Shisha-Halevy, A., 2009. On Typology, Syntax and Aspect in Egyptian: a Question of Method (review article on J. Winand, Temps et aspect en égyptien). Chronique d’Egypte , 84 , pp. 136–152.Abstract

Published in: Chronique d’Egypte, 84, pp. 136–152.

This work of Jean Winand’s aims at providing an account of Tense and Aspect (or rather Aspect and Tense) systems in Egyptian: this (notwithstanding the focus on Old and Middle Egyptian, with Late Egyptian rather thinly treated, and Demotic and Coptic virtually absent) is a staggeringly ambitious undertaking. It implies a confidence in our comprehension of Egyptian, synchronic and diachronic, which this reviewer must admire, but cannot share. And yet, it is almost a blessing that the Later Egyptian systems are only lightly touched upon, for this renders the in-depth treatment of OE and ME virtually monographic, which would be hardly feasible for the whole of Egyptian history — all the more so, since the joints or seams between “successive” phases are fictive and indeed fallacious. On the other hand, one would wish for an extended application of the author’s hypotheses to LE (and Demotic), for the cryptic nature of the earlier phases of Egyptian renders any judgement made regarding their imponderables both subjective and irrefutable. It is easy to pass speculation on O/ME as descriptive statement, which would never do in the more “transparent” later phases. Be that as it may, the reader gets occasionally the eerie, unsettling feeling that it is a transcendental, panchronic (or panoramic) Egyptian that is here under typological scrutiny. (I cannot see, for instance, the soundness of a combined statement [p. 197] on the Stative and sḏm.n.f forms on the basis of Sinuhe and the Late Ramesside Letters).

Uploading this article to the Internet Archive is done with the author’s permission and by his request.

Shisha-Halevy, A., 2007. Determination-Signalling Environment in Old and Middle Egyptian: Work-Notes and Reflections. In Studies in Semitic and General Linguistics in Honor of Gideon Goldenberg (Alter Orient und Altes Testament vol. 334). Münster. Münster: Ugarit Verlag, pp. 223–254.Abstract

Barring the Nominal Sentence, Egyptian grammatical study of the heroic age, from Old Egyptian to Middle Egyptian, from K. Sethe to H. J. Polotsky, was mainly concerned with the verbal system and verb syntax. What has been stated about nominal syntax beyond the very basics would not exceed, all grammarians told, a few pages of print and very little individual variation based on real original research. One cannot help feeling this is due to the absence of “orthodox” affixed articles, as if these are anchoring points for syntactical observation of the noun. (Terminologically, of course, “articulum”, Greek ἄρθρον, means a metaphoric “linking joint” — Gelenk — revealing no less than a realization of its prime environmental role). And yet, the absence of bona-fide definite and indefinite articles in written Old and Middle Egyptian, somewhat like the absence of graphemic notation of vowels, which, in H. J. Polotsky’s conception of verbal category, sets us free from la superstition de la forme (De Boer) and encourages us to resort to the structural definition of linguistic identity, this “deprivation” too must be taken as a blessing in disguise: it forces our attention off the noun — temptingly “adequately” translatable in isolation into a European-style language — onto its environment, where much signalling information regarding (non-)specificity and (non-)particularity is to be found. The difficulty of seeing clearly in the matter of noun determination stems inter alia from looking for a “copy” correlation with what we have grown used to feel as Indo-European (or rather European) articles; but also from the generally implicitly accepted dichotomy of grammar and lexicon, a dichotomy more leaking than most other linguistic models; and especially from our being so to speak mesmerized by the article(s), which impairs our peripheral vision (yet another metaphor) and obscures our view of co-signals of determination. Here, incidentally, the trap of ethnocentricity is particularly ready for the unwary, the more so since it is, by easy terminological transference, the article — where present — that is conceived of as “definite” or “indefinite”, and not the noun and its environment. Moreover, in ignoring environmental determination, the typological significance of a definite article (and as a matter of fact, the article is but marginal in the overall phenomenon) can easily be exaggerated.

The commonly — indeed conventionally — erroneous synchronic view of article function can also flaw a satisfactory resolution of article-less states. For instance, the proportion of (macro)syntactic — anaphorical or cataphorical — and exophorical or intrinsic functioning of the articles may vary dramatically between narrative, dialogic, expositive, legal or ritual textemes. Finally, the continuity fallacy, of chronologically successive written phases seen as real succession in linguistic diachrony, distorts our view of article evolution.

