Tuesday, June 28, 2011

About the Egyptian symbol of life <ânkh>

On this Egyptian wall painting the king Tut receives <ânkh> from Hathor. The jackal-head god Anubis also holds a <ânkh> in his right hand. He was the measurer of souls: light souls with no guilt are saved, heavy souls are doomed.

The conventional reading <ânkh> is made up of consonants only [ˁ n x]: a voiced pharyngeal, a nasal and a voiceless velar fricative. This word is attested in Coptic as anaš ‘to breathe’ with the usual palatalization of velar fricatives. Coptic anaš translates Greek αναπνευειν. This Egyptian word is an obvious cognate of PIE *H2enH1- ‘to breathe, to blow’, from which Latin anima and Greek ανεμος are derived. It can be noted that the laryngeal H1 is [x]: a voiceless velar fricative.   

As regards the symbol <ânkh> itself it must be underlined that it has nothing to do with souls, gods or life. Its origin is very modest and derives from another homophonous root ‘to bind’. The symbol is the drawing of a sandal shoe strapping.

In the meaning ‘to bind’ the root [ˁ n x] is cognate with PIE *s-neH1- ‘to bind, sew’, with s-mobile as in the English word needle < *neH1-tl-om. Here again the laryngeal H1 is [x] a voiceless velar fricative.

All the best. A.

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