Rami Samir Farag Mina is a tour guide who is as much at home with the ancient Egyptian language as with its landscapes. A guide since 1992, he uses seven living languages as well as dead languages as part of his job, and he may be the only guide with an official licence to conduct tours in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew and Japanese. He has degrees from Cairo and Ain Shams Universities in archeology and ancient and modern languages, and he was recently awarded a PhD in Egyptian archaeology and its relationship to Semitic languages. Watani met him to learn more about his interesting line of study.
“The study is about the strong relationship between the ancient Egyptian language and other Semitic languages, especially in regard to vocabulary, grammar and script, and it presents a grammatical rule as a model,ˮ Dr Mina said.
“When I started studying the ancient Egyptian language I noticed that much of its vocabulary is used in other languages, such as the word dshert, which means ‘desert’ in English and is also used in French, Italian and Spanish: desierto and deserto. The same applies to many other words. Before I studied the ancient Egyptian language I used to hear Coptic words in church that were related to words in other languages, such as the word martyros in Coptic, which means ‘martyr’ in English and is also used in French and Italian. At first I thought such similarities were because of Greek infiltration into the Coptic language. Greek was the language of the later Roman Empire and, together with Latin, had a great influence on European languages. But after I studied the Coptic language and looked at many other words in the ancient Egyptian language I became certain there was a relation between Coptic and the European languages.
“As I studied more and more words I became more certain, and that’s why I decided to take advanced studies in archeology at Cairo University.”
…And in Arabic
Dr Mina proceeded: “I asked the prominent professor of archeology Abdel-Halim Noureddin, the former Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and former Dean of Cairo University’s Archaeology Department, if I could do a masters degree under his supervision. Dr Noureddin didn’t do as others had done, criticising me or making fun of the idea. He just asked me to bring at least 100 words that evidenced the similarity I claimed. The following day I gave him 200 examples. He studied them carefully and they worked to fully convince him of the idea; he told me the proposed study would be a major revelation. I began advanced studies in 1995 and finished the PhD in 2015, meaning that I spent some 20 years on it. In the masters degree I studied the influence of the ancient Egyptian language on European languages through the Greek and Latin used by the Greeks and Romans who ruled Egypt for about 1,000 years (332 BC to 641 AD). In the PhD I focused on the Semitic languages.”
Among other examples Dr Mina quoted were the word meno in ancient Egyptian language, which is ‘monument’ in English and French, monomento in Italian and monominto in Spanish. Hebni in the ancient Egyptian is ‘ebony’ in English, and it is also used in French, Italian, Spanish and German.
In ancient Egyptian the word wahn is also wahan, meaning weakness in Arabic; barq is barq, literally lightening in Arabic; wahat is waha (oasis) in Arabic, and there are many Arabic words which are the same in Hebrew.
Little interest in Egypt
Dr Mina points out that historical documents are the most important references on his topic of research. The earliest examples of ancient Egyptian writing come from 3200 BC, and no other true writing in any other language has been discovered from before that date except for some Sumerian documents that date back to the same period. So the issue is limited to the ancient Egyptian and Sumerian languages.
“There has been too little research on the subject in Egypt,” Dr Mina says. “European Egyptologists who speak two or three languages found similarities between words in the three languages and decided it couldn’t be a coincidence. In the Wörterbuch der ägyptischen Sprache [a large German-language dictionary of the Egyptian language published between 1926 and 1961] Adolf Erman and Hermann Grapow mentioned some Greek and Latin words that were seen to be influenced by the ancient Egyptian language but, regrettably, no one in Egypt seemed to care.”
As for similarities between the ancient Egyptian and Arabic languages, the Egyptologist Ahmed Pasha Kamal compiled a dictionary in 22 parts comparing Arabic and Ancient Egyptian words. He finished it in 1923 but—as mentioned in the introduction to the parts of the dictionary recently published 82 years after his death—its scientific material was not to the liking of some [fundamentalists who insist Arabic was not influenced by ‘pagan’ Ancient Egyptian], hence the long time till the book saw light.
Dr Mina is grateful to all those who have supported him—especially Dr Noureddin and Dr Abdel-Hamid Saad Azab—when many others criticised his ideas and were totally opposed to them.
10 June 2015