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Trying to learn Middle Egyptian myself, I just found out there are two transcriptions for the word 𓏞 (to scribe): √sšꜣ and √zẖꜣ:

  • In some corpora on Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website the inscription of the word was 𓏝𓏞𓊃𓈙 , though its transcription is zẖꜣ on the website. But on the same website the transcription of the name of Seshat is mostly Sšꜣt.
  • The name of Seshat was inscribed as 𓋴𓈙𓄿𓏏𓅆 Sšꜣt in Pyramid Text 616b T.
  • Faulkner (1964) lists "scribe" in the dictionary but there was no entry for zẖ.
  • If my reading is correct, Vycichl (1983) says 𓏞𓊃𓈙 should probably be read zẖ.
  • Allen (2000) transcribes 𓏞 as √zẖꜣ.

My questions are:

  1. Why is it transcribed as zẖꜣ?
  2. If there was a sound change, what period was the word read zẖꜣ? (I know that /z/ and /s/ merged in Middle Egyptian, but have no idea about /š/ and /ẖ/.)
  3. If I know correct, the name of Seshat is derived from the word 𓏞. What would be the proper transcription for "Seshat" in Middle Egyptian?

1 Answer 1

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It's still debated.

As you mention, "scribe" was written with the door bolt and the pool of water (z-š) in the earliest inscriptions. As a result, Budge proposed the reading for the "scribe" logogram, and this was widely accepted for a long time (so that's also what you see in Faulkner and Hoch, and the classic Wörterbuch).

But some authors, including Vycichl and Allen, now believe that this was a misreading. The Coptic form is ⲥⲁϧ (sax), and ϧ (x) isn't what we'd expect as a reflex of š. They argue that the pool of water was sometimes used to represent in the earliest texts, before the animal belly caught on, and thus the word was actually zẖ or zẖꜣ. This would explain the Coptic reflex. This interpretation was also adopted by Loprieno and the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae.

This root was almost exclusively written with the logogram Y3/Y4 after the Old Kingdom period (or with R20 in Seshat's name), so further evidence on the pronunciation is lacking. The older reading is still very common, which is why you find e.g. the program named JSesh. But consensus seems to be slowly and steadily shifting toward zẖ(ꜣ).

Personally, I would transcribe the name as zẖꜣ.t, but use "Seshat" as the English version, since it's what non-Egyptologists are used to.

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  • To be fair, I’d say non-Egyptologists aren’t used to any form of this name, because they’ve simply never heard of Seshat. I’d judge my knowledge of Egyptian names as definitely above average for non-Egyptologists, and I’ve never heard of her. Jul 15, 2023 at 8:22
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Fair; perhaps amend "are used to" to "can find on Wikipedia or the like".
    – Draconis
    Jul 15, 2023 at 15:03
  • Thank you for the answer. It's a bit difficult to dig more about the "the pool of water was used, before the animal belly caught on" part. Could you give me a reference?
    – puzzlet
    Jul 16, 2023 at 23:56
  • @puzzlet I believe that's Vycichl's argument, but my French isn't good enough to give more detail I'm afraid.
    – Draconis
    Jul 17, 2023 at 0:12

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