Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Relationship between ancient Egyptian and Dagara? Part 1

Revisiting a case put forth by a forum discussant about language relationship between ancient Egyptian [generally placed in the Afrasan language phylum] and Dagara [generally placed in the Niger-Congo language phylum]:

Asar Imhotep puts forth:

In egyptian, some words are formed from this primitive i, all having an affirmative content of "to be". We have:
i: "to be"
i+w: iw: "is", "are"
i+pw, ipw: "it is"
i+nw, inw: "it is"

In dagara there is an identical system, also derived from the primitive i:
i: "to be"
i+na: ina: "to be, to exist"(egyptian: iwn, wn, wnn)
i+nu, inu: "it is"(egyptian: inw, nw, nu)

Mystery Solver replies:

Elsewhere, it is maintained:

‘i‘- suffix ~ I, me, my

And yes, iw ~ is

“pw” (masculine pl.) ~ these, this

“nw” ~ these, this and we also have “nw” ~ time, also “nw” (pl.) ~ belong to

Yes, “wn” and “wnn” ~ to be, to exist.

“sw”, “sy”, and “st” are all alternatives to “it”.

Again, it is a complex matter in Egyptic, and roots of words need to be sought out. Besides, based on this, there is obviously some mismatches between Obenga’s translations and the above.

Asar Imhotep puts forth:

Ancient Egyptians used the suffix -w and -wt for masculine and feminine, respectively:
pr, "house"; prw "houses"
dpt, "ship"; dpwt "ships"

In Dagara, we have:
nir, "man"; nibè, "men"
po, "woman"; pobè, "women"

The element -bè is indeed the element used by Dagari people to express the plural of substantives.

Laymen with no knowledge in linguistics will probably say that although the system is the same, the elements are different as -w,-wt is very different from -bè. That is why one should never draw a conclusion looking at the appearances. Phonetically m/b can evolve into w. Dagara may well have known the forms *niwè and *powè, that would have given the rise to the attested forms nibè and pobè. Actually the pharaonic suffix -w would correspond to the dagara -bè in the same grammatical functions. It is very plausible all the more so since the morphologies are identical.

Mystery Solver replies:

Highly speculative! Just about any language has a means to communicate plurality in one form or another.

Yes, appearances apparently matter, even to Obenga, as he dedicates portions of his lexical comparisons to similarities in lexical appearance, although he tries to argue for genetic basis for such relationship. If Egyptic and these languages come from common branch, one would expect to see not only grammatical cognates shared between the sub-languages of that common branch and Egyptic in attaining plurality, but also lexical appearance of those cognates, which I shall demonstrate in due time, as is exemplified in the case of the functions of “n” and “w” in Egyptic on one hand, and the function of “n” in attaining plurality across the Afrasan super phylum on the other hand. Also, not mentioned here, as it pertains to Dagara, is the grammatic structure of de-neutering terms, so as to attain “masculine” and “feminine” counterparts of a single term. In the Afrasan super family, there is consistency in this structure, along with consistency in lexical appearance in attaining this structure.

Asar Imhotep puts forth:

nfr: "beautiful, good, happy, perfect"
bw+nfr, bwnfr: "beautifulness, goodness, happiness, perfectness"
-bin: "bad"
bw+bin, bwbin: "badness"

Mystery Solver replies:

Yes, “nfr” ~ good, but can also imply “goodness” [Jim Loy, 1998], beautiful or beauty without modification to the term.

“nfrw” ~ goodness [e.g. mnw pw n zj nfrw.f ~ The monument of a man in his goodness - courtesy James P. Allen, 2000] , beauty . This term is apparently the alternative to ‘nfr’ and ‘bw-nfr’, yet doesn’t follow the pattern in question.

Whereas “bw-nfr” ~ good (as noun), as is “bw-bin” ~ bad (noun)

“wr” ~ greatness, yet does not abide by the pattern so-described.

‘bnr’ ~ sweetness, pleasant,
“bw-ikr” ~ excellence, which is not much different from plainly”ikr” ~ excellent, excellence, trustworthy

“bw” also means “place”.

