A fresh treatment of Ethiopic Grammar had for a long time been urgently required; and, so far as known to me, none of the older qualified scholars seemed disposed to supply the want. In these circumstances I readily responded to an invitation addressed to me by the publishing firm in the summer of 1855, to undertake this business, — one quite as laborious as remunerative. I was aware indeed that, if only a larger number of texts had been thoroughly investigated and settled, and greater progress had been made with the deciphering of the Himyaric monuments, many details would have allowed of more certain and complete recognition and acceptance. Seeing however that the accomplishment of these tasks lay still in the distant future, I did not think it wise to wait for it; and, even as it was, a rich field, ripe for cutting and gathering in, already lay before me.
The terms of my arrangement with the publisher restricted, to some extent, the time available for work, and also the compass of the volume. Still, I have endeavoured to satisfy, as far as possible within the prescribed limits, those requirements of a grammatical work which are insisted on by our advanced philology. The material of the language has been thoroughly gone over afresh, in all its parts and on every side; and many new observations, of which Ludolf had no presentiment, have been the result, as every single section of the book will show. In explaining the phenomena of the language and duly ranking them in its system, I was still more completely left to my own enquiries, as foregoing labours in this department have been much more scanty. Many things here are, of course, matter of grammatical theory previously adopted, so that others, who profess a different theory will attempt a different explanation. Many things, — in the views given of Pronunciation and Accent for instance, — must perhaps always remain uncertain and obscure, because the historical
information, which alone could decide, is wanting. Many things too had to be set down without being fully demonstrated, because space was not obtainable for their proper discussion. In the references mentioned, it is but desirable that other scholars should now speak out, and take up the discussion of these more difficult and obscure questions. Science, — to the service of which alone this book is devoted, would be a gainer. But every one who peruses my book will be convinced, I trust, that Ethiopic grammar, which has been neglected so long, sheds quite as much light on the grammars of the other Semitic languages as it receives from them.
Perhaps some justification is required for the great length at which, in the Phonology, I have sought to authenticate by examples the Sound-transitions between Ethiopic roots and those of the other Semitic tongues. I know from experience the perplexing effect, which is produced upon one who approaches Ethiopic from the side of the other Semitic languages, caused by a host of expressions and roots; and therefore I wished to clear the way for a more thorough insight, by discussing a number of etymologies, and by analysing the Sound-changes upon which this phenomenon rests. Much here is, of course, merely matter of conjecture and must long remain so, — in fact until dialectic phonetic interchange is more strictly investigated by Semitic philologists, and traced back to sure principles. However, even the danger of falling into error here and there in detail, did not prevent me from tackling the matter.
In the Syntax I was obliged to compress my work, seeing that the space allowed was already more than exhausted. Accordingly it was only what was peculiar and remarkable in Ethiopic that I was able to treat with any thoroughness; while I could merely touch upon what had become familiar from the other Semitic languages. In the arrangement of the Syntax I have adhered almost entirely to the order adopted in Ewald's ‘Hebrew Grammar’, which seemed to be the most accurate and suitable. Altogether this part of the work, for which Ludolf did almost nothing, claims to be no more than a first draught, which still awaits much filling in by means of farther studies. A few paragraphs I would gladly have altered, if the manuscript had not by that time left my hands. Then too, the Sections turned out somewhat unequal in extent; but, on account of the constant references backwards and forwards, it had become exceedingly difficult to make any alteration in this respect.
The supporting-passages I have taken, as far as possible, from the Bible in print, and in this I have founded upon Platt's edition of the New Testament, Ludolf's of the Psalms, Laurence's of 4 Esra, and my own edition of the Octateuch and the Book of Henoch. Quotations are occasionally made from Manuscript sources in the case of the other Biblical Books, as well as in the case of the Book of Jubilees, (Kufālē), Vita Adami, (Gadla Adām), Liturgies, Organon, Hymnologies of the British Bible Society, Abyssinian Chronicles and Ṣalōta Reqēt.
It is hoped that every foreigner will kindly excuse, and every German approve of, my having written the book in German: to write a Grammar in Latin is restricting and troublesome, and to read it is pain.
It seemed to me unnecessary in itself to add an Index of Words and Subjects, and it was besides precluded by my having already exceeded the limits allowed the book.
Kiel, 15th April, 1857.