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From Pharaoh’s Lips

From Pharaoh’s Lips: Ancient Egyptian Language in the Arabic of Today

Ahmad Abdel-Hamid Youssef
Introduced by Fayza Haikal
Illustrations by Golo
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 144
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  • Book Info
    From Pharaoh’s Lips
    Book Description:

    From the most distant past to the modern day, some things never change—including words. The modern Egyptian Arabic dialect is one of the most distinctive in the Arabic-speaking world precisely because of its illustrious heritage from the country’s ancient past. Ahmad Abdel-Hamid Youssef spends a day in the Egyptian countryside, taking note of the many expressions that once fell from the lips of the ancient Egyptians and that continue to be heard on the tongues of the modern Egyptians in their everyday speech. His charming tale of Bayoumi, a farmer, his wife Sawsan, and their baby provides the backdrop for tracing the persistence of these words and phrases. What these average Egyptians do, what tools they use, what they eat, how they organize their life, even how they interact—all can be described with words that hark back to the age of the pharaohs. In telling his story, Dr. Youssef integrates the ancestry of these common expressions, with the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and Coptic and Arabic words appearing alongside transliterations and translations into English. Both entertaining and instructive, this volume includes a series of glossaries in Egyptian, Coptic, and Arabic. With an introduction by Fayza Haikal, an Egyptologist who specializes in Egyptian language, and illustrations by cartoonist Golo, this book is sure to appeal to anyone who has an interest in Egypt, ancient or modern.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-228-7
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-x)
    Fayza Haikal

    With the advent of Islam and its sweeping expansions in the world, Egypt was conquered by the Arabs in 641 and the course of its history changed radically. People gradually converted to Islam, and the upper strata of the population started to learn Arabic, as they had learned Greek before, in the Hellenistic period, because it was the language of the rulers and was gradually becoming the language of administration. Arabic was also the language of the Qur’an, but countries of the Muslim world that were not administered by Arabs did not find it necessary to learn their language. In...

  4. Chapter 1 The Past Remains Alive
    (pp. 1-14)

    This proverb is heard throughout Egypt from south to north. For most Egyptians, the past has never left us. Our remote history and old traditions still occupy a large place in our culture and everyday life, although we are often unaware of this continuity. The above proverb echoes an even older one spoken by our ancestors thousands of years ago:

    “Any knowledgeable person is one who will listen to what the ancestors said” This little book is about what our ancestors said—and what we still say. Some words and expressions are practically unchanged from the time of the earliest...

  5. Chapter 2 Bayūmi
    (pp. 15-24)

    Every year, for thousands of years, the flood season, dimïra, initiated a happy cycle. The flood would bring about the resumption of agriculture, and it stimulated a new burst of economic and social activities in Egypt. Even now, after the building of the Aswan High Dam has reduced the impact of the annual flood, the patterns of agricultural life remain the same. Early at dawn, when the dry thirsty land, sharāqi, has received enough irrigated water, the peasant—we’ ll call him Bayūmi—goes out to his field, his hoe, tūrya, on his shoulder, a whip, amsha, in hand, driving...

  6. Chapter 3 Sawsan
    (pp. 25-36)

    While Bayūmi labors in the field, Sawsan spends her day full of activity around the house. She prepares the daily food for the family, and she has a young infant, nūnu, who takes a lot of her time and attention. When a child is born to an Egyptian family, it is a cause for great joy and celebration. The new arrival is often given a name our most ancient ancestors would find familiar, such as Banūb or Bahūr, which we saw above. Other popular names that come from the ancient past include Wīṣa, probably from the god Bes, a divinity...

  7. Chapter 4 What’s for Dinner?
    (pp. 37-46)

    When Sawsan offers her family various dinner dishes, she uses the same names for many foods that were used in the time of Ramesses II or Khufu, builder of the Great Pyramid. Most meals begin with bread being passed around. The modern Egyptians are perhaps the only people in the Arab world to use the word ‘aysh, عايش literally ‘life,’ for bread, as did their ancient ancestors, who used nḫ as a common word for bread, with the root ‘nḫ referring both to life and what keeps it going. We still use the metaphorical expression akl al-‘aysh, literally ‘eating bread,’...

  8. Chapter 5 Neighborhood Characters
    (pp. 47-54)

    After dinner, Bayūmi decides to visit his uncle Banūb, who lives nearby. When he arrives he discovers several of his uncle’s friends already gathered there talking about some of the neighborhood lowlife. Each one is telling about the worst behavior they’ve ever experienced. They all agree they’d like to simply sweep away in a plague, shōṭa, all the hated people or the unruly mob, ḥawash.

    Banūb, however, has a story to tell about mean behavior that tops all the other accounts. That very day, in horror and disgust, he witnessed a neighborhood bully inflicting harsh, heavy-handed blows, īd ṭursha, on...

  9. Chapter 6 Celebration!
    (pp. 55-64)

    Bayūmi, Sawsan, and Jamjūm often attend the weekly village market day, where they might find players, dancers, snake charmers, and conjurers. These entertainers usually start their show by calling on everyone to gather around: tūt hāwi! Some of the hardworking villagers may not want the distraction immediately in their busy day, and as the crowds begin to swell in the market square, they express their displeasure at the intrusion by shouting, “Finish your work, if you want to get paid! ” shīka-bīka!

    Once a year, the Egyptian social calendar is enlivened with the celebration ofRamaḍān, which begins with the...

  10. Chapter 7 Wisdom of Old
    (pp. 65-70)

    To this brief account may be added a number of sayings that are still current in our daily life:

    “At your service, Your Excellency”

    The first word of the expression,shubhek, means in Egyptian ‘your excellency,’ from BHśfyt;the second word, lubbek , means ‘here I am for you’ in Classical Arabic.

    “Plan as if expecting the south wind (unfavorable for sailing upstream), and if the (pleasant) east wind blows, it is from God”

    The word for the south wind, marīsi, comes from PHCrsy, preceded by the preposition m, ‘from.’ The word for the east wind, tiyāb, comes...

  11. Glossaries
    (pp. 71-116)
  12. Sources
    (pp. 117-118)