Hence, taking up a few words here and there, without a broader look at the possible alternative uses of single terms, can lead to simplistic conclusions. Obenga himself unintentionally and partly directs us to the complexity of situation in Egyptic, in the following, by acknowledging “nfrw” as an alternative to “bw-nfr” to beautifulness…

Asar Imhotep puts forth:

a) nfr: "beautiful"
bw+nfr bunefer: "beautifulness"

b) nfr: "beautiful"
nfr+w nfrw: "beautifulness"

Mystery Solver replies:

…although, he makes it appear as though it is necessary to have co-occurrence of singular terms to relay the meanings so described; there is no evidence however, that single appearance of the terms in question relay anything different from their supposed co-occurrence. In fact, I’ve just provided an example which suggests otherwise [see above].

Asar Imhotep puts forth:

Egyptian: m(m pr: "in the house")
Dagara: mi(zu mi: "in the head")

Egyptian: m(m ssh: "as a scribe")
Dagara: me(me iba: "as a cayman")

Egyptian: n
Dagara: ni (fu ni u: "you and him")

4)"upon, on"
Egyptian: her
Dagara: zu (r/z)(yir zu: "on the house")

The sound correspondances are regular and do match:


Mystery Solver replies:

Yes ‘m’ ~ in; but not quite so simple as that; there is alternative term for it: ‘hr’ ~ in. In fact, Obenga’s repetition of this letter again for a totally different meaning, as the equivalent of “as”, is enough evidence of its use in totally different contexts.

The Egyptic terms for ’and’ from other sources, is “hr” or “hn“ [n with an accent of some sort] ~ and. Haven’t come across any source suggesting “n” ~ and.

Speaking of “hr”, it reappears in Mdu Ntr as the equivalent of “on”, “upon“, “at“, “through“, (conj.) “because“, “and” (with suffix pron.) or “face", which again attests to the problems with cherry picking one context of a single term that could possibly turn out to have one, two or three more other meanings. Again, the root of these terms may well shed light on their origins, and hence, account for parallel designations for the various contexts. Why? Because it is necessary to understand the context of the original term that begat other contexts, and to examine if a well defined figurative undertone accounts for this. With multiple contexts of a single term, one can't simply use it in one convenient context as though it were the root term, without first examining what was just said.

Asar Imhotep puts forth:

In egyptian, n is the first plural personal suffix pronoun (feminine and masculine). Let's suppose a reversed alternation happened between the two situations.

Mystery Solver replies:

Consistency across Afrasan languages is observed, no “reversed alternation“ to speak of.


--------------Beja-----Arabic----Dahalo-general non-past

you (m.)------>-tia<---->-ta<------>-to
you (f.)------>-tii<---->-ti<------>-to
you (pl.)----->-tina<--->-tum<----->-ten
they---------->-ina<---->-u:<------>-en, -ammi

Observe the plural suffix pronouns above, where ‘n’ consistently appears in the languages in question.

Asar Imhotep puts forth:

Precisely, in dagara, the second singular personal pronoun is fu, "you". In egyptian, f is the third singular personal suffix pronoun (masculine),"he". It would have been another inversion between dagara and egyptian.

Mystery Solver replies

Whereas in Afrasan we see clear consistency:

Word that ends in:

i = "I, me, my" - per.i = "my house"
k = "you, your" - per.k = "your house"
t = "you, your" - per.t = "your house"
f = "he, him, his" - per.f = "his house"
s = "she, her - per.s = "her house"
n = "we, us, our" - per.n = "our"
tn = "you, your" - per.tn = "y'alls house" best way to show its usage.
sn = "they, them" - per.sn = "their house"
ny(ni) = "our, we two" - per.ny = "We two's house"
tny = "you two" - per.tny = "You two's house"
sny = "those two" - per.sny = "Those two's house"
- posted by Wally

Taking that [Kemetic suffixes] and then comparing it with the above suffixes [from Beja, Arabic, Kabyle and Dahalo], we have:

And the pronominal object suffixes add credence:

me----------->-i,<--->-o -ni:<-->-iyi
you (pl.)---->-okn<-->-kum <---->-kən

^Compare with Kemetic examples:

'me' or 'I' ------> -i
'you' -------> -k
Plural suffix pronouns -------> -n

Independent pronouns in Egyptic, do no different:

“ink” ~ I

‘ntk’ ~ you (m.)
‘ntt’ ~ you (f.)

