Both the lexical and the morphological correspondences have left no doubt that the Meroitic language shares an origin with the Nilo-Saharan Group of North Eastern Sudanic. It is also possible to determine with precision its place within this group. In the case of phonetics, it was shown that Meroitic shares with Nubian a particular innovation that sets it apart from the NES languages. Proto-NES *l in initial position becomes /n/. In the lexical domain, it has again a close relation with Nubian since it shares nearly all lexical series that were studied, while Nara shared only half, Taman less than half, and Nyima about two-thirds of the correspondences. Some lexical innovations (for “water” and “slave”) are only present in Meroitic and Nubian. The language of the Meroites is, therefore, placed together with Nubian in a separate branch on the basis of this unity, as is illustrated in the language tree (Figure 6.1).
Proto-NES, although defined on the basis of linguistic principles, seems to have been based on a homogeneous cultural entity. The common vocabulary includes numerous terms that refer to this, such as “shield,” “to build/weave,” “lance,” “house/hut,” and “door.” It is also possible to reconstruct the creator god *Aberdi. All this indicates that the speakers of this proto-language formed a unified community, sharing a continuous geographic space. The proto-lexicon even gives an indication of the original economic system. One finds numerous terms in common for livestock, such as “sheep,” “goat,” “milk,” and, in fewer cases, “cow” and “bull.” The agricultural vocabulary is, however, rather limited. Although there is a common term for “millet,” the original sense seems to be simply “cereal” or “grain,” and there is no common term for “field,” “to irrigate,” “to hoe,” et cetera. It seems, therefore, quite likely that the people of the original community were livestock farmers rather than anything else. It is also not insignificant that the Meroitic and proto-Nubian etymology of the word “slave” goes back to the laborer of the land.