the Fourth Week of Lent
Hamitic Races and Languages
1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
The questions involved in a consideration of Hamitic races and Hamitic languages are independent of one another and call for separate treatment.
I. Hamitic Races. - The term Hamitic as applied to race is not only extremely vague but has been much abused by anthropological writers. Of the few who have attempted a precise definition the most prominent is Sergi,' and his classification may be taken as representing one point of view with regard to this difficult question.
Sergi considers the Hamites, using the term in the racial sense, as a branch of his "Mediterranean Race"; and divides them as follows :- I. Eastern Branch (a) Ancient and Modern Egyptian (excluding the Arabs).
(b) Nubians, Beja.
(d) Galla, Danakil, Somali.
1 G. Sergi, The Mediterranean Race. A Study of the Origin of European Peoples (London, 1901); idem, Africa, Antropologia della stirpe camitica (Turin, 1897).
(f) Wahuma or Watusi.
2. Northern Branch (a) Berbers of the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Sahara.
(d) Guanches (extinct).
With regard to this classification the following conclusions may be regarded as comparatively certain: that the members of groups d, e and f of the first branch appear to be closely inter-connected by ties of blood, and also the members of the second branch. The Abyssinians in the south have absorbed a certain amount of Galla blood, but the majority are Semitic or Semito-Negroid. The question of the racial affinities of the Ancient Egyptians and the Beja are still a matter of doubt, and the relation of the two groups to each other is still controversial. Sergi, it is true, arguing from physical data believes that a close connexion exists; but the data are so extremely scanty that the finality of his conclusion may well be doubted. His "Northern Branch" corresponds with the more satisfactory term "Libyan Race," represented in fair purity by the Berbers, and, mixed with Negro elements, by the Fula and Tibbu. This Libyan race is distinctively a white race, with dark curly hair; the Eastern Hamites are equally distinctively a brown people with frizzy hair. If, as Sergi believes, these brown people are themselves a race, and not a cross between white and black in varying proportions, they are found in their greatest purity among the Somali and Galla, and mixed with Bantu blood among the Ba-Hima (Wahuma) and Watussi. The Masai seem to be as much Nilotic Negro as Hamite. This Galla type does not seem to appear farther north than the southern portion of Abyssinia, and it is not unlikely that the Beja are very early Semitic immigrants with an aboriginal Negroid admixture. It is also possible that they and the Ancient Egyptians may contain a common element. The Nubians appear akin to the Egyptians but with a strong Negroid element.
To return to Sergi's two branches, besides the differences in skin colour and hair-texture there is also a cultural difference of great importance. The Eastern Hamites are essentially a pastoral people and therefore nomadic or semi-nomadic; the Berbers, who, as said above, are the purest representatives of the Libyans, are agriculturists. The pastoral habits of the Eastern Hamites are of importance, since they show the utmost reluctance to abandon them. Even the Ba-Hima and Watussi, for long settled and partly intermixed with the agricultural Bantu, regard any pursuit but that of cattle-tending as absolutely beneath their dignity.
It would seem therefore that, while sufficient data have not been collected to decide whether, on the evidence of exact anthropological measurements, the Libyans are connected racially with the Eastern Hamites, the testimony derived from broad "descriptive characteristics" and general culture is against such a connexion. To regard the Libyans as Hamites solely on the ground that the languages. spoken by the two groups show affinities would be as rash and might be as false as to aver that the present-day Hungarians are Mongolians because Magyar is an Asiatic tongue. Regarding the present state of knowledge it would be safer therefore to restrict the term "Hamites" to Sergi's first group; and call the second by the name "Libyans." The difficult question of the origin of the ancient Egyptians is discussed elsewhere.
As to the question whether the Hamites in this restricted sense are a definite race or a blend, no discussion can, in view of the paucity of evidence, as yet lead to a satisfactory conclusion, but it might. be suggested very tentatively that further researches may possibly connect them with the Dravidian peoples of India. It is sufficient for present purposes that the term Hamite, using it as coextensive with Sergi's Eastern Hamite, has a definite connotation. By the term is meant a brown people with frizzy hair, of lean and sinewy physique, with slender but muscular arms and legs, a thin straight or even aquiline nose with delicate nostrils, thin lips and no trace of prognathism. (T. A. J.) II. Hamitic Languages. - The whole north of Africa was once inhabited by tribes of the Caucasian race, speaking languages. which are now generally called, after Genesis x., Hamitic, a term introduced principally by Friedrich Muller. The linguistic coherence of that race has been broken up especially by the intrusion of Arabs, whose language has exercised a powerful influence on all those nations. This splitting up, and the immense distances over which those tribes were spread, have made those languages diverge more widely than do the various tongues of the Indo-European stock, but still their affinity can easily be traced by the linguist, and is, perhaps, greater than the corresponding anthropologic similarity between the white Libyan, red Galla and swarthy Somali. The relationship of these languages to Semitic has long been noticed, but was at first taken for descent from Semitic (cf. the name "Syro-Arabian" proposed by Prichard). Now linguists are agreed that the Proto-Semites and Proto-Hamites once formed a unity, probably in Arabia. That original unity has been demonstrated especially by Friedrich Muller ( Reise der osterreichischen Fregatte Novara, p. 51, more fully, Grundriss der Sprachwissenschaft, vol. iii. fasc. 2, p. 226); cf. also A. H. Sayce, Science of Language, ii. 178; R. N. Cust, The Modern Languages of Africa, i. 94, &c. The comparative grammars of Semitic (W. Wright, 1890, and especially H. Zimmern, 1898) demonstrate this now to everybody by comparative tables of the grammatical elements.
