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Meroitic Writing

  • Author(s): Rilly, Claude
  • et al.
Abstract

Meroitic, the primary language of ancient Sudan, remained unwritten for at least two millennia. There were only rare transcriptions of proper names in Egyptian texts. With the rise of the 25th “Kushite” Dynasty, Egyptian script and language became the official means of written communication in Kush. A local form of Demotic was probably used in addition to the hieroglyphs, although archaeological evidence thereof is lacking. This local Demotic was very likely the ancestor of the Meroitic cursive script, which appeared in the third century BCE. A century later, a second script, called “hieroglyphic,” was created in order to replace Egyptian in monumental inscriptions. The signs were selected from the Egyptian hieroglyphs, but this new script was merely the prestigious counterpart of the Meroitic cursive characters, with a one-to-one correspondence between signs. The Meroitic writing system is an alphasyllabary. It includes 16 basic signs for syllables, with a default vowel /a/and three vocalic modifiers used to write syllables with /e/, /ə/, /i/, and /u/. Four additional signs are used for the frequent syllables ne, se, te, and to. A word-divider made of two or three dots is inserted between the different groups of sentences. The Meroitic script disappeared in the fifth century CE, but three signs were integrated in the Old Nubian alphabet, which remained in use until the Islamic Period.

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