Consider the sentence: "I am a scribe, skillful of fingers."

This is typically stated in Middle Egyptian using the 'm' of predication:

iw=i m sš iqr n(y) ḏbaw iw=i m sš iqr n(y) ḏbaw

I think this is correct, and 'm' of predication is used when the relationship between the topic and the comment is extrinsic or temporary, such as an occupation.

My question is: is this translation:

ink sš iqr n(y) ḏbaw ink sš iqr n(y) ḏbaw

which is a nominal sentence, which usually implies an intrinsic connection ("I am your father." vs. "I am a scribe."), necessarily incorrect, or contrary to the spirit of the language, in this type of statement, when expressing an occupation (but also the intrinsic fact that I am "skilled of my fingers")?

  • Can you make a gloss of your examples?
    – amegnunsen
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 21:46
  • Sure. The first example is: iw (introductory particle) =i (first person suffix pronoun) m (preposition: in, as, from) sS (noun, masculine singular: scribe) iqr (adjective: skilled) n(y) (genitival adjective: of) Dbaw (noun, masculine plural: fingers). The second example is ink (independent pronoun, first person, singular)... and the rest is the same as in the other example.
    – Kresimir
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 21:56
  • 1
    It is a question to ask to Egyptologist. From a linguistic standpoint your sentences are both nominal. One uses a predicative particle "m" and the other none. In Riffian, there is the same distinction : necc d argaz = me d man= I am a man / necc mmi-s n baba = me son-3POS GEN father = I am the son of my father. As you can see, the predicative particle "d" is not present when the predicate indicates a family relation with the subject.
    – amegnunsen
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 23:00
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    @Kresimer. I think this is a question only a native speaker of Middle Egyptian could answer and you'd need a time-machine for that. The teachings of dwꜣ-ḫetj make it plain that the scribal profession was chosen - you weren't born into it; your father had to send you to school. Because of that I suspect it would sound as odd as 'I have become a human being' does to English ears - grammatical, meaningful but with an unexpected nuance of meaning. Although 'skillful of fingers' could be considered intrinsic it's grammatical rôle is attributive, a compound adjective modifying 'sš'.
    – Ned
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 16:28
  • 1
    @Kresimir Are you Kresimir off GlyphStudy?
    – Ned
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 16:29

1 Answer 1


The nominal construction without the m of predication is attested in Old Kingdom texts, even with professions. E.g. Hatnub 11, Anthes (pl.14,5):

ink sš iqr

I am an excellent scribe.

Hatnub 14, Anthes (1964: pl. 17,3):

ink ḫtmw iqr ḥsy n nb=f

I am an excellent seal-bearer, one praised of his lord.

On the other hand, the m of predication is used quite frequently for what is usually not extrinsic, e.g. ny-sw.t "king".

According to the analysis of the text of the tomb of Hezi at Saqqara (Sixth Dynasty) by FD Scalf (2008), the answer "may lie not in semantics but in syntax". The argument boils down to the m of predication is used in main clauses when there are certain syntactic constructions, e.g. the use of iw with nouns and subject pronouns suffixes.

In Demotic and Coptic, it survives as a n in subordinate clauses. In Coptic, it is paired with eire (as o) to mean "act as". This is an evolution of the syntactic environments.

However, the m of predication often selects for the extrinsic interpretation of polysemous nouns, even in Coptic, as reported by Shisha-Halevy (1987). The use of the o n- construction in Coptic with the loanword parthenos forces the interpretation of "chaste", as opposed to the intrinsic "maiden".

  • Thank you! That's exactly the answer I was hoping for!
    – Kresimir
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 15:32

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