Languages And Literature Of Ethiopia. The inscriptions on the pyramids in Ethiopia consist in part of hieroglyphs strongly resembling the Egyptian; but the language of the two countries was not the same. The Ethiopians used the hieroglyphs as a sort of sacred character, but without a complete knowledge of their use, and evidently rather as an ornament than as a means of conveying information. There is at least no doubt that at the time of the erection of the oldest pyramids a demotic graphic system was commonly in use among them. The prominent position which this style of writing occupies on the monuments, while the hieroglyphs seem to furnish at best only marginal notes, shows clearly that it must have been the current language of the country. It resembles the Egyptian demotic, but the constant repetition of the same signs leads to the supposition that it had a more limited alphabet, perhaps not exceeding 30 signs. The analogy of the history of the development of the Ethiopic and the Egyptian graphic systems extends still further.
At a later period an Ethiopic-Greek style of writing came into use, which may be compared to the Coptic, and from which it borrowed several letters. (See Egypt, Language and Literature of.) The Ethiopic-Greek is found in the inscriptions of Soba and in many others, especially on the walls of the temple in Wady es-Safra. These and the Ethiopic demotic inscriptions contain undoubtedly the true language of ancient Ethiopia; but its vocabulary and grammar have not yet been determined. - The language now designated as Ethiopic was spoken in the subsequent Abyssinian empire. It was originally one of the many dialects of the Arabic-African branch of the Semitic stem. Tigre, with its capital Axum, was probably the first seat of it, and it spread thence with the formation of the Abyssinian empire over a larger territory, and became the chief language of the country. When the S. W. provinces gained the ascendancy and the seat of government was transferred to them, the Amharic dialect, which was in general use in that region, rose to the rank of a court language. The Ethiopic remained, however, for nearly three centuries more the literary and business language of the empire.
The invasion of the Galla tribes and the subsequent division of the country, as well as the introduction of Mohammedanism, led gradually to its extinction. The Ethiopic church continued to study and use it as a sort of sacred language; but there are probably very few among the priests who are still conversant with it. The Amharic is now the most widely spoken dialect in the regions of ancient Ethiopia. It is used, though with variations, in Shoa and the district between the Tacazze and the Abai. The Tigre has preserved a greater resemblance to the Ethiopic, or the language of the former Abyssinian empire. - The name Ethiopic is derived from the classic appellation of this country, and passed over from the Greeks to the Abyssinians themselves. They called their country Aithiopay, and their language Lesan Aithiopay. But the original native name of the people and their language is Geez, signifying emigration, and in a secondary sense emigrants, or the free. In origin and character the Ethiopic or Geez is a pure Semitic language. It was carried by emigrants from Yemen to Abyssinia, and with the exception of a few names of plants and animals, which it incorporated from the dialects current in the new country, and of a few commercial terms learned from Greek traders, it was kept free from foreign admixture. Its relation to Arabic is attested by the final short vowels in the construction of words, the large number of roots of three and four syllables, the internal formation of the plural, the construction of the subjunctive from the imperfect, and by many other characteristics not found in the North Semitic tongues. In other respects the difference is too great to warrant us in classifying the Ethiopic as a dialect of the Arabic. It is safe to infer that the Ethiopic developed for a time, after its separation from the North Semitic stem, somewhat in the direction of the Arabic, and then returned to the principles of the parent tongue.
For this reason many old Semitic forms lost in Arabic are found again in Ethiopic. This strange mixture of the old and the new leads to the conclusion that the language passed through a history of at least 1,000 years before it attained to the type presented by the texts that have come clown to us. - The Ethiopic system of writing differs in form and character from all known Semitic languages. It resembles the Himya-ritic, and represents with it the southern branch of graphic systems into which the prototype of the Semitic writing was early divided. It was originally written with consonants only, and from right to left; but the Abyssinians learned very early to write in the opposite direction, and to indicate vowel sounds by the addition of rings and strokes. The vowel signs came into use as early as the 5th century of our era; they are superior to the methods of indicating vowels employed by other Semitic tongues. Each of the 26 consonants that compose the Ethiopic alphabet has seven distinct forms. The simple consonant is uttered with the sound of a, and its variants indicate the vowels u (pronounced like oo in boot), i, a (sounded as in father), 6, and e. The last named variant is often equivalent to the simple consonant without vowel sound.