Shisha-Halevy, A., 2006. Eight Notes on Coptic Typology. In L. Painchaud & P. - H. Poirier, ed. Coptica-Gnostica-Manichaica: Festschrift Wolf-Peter Funk. Québec/Louvain-Paris. Québec/Louvain-Paris: Presses de l’Université Laval, Peeters.
2006. Review of Layton, Coptic Grammar, Second Edition. Orientalia , 75 (1) , pp. 132–133.Abstract

The second edition of Bentley Layton’s A Coptic Grammar with Chrestomathy and Glossary: Sahidic Dialect, so quickly replacing the first of 2000, can only be viewed with gratification, answering as it does the evident demand that it must imply. The main improvement and real expansion of the present edition is in its Index of Citations. (“Revised and Expanded With an Index of Citations”: the question of what constitutes “revision” — see Glenn E. Snyder’s review in RBL 3 (2005) — and the valency-grammar snag of whether “expanded with” can be seen as an alternative construction to “expanded by”, need hardly be addressed here. However, a list, technically easy to compile, of additions, omissions and replacements could have prevented misunderstanding and forestalled protest.) The Index of Citations is especially useful for Shenoute؛ in fact, it can serve as the basis of a “Shenoutean sub-grammar” (e.g. in isolating exclusively or predominantly Shenoutean usage — consider the Conjunctive, p. 283, or adnominal xe- in negative environment, §483). But it also brings home rather sharply a striking imbalance in documentation, as well as the programmatic limitations of the Grammar’s corpus database, already commented on in reviews of the first edition. One regrets that the author has not exploited the rare opportunity of a new edition coming out so soon after the first, to provide at the least some highlights for the grammatical usage of more Sahidic texts, from the Pistis Sophia to non-literary sources (including documents and such specialized textemes as medical prescriptions) and such “Late Sahidic” genres as martyrologies and other patristic sources, and cases like Drescher’s Legends, which are grammatically distinctive and probably illuminating for their glimpses into Coptic colloquial usage.

Shisha-Halevy, A., 2006. On Conversion, Clause Ordination and Related Notions. In G. Goldenberg & A. Shisha-Halevy, ed. Proceedings, Ancient Egyptian, Neo-Semitic - Methods in Linguistics: Workshop in Memory of H.J. Polotsky. Jerusalem. Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, pp. 92–105.Abstract

This is a methodological and theoretical essay. In the following notes, I wish to present some reflections and raise certain questions on the tensions between terminology, conceptualization and analytic models on the one hand and linguistic reality on the other, focussing on an issue that has never ceased to fascinate me, namely the hierarchy between subtextual units — in particular, the so-called subordination or, more generally, ordination of one unit to another. In the context of Polotsky’s teaching and heritage invoked in this solemn gathering, and for Egyptian and Coptic linguists, first of all, this issue acquires a special significance and piquancy.

Shisha-Halevy, A., 2004. Juncture Features in Shenoutean Coptic: Linkage and Delimitation. In M. Immerzeel & J. van der Vliet, ed. Coptic Studies on the Threshold of a New Milennium: Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Coptic Studies. Leuven-Paris-Dudley, MA. Leuven-Paris-Dudley, MA: Peeters, pp. 155–175.
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.Abstract

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.

Shisha-Halevy, A., 2002. A Definitive Sahidic Coptic Grammar (review article of B. Layton's Coptic Grammar). Orientalia , 71 , pp. 424–459.Abstract

This is beyond doubt the finest Coptic grammar ever written, a splendid achievement, masterfully carrying out the formidable task of making the leap from Stern’s pre-scientific (if insightful) Koptische Grammatik of 1880, to bridge a century of Coptic and Egyptian linguistic study. By painstaking and elegant grammatical charting, the Sahidic dialect of Coptic now has a definitive, authoritative description, which I daresay will be superseded only if the corpus changes considerably. The work consolidates the findings of almost a century of research work on Coptic grammar, adding numerous new insights in statements that result from a correct and penetrating analysis of complicated data. It opens much new ground, while providing a clear, even-handed and lucid account of established comprehension, and puts much in a fresh perspective, often contradicting orthodoxy and deepening or clarifying the insights offered in many a study.

