restricted access Chapter 8: Phonetic Developments in Egyptian, West Semitic and Greek Over the Last Three Millennia BCE, as Reflected in Lexical Borrowings

From: Black Athena

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[CH. 8] PHONETIC CORRESPONDENCES 187 INTRODUCTION T his chapter is concerned with lexical borrowings from Egyptian and West Semitic into Greek and in particular with their relation to the changes that took place in the two Afroasiatic languages during the more than three thousand years from 3000 BCE to 300 CE. To assess the phonetic plausibility of loans from the two Afroasiatic languages into Greek, we must first outline what is known about the shifting phonetics of the three languages. In estimating the possibility or probability of a loan, I have tried to reduce subjectivity—though not, of course, eliminating it—by applying a method devised by the Egyptologist Werner Vycichl to assess loaning between Egyptian and Semitic. He gave a possible three points for phonetic correspondence, usually the triliteral root, and up to three points for semantic similarity, which is far harder to quantify.1 To be accepted at all, a possible loan must accumulate at least four points; to be strong it should have five. To be virtually certain it must possess all six. To give some examples: Dwdwvnh Do–do–na, the most ancient Greek oracle and cult center of Zeus, matches Ddwn, the name of the form of Zeus’ Egypto-Libyan counterpart Am(m)on that was worshipped at the Siwa oasis in the Western Desert, also a cult center and oracle. Priestesses at Do–do–na told Herodotos of specific links between Do–do–na and Siwa.2 PHONETIC DEVELOPMENTS IN EGYPTIAN, WEST SEMITIC AND GREEK OVER THE LAST THREE MILLENNIA BCE, AS REFLECTED IN LEXICAL BORROWINGS CHAPTER 8 188 BLACK ATHENA Thus, this proposed loan has the three necessary semantic points. On the phonetic side, there are three consonants in the proper sequence and one vowel—four points altogether, one more than the necessary three correspondences. Therefore, as a whole, the Egypto-Libyan etymology of the Greek toponym is virtually perfect. A derivation of the Greek kovsmo" (H) from the Semitic root ÷qsm provides an example of a strong etymology. The relationship with the English “cosmos” and “cosmetics” comes from the basic sense of the Greek word as “order, organization” and the verb kosméo– “to set in order .” The Semitic ÷qsm means “to allocate, assign,” especially of a divinity . Qåsam appears in biblical Hebrew in the limited sense of “to practice divination.” There is no reason, however, to doubt that Canaanite retained the basic meaning of “to assign.”3 The phonetic parallel between Greek and Semitic is 3 out of 3 and the semantic 2 out of 3. Thus it should be considered a “strong” etymology. An apparently “strong” etymology is the derivation of the Greek calepov" (H) “painful, cruel, severe” from the Egyptian h°rp; “baton of office govern, control,” h°rpw “mallet” and h°rpt “dues, taxes.” Here the phonetic equation is perfect, but semantic parallel, although reasonable, is less so. It is, nevertheless, reinforced by a similar word kovlafo" (2) “punch, beating.”4 Thus, so far, I would award the Egyptian etymology of khalepós five points.5 In this case, however, one encounters a problem not faced by Vycichl who was only considering correspondences within Afroasiatic: that of competitive Indo-European etymologies. A strong Indo-European cognate for a Greek word eliminates all except the exceptionally good Afroasiatic alternatives. To continue with h°rp; and kólaphos “punch, beating,” Chantraine relates this and kolavptw kolápto– (5) “gash, cut” but also “to hammer, destroy by hammering” to the Lithuanian kalù, kalti “forge” and kovptw kópto– (H) “punch, strike” to the Lithuanian kapiu “cut, hit.” While the latter is possible, the relationship between kolapto–, kalù, and kalti is weakened by the improbability that speakers of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) forged metal. In any event, unlike the Lithuanian competitor, the Egyptian h°rp and the nominal form h°rpw “mallet” match all the consonants of kólaphos and the final -to– in kolápto– can be explained as a verbal suffix. The Indo-European competitor only reduces the Egyptian etymology for khalepos, kolaphos and kolapto– by one point leaving it with four. Therefore, it is still “reasonable.”6 Examples of strong etymologies from both Indo-European and [CH. 8] PHONETIC CORRESPONDENCES 189 Afroasiatic, like that of érebos “place of darkness” or harpe– “sickle, scimitar ,” should be carefully balanced. I discussed the case of érebos in the last chapter and in an earlier work.7 The eminent classicist Walter Burkert, following a scholarly tradition going back to the nineteenth century...


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