“ntf” ~ he, it
“nts” ~ she, it

“inn” ~ we
“nttn” ~ you (pl.)
“ntsn” ~ they


--------------Beja-----Arabic----Dahalo-general non-past

you (m.)------>-tia<---->-ta<------>-to
you (f.)------>-tii<---->-ti<------>-to
you (pl.)----->-tina<--->-tum<----->-ten
they---------->-ina<---->-u:<------>-en, -ammi

The main observation above, is the usual pattern for “t”, in the feminine terms, and reappearances of “n” in the plural terms.

According to Ali Alalou of Columbia University, we have the following "direct object pronoun" examples in "Berber language system" [using Tamazight dialect of the Central Atlas region, namely Imdghas and Dades Valley]:

'him' = 't'

'her' = 'ts'

'them' = 'tn'[Musculine plural]

'them' = 'ttn.t [Feminine plural]

'you' = 'tkwn' [Musculine plural]

Feminine pronoun - appearance of ‘s’

Plural pronouns - addition of ‘n’

Feminine pronouns - characterization by addition of ‘t’.

More object pronoun suffixes in Egypt, alternative to the previous citations:

‘sw’ ~ he, him, it

‘sy’ ~ she, her, it

‘st’ ~ she, her, it

‘n’ ~ we, us
‘tn’ ~ you (pl.)
‘sn’ ~ they, them

Feminine pronoun suffix - again addition of ‘t’

Plural pronoun suffix [both masculine and feminine] - addition of ‘n’


Beja definite article--Arabic noun endings--Kabyle obligatory prefix

------Masculine nominative singular------
[Beja df*] u:- ;[Arabic ne*] -u ;[Kabyle op*] w-

------Masculine accusative singular-------

[Beja df*] o- ;[Arabic ne*] -a ; [Kabyle op*] a-

-------Feminine nominative singular-------

[Beja df*] tu:- ;[Arabic ne*] -atu ;[Kabyle op*]t-

-------Feminine accusative singular

[Beja df*] to- ;[Arabic ne*] -ata;[Kabyle op*] ta-

[Notes on abreviations >

Beja df* =Beja definite article

Arabic ne* =Arabic noun endings

Kabyle op* =Kabyle obligatory prefix]


And now Kemetic terms, starting with the most popular term:

Km [Kem, Kam] ---- Musculine singular

Km.t [Kemet] ---- Feminine singular

Kmu [Kemu] ---- Musculine, assuming the role of an accusative adjective.

Kmu.t [Kemu.t] ---- Feminine, assuming the role of an accusative adjective.

Sa Kemet - male citizen of Kemet ---- Musculine noun

Sa.t Kemet - female citizen of Kemet ---- Feminine noun

Rome n Keme - people of Kemet ---- Muscline noun plural

Rome.t Kemet - people of Kemet ---- Feminine noun plural

Nehesi - [southerner] male ---- Muscline noun singular

Nehesi.t - [southerner] female ---- Feminine singular

Shepsu - the noble ---- Musculine plural

Shepsi[.t] - the noble ---- Feminine plural

What pattern is observed herein? Yes, the re-appearance of "t" in conversion of a term into its feminine form.

Asar Imhotep puts forth:

2) Pharaonic egyptian: Dagara:
ir.t: "eye" djir: "to see"

iri: "to see

Mystery Solver replies:

Egyptic term to see:

‘maa’ - ‘see’ [Jim Loy, 1998]

Asar Imhotep puts forth:

3) Pharaonic egyptian: Dagara:
nw: "to see, to watch" nyè:"to see"
nwa: "id." wolof: "nau"

Mystery Solver replies:

“nw” in Etyptic ~ of, belonging to [plural]; time; this, these

I can also understand how the glyphs for water can be read as “nw”, designating the plurality of the undulating symbols, nonetheless several sources read this as:

“mw” ~ water

Asar Imhotep puts forth:

4)Pharaonic egyptian: Dagara:
nwy: "water" nyu: "to drink"
niw, "primordial water" Kikongo:
-nwa: "id."
-nyua: "id."

