Re: How do we know how to pronounce ancient Egyptian?

How do we know how to pronounce ancient Egyptian?

“The ancient Egyptians weren’t the only ones with a glyphic language — the ancient Mayans had one too.”

This reminds me of a story I heard regarding Spanish explorers’ first contact with Mayans…

Supposedly, when the Spaniards first arrived, they heard the natives constantly making a “shhh” sound which we would spell as SH. However, the Spaniards didn’t know how to spell that sound so they just used X. So the X in most (Mexican) Spanish words should actually be pronounced as SH rather than (the English) H or KS as it usually is today.

In other words, “Mexico” should actually be pronounced “Meshica”.

Is there any truth to this?

Saying that they didn’t “know how” to spell the sound is silly; it suggests that there is a “right way” to spell it, which is a fundamental error. “Sh” spells it in English, “sch” in German, “s” in Hungarian, “ш” in Russian… But “x” is a perfectly good way to spell it in Spanish.

I have no idea whether it is true about “Mexico”, in particular.

[AIN-chent e-GYP-shun]

It was used in Spanish to represent the voiceless postalveolar fricative vs. the * Voiced postalveolar fricative*.

You can think of the first as sort of the English sh in ship and the latter as the su in measure. In Spanish, the former was represented by the letter x and the latter by the letter j.

You can’t really hear the difference between ship and measure? Apparently, neither could most people who spoke Spanish. A bit after the conquest of Mexia (the name of the Aztec Empire), the use of x dropped out of fashion, and both sounds were represented by the letter j. This is why you have Texas and Tejas.

Remember that sounds between various languages are approximations of each other. This is why the Spanish voiced/unvoiced postalveolar fricative is represented by what we would call the H sound and not the SH sound as it would be in English. It’s why Spanish speakers pronounce Mexico as Me-hi-co. We pronounce it as Me-ksi-co because we just don’t know any better. It’s why Manchaca is Man-shak over in Texas and why we have a Gwa-da-loop River and not the Huewa-da-lu-pe River.

Interesting, that perfectly describes how X and J are pronounced in modern Portuguese (with some variation - X is also sometimes pronounced as “ss” as “zz” or as “cks”). I know that the two languages are very closely related, maybe Portuguese retained that feature while Spanish dropped it.

In Portuguese, incidentally, “Mexico” is pronounced “MESH-ee-coo.”

Hey, Houston Street in Manhattan is pronounced HOW-stun.

There’s a similar sound in Mandarin Chinese that’s also often transliterated to “X”. Though I’m not sure exactly how similar, since I probably mispronounce it.

IIRC, Mandarin was first transliterated by the Portuguese, so an unvoiced “sh” is probably right. At least, nobody has [del]laughed out loud[/del] [del]threatened to cut me[/del] corrected my pronunciation of their name.

I’m a little confused.

The H sound is not postalveolar. I don’t understand how one sound can “represent” a different sound in another language. Usually we say a particular grapheme represents a sound, but that’s not what you’re saying here.

Is it that modern Spanish has lost the postalveolar fricatives and replaced them with the glottal fricative?
Powers &8^]

It should be remembered that what Champollion discovered was that ancient Egyptian was a version of Coptic. Which was being spoken as a contemporary language when he realised this (and still is). Indeed his knowledge of Coptic was a crucial factor in the decipherment.
Of course languages evolve and neither spoken 18th century nor contemporary Coptic probably bear much relation to anything an ancient Egyptian would have been able to understand verbally.

But I’d be surprised if any specialists in the matter have ever claimed otherwise.

Mandarin Chinese has pairs of consonants, that are aspirated and unaspirated versions of the same sound. To English-speaking ears (you know what I mean!) they sound identical. In the Pinyin writing system, ‘X’ is paired with ‘SH’, & both sound like ‘sh’ to us. Similarly ‘Q’ & ‘CH’ both sound like ‘ch’.

The difference is that, with the aspirated version, a little puff of breath accompanies the sound. All these consonants are unvoiced, that is to say, the vocal cords do not vibrate, as they do in English sounds, ‘B’ or ‘J’. This means that Beijing does not really sound like Bay-Jing, but more like Pay-Ching.

Formerly, Chinese was transliterated by the Wade-Giles system which, IMHO is far more satisfactory. Here, both sounds in a pair were rendered by the English unvoiced symbol, e.g. P or CH, with an apostrophe added to indicate aspiration, as in ‘T’ang’.