The classification of Hamitic languages is as follows 1. -The Libyan Dialects (mostly misnamed "Berber languages," after an unfortunate, vague Arabic designation, barabra, " people of foreign language"). The representatives of this large group extend from the Senegal river (where they are called Zenaga; imperfect Grammaire by L. Faidherbe, 1877) and from Timbuktu (dialect of the Auelimmiden, sketched by Heinrich Barth, Travels, vol. v., 1857) to the oases of Aujila (Bengazi) and of Siwa on the western border of Egypt. Consequently, these "dialects" differ more strongly from each other than, e.g. the Semitic languages do between themselves. The purest representative seems to be the language of the Algerian mountaineers (Kabyles), especially that of the Zuawa (Zouaves) tribe, described by A. Hanoteau, Essai de grammaire kabyle (1858); Ben Sedira, Cours de langue kab. (1887); Dictionnaire by Olivier (1878). The learned little Manuel de langue kabyle, by R. Basset (1887) is an introduction to the study of the many dialects with full bibliography, cf. also Basset's Notes de lexicographie berbere (1883 foil.). (The dictionaries by Brosselard and Venture de Paradis are imperfect.) The best now described is Shilh(a), a Moroccan dialect (H. Stumme, HandbuchdesSchilhischen, 1899), but it is an inferior dialect. That of Ghat in Tripoli underlies the Grammar of F. W. Newman (1845) and the Grammaire Tamashek of Hanoteau (1860); cf. also the Dictionnaire of Cid Kaoui (1900). Neither medieval reports on the language spoken by the Guanches of the Canary Islands (fullest in A. Berthelot, Antiguites canariennes, 1879; akin to Shilha; by no means primitive Libyan untouched by Arabic), nor the modern dialect of Siwa (still little known; tentative grammar by Basset, 1890), have justified hopes of finding a pure Libyan dialect. Of a few literary attempts in Arabic letters the religious Pobme de Cabi (ed. Basset, Journ. asiatique, vii. 476) is the most remarkable. The imperfect native writing (named tifinaghen ), a derivation from the Sabaean alphabet (not, as Halevy claimed, from the Punic), still in use among the Sahara tribes, can be traced to the 2nd century B.C. (bilingual inscription of Tucca, &c.; cf. J. Halevy, Essai d'epigraphie libyque, 1875), but hardly ever served for literary uses.
2. The Cushitic or Ethiopian Family
The nearest relative of Libyan is not Ancient Egyptian but the language of the nomadic Bisharin or Beja of the Nubian Desert (cf. H. Almkvist, Die Bischari Sprache, 1881 [the northern dialect], and L. Reinisch, Die Bedauye Sprache, 1893, Worterbuch, 1895). The speech of the peoples occupying the lowland east of Abyssinia, the Saho (Reinisch, grammar in Zeitschrift d. deutschen morgenleind. Gesellschaft, 32, 1878; Texte, 1889; Worterbuch, 1890; cf. also Reinisch, Die Sprache der Irob Saho, 1878), and the Afar or Danakil (Reinisch, Die Afar Sprache, 1887; G. Colizza, Lingua Afar, 1887), merely dialects of one language, form the connecting link with the southern Hamitic group, i.e. Somali (Reinisch, Somali Sprache, 1900-1903, 3 vols.; Larajasse and de Sampont, Practical Grammar of the Somali Language, 1897 imperfect sketches by Hunter, 1880, and Schleicher, 1890), and Galla (L. Tutscheck, Grammar, 1845, Lexicon, 1844; Massaja, Lectiones, 1877; G. F. F. Praetorius, Zur Grammatik der Gallasprache, 1893, sic.). All these Cushitic languages, extending from Egypt to the equator, are separated by Reinisch as Lower Cushitic from the High Cushitic group, i.e. the many dialects spoken by tribes dwelling in the Abyssinian highlands or south of Abyssinia. Of the original inhabitants of Abyssinia, called collectively Agau (or Agau) by the Abyssinians, or Falashas (this name principally for Jewish tribes), Reinisch considers the Bilin or Bogos tribe as preserving the most archaic dialect ( Die Bilin Sprache, Texts, 1883; Grammatik, 1882; Worterbuch, 1887); the same scholar gave sketches of the Khamir (1884) and Quara (1885) dialects. On other dialects, struggling against the spreading Semitic tongues (Tigre, Amharic, &c.), see Conti Rossini, "Appunti sulla lingua Khamta," in Giorn. soc. orient. (1905); Waldmeyer, Wortersammlung (1868); J. Halevy, "Essai sur la langue Agaou" ( Actes soc. philologique, 1873), &c. Similar dialects are those of the Sid(d)ama tribes, south of Abyssinia, of which only Kaf(f)a (Reinisch, Die Kafa Sprache, 1888) is known at all fully. Of the various other dialects (Kullo, Tambaro, &c.), vocabularies only are known; cf. Borelli, Ethiopie meridionale (1890). (On Hausa see below.) There is no question that the northernmost Hamitic languages have preserved best the original wealth of inflections which reminds us so strongly of the formal riches of southern Semitic. Libyan 1 Only works of higher linguistic standing are quoted here; many vocabularies and imperfect attempts of travellers cannot be enumerated.