Four consonants, q, kh aspirate, k, and g, received occasionally from the Abyssinians a peculiar pronunciation not indicated by the ordinary forms, introducing the sound of u between these consonants and a, e, and i. These utterances were indicated by five special vowel signs. The later Ethiopic used also the sign of ua with the value of va in connection with other consonants. In the following table of the Abyssinian characters the modifications for vowel sounds are shown in the six extra forms of the letter ha:
The Abyssinians separated words by sentences by paragraphs by or and sometimes also by beginning a new line. They borrowed the signs of numbers from the Greeks, introducing slight variations to assimilate them with their own graphic system. The Ethiopic, like most Semitic languages, constructed numerous words out of simple verbal roots, by adding particles, doubling one or more consonants, or changing the vowel sound. Such words formed again the stem of many other derivatives. Time was considered as either complete or incomplete, and accordingly only two tenses are distinguished, the perfect and the imperfect. The latter embraced the present and the future, and inasmuch as that which is thought and willed and that which could be, should be, or would be, fall within these conceptions, the imperfect is also the source of the moods. There are only two, the subjunctive and the imperative. Persons, gender, and number are indicated by pronominal prefixes to a verb in the imperfect tense or in the subjunctive mood, but by suffixes when the verb is in the perfect tense. The prefixes and suffixes used in conjugating verbs are abbreviations of the personal pronouns. Only the masculine and feminine genders are distinguished. The masculine has no special termination.
Feminine words end generally in at, which was the original form, or in abbreviations and assimilations of this termination, as at, et, and t. The Ethiopic, like the Syriac, abandoned the dual number. The singular and plural numbers are strictly contrasted; even the collectives are capable of receiving a plural termination, and the external formation of the plural is often substituted by an internal change of vowel. These plural forms, thus internally constructed, admit of a further plural termination, generally feminine. The cases of nouns, as in other Semitic languages, are not fully indicated, only the nominative, genitive, and accusative being recognized. The pronouns comprise demonstratives, reflexives, interrogatives, and personals. The prepositions are frequently appended to pronominal suffixes, and conjunctions are often derived from prepositions, if not from relative or demonstrative pronouns, and are sometimes used as enclitics. The Ethiopic has no article, like all Abyssinian languages with the exception of the Saho. Where in other languages it would be necessary to use an article in order to convey a certain idea, the Ethiopic makes use of relative or demonstrative pronouns.
Almost every part of a sentence is subordinate to the verb, even the subject, which is often put in the accusative or is governed by prepositions. Subject and predicate stand side by side without a copulative, and agree in gender and number. The position of the parts of speech in a sentence is not governed by strict rules. The predicate stands generally first, next the subject, and last the object. - The literature of the Ethiopic or Geez is chiefly confined to the service of the church. There are numerous translations of the books of the Old and New Testaments and of foreign theological works. There are also some original theological disquisitions, which bear an unmistakable impress of the phraseology of the Bible. Such independent works date principally between A. D. 1300 and 1G00. Books on conjuring, magic, astrology, and medicine were also introduced during this period. Early Ethiopian poetry bears a strong resemblance to the Hebrew psalms, but it fell gradually from Biblical subjects to eulogies of saints, and decreased at the same time in literary worth. There is little of metric construction, and at best only an attempt at harmonizing the verses, but without understanding the principles of rhyme.
