Coptic_Vocalism_Two.htm, 2 of 3




by Patrick C. Ryan


2 of 3

I am rejoicing in it and I will be rejoicing again

In Sumerian, the sign which is the normal word for "house", e-2 (Jaritz #599), also has the reading bid; it depicts a wall woven of reeds or possibly of sewn skins. This form, bid, is what we would expect in Sumerian corresponding to IE *beid- / Arabic bait- / Egyptian *pit.

Now Sumerologists would say that this reading for #599 represents an Akkadian reading that was adopted by the Sumerians after contact with them but the Akkadian for "house" is bi:tu not *bi:d(u). Note that the Sumerian reflex of PL T[?] is d but the Semitic reflex is t.

Sumerian bid-2 is Jaritz #112; it has many meanings but among them is "heaven" and "support (noun)"; it depicts an upright pole.

Sumerian bid-3 is Jaritz #893; although this sign has a multiplicity of meanings, one of interest is "clothing". Several ancient signs are grouped under the rubric of the cuneiform sign, but at least two of them could be sewn pieces of animal skin.

Budge's dictionary records a spelling of piit for "heaven".

Based on this constellation of evidence, I conclude that the Proto-Language had a word, P[?]A-$E-T[?]O, which can be analyzed as "piece-like+large definite plural (inanimate)", which was used to designate the collection of skins, the skin fabric which constituted a "tent" or "shelter" or "skin clothing". While developing the generalized meaning of "residence" among tent-dwelling nomads, it acquired the meaning of "heaven" among sedentary peoples; and we speak even today of the "canopy of heaven".

In addition to suggesting an early linguistic connection between AA and IE through Nostratic (and an even earlier connection of Nostratic and Sumerian through the Proto-Language), the IE, Sumerian, and Arabic cognates clearly indicate a medial y not a grammatically determined simple vowel (i) for Egyptian pt; and I hold the emendation to *pit (representing *pajt) for Egyptian "heaven" to be established beyond a reasonable doubt.

Egyptian Phonology

The understanding of the phonetic development of Egyptian consonants has suffered from a forced connection with the Semitic languages.

Egyptian separated from Afrasian before Nostratic t[h] (IE t ) became Semitic /th/; and underwent a radically different phonetic development. Egyptian neutralized the difference between AA glottalized and aspirated stops and affricates so, for example, Nostratic t[?] / t[h] and t[?w] / t[hw] all have the same two reflexes in earliest Egyptian, namely d and t (which developed a pronunciation of /th/ as in THin); as do Nostratic t[?]s / ts[h] and t[?]s[w] / ts[hw], which are Egyptian D and < .

The Coptic development from Egyptian *pit, "heaven", is pe. Is there a linguist reading this paper who does not know of a dozen languages in which /e/ or /e:/ is a development from /ai/?

We will now systematically apply the principles we developed in the first part of this short essay.

We assume an underlying *pajata for Egyptian *pit with the stress-accent on the first syllable: *"pajata.

By application of the Zweisilbengesetz, which provides for the elimination of the vowel in a syllable following the stress-accent, we arrive at *pajta. With reduction of the final stress-unaccented vowel, we have *pajt; and with the vocalization of j to i, we finally arrive at *pait.

Egyptian ai in a closed syllable became e, hence a pronunciation of *pet was realized in Middle Egyptian.

Egyptian t, which was pronounced /th/, was later softened to /h/ when final and eventually disappeared altogether, leaving only as a trace of its former presence Coptic vocalic reflexes expected in closed syllables; hence Coptic pe.

The Coptic plural, pe:ue, "skies", shows that Egyptian construed this word as a feminine in -it(indicated also by the abnormal spelling piit, i.e. pi + it, feminine) with a plural in -w-it(*piwit).Had the feminine plural simply been -w-t, the Coptic result would have been *pe:(o)u.The feminine termination *-it corresponds to the rare but well-known IE -id.

Egyptian pi, "this", represents Nostratic p[?]a-"$[y]a. Here, the /j/ never forms a syllable with the preceding vowel; and the outcome in Coptic is pai (pa-"i).

It is a principle of Egyptian orthography that medial j and w are indirectly indicated by the employment of a biliteral (really triliteral) sign.

The difference between a spelling like pt{1}, "sky", and *pt{2} (attested in Middle Egyptian pt, "break open" and as ptpt, "bruise, beat down, trample"), "*tramp, which is seen in Coptic potpt, "fall away/to/upon, drop" (IE 2. pet-, "throw or hurl down on something; pounce on something, fly, fall"), is that ptpt has no associated biliteral, only a determinative, and so we can interpret this spelling as representing early Egyptian "pata(pata), which is indicated also by the cognate IE pet- and Nostratic "p[h]at[hw]a (in Arabic faTa?a, "break" {cf. the related faTaHa, "flatten" with IE 1. pet6-, "spread out"}).

