§ 3. Close Affinities with Arabic: — Resemblances and Difference
§ 2. Origin and Character / Grammar / Ethiopic Grammar. Dillmann / § 3. Close Affinities with Arabic: — Resemblances and Difference

§ 3. Of Semitic languages Arabic is the one with which Ethiopic has the most numerous and close affinities ([1]). Nothing else could have been expected, when regard is had to the derivation of the Abyssinian Semites from Southern Arabia, and to the active intercourse which they long maintained with it. This relationship is at once and clearly betrayed by marks like the following: — in the alphabetical system — the division of the old Semitic  ח and צ each into two separate sounds; in the structure of words and inflections — the frequent endings in a short vowel, the greater multiplicity of conjugational forms in the Verb, and the fuller development of Quadriliteral and Multiliteral roots, — the Inner Plural or Collective formation in the Noun, the regular distinguishing of the Accusative, as also of the Indicative and Subjunctive in the Imperfect, the capability of attaching two Pronominal suffixes to one verb, and a host of other scattered and subordinate phenomena; in the vocabulary — an unmistakeable array of roots which are elsewhere developed or preserved in Arabic only, and not in the more northerly Semitic languages.

And yet Ethiopic is far from being a mere dialect of Arabic, especially if we understand by that the ordinary Literary or Middle Arabic. In fact the vocabularies of the two present a very peculiar contrast, in respect that Ethiopic usually employs altogether different words and roots from Arabic, for the expression of precisely those notions and objects which are most frequently met with in common life ([2]), while vice versa the words and roots, usual in Arabic in such cases, are found in Ethiopic in scattered traces only. Then the most of the Prepositions and Conjunctions are quite different in the two, with the exception of a few which are common to all the Semitic tongues. In the structure of its syllables Ethiopic has not developed the richness in Vowels which characterises Arabic, or else it has lost it again: in this respect it comes nearer to Hebrew. As regards its roots, it has, in opposition to all the other Semitic languages, very strongly-marked phonetic changes and transpositions, and it occupies quite a peculiar and unique position in the Semitic family through the evolution of the u-containing Gutturals and Palatals. Ethiopic never attained to the copious wealth of Forms possessed by Arabic, although it is certain that it had a greater number of forms in earlier times. In particular, Diminutives and Augmentatives are altogether wanting, as well as the Emphatic state ([3]). It farther took a different course from Arabic in the formation of the Imperfect, as well as in Case-formation — with the exception of the Accusative. In the sensitiveness of its vowels to the utterance of a guttural ([4]) it ranges itself with Hebrew rather than with Arabic. It has gone farther than the rest of the Semitic languages in evolving strong roots out of weak ones; and it has developed the formation of the Conjugations in certain directions with more consistency than Arabic itself. And in various other things ([5]) it has kept to a more antique stage than the rest of the Semitic tongues. Ethiopic has no Article, but it has preserved an originality and a fulness in the department of the Pronouns, unmatched by its sister languages. Then it has a host of pronominal particles, of which not a trace is now left in Arabic, while in the perfecting of Enclitics it has followed out an original Semitic bent with a thoroughness which is found nowhere else. In framing Sentences and Periods it has brought into many-sided use expedients and devices, which have long been given up in Arabic, but are still hinted at in Hebrew as belonging to the ancient Semitic speech. As regards its treatment of the Gender of Nouns, it seems to transfer us quite to the original condition of the language, when the settlement of Gender was still in process, and all as yet was fluctuating; nor has it gained any fixity on this point, even in its latest stages. And finally, we come upon many expressions in the vocabulary, which have disappeared from Arabic, at least in the meaning concerned, although they belonged to the original Semitic common-stock ([6]).

All this leads to the conclusion that Ethiopic, after its separation from the Northern Semitic, pursued a common course with Arabic for some time longer, but parted company with it at a pretty early date and at a time in fact when Arabic had not yet attained to its present luxuriance in forms, nor yet to its strictly regular, inflexible, stiff monotony. Ethiopic in this way saved a good deal of the old Semitic, which Arabic suffered to decay, and it also developed a portion of it in a wholly different manner from Arabic. The most of its force, however, subsequent to its severance from the rest of the Semitic languages, was applied to the elaboration of a multiplicity in the methods of conjoining and arranging words in a sentence, — answering to the multiplicity existing in the possible modes of thought and discourse, — and to the development of the pronominal section of the roots which specially conveys the more subtle relations and conditions of thought.



[1] V., on the other hand, HAUPT, 'J. Am. Or. Soc.', Vol. XIII, p. CCLII sqq., according to whose opinion Ethiopic, of all the Semitic languages, stands nearest to Assyrian.

[2] Compare the words for: — God, Man (Homo), Man, Woman, Body, Sight, Earth, Land, Town, King, Animal, Sun, Moon, Day, Mountain, Valley, good, bad, big, little, much, rich, poor, remaining; farther for: — to go, to reach, to turn back, to follow, to send, to forsake, to fall, to sit down, to dwell, to flee, to carry, to will, to call, to command, to write, to seek, to finish, to find, to repeat, to conquer, to say, to tell, to act, to rejoice, to love, to burn, to build  &c.

[3] According to D. H. MÜLLER, 'Epigraphische Denkmäler aus Abessinien', Vienna 1894, p. 72 = 'Denkschriften d. k. Akad. d. Wiss., phil.-hist. Classe' XLIII, III — these conditions are to be explained by the influence of the Hamitic tongues upon Ethiopic.

[4] Cf. KÖNIG, 'Neue Studien über Schrift, Aussprache und allgemeine Formenlehre des Aethiopischen', Leipzig 1877, p. 137.

[5] KÖNIG classes along with these (ibid. p. 87 sqq.) the Imperfect-form ይነግር the endings ክ, ኪ, ኩ in the Verb, and the Feminine formation of Adjectives like ሐዲስ, ሐዳስ; v. infra §§ 92, 129, 135.

[6] እሳት (אֵשׁ), ዕፅ (עֵץ), እብን (אֶבֶן), ወርኅ (יׇרֵחַ) (تأريخ),ምት (מְתִים), ረሲዕ (ܪܱܫܺܥ) (רָשָׁע), ምጥቀት (מָתֹק), ትማልም (תְּמוֹל), መንሱት (מַסָּה), ወግር (יְגַר), እስኪት (אֶשֶׁךְ), ዐማፃ (חָמָס), ሰከበ (שָׁכַב), ኀየለ (חַיִל), ነሥአ (נָשָׁא), ክህለ (יָכֹל, כְחֹל ), ወፅአ (יָצָא), አልመደ (לִמֵּד), ሰፈረ (סָפַר), ነገፈ (נָגֵף), ወረወ (יָרָה), አውሰበ  ( הוֹשִׁיב) (وثب), ጠቅዐ (תָּקַע), ፈረየ (פָּרַה) (ܦܪܻܝ), ጠየቀ( דַיֵּק) (ذاق), and several others.