A man of many tongues

The Compass - - TRINITY SOUTH -

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.

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