Ethiopic Language As it is maintained by competent judges that the Amharic and the Tigre are really dialects of the ancient Ethiopic or Geez (which is doubted by Adelung and Vater in the Mithridates), it may be expected, from the recent progress of comparative grammar, that future scholars will apply them to elucidate the structure of the other Syro-Arabian languages. At present, however, as even the Amharic is not yet able to boast of adequate and accessible means for its study, and as neither possesses any ancient version of any part of the Bible, the Geez is the only one which claims a particular notice here. SEE AMHARIC LANGUAGE.
The ancient Ethiopic or Geez, which is the only one of the three dialects that either has been or is now generally used in written documents of a sacred or civil kind, is to be classed as an ancient branch of the Arabic. This affinity is evident from the entire grammatical structure of the language; it is confirmed by the relation of its written character to that of the Himyarite alphabet; and either supports, or is supported by, the assumption that Habesh or Abyssinia was actually peopled by a colony from Southern Arabia. The grammatical structure of the Geez shows a largely predominant identity with that of Arabic; but it also possesses some traits which are in closer accordance with the other Syro-Arabian idioms, and some which are peculiar to itself alone. The main features of its structure are as follows: The verb possesses the first ten conjugations of the Arabic verb, with the exception of the eighth and ninth; besides these it has two other conjugations which are unknown to the Arabic. There is a special conjunctive mood; the double infinitive is often used as a noun, irrespective of the absolute or construct form; the participle is wanting. The formation of nouns' resembles most that of Hebrew; but nouns often have superfluous end-vowels, which are modified in particular cases, and are analogous to the Arabic nunnation. As for the flexion of nouns, the masculine and feminine plurals are either formed by affixed syllables (an, at) on the principle common to the whole Syro-Arabian family, or by changes within the compass of the radical letters, after the manner of the so-called broken plurals of the Arabic grammar. The "construct state," and that relation of the noun which is equivalent to our objective case, are denoted by changes in the final vowels, or by employing the relative pronoun; the dative is indicated by prepositions. The comparative and superlative are expressed by means of particles. There is no form for the dual number either in the verb or the noun. With regard to the vocabulary of the language, one third of the roots are to be found in the same state in Arabic. By making allowance for commutations and transpositions, many other roots may be identified with their Arabic correspondents: some of its roots, however, do not exist in our present Arabic, but are to be found in Aramaic and Hebrew. Besides this, it has native roots peculiar to itself; it has adopted several Greek words, but shows no traces of the influence of Coptic.
The alphabet possesses twenty-six consonants, arranged in a peculiar order, twenty-four of which may, however, be regarded as essentially equivalent (although with different sounds in many instances) to the letters in the Arabic alphabet. The remaining two are letters adopted to express the Greek Φ and Ψ.
The vowel-sounds, which are seven, are not expressed by separable signs, as in the Hebrew and Arabic punctuation, but are denoted by modifications in the original form of the consonants, after the manner of the Devanagari alphabet. The mode of writing is from left to right. The position of the accent depends upon many complicated rules. As for the written characters, Gesenius has traced the relation between some of them and their equivalents in the Phoenician alphabet. There is, however, the most striking resemblance between the Geez letters generally and those in the Himyarite inscriptions, a circumstance which accords well with the supposed connection of Southern Arabia and Habesh. Moreover, Lepsius, in an interesting essay, Ueber die Anordnung und Verwandschaft des Semitischen, Indischen, AEthiopischen, etc. Alphabets (in his Zwei sprachvergleichende Abhandlungen, Berlin, 1836, 8vo, pages 74-80), has adduced some striking arguments to prove that the Devanagari alphabet must have had some influence on the development of the Geez.
The literature of the Geez language is very scanty indeed, and that little is almost exclusively of a Biblical or ecclesiastical character. Dr. Laurence has lately added considerably to this by the publication of the Book of Enoch (q.v.), the Ascension of Isaiah (q.v.), and the first Book of Esdras (q.v.), in the Ethiopic version. There also exist in Ethiopic the Christian Book of Adam (in Germ. by Dillmann, Gott. 1853), and several other apocryphal works relating the miracles of Christ, Mary, etc. It possesses nothing, not even an imitation of the national poetry, nor of the lexicographical and grammatical works of the Arabs. Some few historical works in the shape of chronicles, and a few medical treatises, constitute the main body of their profane literature. The Geez has ceased, ever since the beginning of the 14th century, to be the vernacular language of; any part of the country, having been supplanted at the court of the sovereign by the Amharic. It still continues, however. to, be the language used in religious rites, in domestic affairs of state, and in private, correspondence. See Ludolf, Grammatica AEthiopica (2d edit. Freft. 1702, fol.), and his Lexicon AEthiopico-Latinum (2d edit. ib. 1699, fol., originally Lond. 1661, 4to); Hasse, Prakt. Hdb. d. arab. u. athiop. Sprache (Jen. 1793, 8vo); Hupfeld, Exercitt. AEthiopiae (Lips. 1826, 4to); Gesenius, in Ersch und Gruber's Allgemeine Encyclopadie, s.v. Aethiopische Sprache; Dillmann, Lexicon Ling. AEthiopicae (Lpz. 1862 sq., 4to); Chrestomathia Ethiopica (Lpz. 1865, 8vo); Castell, Lexicon Heptaglottum (Lond. 1669, fol.); Schrader, De Linguae AEthiop. indole (Vien. 1860 sq., 4to). SEE SHEMITIC LANGUAGES.