Monday, December 3, 2012

Reading the Gospel of Judas XI: Lycopolitan again

One of the interesting features of some Lycopolitan documents is the use of the djandje (ϫ) where Sahidic and other dialects have a chi (). The two letters look strikingly similar, the only difference being the line underneath the djandje. One could easily expect that perhaps the scribe had a quirky way of not picking up his pen when making the letter. That, however, would be a mistake.

Way back in the Twenty-first Dynasty, almost a millennium and a half before most Lycopolitan manuscripts were written, the Egyptian language began to lose the distinction between its g, k, and q. This can be seen in the misspellings that appear then and become more frequent with time. The interchange between these letters becomes common in Demotic.

Be that as it may, it does not explain the interchange between the djandje (ϫ), which usually has a sound more like the English j, and the chi (), which is a variation of the g/k/q sound.

Modern Egyptian Arabic, however, has precisely that confusion. The letter that most Arabic dialects pronounce as a j is pronounced in the Cairo area as a g. This dialectical feature is more widespread than just Cairo, but is more likely to disappear the further south one goes.

Lycopolitan's use of a djandje for a chi may be early evidence of this sound shift. They are writing a j (ϫ) for a k/g (), because they pronounce the j sound as a g. This is also evident in Bohairic, a northern dialect, which writes ⲛϫⲓ for Sahidic ⲛϭⲓ. The spelling may be different but the pronunciation was likely the same.