Mystery Solver replies:

As noted above, alternative term for Egyptic ‘water’ is read as ‘mw’, while ‘nwy’ also has an alternative meaning of ‘return’ [e.g. Russell G. Schuh The Use And Misuse Of Language In The Study Of African History (an interesting read btw for students of African Studies); Jim Loy 1998]

Asar Imhotep puts forth:

6) Pharaonic egyptian: Dagara:
iw: "to come" wa: "to come"
yi: "to come"
wa.t: "road, way" yaa: "to come"

Mystery Solver replies:

“iw” ~ come; alternatives > “ii” and “nwy”

Enough demonstrations of the multiplicity of contexts that single Egyptic terms can have.


Leo Depuydt (Brown University):


The Origin and Development of the Ancient Egyptian Suffix Conjugation

Having been written as well as spoken for more than 4000 years, from about 3000-2500 B.C.E. to about 1000-1500 C.E., Egyptian is the world's longest attested language. A topic that deserves treatment in a comprehensive history of the language is the origin and the development of the suffix conjugation. When it first emerged in writing in the early third millennium B.C.E., Egyptian had two distinct ways of conjugating a verb according to person, gender, and number, or just person and number. The first is the suffix conjugation, in which suffix pronouns effect conjugation.

Suffix pronouns are attached to prepositions and nouns in both Egyptian and Semitic; to verbs only in Egyptian. In the suffix conjugation, suffix pronouns originally mostly follow the verbal stem, like .f "he" in Middle Egyptian stp.f "may he choose." But increasingly, they join a "conjugation base" preceding the stem, like .f in Late Egyptian bwpw.f stp "he has not chosen."

The only other conjugation in earliest written Egyptian was the stative conjugation, generally thought to be related to the West-Semitic Perfect and the Akkadian permansive. The stative conjugation is in a sense also a suffix conjugation. Its conjugation endings are attached to the verbal stem. In the second millennium B.C.E., the stative conjugation gradually lost its conjugation and became a stative form. Conjugation of the stative was henceforth effected either by the suffix conjugation attached to a preceding conjugation base, like .f in jw.f stp "he being chosen," or by a newly evolved proclitic conjugation, the third of a total of three conjugations found throughout Egyptian history, as in twj stp "I am chosen." The stative conjugation is known to Egyptologists also as the Old Perfective or Pseudo-participle; the stative form to Copticists also as the Qualitative.

In Afroasiatic terms, the Egyptian suffix conjugation appears to be an innovation. It is widely thought to have evolved from passive participles. But other theories have been proposed. Since the suffix conjugation appears fully developed in earliest written Egyptian, its origin and evolution belong to prehistory. Postulating patterns of evolution in languages is hazardous enough for the historical period. The present investigation makes statements about the suffix conjugation only in as far as they can be derived from facts from the historical period pertaining to this conjugation. I believe that the available facts have not yet been fully exploited to obtain a satisfactory theory of how the suffix conjugation came into being and evolved.

The passive participle theory remains the most plausible, especially if one considers that analogy must have played a crucial role, as it does in every linguistic evolution. Analogical formations are in a sense mistakes. Languages evolves in large part by error, as it were. But what is owed to analogy has been in danger of discrediting the passive participle theory because it is not logical in a certain sense. It will be crucial to identify that part of the suffix conjugation that derives directly from passive participles and that part that came about subsequently by analogy.


Any family resemblance with Egyptic?…

In his effort to demonstrate the "pragmatics of two Berber morphemes n (the space containing the addressee) and d (the space containing the speaker) and their grammaticalization", Ali Alalou says:

"[wt is a verb which means either 'to hit' or 'to throw something at someone'.]

