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Hieroglyphic Egyptian

Hieroglyphic Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Literature of the Middle Kingdom

Daniel L. Selden
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    Hieroglyphic Egyptian
    Book Description:

    This book offers a comprehensive, self-contained introduction to one of the oldest known recorded languages-Hieroglyphic Egyptian. Unlike other approaches, it is geared toward learning to read one of the masterpieces of Middle Egyptian literature, the story "Shipwrecked Sailor," written around 2200 bce. The text's eighteen lessons-organized around such topics as the body, flora, fauna, titles, administration, religion, sexuality, and warfare-cover all the basic grammar and syntax of Middle Egyptian. The book includes exercises for each chapter, sign lists, Egyptian/English and English/Egyptian dictionaries defining all the words and phrases used in the lessons, and a new edition of the tale "Shipwrecked Sailor" with facing commentary. Although the overall approach is literary,Hieroglyphic Egyptiancan also be used as an introduction to reading other material, such as biographical inscriptions, religious texts, historical annals, and mathematical or medical papyri. The text is suitable for classroom use, as well as for those who want to learn independently.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95523-3
    Subjects: Linguistics

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  4. Map of Ancient Egypt
    (pp. xix-xx)
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)

      (pp. 3-34)

      A venerable tradition, reaching back long before the decipherment of hieroglyphs in the early nineteenth century CE, considers Egyptian a unique language with idiosyncratic, privileged properties of its own. The GreekCorpus Hermeticum, for example, which has come down to us from the high Roman Empire, represents Asclepius writing to King Ammon—that is, the Greek god of healing to the Egyptian god of Karnak, Amun-Re:

      When expressed in its original language, an Egyptian text preserves the pure spirit of the words. For the very quality of the sound and the pronunciation of the Egyptian language carries in itself the...

    • LESSON 1
      (pp. 35-45)

      Nouns are words that languages use to designate things—real or imaginary (aardvark / unicorn), concepts or actions (reason / murder), even words themselves (noun). Some nouns are general enough to apply to many different things (river,actress), or specific enough to refer to only one thing (Ganges, Cher). The latter are called proper nouns, and in English they are usually capitalized (but note the preference of the American feminist author bell hooks). As in Hebrew, Greek, French, Nahuatl, Georgian, and many other languages, nouns in Egyptian are built of roots and affixes (prefixes, infixes, suffixes). In English the nouns...

    • LESSON 2
      (pp. 46-55)

      Nouns are always single words, whether those words themselves are singular or not. Most languages, including English, have ways to put two nouns together to refer to a thing that has both nouns in common. Examples in English include “junk food,” which is formed from the nouns “junk” and “food” and refers to food that some consider “junk”—that is, unhealthy. Or take the example of “police officer,” which refers to an official who polices civic order. The result is what is called acompound noun,where the first noun behaves as if it were an adjective. Middle Egyptian also...

    • LESSON 3
      (pp. 56-70)

      Egyptian scribes commonly employed an adjective-noun phrase in whichthe adjective is immediately followed by a noun that modifies[that is, further specifies]the adjective—the whole phrase (adjective + noun) constitutes a “bound construction” (see “2.2.1. The Direct Genitive” in Lesson 2) and hence normally cannot be broken up. It is much like the “accusative of respect” in Greekpodas ōkus Akhilleus“Achillesswift[ōkus(nom. sing.)]with respect to his feet[podas(accus. pl.)].” In both Greek and Middle Egyptian such phrases specify a particular quality—for good or for ill—that a particular individual (or individuals) possesses....

    • LESSON 4
      (pp. 71-81)

      One of the distinctive features peculiar to the Afroasiatic languages is a category of adjective that is derived from nouns and prepositions, which grammarians callnisba-adjectives. The termnisba(“relative”) is taken from Arabic grammar (’ismu-nisbati). In Egyptiannisba-adjectives have the same characteristic −jending as their Semitic counterparts, but they are much more widely used. Most striking—and most difficult for English speakers to get used to—is that in Egyptian they are formed not only from nouns, but also from prepositions.Nisba-adjectives derived from prepositions are extremely common in Egyptian and used to denote an astonishingly wide spectrum...

