Errata in Allen

It seems in order here to discuss some principles that are used in the book for determining the proper transliteration of hieroglyphic writing in examples and exercises. Although some of these principles are explicitly discussed in the book (see § 2.8.2, § 3.7, and Essay 17), some are implicit, and the student may wonder about certain transliterations and possibly regard them as errors when they are not. The discussion here is partly based on private communication with Mr. Allen.

The basic principle of transliteration is to reflect the hieroglyphic spelling (Essay 17). Thus, the transliteration contains the consonants represented by the phonograms. The plural determinative is in this respect also seen as phonogram for w, for actual plurals or ``false plurals'' (§ 4.6). Something similar holds for duals and false duals (§ 4.7). In the case of phonetic complements, the consonants are of course only written once (§ 3.2), and the transliteration may sometimes have the consonants in a different order than found in the hieroglyphic spelling, so as to reflect the actual order of the consonants as they were pronounced (p. 79, n. 4, and p. 239, n. 33). In the case of a hieroglyphic spelling with an ideogram, the word is transliterated as the sequence of consonants by which it would be found in a dictionary.

The transliteration that reflects the hieroglyphic spelling of a word may deviate strongly however from the ``actual'' form of the word as it is found in dictionaries and as it was probably pronounced by the ancient Egyptians. An example is mAjr in the key to Exercise 7, no. 33, on p. 476. The actual forms are mAj or mAr, the hieroglyphic spelling here being a combination of traditional and modern spellings (§ 2.8.3); see also swrj on pp. 166 and 176. A similar case, the transliteration smAmw, is discussed in n. 11 on p. 181. Note the subtle distinction between these cases of etymological spelling and the case of transposition of signs motivated by esthetic considerations, as discussed e.g. in n. 4 on p. 79.

There are a few exceptions on the general principle. Most notably, we write an omitted consonant in the transliteration when (a) it is reasonably certain that that consonant was pronounced by the Egyptians and (b) this helps us understand the meaning. The consonant is then enclosed within brackets. Thus we find r(m)T (§ 3.7), (j)t(j) (§ 7.8), and (n)swt (§ 9.9).

When a triliteral sign is followed by phonetic complements for the second consonant and possibly for the first but not for the third, then this third consonant is also enclosed within brackets if this omission was meant to indicate that it had been lost in pronunciation (Essay 17). Thus we find nf(r) (p. 220), Hq(A) (p. 265), and Ht(m) (p. 482, Exercise 16, no. 15).

The above principles are most consistently applicable for nouns, which have only a few, well-known forms. The case of verbs is different since determining whether condition (a) is fulfilled is more problematic: we cannot always be certain that the ``weak'' endings of verbs were in fact present in particular verb forms. For this reason, weak endings are not transliterated when not represented in the hieroglyphs.

Thus on p. 155, M18, which is just the combination of M17 (reed), a phonogram for j, with determinative D54 (walking legs), is transliterated as j. Further, M18-M17 or M18-Z4 can be transliterated as jj, and M18-M17-M17 as jy as on p. 264. Technically, the writing on p. 208, line 6, could be transliterated as jjj or jy rather than jj, but, according to Mr. Allen, as far as we know these alternative transliterations do not correspond to any actual Egyptian verb form; the verb was probably just pronounced ``i'' in most cases, and contemporary transcriptions in cuneiform (cf. Essay 17) show us that this was the case here, despite the spelling. (Note further the third writing on p. 324, line -4, which could technically be transliterated as jyj, but is in fact transliterated as jy.)

