digplanet beta 1: Athena
Share digplanet:


Applied sciences






















Old Nubian
Native to Egypt, Sudan
Region Along the banks of the Nile in what is now southern Egypt and northern Sudan
Era 8th–15th century
Language codes
ISO 639-3 onw
Linguist list
Glottolog oldn1245[1]
Old Nubian manuscript.jpg
A page from an Old Nubian translation of the Instructions of the Archangel Michael, from the 9th-10th century, found at Pakhoras, now at the British Museum. Michael's name appears in red: Nubians during the period frequently used Greek personal names, often with a terminal ‑ι added.

Old Nubian is an ancient variety of Nubian, attested in writing from the 8th to the 15th century (the most recent known text was written in 1485). It is ancestral to modern-day Nobiin and related to other Nubian languages such as Dongolawi. It was used throughout the medieval Christian kingdom of Makuria and its satellite Nobadia. The language is preserved in at least a hundred pages of documents, mostly of a religious nature, written using a modified form of the Coptic script; the best known is The Martyrdom of Saint Menas.


Old Nubian had its source in the languages of the Noba nomads who occupied the Nile between the First and Third Cataracts and the Makorae nomads who occupied the land between the Third and Fourth Cataracts following the collapse of Meroë sometime in the 4th century. The Makorae were a separate tribe who eventually conquered or inherited the lands of the Noba: they established a Byzantine-influenced state called Makuria which administered the Noba lands separately as the eparchy of Nobadia. Nobadia was converted to Monophysite Christianity by the priests Julian and Longinus, and thereafter received its bishops from the pope of Alexandria.

Old Nubian is one of the oldest written African languages but was used only sporadically. The civil administration and legal records tended to employ Greek, while the church leadership (originally all Egyptians) were fluent in Coptic. Over time, more and more Old Nubian began to appear in both secular and religious documents, and the language also influenced the use of Greek and Coptic in the region (e.g., some confusion of Greek grammatical genders & use of variant verb tenses). The consecration documents found with the remains of archbishop Timotheos suggest, however, that Greek and Coptic continued to be used into the late 14th century, by which time Arabic was also in widespread use.[2]


Old Nubian is written in an uncial variant of the Coptic alphabet, including three unique letters: /ɲ/ and /w/ are both apparently derived from Meroitic script {{{2}}} and {{{2}}}; so is also /ŋ/, unless it is a ligature of two Greek gammas. Additionally Old Nubian used the variant for the Coptic letter Ϭ.[3]

Old Nubian made extensive use of nomina sacra. Abbreviation was also used more generally throughout the language: in addition to nomina sacra formulas, a line over a letter could indicate:

  • a vowel which formed a syllable by itself, or was preceded by one of ⲗ, ⳟ, ⲣ, or ϫ;
  • a consonant with an /i/ (sometimes unwritten) preceding it.

The sound /i/ could be written ε, ε̄ι, η, ι or υ; /u/ was normally written ου. In diphthongs, a diaeresis was sometimes used over ι to indicate the semivowel y. Geminate consonants were written double; long vowels were usually not distinguished from short ones.

Modern Nobiin is a tonal language: if Old Nubian was as well, the values were not marked.

Punctuation marks included a high dot •, sometimes substituted by a double backslash \\ (), used roughly like an English period or colon, a slash / () used like a question mark, and a double slash // () sometimes used to separate verses.



Old Nubian has no gender or any articles. The noun consists of a stem to which grammatical case suffixes and postpositions are added; the main ones are the following:

  • -l nominative, marking the subject of a main clause: e.g. diabolos-il "the devil (subj.)"; iskit-l "the earth (subj.)"
  • -n(a) genitive, marking the possessor: e.g. iart-na palkit-la "into the sea of thoughts"
  • -k(a) "directive", marking the direct or indirect object: e.g. Mikhaili-ka "Michael (obj.), to Michael"
  • -lo locative, meaning "at"
  • -la inessive, meaning "in(to)"
  • -do adessive, meaning "on"
  • -dal comitative, meaning "with"

The most common plural is in -gu-; e.g. uru-gu-na "of kings", or gindette-gu-ka "thorns (object)", becoming -agui- in the predicative. Rarer plurals include -rigu- (e.g. mug-rigu-ka "dogs (obj.)" (predicative -regui-) and -pigu-.


The basic pronouns are the following:

  • ai- "I"
  • ir- "you (singular)"
  • tar- "he, she, it"
  • er- "we (including you)"
  • u- "we (excluding you)"
  • ur- "you (plural)"
  • ter- "they"

Demonstratives include in- "this", man- "that"; interrogatives include ngai- "who?", min- "what?", islo "where?", iskal "how?".