No native grammar has come down to us; the attempts at Amharic-Ethiopic lexicons that have been preserved are all in a very crude condition and without grammatical references. - The European study of the Ethiopic dates from the 16th century. In 1548 Tessa-Zion, an Abyssinian, published a New Testament in Rome; but contemporaneous with him, if not earlier, were Johann Potken, Ma-rianus Victorius, Scaliger, Petraeus, Nisselius, Wemmers, and Castellius. Hiob Ludolf is the father of the more accurate knowledge of the language. He published in the latter half of the 17th century a grammar and a lexicon, which are still the standard authority. His works are based on oral instruction received from an Abyssinian, at a time when the Ethiopic was still somewhat in use and a common study. But philological science has made such progress that his labors need remodelling. The Ethiopic languages were subsequently neglected. For 150 years scarcely a text was revised or republished, and only a few Hebrew grammars made an occasional reference to them. In 1823 Hupfeld published Exercitationes AEthio-picoe, giving a new impulse to Ethiopian philology.
The principal later works are: F. Tuch, Commentatio de AEthiopicoe Lingua, Sonorum Sibilantium, Natura et Usu (Leipsic, 1854); A. Dillmann, Grammatik der Aethiopischen Sprache (Leipsic, 1857); Eberhard Schrader, De Linguoe AEthiopicoe cum Cognatis Linguis Comparatione (Gottingen, 1860). - The Am-haric language (properly Amharinna) succeeded the Ethiopic or Geez, of which it is a modification, and enters extensively into the languages of Argobba and Harrar. Amhara, formerly an important province of Abyssinia, is now the seat of several Galla tribes. As a descendant of the Ethiopic, the Amharic is also related to the Semitic; but it has adopted many forms and words from surrounding nations which bear no relation to that family. It is written with the same alphabet as the Ethiopic, with the addition of seven peculiar orders of letters. Its grammatical forms and construction are also very similar to those of the parent tongue, though the verb admits of a greater variety of flexion. It has seven moods: indicative, contingent, subjunctive, constructive, imperative, infinitive, and participial. The simple preterite of the indicative, the compound preterite of the contingent, and the compound preterite of the constructive, are used to express past time.
The present indicative, the second or aorist constructive, and the contingent with conjunctions denote the present. The infinitive can be used as a verbal noun, and as such it assumes nominal suffixes, but relates to or acts upon other nouns in a verbal capacity. By the aid of suffixed pronouns and prepositions, the verb is capable of expressing a whole sentence by itself. The verb is generally at the end of the sentence, whether the object be simple or complex. The language is very rich in words, but it has no literature. The earliest work on the Amharic language is Ludolf's Lexicon Amharico-Latinum (Frankfort, 1698). The Amharic translation of the whole Bible, executed in Egypt by an Abyssinian monk, Abu Rumi or Ruhh, a native of Gojam, which was revised and published by the British and foreign Bible society (London, 1841), furnishes more valuable material for the study. Isenberg's "Dictionary, Amharic and English, and English and Amharic" (London, 1841), "Grammar of the Amharic Language" (1842), "Amharic Spelling Book," "AmharicCatechism," "Amharic Geography," " History of the Kingdom of God in Amharic," "Universal History in Amharic," and "Book of Common Prayer in Amharic," constitute the principal publications in the language.- Among the other languages related to Ethiopic, none stands as near as the dialect of Tigre. Around it are grouped the Adari, the Affar, the Somauli, and the Saho dialects, and the languages of the Danakils and the Adaiel, and of the district of Harrar. The circle of the languages akin to the Ethiopic is constantly increasing, and indicates an extensive emigration of the Semitic races across the Red sea.
These dialects are unimportant. They have no graphic system, and, like all unwritten languages, have undergone numerous changes. The variety of Ethiopic or Abyssinian dialects is perhaps unparalleled. - The best authorities on the languages spoken in the regions of ancient Ethiopia, and of the Ethiopic language in particular, are D'Abbadie, Biot, Dillmann, Franz, Gesenius, De Gobineau, Letronne, Lep-sius, Renan, Rigby, Rodiger, Salt, and Schra-der. See also Konig, Vocabulaires apparte-nant a diverses contrees ou tribus de l'Afrique, in vol. iv. of Recueil de voyages, published by the societe de geographie. Other vocabularies of Ethiopic languages will be found in Salt's "Voyage to Abyssinia" (London, 1814), and in Dr. G. Schweinfurth's Linguistische Ergeb-nisse (Berlin, 1873).