and Beja are the best-preserved types, and the latter especially may be called the Sanskrit of Hamitic. The other Cushitic tongues exhibit increasing agglutinative tendencies the farther we go south, although single archaisms are found even in Somali. 'The early isolated High Cushitic tongues (originally branched off from a stock common with Galla and Somali) diverge most strongly from the original type. Already the Agau dialects are full of very peculiar developments; the Hamitic character of the Sid(d)ama languages can be traced only by lengthy comparisons.
The simple and pretty (Haus(s)a language, the commercial language of the whole Niger region and beyond (Schoen, Grammar, 1862, Dictionary, 1876; Charles H. Robinson, 1897, in Robinson and Brookes's Dictionary ) has fairly well preserved its Hamitic grammar, though its vocabulary was much influenced by the surrounding Negro languages. It is no relative of Libyan (though it has experienced some Libyan influences), but comes from the (High ?) Cushitic family; its exact place in this family remains to be determined. Various languages of the Niger region were once Hamitic like Haus(s)a, or at least under some Hamitic influence, but have now lost that character too far to be classified as Hamitic, e.g. the Muzuk or Musgu language (F. Muller, 1886). The often-raised question of some (very remote) relationship between Hamitic and the great Bantu family is still undecided; more doubtful is that with the interesting Ful (a) language in the western Sudan, but a relationship with the Nilotic branch of negro languages is impossible (though a few of these, e.g. Nuba, have borrowed some words from neighbouring Hamitic peoples). The development of a grammatical gender, this principal characteristic of Semito-Hamitic, in Bari and Masai, may be rather accidental than borrowed; certainly, the same phenomenon in Hottentot does not justify the attempt often made to classify this with Hamitic.
3. Ancient Egyptian, as we have seen, does not form the connecting link between Libyan and Cushitic which its geographical position would lead us to expect. It represents a third independent branch, or rather a second one, Libyan and Cushitic forming one division of Hamitic. A few resemblances with Libyan (M. de Rochemonteix in Memoires du congres internat. des orientalistes, Paris, 1873; elementary) are less due to original relationship than to the general better preservation of the northern idioms (see above). Frequent attempts to detach Egyptian from Hamitic and to attribute it toaSemitic immigration later than that of the other Hamites cannot be proved. Egyptian is, in many respects, more remote from Semitic than the Libyan-Cushitic division, being more agglutinative than the better types of its sister branch, having lost the most characteristic verbal flection (the Hamito-Semitic imperfect), forming the nominal plural in its own peculiar fashion, &c. The advantage of Egyptian, that it is represented in texts of 3000 B.C., while the sister tongues exist only in forms 5000 years later, allows us, e.g. to trace the Semitic principle of triliteral roots more clearly in Egyptian; but still the latter tongue is hardly more characteristically archaic or nearer Semitic than Beja or Kabylic.
All this is said principally of the grammar. Of the vocabulary it must not be forgotten that none of the Hamitic tongues remained untouched by Semitic influences after the separation of the Hamites and Semites, say 4000 or 6000 B.C. Repeated Semitic immigrations and influences have brought so many layers of loan-words that it is questionable if any modern Hamitic language has now more than 10% of original Hamitic words. Which Semitic resemblances are due to original affinity, which come from pre-Christian immigrations, which from later influences, are difficult questions not yet faced by science; e.g. the half-Arabic numerals of Libyan have often been quoted as a proof of primitive Hamito-Semitic kinship, but they are probably only a gift of some Arab invasion, prehistoric for us. Arab tribes seem to have repeatedly swept over the whole area of the Hamites, long before the time of Mahomet, and to have left deep impressions on races and languages, but none of these migrations stands in the full light of history (not even that of the Geez tribes of Abyssinia). Egyptian exhibits constant influences from its Canaanitish neighbours; it is crammed with such loan-words already in 3000 B.C.; new affluxes can be traced, especially c. 1600. (The Punic influences on Libyan are, however, very slight, inferior to the Latin.) Hence the relations of Semitic and Hamitic still require many investigations in detail, for which the works of Reinisch and Basset have merely built up a basis. (W. M. M.)
These files are public domain.
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Hamitic Races and Languages'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​h/hamitic-races-and-languages.html. 1910.