Recent years have seen a renewed interest in issues of Egyptian linguistics, with new collections of data and new types of evidence becoming available through the work of various scholars. These works have raised interesting questions about issues of linguistic varieties and dialectal interferences, which call for a reassessment of the sociolinguistic landscape of pre-Coptic Egyptian.
My project aims at exploring some of these questions within the context of New Kingdom Late Egyptian. The project is divided into four phases that will explore four interrelated questions, namely:
• Is the New Kingdom linguistic reality better described by a two-layers model (classical language : vernacular dialects) or a three-layers one (classical language : official/prestigious/court vernacular dialect : other vernacular dialects)?
• Was there any shift in the main (official?) dialect underlying the Late Egyptian texts during the New Kingdom? And if yes, when and which dialects were involved?
• How does the appearance of Levantine loanwords in New Kingdom sources correlates with pre-Coptic dialects? Could at least some of such loanwords be associated with a specific Delta dialect, and could the increase in their number reflect a shift in the official dialect? And if so, when did these Levantine words enter such Delta dialect? Can they be connected with the Hyksos phenomenon?
• Was there any conscious linguistic policy during the New Kingdom, and was the main (official?) dialect actively promoted by the state (e.g. through didactic material) or does Late Egyptian represent a koiné that emerged naturally through a process of unconscious levelling of the (written) vernacular language used by the scribal communities across the country?
The Digital Humanities dimension: computational tools and datasets
Beside its research questions, the project aims at being innovative also in its methods, which are characterized by the use of newly compiled linguistic databases for the Egyptian language, and by the deployment and development of various digital tools and algorithms both to organize and analyze the data.
The project has already resulted in the compilation of a Python version of the FAAL algorithm for the phonetic alignment of words (Kilani 2021 - FAAL: a Feature-based Aligning ALgorithm).
A Beta version of the corresponding Python library is available here: https://pypi.org/project/FAALpy/ .
In addition, three linguistic databases are being developed within the frame of the project
1) a database collecting the attestations of Levantine placenames in New Kingdom sources (developed in collaboration with Anna Khoury – Basel University) which includes various subsets of data and metadata for further processing through linguistic algorithms, GIS software, etc.
2) a dataset collecting basic vocabulary from Middle and Late Egyptian sources (developed in collaboration with Melina Jakobs – Basel University), built according to the most recent standards in general computational linguistics (and linked with general linguistic databases like Concepticon, LexiBank, etc.)
3) an Egyptian-Coptic etymological database designed to be compatible with modern computational linguistics libraries. A Beta version of this database can be found here:
This database will be further linked with the HathorBank database, which was developed in my previous project. A first version of the HathorBank database can be found here:
Since 2022, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) has contributed to the funding of the mission.
We thank all participants and sponsors for their support!
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