Old Nubian at the Leiden Summer School in Languages and Linguistics

For the first time, the Leiden Summer School in Languages and Linguistics will offer a course in Old Nubian, taught by Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei. The Summer School accepts scholars at BA/MA/PhD level, and will be held from July 22–August 2 at Leiden University.

Course description

Old Nubian is the oldest fully deciphered language of the Nilo-Saharan phylum, the least studied of all linguistic phyla on the African continent. Together with Ge’ez and Meroitic, Old Nubian is the only local language of Sub-Saharan Africa endowed with its own script. This makes the study of Old Nubian of particular significance, given the rarity of source material in a context where historical testimonies are limited.

The Old Nubian alphabetic writing system was developed in the Nubian Nile valley during the 6th c. CE based on the Coptic script, incorporating several symbols from the Meroitic alphasyllabary. It became a major language in the three Nubian kingdoms Nobadia, Makuria, and Alwa. After the 8th c., when Makuria incorporated Nobadia, we find the first textual evidence of the language, which remained in use, with various degrees of intensity, until the 15th c. At the same time, the Old Nubian language was only one of several languages spoken and written in the Nubian kingdoms, which also included Coptic, Greek, and Arabic, all of which left their mark on the language. The Old Nubian materials that have been excavated since the end of the 19th c. offer a broad view of Medieval Nubian society and religion, including both literary and documentary texs. Old Nubian also forms the ancestral language of the contemporary Nile Nubian language Nobiin.

As Old Nubian is currently not taught systematically at any university-level course, participants in this course will have the unique opportunity to gain a good grasp of Old Nubian grammar and literature, as well as with insight into how the language is positioned within the Nubian language family and the broader Nilo-Saharan phylum. As such, the course will rely heavily on written materials, both published and upublished, from the Medieval Nubian period and assumes knowledge of basic linguistic concepts. During the first week, a grammatical outline with daily exercises will be provided, while in the second week we will collectively read the Old Nubian literary texts, inclduding the Miracle of Saint Menas. No prior familiarity with the language is necessary, though knowledge of Greek and/or Coptic literature from the same period is a useful asset. The students will need to have familiarized themselves with the Old Nubian alphabet prior to the course.

Course reading (in advance of course)

Van Gerven Oei, Vincent W.J. “Remarks toward a Revised Grammar of Old Nubian.” Dotawo 1 (2014): 165–84. https://digitalcommons.fairfield.edu/djns/vol1/iss1/8/

Browne, Gerald M. The Old Nubian Miracle of Saint Menas. Beiträge zur Sudanforschung Beiheft 7. Vienna, 1994.

Application is open until June 1!

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