Egyptian Vowels

Henry Churchyard churchh at
Mon Aug 27 01:02:23 EDT 2001

> Subject: Egyptian Vowels
> From: "Matthew R. Miller" <biblicalscribe at>
> Date: Thu, 23 Aug 2001 17:02:11 -0400

> We know the vowels and thus the pronunciation of Hebrew because of
> the work of the Masorites, and by making applicaiton of modern
> pronunciation.  While we may not be 100% sure of the vowels of
> Hebrew as, say, Moses knew them, we are probably pretty close.
> Obviously, Semetic languages were written without vowels, and I am
> currently learning the Egyptian hieroglyphs.  Scholars have
> conveniently made every vowel to be a German "e" except after
> glottla stops, in which case it is German "a." My question is this:
> Is there any wya at all to ascertain any degree of confidence
> regarding the real vowels of the ancient Egyptians?

I'm no expert on Egyptian, but it seems that the Egyptian writing
system rarely provides much indication of vowel presence (much less
quality); even the Egyptian written signs for semivowel consonants
and/or weak consonants that could "vocalize" after vowels, were less
systematically informative about vowels than the Semitic alphabetic
"matres lectionis".  Basically, the whole Egyptian vowel question is
more a matter of linguistic reconstruction (taking into account
external cuneiform transcriptions etc. and reconstructing back from
Coptic) than one of orthographic interpretation.  (Though there were
some methods of indicating vowels that were used mainly for
transcribing foreign words into Egyptian orthography.)

P.S. The question of Hebrew vowels of the mid second millennium
B.C. in relation to the vowels of Tiberian is a little more complex
than you might suspect, since the short vowel system underwent quite a
number of individual changes between the earlier period of the
Canaanite (3-short-vowels and 5-long-vowels system) and the period of
the Qimh.ian (5x2 + reduced) vowel system; while the change from the
Qimh.ian system to the "proto-Ashkenazic" non-quantitative vowel
system involved yet another radical restructuring (affecting both long
and short vowels).  However, we do know a fair amount (indirectly or
directly, through several methods) about mid second millennium
B.C. Canaanite/Hebrew vowels.  (I wouldn't advise you to read Sperber,
though, because he says some rather idiosyncratic and dubious things
about the Masoretic vowel system.)  I have some info on-line embedded
within section 1.4 of my dissertation (see , or direct download at ).

Henry Churchyard   churchh at

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