A man of many tongues
Christian church were written in Syriac. Besides, it’s still a living language, although there is a difference between the written and spoken Syriac.”
“ What other Semitic languages do you know?” “Sabean and Minean.” “Living?” “No, dead. Then there was Mandean, another Semitic language, used by a Christian tribe that became heretic. It’s derived from Syriac. That was between the third and fourth centuries.”
“ You also know the ancient Assyrian and Babylonian tongues?”
“Oh yes, and Sumerian, which was earlier than either, though it’s not to be classed as Semitic. Then there was the Hittite and Phoenician. That’s the language from which the Greek derived its alphabet. But that’s enough.”
“No, let us go through, Dr. Mercer. What others?”
“ Ethiopic and Amharic, and Tigre and Tigruna, which amount to Abyssinian dialects, but have separate grammars. I also studied Sanscrit, as well as Japanese and Chinese, but I gave these latter up.”
“But finishing the ancient languages?”
“ Well, if you insist, I know all the Semitic. Then I know Coptic and Egyptian, and Coptic in its later form of old Egyptian or hieratic.” “ Those are not Semitic tongues?” “No, but influenced by Semitic. In structure, Egyptian is a Semitic tongue, but the base makes it an African language. Evidently before the Egyptians were civilized, a Semitic race must have invaded the country, leaving their imprint.”
Samuel Alfred Browne Mercer ( 1879-1969) was born in Bay Roberts East, but he denied his Newfoundland roots. This story was first published in the Star Weekly, Toronto. Editorial comments have been added in brackets.
To be concluded next week.
A sample page from Samuel A.B. Mercer’s book, A Sumero-Babylonian Sign List, published by Columbia University Press in 1918.