Y -wt n wrba aryaz Y -ssigh *i
[threw something at -3p.Ms.Sg][towards the addressee][boy-Sub-Cons.][Man-DO-NotCons.][Hit -3p.Ms.Sg][me]

"The boy threw something at (towards the addressee) the man and hit me"

Y -wt n wrba aryaz Y -ssigh *agh
[threw something at -3p.Ms.Sg][towards the addressee][boy-Sub-Cons.][Man-DO-NotCons.][Hit -3p.Ms.Sg][us]

"The boy threw something at (towards the addressee) the man and hit us"

Y -wt d wrba aryaz Y -ssigh i
[threw something at -3p.Ms.Sg][towards the speaker][boy-Sub-Cons.][Man-DO-NotCons.][Hit -3p.Ms.Sg][me]

"The boy threw something at (towards the speaker) the man and hit me"


Ali Alalou (Columbia University) - Two Berber Deictics n & d: From Pragmatics to Syntax


Mystery Solver replies and cites:

Consonant Compatibility Restrictions in Egyptic and the Afrasan super phylum - another Pan-Afrasan grammatical trait, and other grammatical affinities:

From Kirsty Rowan, we have:

The first seminal study into consonant compatibility restrictions (or dissimilation) is Greenberg’s 1950b paper. 17 In this study, Greenberg analysed and discussed the evident restrictions between certain consonantal segments in the verbal roots, but not on derived forms, of Semitic languages. His investigation, which included the Semitic languages Syriac, Hebrew, Ugaritic, South Arabian, Ethiopic and Assyrian, was also extended to Egyptian, an autonomous branch of Afroasiatic. This led him to make the important assertion that ‘The general subject of the patterning of consonantal phonemes within the morphemes of Hamito-Semitic [Afroasiatic] languages would seem to be a promising subject of investigation and one whose results must be kept in mind for their bearing on the historical analysis of this family of languages’ (1950b:181). Bender (1978) extended Greenberg’s study to other branches of the Afroasiatic phylum and from the positive results obtained led him to conclusively state that ‘…the co-occurrence restrictions are a good Afroasiatic isomorph…’ (1978: 9

The following sections overview the restrictions that take place in a selection of languages from the Afroasiatic phylum.

3.1 Semitic Languages
3.1.1 Arabic

Of all the Afroasiatic languages, Arabic has one of the most well documented phonological dissimilatory processes in terms of its root consonantal system and this has led to many phonological discussions and analyses into these consonantal compatibility restrictions. The fundamental characteristic of Semitic morphology is the consonantal root template, where vowels are inserted between the consonants to make forms according to a CV template (McCarthy 1979). Subsequently, Semitic languages are classed as having a non-concatenative morphological system. The most common root type throughout the Semitic languages is the triliteral root form whereby a root is made up of three consonants, although, Semitic roots can also be biliteral and quadriliteral. Greenberg’s (1950) study specifically dealt with the combinations of consonants that could occur in the triliteral root forms.

A Semitic triliteral root can take the form such as /drs/ made up of three consonants or ‘radicals’. These fixed ordered consonants have a range of templates where vowels are interspersed, depending on the grammatical form, which can also take inflectional affixes, shown in the following example:

(1) a. daras-a ~ ‘he studied’
b. dars-un ~ ‘a lesson’
c. diraas-ah ~ ‘studies’
d. daaris ~‘studying’

Greenberg’s (1950) study showed was that the combination of consonants that can make up a root in Arabic is restricted. There is not a free co-occurrence of consonants. These restrictions depend upon the placement of consonants within a root. Therefore, a triliteral root has consonants in the placement of C 1 C 2 or C 3 positions:


C1 C2 C3
|  |  |
d  r  s

The adjacency of the positions C1 C2 , and C2 C3 was found to have the strongest restrictions in which consonants could occur, with the non-adjacent C1 and C3 positions still having an avoidance constraint, although a weaker one. Greenberg (1950:162) concluded that not only are identical adjacent consonants prohibited in a root but also that consonantal homorganicity (non-identical consonants sharing the same place of articulation) were strongly disprefered. McCarthy (1979; 1988; 1994) developed Greenberg’s observation, specifically with regards to Arabic, and demonstrated further that the consonant compatibility restrictions were fundamentally determined by the place of articulation and furthermore by the major manner feature of [sonorant] for the coronal place articulator.