Apart from the issue which consonants to write in the transliteration, there is the issue just how consonants are to be written, in the cases of d versus D, t versus T, and s versus z. The convention seems to be the following: In the transliteration, the choice between d and D and between t and T is made based on the consonants present in phonograms in the hieroglyphic writing, irrespective of the original spelling; in the case of writings with merely ideograms, we take the original spelling, as found in the dictionary. However, the choice between s and z in the transliteration is also based on the original spelling: If the hieroglyphic writing of a particular instance of a word has z but the original spelling had s, we transliterate the consonant as s (e.g., consider the suffixes .s and .sn from § 5.3, and see in the final example on p. 267), but vice versa, if a particular instance has s but the original spelling had z, we transliterate the consonant as s (e.g., see isw in the first example of § 22.15, and see tA-smA in the key to Exercise 22, no. 15). We transliterate as z only if both the original spelling and the particular instance have z.

Also problematic is the transliteration of the word xt or xwt, "thing" or "things", when the hieroglyphic spelling includes the plural strokes. As stated in the note on p. 122, the plural strokes may be present even when the singular word xt is meant; in that case the word does not refer to any ``thing'' in particular. In other cases, the plural strokes may indicate the actual plural form xwt.

A case in point are the Exercises 6 (no. 10), 7 (no. 23), with the transliteration xwt, contrasting to p. 69, line 20, with the transliteration xt in the same context. Note that the hieroglyphic spelling is the same in these three cases. Mr. Allen in p.c. proposes to replace xwt nbt and the plural translation "all things" in the two exercises by xt nbt and the singular translation "everything" for the sake of consistency with p. 69. However, both possibilities would be acceptable, since none of the two can be ruled out on the basis of syntactic or semantic context.

The guideline in general is as follows. We transliterate xt or xwt and translate accordingly when syntactic or semantic context suggests a clear preference for one or the other option. An example where syntactic context reveals the number is Exercise 11, no. 25, where we read: xwt.f nw pr (j)t(j).f, "his things of his father's house". Here nw indicates that the preceding noun must be plural. In other examples, a particular form of a relative adjective ntj (§ 12.3) may help to determine the number of the antecent if that is xt or xwt. Note however that the plural forms of adjectives gradually disappeared from Egyptian (§ 6.2), and therefore the use of ntj does not always mean that the antecedent must be singular. A similar fact holds for the genitival adjective (§ 4.13).

Without a clear preference suggested by syntax or semantics, there is a tendency to use the singular form xt, at least in the examples in the lessons. The key to the exercises tends to use the plural instead, but as suggested by Mr. Allen, the plural may be replaced by the singular throughout in such cases, for the sake of consistency.

Some additional confusion is created by the second translation for xt in the dictionary (p. 464), viz. "property". On p. 136 we find xwt, "property" or "things", suggesting that it is rather the plural form, not the singular, that has the meaning of "property"; see the same transliteration and translation on p. 215 and in the key to Exercise 10 (no. 28). However, for no apparent reason, on p. 113 we find the transliteration xt in the singular, as above translated by "things" in the meaning of "property". For the benefit of the student, who may be confused by the inconsistencies, it would have been better to write xwt throughout, when the meaning is "property" and the word is written with plural strokes.

It is unclear to me why the combination of G17 (owl) and D36 (forearm) is transliterated as m(j) when the meaning is "please, now" (§ 16.7.6; Exercise 16, no. 13) and as mj when the meaning is "who?, what?" (§ 7.13; § 15.12; p. 332, final example).

Frequently, compound words are inconsistently transliterated with or without a hyphen. In a few cases, this is not due to a mistake. According to Mr. Allen (p.c.), hyphens should be used when the constituents are connected by a common determinative. This could justify jmn ra on p. 337, without a common determinative, versus jmn-ra on p. 183, where the determinative A40 (seated god) can be argued to refer to the whole compound word, rather than merely to the second constituent ra. Similarly, we find wsjr-xnt(j)-jmntjw and wsjr xnt(j) jmntjw on pp. 356 and 357, respectively.

A hyphen is also used to indicate that words were written in honorific transposition, as for example anxt-nTr on p. 492, no. 40. This is however not done consistently; cf. mj-ra and mj ra in the key to Exercise 18, nos. 27 and 28, respectively.