When I first started learning from James Hoch's Middle Egyptian Grammar, I found his clear explanations made it possible for me to progress quite rapidly, and with a feeling that I had a grasp on what was happening. Then I got to the Prospective sDm=f form of the verb. Unfortunately this looks exactly the same as the Cicumstantial sDm=f form, but is used quite differently. Now with other languages I have learned, there were different pronunciations or inflections to go with differences in usage. I also tend to learn languages by talking them to myself (if no other victim is available). In this case I seemed to have no way of keeping myself straight as to which form was what, so my progress slowed dramatically. Of course the fact that I was puzzling over this problem took time and concentration away from learning the grammar too.
At first it occurred to me that maybe
I should just make an arbitrary variation in the forms, but that seemed
like cheating. Of course, all the textbooks seemed to be all in favour
of such cheating, since all they tell you about pronunciation of Egyptian
is the sounds of the consonants and stick in a few short e's to make them
pronounceable. To someone like me with no teacher to emulate, this
is not a very satisfactory piece of advice, and had been bothering me for
So it eventually occurred to me that maybe I would find a solution if I could just figure out where those e's were supposed to be. The rest, as they say, is history.
Since then, Antonio Loprieno published Ancient Egyptian: A linguistic introduction, which might have solved my original problem for me, and confirmed a number of my conclusions. However there are some discrepancies between what I figured out and what is presented in the book By the time the book was published I had found out that the conclusions I had reached explained a number of otherwise somewhat mystifying vagaries of Egyptian, so I was naturally a little reluctant to simply say "He's right and I must be wrong."
I have discussed some of the discrepancies with people who might know about such things, but so far no-one has managed to shoot down my ideas. Perhaps publishing this essay will remedy that, or perhaps I might turn out to be right. We shall see.
The assumptions I started out with:
Well, there is a class of strong verbs (that is they don't contain consonants that are in the habit of getting lost, like an i at the end of the root) which have the last two consonants of the root identical. Such verbs are called II-gem. verbs. They exhibit an intersting feature - in some forms of the verb the are witten with all root consonants (they "display gemination"), and in others they are written with only one of the two identical consonants.
For example: the verb qbb,
to be cool. The Circumstantial is written qbb=f
and the Prospective is written qb=f.
Therefore, by Assumption 3, the Circumstantial form should be qebebef and the Prospective should be qebbef.
And further, by Assumption 2, we can apply this to all strong verbs (however weak verbs might be different, because of their weak consonants). So the Circumstantial sDm=f form should be the seDemef form and the Prospective sDm=f form should be the seDmef form.
And so my problem with the Prospective form was solved! I could now distinguish it in pronunciation from the Circumstantial form and feel that I was being reasonably true to the ancient language.
|Circumstantial: Pres. Pass.||sDm=tw=f||CvCvC=||sedemtewef|
|Circumstantial: Past Pass.||sDm=(w)=f||CvCCv=||sedmewf|
|Participle: imperf. act.||sDm||CvCvC||sedem|
|Participle: imperf. pass.||sDm||CvCvC||sedem|
|Participle: perf. act.||sDm||CvCC||sedm|
|Participle: perf. pass.||sDm||CvCC||sedm|
|2nd Tense sDmf||sDm=f||CvCvC||sedemef|
|2nd Tense sDmnf||sDmn=f||CvCCvn=||sedmenef|
The Egyptian verb "see" mAA is a II-gem verb which exhibits the strange property of sometimes being written with an n in non-geminating forms (mAn=f in the Prospective). The sound represented by A is not exactly known, but generally held to have features in common with r and l and n. In non-geminating forms, my hypothesis says that we have a doubled consonant - meAAe. Now what did the doubled consonant AA sound like to the Egyptians? It seems reasonable to propose that the n was written to represent this sound, so that the word sounded something like menef with the first A still written because it was felt as an essential, defining part of the verb root.
One class of verbs has a final weak consonant (i or w), which is generally not written (these are called III-inf. verbs). In some of these verbs in forms where II-gem verbs show no gemination sometimes have the i or w written. This can be explained in terms of this hypothesis as follows (using the example of mri)
|Circumstantial sDm=f||mr=f||mereief =>mere(i)f|
Since developing this theory, I have found that there are a number of discrepencies between these results and what others have concluded based on Coptic. How these discrepencies can be reconciled is yet to be seen, and for now I prefer to give my results based directly on Middle Egyptian spelling some preference over results based on a chain of reasoning and assumptions spanning 2000 years.
Comments and suggestions are very welcome!
|email@example.com||Return to Egyptology Page|