Shisha-Halevy, A., 2002. “An Emerging New Dialect of Coptic” (review article of Gardner, Alcock and Funk, Coptic Documentary Texts from Kellis). Orientalia , 71 , pp. 298–308.Abstract

The work under review presents in full, with a translation and extensive erudite philological, textual and grammatical annotations, detailed indices and long descriptive, historical and linguistics introductions, the elegant editio princeps of forty-four Coptic texts (fifty-four epistolary and documentary texts in all, of which fifty-two are papyri) from the site of Ismant el-Kharab (the Dakhle oasis, at the Roman-period village of Kellis). All were written to members or associates of a textile-processing Manichaean or Christian-Manichaean community at the place, and are datable to the fourth century A.D. (mainly 355–380). These texts are written in a special dialect of Coptic, which — as W.-P. Funk believes — may be the closest yet to “L” pure and simple — a dialect exhibiting some interesting features, on some of which I shall very briefly dwell in the following review (which focusses only on the linguistic, not historical or archaeological aspects of this exciting find). They are not easy, but are remarkable rich in interesting grammatical features and of considerable syntactic interest.

Shisha-Halevy, A., 2000. Stability in Clausal/Phrasal Pattern Constituent Sequencing: 4000 Years of Egyptian (With Some Theoretical Reflections, also on Celtic). In E. Poppe, A. Shisha-Halevy, & R. Sornicola, ed. Word Order - Stability and Change over Time. Amsterdam / Philadelphia. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: J. Benjamins, pp. 71–100.Abstract

The linguistic study of Egyptian, fully deciphered only about 150 years ago, is a young discipline: modern Egyptian linguistics, dating more or less from the work of Hans-Jakob Polotsky, is much younger still: no more than about half a century old. Coptic, the final stage of Egyptian, dead as a spoken language at some point after the XIIIth century AD, had been scientifically known in the West from around the XVIIth century. It is a curious and somehow sobering thought that Champollion le Jeune probably got the brainwave and forward push to the final decipherment of the hieroglyphic script by a wholly and deeply erroneous idea about diachronic word order correspondence. He believed (or took for granted) that Coptic f-sôtm “he is hearing” (roughly, “he + hear”) was the inversion of a ‘pan-Egyptian’ sdm.f (“hear-he”), which, he thought, had the same tense form, but which - we now know - is in fact a cluster of homographs, drastically differing, formally and functionally, in tense form and syntactical status from one phase of Egyptian to another and within one and the same phase. The idea was wholly misguided, yet the confidence it gave him, and his conviction that Coptic and Egyptian were two phases of the same language were not unjustified, and led him to eventual success. Today we have a reasonably good synchronic resolution - and, paradoxically, a sometimes seemingly sharper diachronic resolution - of nearly four millennia of uninterrupted evolution of a language (or rather an ensemble of dialects and language varieties), made visible to us in the written documentation of five or six distinct broad linguistic systems (in the sense of la langue as well as norme and usage). Roughly, with some arbitrariness and considerable overlapping, Old Egyptian (“OE”, 2800-2200 BC), Middle Egyptian (“ME”, 2200-1500 BC), Late Egyptian (or Neo-Egyptian) (“LE”, 1500-700 BC); Demotic, from the VIIth-VIIIth century BC to the Vth century AD, and finally Coptic, ‘Christian Egyptian’, written in customized graphemic systems based on the Greek graphemes and several Egyptian ones, from the IVth century AD on, until its death as a spoken language: Arabic entered Egypt in the VIIth century AD, but Coptic probably lingered on until the XVIIth century. (Incidentally, Coptic is formally differentiated as ‘Egypto-Coptic’ in the current International Linguistic Bibliography. Roughly since the Fifties, Coptic Studies have moved away from Egyptology, a separation unfortunate for both Egyptology and Coptic studies, which has all but wiped out Coptic linguistics as a discipline). Most phases, as we conveniently and simplistically delimit them (ignoring here the relationships, complicated in Egyptian, between language phase and script phase, as well as the religious-political implications of traditional archaizing use of earlier phases) have considerable overlapping or ‘mutual leaking’ with preceding ones, as well as transitory stages, and of course numerous diasystems of registers and other linguistic varieties which become clearer as detailed description progresses. Some phases extend up to a thousand years, which makes the need for a finer sub-periodization obvious (Junge 1985). Generally speaking, we witness the uninterrupted evolution of a language on one and the same terrain, in its first attestation cradled in a Neolithic culture, before the end of its life-span a para-classical language, part of a pious and totally Christian civilization: very little secular literature is attested in Coptic.

Shisha-Halevy, A., 1999. Coptic Linguistics 1992-1996. In Acts of the 6th International Congress of Coptic Studies (Münster, 1996). Münster. Münster.
Shisha-Halevy, A., 1999. Bohairic Narrative Grammar. In S. Emmel, ed. Ägypten und Nubien in spätantiker und christlicher Zeit, II: Schrifttum, Sprache und Gedankenwelt, Acts of the 6th International Congress of Coptic Studies. Wiesbaden. Wiesbaden: Reichert, pp. 375–389.