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CONJUGATING NORTHERN AFROASIATIC VERBS:

SEMITIC & EGYPTIAN LINGUISTIC PARALLELS


©Robert F. Smith
28 March 2001

The parallels between the Semitic and Egyptian languages have been studied in
minute detail by a number of scholars. Some of the claimed characteristics-in-common
are as follows:

a. Fusional/flectional rather than agglutinative languages.1


b. (Alef and )ayin in generally unvocalized scripts.2
c. Standard VSO word-order, with a tendency to SVO under alternate circumstances.3
d. Absence of verb “to be” (copula) in non-verbal sentences.4
e. Feminine marker in -t.5
f. Plurals in -w (masc.) and -(w)t (fem.).6
g. Masculine & feminine gender (no neuter).
h. Paradigms of pronouns and grammatical structures can often be systematically
aligned.7
i. Statives – Eg. Old Perfective/Pseudoparticiple/Qualitative = Akkadian Permansive/
Perfect.8
j. Verbs – consonantal roots inflected with sets of vowels.9

1
Loprieno, Ancient Egyptian, 1, lists this and several of the following characteristics-in-common.
2
Meltzer in Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, I:451.
3
Thacker, Relationship of the Semitic and Egyptian Verbal Systems, 226ff. (with doubled third radical), but
SVO with the Old Perfective/Stative (240), participles, and relative forms (M. Bontty); Junge & Behlmer in Oxford
Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, II:46, 258-259.
4
Junge & Behlmer, II:45.
5
Junge & Behlmer, II:259.
6
Junge & Behlmer, II:44.
7
Allen in Anchor Bible Dictionary, IV:189, 192; Meltzer, I:451; Junge & Behlmer, II:259.
8
Thacker, 89-127 (308, they continue to be used as participles into Coptic times), 334; Allen in Anchor
Bible Dictionary, IV:189; Meltzer, I:451; Junge & Behlmer, II:45, 259.
9
Thacker, 332.

1
k. Three underlying vowels (a, i, u), with stress an important feature.10
l. Similar triconsonantal root system, with biconsonantal roots secondary.11 Eg. wd
“command” should be transliterated wyd based on Coptic ouoeit.
m. Active participle in pattern CâCiC,12 and passive participle possibly as CaCūC.13
n. Geminating imperfect participles (inn “who brings”), and non-geminating perfect
participles (in “who brought”), in addition to the non-geminating perfective and
geminating imperfective aspects/moods of the past, present, and future tenses.14
o. Verbal derivation based on transitivity.15
p. Causative prefix in œ/š, based on the 3rd person singular pronoun.16 Eg. s)r “cause to
ascend.”
q. Reflexive stem of verb formed with n-.17
r. Same meaning and morphology for imperatives.18
s. Imperatives inflected for gender & number, but with no masculine singular ending.19
t. Egyptian second infinitive (gerund?) = Semitic infinitive absolute.20

10
Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, 3rd ed., p. 433; Loprieno, Ancient Egyptian, 35; Bennett, Comparative
Semitic Linguistics, 22; but not tonal contrast.
11
Gardiner, §§273, 278-279; Thacker, 53-54, 82-85; Allen in Anchor Bible Dictionary, IV:189; Meltzer,
I:451; Bennett, 22 (vowels not included), 62-64, noting, however, that a basic biconsonantal root system may in fact
underlie this; Loprieno, Ancient Egyptian, 52, goes even further, suggesting that the bi- and monoconsonantal roots
were originally quite common before Semitic regularization.
12
Allen in Anchor Bible Dictionary, IV:189.
13
Hoch, Middle Egyptian Grammar, p. 135.
14
Gardiner, §§356-362; Thacker, 209, 226, 239, 333; Allen, Middle Egyptian, 23.5-12; Allen in Anchor
Bible Dictionary, IV:192-193; cf. Meltzer, I:451.
15
Bennett, 22.
16
Allen in Anchor Bible Dictionary, IV:189; Thacker, 86-88; Loprieno, Das Verbalsystem, 133, 142-146.
17
Allen in Anchor Bible Dictionary, IV:189; Lambdin, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew, 175-178.
18
Thacker, 332.
19
Thacker, 154-167.
20
Gardiner, §298; Thacker, 128-153, 332, 334; but (147) that second infinitive is the base for the œdm.ty.fy,
.r=f forms, etc.
œdm.kÇ/.in/h