We may again contrast this with Coptic pat, "foot", which is cognate with IE 2. pe/e:d-, "foot". The lengthened form of the IE root shows us we have a medial consonant; and the evidence of it in Coptic is the presence of a instead of the expected o. This represents Nostratic p[h]a-?(a)-t[?y](a), "flat-(stative)-foot = sole of the foot" (for Egyptian p(i)d, "foot", see Budge {p. 255}). Here Egyptian *pa"jata has become *pjat, and the presence of the j-glide inhibited the Sahidic backing of a to o before disappearing, hence *pat.

Yet again, in the similar word Egyptian pd, "run away, flee, hasten" (cognate with IE *pedy- {cf. Old Indian pádyate, "goes, falls"}, "go"), Coptic po:t ("run, flee, go") shows us that this root had no medial consonant but terminated in -i since the o: signals an erstwhile open syllable; and Gardiner cites a spelling pdi without the biliteral. We reconstruct *"pataja -> "patya -> "po:tya -> po:ty -> po:t. This is Arabic fatâ (fty), "to surpass anyone in generosity", i.e. "to go ahead".

One more example of these regular cognates is:

Egyptian p(I)D, "stretch, bow"

Egyptian <em><strong>p(i)D</strong></em>, bow


The Egyptian words pD, "stretch", and pD.t, "bow", are written with either of three signs (Gardiner T9-9*-10, "bow..."), and are biliterals (but, as we shall see, really trilterals); since the "bow" defines the main idea behind the form, a determinative is seldom used but "bow" sometimes has the determinative "branch" (Gardiner M3).

The correct Egyptian reflexes to Nostratic t[?/h]s[-/y] and t[h/?]s[w] are D and < d/dh and D/Z). Egyptian D was pronounced in Old Egyptian as /ts/ and < as /tsh/. The Coptic response to /ts/ is simply /ts/ (written j ) but some dialects (including Sahidic) modified it to c (/tsh/). Egyptian /tsh/, representing the pronunciation of <, became the glottal stop /?/ (Semitic ?alif [and hamza] in Arabic) though some Egyptologists consider it Semitic $ain. It is unindicated in Coptic except by inference through certain combinations of vowels (doubling).

In some words, Egyptian simplified D (ts) to d (/t/) by de-affricating it. The conditions under which this happened are not clear; and we may be dealing only with different dialectal responses to Nostratic t[h/?]s[-/y], which is IE t(h)/dh.

In any case, pD, "stretch", is actually written pd as early as Middle Egyptian; and Coptic pite, "bow", shows that this represents *p(i)D(i)t, "bow".

The earliest Egyptian form will have been: *pa"jaDajata.

The idea of "stretch" is contained in IE spidh-, seen in Greek spitháme:, "span (of the hand)", which is listed in Pokorny under 3. sp(h)e:(i)-, spi:- and sphe:- : sph6-, "thrive, stretch itself out = become fat, make progress, have success, succeed"; this is Arabic fa:da (fyd), "continue, last". A closely related IE root is 2. sp(h)ei- : sp(h)i/i:- and sp(h)e- : sp(h)6-, "pull, span". Both of these roots should be regarded as examples of s-mobile even though the simplex without s- does not seem to be easily attested.

These forms are all based on Nostratic p[hy]a-"$[y](a)-t[?]s[y]a-$(a), "mouse-like=thin + finger=release (pluck) + many=perfective", i.e. "made thin(er) (by plucking), stretched".

This can even be seen in Sumerian *biz, "*open hand, *span" (Jaritz #431 reads biz; and in the combination SHU biz, means "open hand, span").

Sumerian z is a special reflex of Nostratic ts[h][y] / t[?]s[y]; the commoner reflex of Nostratic ts[h][-/w] / t[?]s[-/w] is t. SHU is simply the determinative for items pertaining to the hand, and was not read.

We would expect that a word with such a range of meaning would occur in Arabic as well; and, it does. Arabic has fâda (fyd), "continue, last" --- exactly the form our equivalences predict!

Arabic f-y-d proves conclusively that Egyptian pD should be reconstructed as

*p i D NOT *p D;

and confirms the IE relationship of *(s)peidh- while lending support to the proposed Sumerian equivalence of biz.




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Patrick C. Ryan * 9115 West 34th Street - Little Rock, AR 72204-4441 * (501)227-9947