    • LESSON 5
      (pp. 82-91)

      Like other Afroasiatic languages, Middle Egyptian sentences commonly employpronounsto substitute for a noun or noun phrase. In Middle Egyptian all pronouns arepersonal pronouns—the pronoun invariably stands in for a “person” or a proper name. When grammarians speak of “person,” they mean a deictic reference—that is, a reference defined within the context of the speech act—that refers to one or the other of the participants in that speech act or to an object or event that the speak act concerns. Both English and Middle Egyptian distinguish three types of persons:

      1.First personrefers to the...

    • LESSON 6
      (pp. 92-102)

      In Middle Egyptian adjectival and nominal sentences remain relatively restricted in their use. The more common type of nonverbal sentence is adverbial.Adverbial sentencesconsist of three components: an introductory particle, a subject, and an adverbial predicate. The subject may be any substantivized form (noun, noun phrase, participle, and so on). The adverbial predicate will be either an adverb, or—more commonly—a prepositional phrase. Take the following example—“The man is in the house”—in which the adverbial predicate is a prepositional phrase:

      When a Middle Egyptian scribe wished to present something as a fact (whether the statement was...

    • LESSON 7
      (pp. 103-117)

      The preceding lessons have introduced many of the basic components of the Egyptian sentence. Like all complex semiotic systems, Egyptian hieroglyphs display what the French linguist André Martinet has called “double articulation,” and this on at least three different levels.

      First, a restricted set of graphemes—some representingsounds, othersmorphemes(that is, groups of sounds that constitute the minimal meaningful units of the language), others semantic determiners—are combined to formwords. For example, the word for “two arms” is comprised of three consonants: ‛ +w+j, which combine to make up two separate morphemes ‛ (“arm”)...

    • LESSON 8
      (pp. 118-128)

      One of the most common ways the Egyptian sentence comments adverbially on its subject is through the use of a prepositional phrase. As a verbal noun, the infinitive in Middle Egyptian can serve as the object of a preposition. Accordingly, the combinationpreposition + infinitivecan be used to form an adverbial comment in a nonverbal sentence. Egyptologists conventionally call this type of adverbial predicatepseudoverbal: “verbal” because it involves a verb form (the infinitive) and “pseudo” because syntactically it is a nonverbal predicate (an adverbial comment on the subject of the sentence). The term is regrettable but nonetheless firmly...

    • LESSON 9
      (pp. 129-138)

      The third and final series of pronouns that Middle Egyptian uses are thedependent pronouns. Unlikesuffix pronouns, which are enclitic, the dependent pronouns function syntactically as separate words, although they cannot stand entirely on their own in the way that independent pronouns do. Their most important use is as the direct object of verbs, and so correspond closely to the English accusative (direct object) pronoun series: “me,” “him,” “her,” “them,” and so on. Therefore they must be thoroughly committed to memory.

      Review “6.3. Suffix Pronouns” in Lesson 6, if you have not yet learned these by rote. In absorbing...

    • LESSON 10
      (pp. 139-155)

      The stative in Middle Egyptian principally functions—as we saw in Lesson 8—either as the predicate in an adverbial sentence (jw/mk + subject + stative), or to introduce a dependent clause of circumstance that modifies the main clause of a sentence. In a restricted number of instances, however, Middle Egyptian also employed the stative in the sentence-initial position of an independent clause. In such independent constructions, the use of the first-person singular differs significantly from that of the second and third persons.

      There is a relatively rare use of the first-person singular stative in main clauses that does not...

    • LESSON 11
      (pp. 156-169)

      The first ten lessons in this book have introduced the various categories ofnonverbal sentencesemployed in Middle Egyptian writing. Conventionally, such sentences are classified by the type of “predicate” that each employs, although no verbs are actually involved. In Middle Egyptian nonverbal sentences belong to one of three types, and complete familiarity with each of these is necessary before proceeding to the verbal system.

