Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Book Review: From Pharaoh's Lips

(Posting this here for now because I can't get Goodreads or Amazon to load and if I don't post it I will forget about it).

From Pharaoh's Lips: Ancient Egyptian Language in the Arabic of Today

A fun introduction to Ancient Egyptian and Coptic words in modern Arabic, which tells the story of a day in the life of an Egyptian family in a manner suitable for elementary school children, using several Egyptian Arabic expressions per sentence.  On the pages facing the story are lists of the expressions used, in English transliteration, Arabic, Coptic, Greek, and hieroglyphs.  The book also provides lists of the letters of the Arabic and Coptic alphabets and hieroglyphs and brief instructions on how to read and pronounce them, and glossaries of expressions in those languages.

The main problem with this book is that it can't decide whether to be a children's book, or an academic text, and so it fails at both.  The authors state that a word or phrase comes from a particular language, but they don't show the etymology, or justify their statements, or provide any citations, or list more than one or two sources in the bibliography beyond basic language texts and dictionaries.

Written by an Egyptologist at al-Azhar, this book had a lot of potential, but it didn't live up to it.  Scholars of the languages concerned will want a more in-depth book, and children will not understand much of this one.

EDIT:  Many of the phrases in this book are also listed in this excerpt from Georgy Sobhy Bey's 1950 article 'Common Words in the Spoken Arabic of Egypt of Greek or Coptic Origin.'  It's difficult to be certain without citations, but Youssef appears to have drawn heavily on Bey's work.  I talked to an Egyptologist who said that some of the hieroglyphs in Bey were wrong, but it's an interesting read for anyone familiar with modern Arabic (my apologies to those who aren't!  But have a look at it anyway, it's visually interesting).

Copticsounds' resource page has an extensive bibliography of scholarly articles on Coptic Language, many of which deal with the Ancient Egyptian-Coptic-Arabic etymology, with links to PDFs.

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