Celtic Syntax, Egyptian-Coptic Syntax


Shisha-Halevy, A., 2003. Celtic Syntax, Egyptian-Coptic Syntax. In Das Alte Ägypten und seine Nachbarn: Festschrift Helmut Satzinger. Krems. Krems: Österreichisches Literaturforum, pp. 245–302.


H. J. Polotsky’s “Syntaxe amharique et syntaxe turque” (1960a), the Master’s only article in a properly speaking General Linguistics (typological-comparative) genre, the paper opening Polotsky’s Collected Papers (Jerusalem: the Magnes Press, 1971), has drawn little attention outside the small circle of the Jerusalem School and its adherents, perhaps because of an hermetic quality of style, as well as the exclusive Ethiopistic forum of publication. And yet, it is a wonderful fruit of Polotsky’s annus mirabilis, an insightful and sensitive exposé of an instance of the non-geographical, cross-genealogical Sprachbund and what may be called the historical-connection-indifferent typological rapprochement As is generally realized today, the Sprachbund phenomenon is varied and complex, reflecting the variety of languages-in-contact scenarios and their historical configuration. The relatively rare non-adjacent or non-geographical Sprachbund is less well understood and falls between the stools of typological and genetic comparison, and goes, to mix metaphors, against the grain of conventional comparativist temperament.

The “Eurafrican” (so Wagner in Transactions of the Philological Society 1969) hypothesis, first outlined in modern times at least as early as 1990 by John Morris-Jones, has been for most of the last century associated almost exclusively with the names of Julius Pokorny and his disciple, Heinrich Wagner. I believe it now deserves detailed objective re-appreciation, in view of the considerable expansion in our knowledge of Celtic and the advance in the unveiling of the languages commonly known as Afro-Asiatic or Hamito-Semitic, and especially of Egyptian and Coptic. Although it is generally not clear which languages are invoked on the Afro-Asiatic side — “Semitic” (which languages?) “Egyptian” (which phase or phases in its near four millennia of evolution?), Arabic, North-West Semitic, Accadian, Berber — a vagueness contributive to the scepticism with which the theory is still regarded (not that there is a generally accepted idea about hierarchies and chronologies inside the Celtic branch of Indo-European); nor is there any real confidence about either the chronological parameters, or the hierarchical structuring of syntactical and non-syntactical comparata of the comparison.

Last updated on 01/18/2018