Hamitic Languages, a group of languages forming a distinct and independent linguistic family, current from the remotest times throughout the whole of the Hamite domain [Hamitic Race] except Egypt, where it has been replaced by Arabic since the Mohammedan invasion. There are three recognised branches: (1) Old Egyptian of the hieroglyphic inscriptions and Demotic writing, still partly represented by the Neo-Egyptian or Coptic, which, though no longer spoken, is still the liturgical language of the Coptic Christians; (2) Berber, of which there are three main groups; Kobyle of Algeria; Shltth of Morocco, and Tamosltek (Tuareg) of the Central and Western Sahara; (3) The so-called Ethiopian, which is spoken with great dialectic diversity throughout Galla, Kaffa, and Somali Lands; amongst the Agau and other primitive peoples of Abyssinia, and by the Afars (Danakil) and Bejas of the coast lands from the strait of Bab-el-Mandeb to Upper Egypt. Aberrant members of this family are also probably the language of the Masia people west of Mounts Kenia and Kilimanjaro, and the speech of the Tibu highlanders of Central Sahara and other allied tribes in Kanem, Bornu, Ennedi, and Baele round about Lake Chad.
Hamitic belongs to the inflecting or highest order of speech, and its affinities appear to be with the Semitic, from which it separated at such a remote epoch that it is now difficult to establish the relationship. The resemblance is rather in the identity of a common morphological base than in the coincidence of fully developed grammatical forms. The pronominal systems are certainly alike both in their roots and in the process of plural formation; internal vowel change is also a common feature, though much more highly developed in the Semitic than in the Hamitic group; both attach the pronominal elements in the same way to the persons in verbal inflexion, and both employ ttie same letter t to mark the feminine gender in the noun and verb. In Berber this element is even prefixed as well as suffixed, as in akli, negro ; and taklit, negress.
Egyptian has been cultivated longer than any other language, and the early hieroglyphic inscriptions are the oldest specimens of writing in the world. The Berber language also was reduced to written form at a very early date [Berber]; but none of the Ethiopian languages were ever cultivated by the nations themselves; hence their only written documents are the translations of the Bible made in recent years by the missionaries. For details see under the several headings.