2
u. Third weak infinitives marked by final -t,21 possibly to facilitate adding of pronominal
suffixes.22
v. Interrogative m/ma/mi “what, who, which?”23
w. Nouns of instrument formed with m-.24 Eg. h . tm “to seal” > mh . tmt “sealed chest.”
x. Direct genitive (construct state) resulting in shortening of vowels with nominal
objects.25 Coptic sotm= (inf. with pronominal suffixes) and stm- (inf. with
nominal objects).
y. Gentilic/nisba-adjectives.26 Eg. bity “He-of-the-Bee (King of Lower Egypt).”
z. Some common cognate terms, especially those dealing with anatomy.27 Eg. db)
/Heb. (esï ba) “finger.”
aa. Reduplication is used to intensify a verb or indicate repeated action.28 Eg. h.Çg,
h.ÇgÇg /Heb. h.ag, h.agag.

21
Thacker, 69-70; Hoch, §57.
22
Thacker, 288.
23
Englund, 61-62; Bennett, 142.
24
Hoch, §192; Allen in Anchor Bible Dictionary, IV:189.
25
Thacker, 278, Coptic vowels showing it present in earlier Egyptian.
26
Thacker, 24-26; Junge & Behlmer, II:44, 259; Hoch, §54.
27
Gardiner, §360; Bennett, 22; but see Voigt’s examples in Grunert & Hafemann, Textcorpus und
Wörterbuch, 350, 359.
28
Gardiner, §274.

3
Paradigms29

INDEPENDENT (STRESSED) PRONOUNS30


SEMITIC EGYPTIAN
1st sgl Akk. anāku, Heb. (anoki ink
2nd m. sgl Akk. attā twt
3rd m. sgl Akk. šû swt
3rd f. sgl Akk. ši stt
1st pl Akk. ninu inn
2nd m. pl Akk. attunu nttn
2nd f. pl Akk. attina “
3rd m. pl Akk. šunu ntsn
3rd f. pl Akk. šina “

DEPENDENT PRONOUNS31
SEMITIC INDEPENDENT PRONOUNS EGYPTIAN DEPENDENT PRONOUNS
1st sgl Akk. -ku k, kw, kwi, ki
3rd m. sgl Akk. šû, Heb-Aram. œw
hu(
3rd f. sgl Akk. î, Heb-Aram. hi( œ, œi, œȳ

29
See the chart in Loprieno, Ancient Egyptian, 67.
30
Hoch, §56; Loprieno, Ancient Egyptian, 64-65; Allen in Anchor Bible Dictionary, IV:189.
31
Thacker, 26.

4
SUFFIX PRONOUNS32
PROTO-SEMITIC (STATIVE) & SEMITIC33 EGYPTIAN (WITH STATIVE)
1st sgl Akk. -akû, -i, -ya =k, =ki, =kw,=i
2nd m. sgl -atā, -ka =ti, =k
2nd f. sgl -ati, -ki =ti, =t, =t
3rd m. sgl -a, -šu =i, =w, =f
3rd f. sgl -at, -ši =ti, =s, =œ
1st pl -anû, -ni =nw, =n, =wn, =wyn
2nd m. pl -atunû, -kunu =tiwn, =twyn, =tn, =tn
2nd f. pl -atina, -kina “
3rd m. pl -û, -šunu =w, =wy, =sn, =œn
3rd f. pl -ā, -šina =ty

DUALS34
SEMITIC & PROTO-SEMITIC EGYPTIAN
1st common =ny
2nd common -tunā -? =tny, =tny
3rd m. -ā -w, -wy =œny
3rd f. -atā, -tā -y, -ty, -tyw

32
Thacker, 26, 119.
33
Bennett, 75.
34
Thacker, 119; Englund, 4, 6-8; Loprieno, Ancient Egyptian, 64.

5
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