(3) a. labials [f, b, m]
b. coronal sonorants [l, r, n]
c. coronal stops [t, d, −t , −d]
d. coronal fricatives [ð, θ, s, z, −s, −z, ]
e. dorsals [g, k, q]
f. gutturals [ , h, , ħ, , χ ]

Fig. 4 shows Kenstowicz’s (1994:163) results table of the distribution of a sample of triliteral roots with adjacent consonants; C1 C2, and C2 C3: 20


labial   cor.son  cor.stop  cor. fric  dorsal  gutteral

labial   0        210       125      138       82      151

cor.son  196      15        122      161      165      208

cor.stop 118      153       7        26       29       105
cor.fric 196      211       58       5        89       168
dorsal   118      167       66       105      1        79
gutteral 211      252       148      182      81       11

The table shows the vertical column represents the first adjacent consonant with the horizontal column representing the second adjacent consonant. The series’ are given of the consonants depending upon their place of articulation. What can be seen from the table is that there is an overwhelming dispreference for two adjacent consonants of a triliteral root sharing the same place specification (diagonal axis highlighted in bold). 21

Furthermore, analyses of the first and third consonants in a triliteral root also show a dispreference for the consonants sharing the same articulator, as shown in the following table, again taken from Kenstowicz (1994:164)

labial   cor.son  cor.stop  cor. fric  dorsal  gutteral

labial   20       88        53       37       41       79
cor.son  97       76        52       83       47       85
cor.stop 36       53        9        29       28       45
cor.fric 93       127       61       14       46       88
dorsal   74       72        44       53       3        54
gutteral 126      162       66       85       64       37

It is evident that there are a high proportion of occurrences of the coronal sonorant consonants [n, l, r] that can occur in the nonadjacent first and third positions of a triliteral root, subsequently the coronal sonorant set is separated to distinguish between [+nasal].

Conclusively, this data shows that there are consonantal compatibility restrictions in Arabic verbal roots, whereby the occurrence or non-occurrence of consonants is determined by their articulatory place specification.

3.1.2 Tigrinya
Tigrinya is an Ethio-Semitic (South Semitic) language that also shows the same restrictions as Arabic on the occurrences of consonants within a root (Buckley 1997). Even though Tigrinya does not share the exact phonemic inventory as Arabic, it is still seen that the co-occurrence of these consonants rests upon which articulatory sets they are divided into, and again the class of coronals is further subdivided. The Tigrinya inventory has the following classification: (6) 23

a. labials [f, p, b, −−p, m]

b. coronal sonorants [r, n, l]

c. coronal stops [t, d, −t]

d. coronal fricatives [s, z, −s, ]

e. velars [k, g, −k, k , g , −k ]

f. post-velars [h, , , ħ]

Buckley (1997) draws upon a corpus of Tigrinya verb roots and finds that there are no roots containing adjacent identical consonants. However, there are some roots found with nonadjacent identical consonants (1997:12):

(7) sls ‘plow a field for a third time’
l l ‘raise, lift off the ground’
trt ‘tell stories, old traditions’

Although, Buckley points out that some of these roots have known historical origins in roots without identical consonants, such as / sls / is the root for ‘three’ where in Ge’ez it is / ls /. Further, Buckley states that only 12 such roots exist in his corpus of 2744 roots. But what is salient about this data is that the roots with nonadjacent identical consonants nearly always involve the coronal articulator class. Within the coronal sonorant class, Tigrinya makes a further distinction between the feature [+nasal]. As Greenberg (1950:172) noted, the coronal sonorant /n/ can occur freely (whether adjacent or nonadjacent) with /l/ and /r/, but there is a strong prohibition on the liquids /l/ and /r/ occurring together. As Buckley (1997:14) states ‘…the most salient feature among the sonorants is [+nasal], splitting the members into two classes /n/ and /l, r/. Within either class the co-occurrence restriction is absolute in effect, but across the classes the effect is weaker.’ As with the Arabic co- occurrence restrictions, the feature [+continuant] is needed to define two further subsets of the coronal class in that the coronal fricatives ([+continuant] /s, z, −s/) can occur with the coronal stops ([-continuant] /t, d, −t/) but the co-occurrence of these consonants from the same subset is disprefered. 24

In light of the occurrences of adjacent and nonadjacent coronal consonants, this major articulatory class has to have further subdivisions.

