSLNS ŻŻY WṬMN WRSKN

NBBN NŠ[Q]RH MSDL WNNFSN NKN WŠY

NB*N NZLH ŠFṬ WBLL FFY WBBY

Normalization and adding of known or possible vowels

Aṭeban w-Yefmaṭat w-Falu****D'rš w-Wadaštar

Zamir w-Aṭeban w-Yefmaṭat w-Falu

Mangy w-Wareskan

KSLNS Żaży w-Ṭaman w-Raskn

inababen n a-šɣarh Masdil w-Nanafsen Naken w-šy

inababen (?) n uzzal Šufeṭ w-Balil Fafy W-Beby[27]

Kef Beni Fredj inscriptions[edit]

Latin

SACTUT•IHIMIR F•VIXIT•ANORVM•LXX H[SE]

Latin to English

Sactut son of Ihimir lived 70 years. [He is buried here.]

Numidian

ZKTT WYMR MTYBLH MSWH MNKDH

Normalization and adding of known or possible vowels

Zaktut w-Iymir MTYBLH amsiweɣ amenkad

Possible Numidian to English translation

Zaktut son of Iyimir MTYLBH soldier of the emperor.[22]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

^ Meaning either "the good one" or the "resting one".

References[edit]

  1. ^ Chaker, S. (2008-01-01). "Libyque : écriture et langue". Encyclopédie berbère (in French) (28–29): 4395–4409. doi:10.4000/encyclopedieberbere.344. ISSN 1015-7344.
  2. ^ Chaker, Salem (2002). "Variétés des usages libyques : variations chronologiques, géographiques et sociales". Antiquités africaines. 38 (1): 267–273. doi:10.3406/antaf.2002.1360.
  3. ^ a b Kossmann, Maarten (2013-07-18). The Arabic Influence on Northern Berber. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-25309-4.
  4. ^ https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/file/index/docid/614290/filename/La_parente_de_la_langue_berbere_et_du_basque.pdf[bare URL PDF]
  5. ^ Rask, Rasmus (2013-04-15). Investigation of the Origin of the Old Norse or Icelandic Language: New edition of the 1993 English translation by Niels Ege. John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN 978-90-272-7198-3.
  6. ^ Blench, Roger. "Reconciling archaeological and linguistic evidence for Berber prehistory". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ Gatto, M. C.; Mattingly, D. J.; Ray, N.; Sterry, M. (2019-02-14). Burials, Migration and Identity in the Ancient Sahara and Beyond. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-108-47408-5.
  8. ^ "Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, BOOK I.1, DEDICATION. 1 Lemaire informs us, in his title-page, that the two first books of the Natural History are edited by M. Alexandre, in his edition". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 2022-05-02.
  9. ^ "Hérodote : livre IV : Melpomène (bilingue)". remacle.org. Retrieved 2022-04-11.
  10. ^ Rask, Rasmus (2013-04-15). Investigation of the Origin of the Old Norse or Icelandic Language: New edition of the 1993 English translation by Niels Ege. John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN 978-90-272-7198-3.
  11. ^ Jamil M. Abun-Nasr (20 August 1987). A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period. Cambridge University Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-1-316-58334-0.
  12. ^ Phillip C. Naylor (7 May 2015). Historical Dictionary of Algeria. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-8108-7919-5.
  13. ^ Steven Roger Fischer (4 April 2004). History of Writing. Reaktion Books. p. 104. ISBN 978-1-86189-588-2.
  14. ^ a b Robert Martin Kerr, 2010
  15. ^ Pereltsvaig, Asya (2020-09-03). Languages of the World. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-108-47932-5.
  16. ^ Nehmé, Laïla; Al-Jallad, Ahmad (2017-11-20). To the Madbar and Back Again: Studies in the languages, archaeology, and cultures of Arabia dedicated to Michael C.A. Macdonald. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-35761-7.
  17. ^ Maddy-Weitzman, Bruce (2011-05-01). The Berber Identity Movement and the Challenge to North African States. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-74505-6.
  18. ^ "Libyco-Berber". mnamon.sns.it. Retrieved 2022-02-12.
  19. ^ a b Daniels, Peter T.; Bright, William (1996). The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507993-7.
  20. ^ Jensen, Hans (1969). Sign, Symbol, and Script: An Account of Man's Efforts to Write. Putnam.
  21. ^ "Libyan' Inscriptions in Numidia and Mauretania". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2022-02-12.
  22. ^ a b c Chaker, Salem (1995). Linguistique berbère: études de syntaxe et de diachronie (in French). Peeters Publishers. ISBN 978-2-87723-152-7.
  23. ^ Camps, G.; Chaker, S. (2004-05-01). "Jugurtha". Encyclopédie berbère (in French) (26): 3975–3979. doi:10.4000/encyclopedieberbere.1377. ISSN 1015-7344.
  24. ^ Jongeling, Karel (1984). Names in Neo-Punic Inscriptions. Rijksuniversiteit te Groningen.
  25. ^ Cust, Robert Needham (2013-10-15). A Sketch of the Modern Languages of Africa: Volume I. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-136-37237-7.
  26. ^ a b c Souag, Lameen (2011). Re-examining Libyco-Berber: how much do we know, and how does it fit into the family's subclassification?. Lameen Souag.
  27. ^ "Libyco-Berber - Examples of writing". mnamon.sns.it. Retrieved 2022-03-14.
  • Aikhenvald & Militarev, 1991. 'Livijsko-guanchskie jazyki', Jazyki Azii i Afriki, vol. 4, pp. 148–266.