      From the category of thepseudoverbal, it is clear that the distinction betweennonverbalandverbalsentences in Middle Egyptian is a bit less tidy than grammarians might wish. In this context, however, we will...

    • LESSON 12
      (pp. 170-183)

      The regular past tense for both the Circumstantialsḏm=f (active voice)and thepseudoverbal ḥr + infinitiveis theCircumstantial sḏm.n=f, which is formed by affixing the suffixnto the verbal stem. The affix follows any determinative(s) but always precedes the subject, whether the subject be a noun or a pronoun. Conventional practice places a dot between the verb stem and the morphemen, and an equal sign (=) between thenand a suffix pronoun. The conjugation is as follows:

      Like the Circumstantialsḏm=f, the Circumstantialsḏm.n=fis never sentence-initial but always preceded by a particle such as...

    • LESSON 13
      (pp. 184-195)

      Frontingis the transposition of a word or phrase from its usual syntactic position to the beginning of a clause or sentence, typically for emphasis or contrast. In English, for example, the direct object normally comes after the verb: “My aunt makes fruitcake for Kwanza.” For emphasis, however, it is possible tofrontthe noun “fruitcake” for emphasis and say, throwing the stress on the first word: “Fruitcakemy aunt makes for Kwanza.” Middle Egyptian also employs various types of nominal and verbal fronting more commonly than in English.

      The normal word order for a statement of fact in Middle...

    • LESSON 14
      (pp. 196-206)

      When a verb of perception, such as those to the left, takes an object, this may be a simple direct object (“I saw my son”:jw m.n=j s=j), or it may involve an action. In the latter case, Middle Egyptian employs one of three constructions, each with a slightly different meaning.

      1. Infinitive

      2. Virtual relative clause: direct object + Ci rcumstantialsḏm=f

      3. Noun clause with Nominalsḏm=f

      The difference in nuance between (2) and (3) may be slight, but it is more apparent in the Egyptian than in English. In (2) the emphasis is on seeing the person (as he...

    • LESSON 15
      (pp. 207-218)

      Word order in Middle Egyptian plays a key role in establishing the grammatical function of each component of every clause. Forverbal sentences—whether they constitute a main, a dependent, or a relative clause—the basic word order is that displayed in Table 15.1. This syntactic pattern (its word order) remains largely invariable—exceptions are relatively rare—when slots 3 through 5allinvolve nouns or noun phrases.¹

      The syntactic pattern varies, however, when pronouns substitute for nouns. As a rule, pronouns take precedence over nouns: they leap as far forward as possible toward the main verb of the sentence...

    • LESSON 16
      (pp. 219-231)

      In Middle Egyptian the phrasesjw wnandnn wnrespectively predicate existence (“there is” / “there are”) and nonexistence (“there is/are not”). The formwnis the irregular Circumstantialsḏm=fof the 2nd geminating verbwnn—irregular in that the stem does not geminate in the circumstantial form. Moreover, various ellipses are often used, in which the verbwnis omitted altogether.

      A general assertion of existence in Middle Egyptian in either a main or a relative clause utilizesjw wn. Although this sentence type may have been common in everyday speech, its use is fairly restricted in literary...

    • LESSON 17
      (pp. 232-245)

      Thesḏm.t=fis aperfective punctual contingent tense—that is, it expresses completed action in relation to some other circumstance. Its distinguishing marker is the ending −t, which is added directly to the verb stem before any determinatives. This means that in 3rd weak verbs it resembles the infinitive. From its use after prepositions and the manner of its negation, it is clear that the form is inherently nominal.

      The active and passive forms for the most part look alike. The principal exception is in 3rd weak verbs, where the passive regularly has a double reed leaf before the ending...

    • LESSON 18
      (pp. 246-256)

      Literary Middle Egyptian possessed a number of verbal locutions that served primarily to carry plot or thematic development forward in narrative poetry and prose.These constructions occur only in main clauses, are sentence-initial, and never introduced byjwormk. The statements they make assume a known situation. Three of them are considered here.