Moving on to the velar class of consonants, Tigrinya exhibits an interesting contrast between plain velars and labialised velars. Whereby the co-occurrence of plain velars is strongly prohibited, whether adjacent or nonadjacent, the co-occurrence of labialised velars is more particular. Although in adjacent position labialised velars are prohibited, they can co-occur in non-adjacent position. Buckley’s (1997:15) study does not take into account six suspicious cases of co-occurring labialised velars in quadriliteral roots. He omits these from his analysis because he believes these are cases of historical reduplication of biliteral roots or from a triliteral with infixation (where the same process is attested in Arabic). Furthermore, he proposes that these suspicious cases, and the asymmetry between the plain velars and labialised velars is due to the labialised velars not being inherited from Proto-Semitic, but attributable from borrowed forms from the Cushitic substrate in Ethiopia.

3.1.3 Akkadian
Akkadian is classified as being an East Semitic language of the Afroasiatic phylum. The language, although now deceased, was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia and is known through written records – 2400BC to 100AD. The following classification gives the inventory of the literary dialect of Akkadian (Reiner 1966):

(8) 25
a. labials [p, m, b]

b. coronal sonorants [n, r, l]

c. coronal stops [t, d, −t]

d. coronal fricatives [s, , z, −s]

e. dorsals [k, g, x, q]

Identical adjacent consonants are prohibited in Akkadian verb roots. Again, the root is almost canonically made up of three consonants, although some quadriliteral roots are attested. Reiner (1966:51) states that two adjacent homorganic consonants are also prohibited and puts this non-co-occurrence down to phonotactics as ‘both the first and second, and the second and third consonants of a root come into contact position in some inflectional forms.’ The co-occurrence of consonants that are drawn from the same articulatory set is prohibited in Akkadian. However, the set of coronal sonorants needs further explanation.

Akkadian makes the same distinction within the coronal sonorants of the feature [+nasal] as does Tigrinya. Therefore, the coronal sonorants /r/ and /l/ are prohibited to co-occur in the same root, although the coronal sonorant [+nasal] /n/ is allowed to co-occur with the [-nasal] coronal sonorants /r/ and /l/ but only when it is following - / ln/ or / rn / but never */ nl / or */ nr /. 26

Reiner (1966:50) labels these restrictions as ‘non-reversible’ and gives further instances of non-reversible clusters where these are all instances of consonants from the coronal articulatory set. 27

Further, she states that ‘…this list goes beyond occurrences limited to “root-incompatibility”.’ It is seen in (9) that when there are co-occurrences of coronals consonants, the primary coronal is drawn from the coronal fricative set and the secondary coronal from the coronal stop set and importantly these sequences are prohibited from co-occurring in reverse order (Reiner 1966:41):

(9) /st/, /sd/, /s−t/, /zt/, /zd/, /z−t/, /−st/, /−sd/, / t/, / d/, / −t/,

A further restriction is that two emphatic coronals cannot co-occur:

(10) */−s−t/

Moreover, this restriction on emphatic consonants co-occurring is evidenced when the consonants are drawn from across the articulatory sets. This is known as an instantiation of Geers Law (1945):

(11) */−tq/, */q−t/, */q−s/, */qq/

Reiner (1966:50) points out that it is difficult to discern in instances when these consonantal compatibility restrictions are not respected whether these violations are due to the ‘approximation of foreign words in the vocabulary’ or to ‘actual phonetic realisations.’ Furthermore, she addresses the issue that certain combinations such as /mb/ occur morpho-phonologically as a dissimilation of /b:/ in that /m/ and /b/ are not successive consonants in a root. However, as with other analyses of restrictions in Semitic languages of consonantal compatibility (Greenberg 1950), there are instances of geminated consonants in only second and third positions of triliteral roots but never in first and second position. Generally, this has been attributed to a diachronic process of alteration to the template pattern of biliteral roots transformed into triliteral ones.28