The verb has five main forms: present, two different preterites, future, and imperative. For each of them, there are subjunctive and indicative forms. It conjugates according to person, e.g. for doll- "wish" in the present tense:

  • dollire "I wish"
  • dollina "you (singular) wish", "he, she, it wishes"
  • dolliro "we wish", "you (plural) wish"
  • dollirana "they wish"

Example text[edit]

  • ⲕⲧ̅ⲕⲁ ⲅⲉⲗⲅⲟ̅ⲥⲛ ⲓ̈ⲏ̅ⲥⲟⲩⲥⲓ ⲛⲁ⋊αν τρικα• ⲇⲟⲗⲗⲉ ⲡⲟⲗⲅⲁⲣⲁ ⲡⲉⲥⲥⲛⲁ• ⲡⲁⲡⲟ ⲥ̅ⲕⲟⲉⲗⲙ̅ⲙⲉ ⲉⲕ̅ⲕⲁ
  • κτ̄κα γελγελο̄ϲουανον ῑη̄ϲουϲι ναϫαν τρικα• δολλε πολγαρα πεϲϲνα• παπο ϲ̄κοελμ̄με εκ̄κα
  • Kitka gelgelosuannon Iisusi manyan trika• dolle polgara pessna• papo iskoelimme ikka

Literally: "Rock and-when-they-rolled-away Jesus eye pair high raising he-said father I-thank you."

Translated: "And when they rolled away the rock, Jesus, raising his eyes high, said: Father, I thank you."


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Old Nubian". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Burstein, Stanley: When Greek was an African Language.
  3. ^ "Revision of the Coptic block under ballot for the BMP of the UCS" (PDF). Unicode Consortium. Retrieved September 4, 2015. 

External links[edit]

Other sources[edit]

  • Browne, Gerald M., (1982) Griffith's Old Nubian Lectionary. Rome / Barcelona.
  • Browne, Gerald M., (1988) Old Nubian Texts from Qasr Ibrim I (with J. M. Plumley), London, UK.
  • Browne, Gerald M., (1989) Old Nubian Texts from Qasr Ibrim II. London, UK.
  • Browne, Gerald M., (1996) Old Nubian dictionary. Corpus scriptorum Christianorum orientalium, vol. 562. Leuven: Peeters. ISBN 90-6831-787-3.
  • Browne, Gerald M., (1997) Old Nubian dictionary - appendices. Leuven: Peeters. ISBN 90-6831-925-6.
  • Browne, Gerald M., (2002) A grammar of Old Nubian. Munich: LINCOM. ISBN 3-89586-893-0.
  • Griffith, F. Ll., (1913) The Nubian Texts of the Christian Period. ADAW 8.
  • Zyhlarz, Ernst, (1928) Grundzüge der nubischen Grammatik im christlichen Frühmittelalter (Altnubisch): Grammatik, Texte, Kommentar und Glossar. Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, vol. 18, no. 1. Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft.

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Nubian_language — Please support Wikipedia.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia.
3299 videos foundNext > 

Learning the Nubian Language, Nubian Village in Aswan.

Aswan - Nubia,Egypt

Aswan is the ancient city of Swenet, which in antiquity was the frontier town of Ancient Egypt facing the south. Swenet is supposed to have derived its name from ...

Ehab Lotfi Paintings - Nubian Song - Popular Games

Paintings by Ehab Lotfi @ http://www.artwanted.com/artist.cfm?ArtID=21523 Ehab is Egyptian artist. was born in 1967 & live in Cairo,Egypt.graduated from ...

Pronunciation Of Nubian Language Alphabet

Pronunciation Of Nubian Language Alphabet References and Resources books Nubian Studies And Documentary Center.

Ahmed Moneeb Longing for The Land of Gold (Nubia)

Nubia is a region along the Nile river, which is located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt. There were a number of large Nubian kingdoms throughout the ...

Ahmed Monib - Eskalelo ... أحمد منيب - أسكاليلو

Nubia is a region along the Nile, in northern Sudan and southern Egypt. There were a number of small Nubian kingdoms throughout the Middle Ages, the last of ...

The Nubian Language Society

educational material for Nobiin language produced by the Nubian Language Society (NLS), Khartoum, Sudan.

Beautiful regal Ancient Egyptian music in the Nubian language. أحلئ رطانه

Long live Nuba. Ra'b(God) is Great. تحيا النوبة. الرب (الله) هو العظمى. جميل الموسيقى القديمة ملكي المصرية في اللغة النوبي...

ancient Egyptian language comparison to their neighboring languages

This video shows the great affinities that the Egyptian language has to their Semitic counterparts in west Asia, and that how the Nubian couldn't possibly be the ...

Nubian Folk Music project.

this genre of Music is located in south Egypt and North Sudan. the culture is very old and the people are not singing in Arabic, However, they sing in their Nubian ...

3299 videos foundNext > 

We're sorry, but there's no news about "Old Nubian language" right now.


Oops, we seem to be having trouble contacting Twitter

Support Wikipedia

A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia. Please add your support for Wikipedia!

Searchlight Group

Digplanet also receives support from Searchlight Group. Visit Searchlight