The Nuba Mountains Languages

About fifty languages spoken in the Nuba Mountains (I am of course talking about the situation that persisted at least until the late 70s) we classify them into members of two or perhaps three language families - Nilo-Saharan and Kordofanian (sub-family of the Niger-Kordofanian family). Of course in addition there is Arabic which could not have been spoken in the area prior to the Muslim invasions of Egypt in the 700s (Common Era) or the first century AH and there are also speakers of Fulani and some other West African languages. All the other languages of the Mountains well predate that period and in most cases were spoken there from time immemorial. The Kordofanian languages consist of four groups: Heiban, Talodi, Rashad and Katla - these names are based on their geographical centres (proposed by Thilo Schadeberg) and differ from names used in previous literature. The Kadugli Group was earlier classified by Greenberg as part of Kordofanian but removedfrom that relationship by Schadeberg and is currently considered probably part of Nilo-Saharan. The Kordofanian sub-groups are located in the southern and eastern areas of the Nuba Mountains. The Kadugli Group is located in the south east central fringe area near Kadugli.

The rest of the Nuba languages are classified as part of a major sub-group of Nilo-Saharan called East Sudanic. Relatives to these languages outside the Mountains include the various Nilotic groups and some smaller groups including Tama of Darfur, Nera of Eritrea and the Jebel groups of the Upper Blue Nile.
The "Hill Nubian" and Daju languages spoken in the Mountains have their major relatives outside the Mountains and we can reconstruct some details of their history and as a result propose that they each came into the Nuba Mountains to settle among the existing Nuba populations.
The Nobiin (and later Dongolawi) came to the Nile from a centre of dispersion in Darfur-Kordofan which they occupied and controlled for perhaps 4000 years. We know that there were Nubian speakers on the Nile at least as early as the 500s CE and probably much earlier. The fact that the Hill Nubian languages have words for the days of the week dating back to Christian Nubian indicates that these languages were in contact at least during the Christian Nubian period which probably covers 500 CE - 1400 CE. This does not necessarily mean that the Hill Nubians did more than expand from central Kordofan into the Nuba Mountains during the period of Nubian political dominance from Aswan to Kosti (at least). But given the location of the Hill Nubian speakers (Dair, Dilling, Karko etc) along the NE edge of the Mountains it appears that they were "incomers" settling among the existing Nyima and Temein groups who were there before them, at least.
The Daju Language Groups consists of at least six varieties spread out over a wide area from Eastern Chad to the Nuba Mountains. We know that Southern Darfur was the centre of a Daju state perhaps as early as 1200 CE which was later displaced by the Tunjur and then the Fur who ruled from the Jebel Marra range. There are various traditions of Daju dispersion including a number of myths celebrating Ahmad el-Daj. Whatever the case, it is clear that the Daju controlled the area between southern Jebel Marra and perhaps as far east as the western edges of the Nuba Mountains. The Shatt and Liguri who are now well inside the Nuba Mts and north-east of Kadugli have been separated from the rest of the Daju for a long time (perhaps as much as 2000 years). The Daju of Dar el-Kabira and Lagawa are much more closely related linguistically to the Nyala and then to the Dar Sila Daju. This makes us think that there were two periods of Daju movement east, the first by the Shatt and Liguri and the second and perhaps related to the expansion and dominance by the South Darfur Daju, by the Lagawa Daju.
The place of the Nile-Nubian within the African Languages
The African language are divided into four big language famillies.From north to south they are :
- Afro-Asian languages ( Semi- Hamitic,Berber, Cushite,Hamitic,Tschadic
-Nilo-Saharan languages ( Kanuri,Dinka,Shillk,Nubian
-Niger-Kordofanic languages ( Bantu languages { Suaheli,Zulu,Ful,Bambara
- Khoisan languages ( Hottentotts,Bushmen
The Nile Nubian languages are part of the the Nilo-Saharan language family.Further they belong to the Eastern Sudanic group and from with the Darfur Nubian and Kordofan Nubian the Nubian language group.Within the Nile-Nubian languages we have branches: The Nobiin ( Sukot, Halfawi, Fiadikka ) and the Dongolawi / Kenzi .
The distribution of Nile Nubian speaking people
Nile Nubian speaking people are traditionally found in the Nile Valley of Upper Egypt and north Sudan-between Aswan and al-Debba. In addition to this region there are speakers in the two resettlement areas, in Egypt in the vicinity of Kom Ombo and in Sudan in New Halfa ( or Khashm il-Girba) on the Atabara river near the Sudanese-Ethiopian border. Also there are Nubians in Khartoum and the bigger cities of Egypt, such as Cairo, Alexanderia ,Ismaelia and Suez.


Main Page