The instances of consonant compatibility restrictions in Akkadian are not restricted to root forms but can also straddle a morpheme boundary when the affix is Derivational. Reiner (1966:51) shows this with the example of the derivational morpheme prefix /ma/ /me/ which is dissimilated to /na/ /ne/ when the root contains a labial consonant. This same process is also evidenced in the Afroasiatic language Tashlhiyt Berber where there is a co-occurrence restriction on derived stems which can only contain one labial consonant, i.e. /b, f, m/. A derivational prefix containing /m/, such as the reflexive or agentive morpheme, will dissimilate from /m/ to /n/ when prefixed to a root that contains a labial consonant in any position (Boukous 1987; El Medlaoui 1995): 29

(12a) Reflexive prefix: m n   (12b)  Agentive prefix: am an

     m-xazar  ‘scowl’               am-las   ‘shear’
     m-saggal ‘look for’            am-zug   ‘abscond’
     n-fara   ‘disentangle’         an-bur   ‘stay celibate’
     n-kaddab ‘consider a liar’     an-azum  ‘fast’

The dissimilative process that can apply across morphemes, however, is not seen in other Afroasiatic languages such as Arabic as Greenberg (1950:179) noted. A root such as ftH ‘to open’ can have the nominal instrument prefix m- attached with no change on the labial quality of the consonants, therefore resulting in the form mifta:H ‘key’. Subsequently, two labial consonants can be adjacent when they belong to separate morphemes.

Akkadian and Berber are languages that apply the consonantal incompatibility rule to a higher order constituent, namely the word, rather than languages such as Arabic where it is restricted to the root.30

And now, examining this pattern in ancient Egyptian:

Compatability restrictions in Egyptic, courtesy Kirsty Rowan...

3.2 Ancient Egyptian
Ancient Egyptian is classified as being an autonomous member of the Afroasiatic Phylum and a such is positioned on its own sub-branch of Northern Afroasiatic. It is the longest continually attested language in the world and is fundamentally known through its writing system which appeared shortly before 3000 BCE and survived, in various stages, until the fifth century CE, although the spoken language was actively used for a further six centuries before being superseded by the Arabic language (Allen 2000).

Ancient Egyptian is a dead language, however, Coptic which is its last spoken phase is still used as the liturgical language of the Christian Coptic church in Egypt. Greenberg(1950b:179) addressed the issue of whether the incompatibility of consonants could be attributed to the Proto-Semitic period through a preliminary examination of Egyptian verbal roots (as Egyptian has such a long documented history), which are also formed by two or three consonants. Greenberg rested his investigation into this on certain series’ of consonants as the patterning of others was too obscure in Egyptian ‘because of the coalescence within Egyptian of consonants originally belonging to different and compatible series and sections’ (1950b:179).

Overall, Greenberg was able to specifically outline the most fundamental restrictions. Further studies on consonantal compatibility restrictions in Egyptian (Peust 1999b; Takács 1996; Watson 1979; Roquet 1973; Rössler 1971; Petráček 1969) have contributed to Greenberg’s (1950b) Egyptian consonantal incompatibility claims. 31

The main findings from these researchers are presented here, with an incompatibility chart taken from Peust (1999b:196). Although, Peust does not discuss the general principles that are behind these restrictions i.e. the restriction into root occurrence whereby there is a fundamental dispreference for identical first and second positional consonants etc. However, Peust’s (1999b) examination does detail how the data is counted.32

He goes on to state that ‘It is therefore to be assumed that the chart actually represents the consonantal incompatibilities as they were valid around the time of the late Old Kingdom. In the early Old Kingdom, not all of these incompatibility rules were already valid. From the Middle Kingdom on, Egyptian integrated a considerable number of loan words which did not conform with these rules, and consequently the system of compatibility restrictions was obscured.’ (1999:195). 33

Furthermore, the restrictions that Peust posits surely include the incompatibility of nominal forms as well as verbal (this is not explicitly stated but can be seen through his small use of data), whereas Greenberg and Watson kept to the analysis of only verbal forms. Consequently, I believe this can, at times, contradict the claims of incompatibility made by these scholars, as Greenberg outlined when looking at the incompatibility of Semitic roots ‘It is therefore striking that so many Semitic substantival roots have identical first and third consonants.’(1950b:168).

To be continued in Part 2.

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