Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Ramesside North Arabian (?) Inscription in Early North Arabian (?) Script

A facsimile of the drawing of this inscription can be found here: http://www.britishmuseum.org/pdf/1c%20Hieratic%20inscriptions.pdf - Figure 6; on page 26 (bottom).

The inscription should be read from left-to-right.  Before offering a translation, it is important to note three non-linguistic (or quasi-linguistic) paleographic features: 1) immediately before the inscription is a drawing of a jackal (and possibly something by its tale); 2) immediately after the inscription is something else (unclear, possibly a star); 3) above the inscription 'ankh-w3s' is drawn.  There is also a sort of a cross-like mark beneath the inscription.

The inscription should be read as follows:

hṣ . qṭ . ḏypm  /  Haṣu . qaṭû (?) . ḏīpam


"Has (PN) approached the Jackal."

So the inscription itself offers some subtle linguistic clues that in turn probably validate my interpretation of the paleography as generally a variant form of North Arabian.  The -m probably acts as a form of locative or accusative case-marker here.  It almost certainly confirms that the language was inflected.  Additionally, the preservation of ḏ in ḏyp (root ḏyb) suggests the dialect was not subject to Proto-Canaanite or Aramaic consonant mergers.  However, the /p/ is unusual if not unique, and despite the Egyptian cognate z3b may have been an attempt to equate Semitic /p/ with Egyptian /b/ (if 'The Jackal' refers to an Egyptian divine symbol).  Additionally, the ḏ is really only paleographically related to North Arabian scripts, in a circuitous way at best.

However, the most difficult aspect of this inscription is not ḏypm - which clearly relates to the picture of the jackal; it is the first four letters.  If one retrodicts that a verb must be present as a result of the -m locative, then either the verb is all four letters (implausible), is causative (h-), or consists of S-V or V-S.  In this case, ṣqṭ is almost certainly meaningless (although ṣqṭn appears once in an unclear context in a Sabaic inscription). This leaves the very unusual hṣ and qṭ as the most likely parsing of the words.  But problematically, the -m on the last word does not actually help frame the grammar.

However, it is possible that in Safaitic a name hṣ did exist (see: hṣ in KRS 837; hṣy in KRS 1884); in South Arabian it is possible a single Minaic inscription attests the name outright, but one might trace it also to a Sabaic group-name compound - hṣn`m.  Moreover, qṭ may be related to a fairly common verb found in Akkadian (a Neo-Babylonian word qaṭû that CAD calls it an Aramaic loanword - see qṭy in Syriac) meaning 'to near.'  The word (qṭw) is translated 'walking' (noun) in a single Sabaic inscription (Jamme 2870).

However, it is difficult to discount the Arabic qṭ "to cut" in the D-stem meaning 'to carve' (i.e. "Has carved the Jackal.").  But this derivation, possibly found in the Neo-Babylonian qāṭû (CAD also calls this an Aramaic loan), might then be related to Aramaic qṭw meaning 'cane.'  If connected, the earlier meaning apparently refers specifically to cutting wood or reeds - and so probably is not relevant to this inscription.

If this is a statement related to death and Anubis, it may make sense.  The odd use of /p/ finds parallel in Thebes 2 (forthcoming?) in which bṯn (in this context a constellation meaning 'serpent') appears to be approximated pṯn.  But moreover, paleographically that /p/ (if correct), can really only be compared with Thamudic B, C, and D and Hismaic.  And the ḏ can really only be compared with Dedanitic (sometimes also called Lihyanite (in the later phases of development)).

So based on the paleographic and probable lexical triangulation, the actual language (reconstructed solely through these three words) appears to be a variant Syro-Arabian dialect.  The name is found in Safaitic (North Arabian) and Sabaic (South Arabian); the verb is found in Syriac, Neo-Babylonian, and Sabaic; and the 'jackal' is common but the orthography here appears to be unique.

The other really interesting thing is the apparent paleographic retention of a human with one arm raised and one lowered for /h/.  This find direct parallel (so far) only at Wadi el-Hol, although Jamme 863 uses a slightly more de-styled character.

Friday, August 10, 2012


This is not my best-researched effort (which likely says a lot).  According to Wikipedia, which provides a transliteration, Cyrus Gordon published this inscription (and transliteration) in Evidence for the Minoan Language (1966).  I have been unable to find serious subsequent decipherment attempts - although I haven't in earnest started amassing evidence for a literature review.  Taking the account at face value - and in light of the bilinguality of this inscription from Amathus, I would like to offer my own explanation of the inscription as either West Semitic or specifically Canaanite (this depends on the interpretation of the vowel /o/ as an aleph (i.e. Canaanite) or just another transcription of /u/ - which is the basis of my first attempt):




Cyrus Gordon translates this text as

The city of the Amathusans (honored) the noble Ariston (son) of Aristonax."

So in light of that Greek inscription/translation (I have reformatted/re-parsed the syllabic transliteration but I have also taken it from Wikipedia):

1: a-na ma-to-ri U-mi E-s[a]-i mu-ku-la-i . la sa-na A-ri-si-to-no se A-ra-to-wa-na-ka so-ko-o . se

2: ke-ra-ke-re tu-lo . se ta-ka-na-[?]-so-ti a-lo-ka . i-li-po-ti

Ana matori Umi Esa'i mukula'i . La sana Arisitono se Ara(s)towanaka sokō . se

keraker tulo . se takana[?]soti aloka . ili-poti

"To the small boat of Um-Hasa the mooring point, for the Second Ariston of the regal Ara(s)towanaka.  This is the

'hanging talent' [of gold].  This is my tribute to you.  Ili-Puti."

Then Amathus would actually be a corruption of Um-Hasa; really probably Um-Hatha.  The occurrences of /o/ are interesting - mator (Akkadian maturru), Aristono (Greek Ariston); Aratowanaka (Greek Aristonax), soko'o (Akkadian sukkû from Elamite sunki-), tulo (Akkadian tullû); Ili-Poti (probably Ili-Puti (the second part of the compound frequently found with gods in Akkadian)).  The only outlying orthography would then be aloka (which I take as a form of 'lyk - found in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic) - and the reason for this vowel may simply be a vowel interchange issue in which /ei/ interchanged with /o/ so that 'aleyka becomes aloka.

So two possible conclusions: The dialect 'heard' and approximated /o/ from (Standard? or Neo-?)Babylonian u and from Greek o.  It is also possible (if not likely) that the first sentence's inflection is anomalous and the dialect also did not possess inflection.  The first sentence, complete with Akkadian preposition, would then be an attempt to employ a very formal (archaic) language, namely (probably) Akkadian.  And the balance of the text simply ignores this inflection.

Nobody's ever actually posted a question, but preemptively, my interpretation of mukula comes from the Akkadian makallû a Standard and Neo Babylonian word for "mooring place."  Exactly why this would be the chosen term to describe Amathus is unclear.  It could, however, have been the dialect's chosen word for a coastal city, inasmuch as the juxtaposed Greek word is polis.  However, CAD connects the verb kalû really 'to detain.'  I wonder if it isn't a related but slightly different term for coastal (or non-river) city from mu 'water' and kula 'detained' - possibly meaning either 'shallow water' (i.e. mooring place), or a place 'denied water' (kalû can specifically mean 'to deny irrigation water').