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.

1 comment:

  1. I'm actually thinking about writing a counterargument to this.