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Archéologie - Israël

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The Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic script is formed of hundreds of iconic signs with different semiotic roles. However, almost every word is followed by a “silent icon,” (the so-called “determinative”) that carries no additional phonetic value of its own. As such, this grapheme is a “mute” icon, which does not exist on the spoken level of language but supplies the word in question, through its iconic meaning alone, with extra semantic information.

The script hosts a variety of categories, from relatively simple “object categories” such as :
“TREE,” “BUSH,” “BIRD,” “FISH,” “SWORM” (a portmanteau word for “Snake+Worm”), “QUADRUPED-ANIMAL,” “HUMAN MALE,” “HUMAN FEMALE,” “CHILDHOOD,” to other categories such as “SUN,” “FOREIGN LANDS,” “WOOD,” “METAL,” “FLUID” (distinct from “LIQUID” as in “beer,” versus “urine”), “HABITAT,” and “SHIP.” “Event categories” are categories such as “MOVEMENT,” “EYE”(SIGHT), and “ACTION OF FORCE.” Uppermost on the pole lie such abstract categories as ,“DIVINE.” The divine is represented by a prototypical zoomorphic god, or by an anthropomorphic prototype.

The “determinatives” were defined as classifiers in my 2002 book. My project in Lyon is to continue my interdisciplinary work on the Ancient Egyptian classifier system with Colette Grinevald, linguist of the DDL laboratory in Lyon, and expert of linguistic classification systems. In our joint work we concentrate on a thorough linguistic analysis of the system within a typological-functional framework. Our approach is to do systematic text based studies, instead of the more traditional studies based on occurrences of single items taken more or less in isolation. This approach complements the only source of information existing to date, restricted to the early analysis of single items, as they are presented in the data bases. This new approach permits an analysis of the distribution and activation of the Egyptian classifier system. The same method is used today by the majority of field linguists working on oral tradition languages.

Activités / CV


Orly Goldwasser teaches various courses on the Egyptian language and scripts at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She also teaches a class entitled “Image, word, and concept - from hieroglyphs to the invention of the Alphabet” in the Department of Cognitive Science. Her main research interests in recent years are: the classification system of the Egyptian scripts, classification systems in general, the semiotics of word and image in pictorial scripts, and the reconstruction of the invention of the alphabet from Egyptian hieroglyphs.


  • Goldwasser, O., 2002. Lovers, Prophets and Giraffes - Wor[l]d Classification in Ancient Egypt. Göttinger Orientforschungen, Otto Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden.
  • Goldwasser, O. 2006. “A Comparison between Classifier Language and Classifier Script: The Case of Ancient Egyptian” in: A Festschrift for Hans Jakob Polotsky, Ed. G. Goldenberg, Magnes Press: Jerusalem, 16-39.
  • Goldwasser, O. 2009. “La force de l'icône - le ‘signifié élu’ ”. Image et conception du monde dans les écritures figuratives. Actes du colloque Collège de France - Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Paris, 24-25 janvier 2008. Edités par N. Beaux, B. Pottier et N. Grimal. Paris: AIBL-Soleb
  • Goldwasser, O. and C. Grinevald, 2012. “What Are Determinatives Good For?” in: Lexical Semantics in Ancient Egyptian, Eds. E. Grossman, St. Polis. & J. Winand, Lingua Aegyptia Studia Monographica. 17-53.