Work flow and methods within the inter-academic project „Strukturen und Transformationen des Wortschatzes der ägyptischen Sprache“

The main aim of our project is to trace the diachronic development of the Ancient Egyptian lexicon, starting from older phases of Egyptian that were written in hieroglyphs and hieratic, through Demotic to Coptic. For this purpose, the project uses an annotated, digital text database, the TLA. The outcome will help to analyze the semantic and lexical transformations of this language (i.e. changes of meaning and changes of vocabulary), esp. in the transition phases from one language phase to another; and it will help to describe the world view of the Ancient Egyptians and how it changed over time.

This objective will be achieved by entering Egyptian texts into this database via the following steps: We translate the texts anew according to the current state of research, and we address linguistic and semantic questions. This annotated translation will be entered into the database, together with its hieroglyphic writings and an Egyptological transliteration. In the next step, we “lemmatize” each and every word, meaning that we link them to a digital word list. Finally, we tag all inflected words with a morphological code.

Currently, the project operates with two different word lists: one for hieroglyphic and hieratic text and another for texts that are written in Demotic script. A third word list for the Coptic texts was developed during the past few years and will be integrated into the database in the near future. These three word lists will be linked to each other in two ways: Firstly, the lemmata of each list or their roots will be linked to the corresponding lemmata and roots of the other word lists, as far as equivalents exist. Secondly, the lemmata will be integrated into semantic networks and ontologies, in order to relate them to other words of the same semantic/lexical field. These two procedures will make the different structures of the Egyptian lexicon and its changes over time visible. Linking these word lists with running texts will moreover allow the structures and developments to be verified and illustrated by their specific contexts.

For this purpose, the inter-academic project uses three text collections: firstly, the texts provided by our predecessor project “Old-Egyptian Dictionary”, which consists of literary and paraliterary texts, of administrative texts, and of tomb and temple inscriptions from all phases of pre-Coptic Egyptian; secondly, our project partners in Berlin incorporate historical-biographical, funerary and religious texts from the 1st millennia BC and AD, as well as an exemplary corpus of Coptic texts, which all were composed at a time when new types of script appear and when the Egyptians came into contact with many foreign cultures, their ideas and writings. Thirdly, it is necessary to mention the scientific texts of the Leipzig project. These were written from the 2nd millennium BC until the latest phases of Egyptian languages and interacted with Near Eastern, Greek and Roman scientific views, until they were finally replaced by them. Since they were written in a technical language, they can differ from the general language, both in lexicon and grammar, and in its diachronic changes/transformations.

Presentation on the Website “Science in Ancient Egypt”

The scientific texts of the Leipzig project are also of interest for historians of science and for scholars from other fields of research. In order to make the texts available for them, they are also published on the present website in addition to the TLA. The input successively takes place after the texts are translated, annotated and entered into the TLA. For this reason, this website is also not yet completed, but will gradually be expanded as the project progresses.

The focus of this website is on three areas:

1) The provision of metadata. Each historical source can only be correctly interpreted within its chronological, linguistic and cultural context. Therefore, all metadata (origin, dating, context of use, etc.) that can be determined are compiled for each individual source. These data can also be used as a search filter, for example to find all texts that were written at a specific time or found at a specific location.

2) The running translation:

- Every text is translated into German; an English translation cannot be provided because of the project’s limitations in terms of time and personnel. The translation is always a new one, prepared by a member of the project or by a cooperation partner. Previous translations of all Egyptological scientific languages ​​(English, French, German), however, have not been ignored, but have been used as orientation and inspiration for the new translation.

- Each text is given in a continuous translation, i.e. the translation reflects the original text structure. This is of particular relevance for the medical texts, because their standard edition, the “Grundriß der Medizin der Alten Ägypter”, arranges the individual prescriptions and examinations according to disease patterns and types of injuries, and it thereby destroys the original context of these texts. The website “Science in Ancient Egypt” deliberately refrains from such a division in order to show the original, emic text structure. Nevertheless, modern text structure methods (e.g. arrangements by paragraphs) are adopted to make the translations citable.

- Papyri and ostraca are mostly written in black, but also show passages in red. These so-called “rubra” are a genuine ancient Egyptian means for structuring texts (comparable to underlining in modern headings) or for emphasizing something. These rubricized passages are accordingly put in red in the translation.

- An attempt is made to reproduce the form and style of the original texts. Since the analysis of technical languages is the aim of the project and not its starting point, it cannot be guaranteed, however, that the language register is correctly chosen in every case. Whether a certain word is a technical term in the given context and needs to be translated accordingly, or whether it is a general term, can sometimes only be determined afterwards. Changes in the translations are therefore conceivable. If a passage is badly damaged or cannot be precisely understood in terms of content and / or language, a translation by so-called “Egyptologist’s German” - a verbatim translation while retaining the original word sequence - may occasionally occur.

- If the meaning of a term, such as a drug name in medical texts, cannot be determined with certainty, it is marked in various ways, which depend on the degree of certainty: (a) A question mark placed after the translation - (?) - indicates doubts about an established translation. (b) If a specific term cannot be identified with certainty, but can at least be translated literally, it is put into quotation marks (e.g. “Schafsmelone”, “sheep melon”, an unidentifiable plant), sometimes extended by a qualification, if additional information can be given or is necessary (e.g. “Feder-des-Nemti” plant). (c) If a word cannot be translated at all, it is necessary to render it by Egyptological transliteration. In such cases, at least the additional semantic field is indicated, if possible (e.g. tjꜥm plant).

The Egyptological transliteration alphabet contains the following characters (after Allen, Middle Egyptian (Cambridge 2000), 18):

Transliteration alphabet

These letters can be augmented by the following meta-characters:

. - the period is used to indicate grammatical endings.

= - the equal sign (derived from the double hyphen in Fraktur scripts) is used to separate personal pronouns that are added as a suffix to the preceding word.

It is Egyptological convention to pronounce the characters ꜣ and ꜥ as an “a”, j and y like an “ee”, and the w either like a “w” or like a “u” (as in “usually”). In all the other cases, a short “e” is inserted between the consonants as a pronunciation aid, because this letter is the most common vowel of the three Egyptological scientific languages ​​and at the same time it is a vowel that is rarely stressed. There is no pronunciation rule where an “e” is to be inserted and which consonant clusters are permitted, so that you do nothing wrong if you form these words in your mind – all of these vowels are purely artificial pronunciation aids and do not correspond to the actual sounds of Ancient Egyptian! Dots can be ignored while reading the transcription and equal signs can be treated as if they were blank.

3) The problematic terms mentioned above, as well as other linguistic and content-related problems, are addressed in commentary sections. You will find two types of comments on the website: (a) Comments on a specific passage in the text. These comments directly follow the passage in question. (b) General comments on the meaning of a word. Such a general comment would need to be repeated at every occurrence of this word; but since this is inefficient, so that they will be found in a so-called “glossary”, and the connection between the glossary entries and their occurrences in the texts are established by hyperlinks. The glossary can also be consulted in its entirety via the “Glossary” button at the top of the website. In the glossary, you will find all commented terms in alphabetical order (i.e. according to the Latin alphabet).