Re: Jaynes and Hoagland findings related??

scharle (
18 Jan 1995 16:51:43 GMT

I'm including sci.lang, and dropping everything else but
in the followups. The sci.lang experts will give better information than
I can.

In article <medved.790438641@access1>, (Ted Holden) writes:
|> (scharle) writes:
|> > Egyptian Hieroglyphics partially reflected the sound of the spoken
|> >language. They weren't just pictures of things, but a full way of
|> >representing the spoken speech. For example, for a word which wasn't
|> >easily pictured, a homonym or group of homonyms could be used (sort of
|> >like rebus writing).
|> A couple of questions... Does anybody believe they know what ancient
|> Egyptian sounded like; is there no other explaination for the symbol
|> grouping in heiroglyphics; can any such case as you make here be made
|> for Chinese writing... i.e. I'd always heard that Chinese writing
|> involved literal pictures which had been simplified to symbols over
|> time.

I don't pretend to be an expert on this, but lacking anyone else
willing to talk about this, I will tell you what I think is so.

Yes, people do have some idea of what ancient Egyptian sounded like.
This is based upon such things as -- the words in related languages
(ancient Egyptian is an "Afro-Asiatic" language, related to the Semitic
languages and Coptic); transcriptions of names from other languages
(most famously in the Rosetta stone). The vowel sounds are most
speculative (I think that they are ignored in the writing, much as is
the case in Hebrew and Arabic). The uncertainty leads to different
readings such as "Khufu" and "Cheops" for the same person.

(Even for alphabetic writing of ancient languages, there is
uncertainty in what the sounds are -- although we have the help of
grammarians, as well as hints from misspellings and poetry. Perhaps
only in classical Sanskrit do we have an excellent idea, because the
grammarians left descriptions of what the sounds were.)

The symbol grouping is not only for phonetic reasons. Only that
certain words just have to be done with some phonetic help. They often
tried to over-specify the word, perhaps with both a drawing of the
thing *and* a phonetic element.

Similarly with Chinese. The Chinese writing is derived from
pictures -- such as the original writing of the word for "sun" is a
circle with a dot in it; and the original for "moon" is a crescent moon.
The modern writing has modified these almost beyond recognition. The
character for "bright" is a single symbol combining these two symbols
in one. It is commonplace for a single character to be made of two
parts: one is a "determinative", indicating a general subject matter,
and the other part can be representing the sound. (In some cases, the
sounds so represented are the sounds of classical Chinese, not modern
Chinese, I believe. Classical Chinese poetry "rhymes" in the writing
more than in the modern spoken form.)

Tom Scharle
Room G003 Computing Center |
University of Notre Dame Notre Dame, IN 46556-0539 USA