      A common auxiliary past tense construction, found in narrative texts of all varieties is:

      The verb‛ḥ‛means “to stand up” or “arise,” so the original sense of‛ḥ‛(written with the walking legs determinative) may have been something like: “And then it arose that he….”...


      (pp. 259-261)

      The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailoris an account of an Ancient Egyptian voyage to Punt, written around 2200 BCE, in a refined Middle Egyptian. It is the oldest known instance of a story of a castaway on a fabulous island, who returns home laden with riches. The tales of Sinbad the Sailor belong to the same tradition and share many of this story’s characteristics, as does Homer’sOdyssey, Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy ibn Yaqzān, Shakespeare’sThe Tempest, Defoe’sRobinson Crusoe, J. G. Schnabel’sInsel Felsenburg, H. G. Wells’sThe Island of Dr. Moreauand such television series asGilligan’s Island...

      (pp. 262-293)

      1 For thesḏm.jn=fconstruction, see “18.1.2.Sḏm.jn=f.”

      2wḏꜢ: either imperative (wḏꜢ jb=k“buck up your heart”) or prospectivesḏm=f(wḏꜢ jb=k“may it please you”).

      ḥꜢ.tj-‛: the seated man can be construed either as a determinative or as the first-person singular suffix pronoun—that is,ḥꜢ.tj-‛=j.

      3ẖnw: interior, home, abode, residence, country (that is, Egypt); perhaps the interior of Egypt.

      4–5 Recent commentaries suggestsšpandḥwjare imperatives; the older reading takes them assšp(.w)andḥwj(.w)respectively—that is, passiveSḏm.w=f. After these follows a circumstantial dependent clause with thenoun + stativeconstruction:...

      (pp. 294-296)

      (pp. 299-310)

      The following constructions do not occur in the tale of theShipwrecked Sailorand therefore have been reserved for study at a later date. However, they are all reasonably common and should be learned before moving on to the reading of other texts.

      In addition to thesḏm.jn=f, there are two further contingent narrative forms that are not as common, although they are not rare either. In all cases they relate things that are dependent on previous circumstances, actions, and so on. The verbal stem is generally the same in all cases—that is, the stem does not geminate, and...

      (pp. 311-312)
      (pp. 313-313)
      (pp. 314-315)

      jmjtwbetween, in the midst of

      jnby (agent)

      wpw-ḥrseparated from, except, but

      min, on, with, from, as, consisting of, by [before a suffix:

      m-‛together with, in the possession of, in the charge of, from, through

      mjlike, according to, as well as

      m-bꜢḥin the presence of


      m-hꜢwin the neighborhood of, at the time of

      m-ḥꜢ.tin front of, at the prospect of

      m-ḥꜢwin excess of

      m-ḥꜢw-ḥrin addition to, over and above, except

      m-hrj-jbin the midst of

      m-ḫmtin the absence of, without

      m-ẖtafter, accompanying, accompanying

      m-ẖnwwithin, in,...

      (pp. 316-317)
      (pp. 318-346)

      Ꜣ Egyptian vulture (n.)

      Ꜣ.tminute, instant (n.)

      variantꜢjtto whiten, or blanch (v. 3-lit.)

      Ꜣwlong [of space] (adj.); length [of space] (n.)

      Ꜣbwivory (n.)

      Ꜣb.tfamily, clan (n.)

      Ꜣbdmonth (n.)

      ꜢbḏwAbydos (n. loc.)

      Ꜣpdduck, bird (n.)

      Ꜣmto burn, burn up (v. 2-lit.: trans. and intrans.)

      Ꜣḥ.tfield, arable land (n.)

      Ꜣḫglorious, splendid; beneficial, useful profitable (adj.)

      Ꜣḫtransfigured spirit (n.)

      Ꜣḫ.tinundation [summer] (n.)

      Ꜣḫ.tthe horizon; the tomb of a king, palace (n.)

      Ꜣs.tIsis (proper n.)

      Ꜣtpto load (v. 3-lit.)

      Ꜣtpwload, cargo (n.)

      =jsuffix pronoun (first-person...

    • R-7. SIGN LISTS
      (pp. 347-387)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 388-400)