Chapter 6 Mapping the Ancient Mind: iClassifier, a New Platform for Systematic Analysis of Classifiers in Egyptian and beyond

In: Ancient Egypt, New Technology
Haleli Harel Hebrew University Jerusalem

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Orly Goldwasser Hebrew University Jerusalem

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Dmitry Nikolaev University of Stuttgart

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The research effort behind the creation of the iClassifier digital platform is the accurate description of the emic mental landscape of ancient Egypt, as reflected in the classifier system of the Egyptian script. Our central hypothesis is that each semantic classifier in the script system heads a conceptual category. Following this hypothesis, collecting as many lemmas, tokens, and their classifiers as possible will present us with an estimated, expanding map of the emic categories in the ancient Egyptian mind. Classifiers allow us to trace central members and marginal members, interrelations, and diachronic developments in each emerging category, taking into consideration classifier combinations, inverse correlations, and the lack of classifier use. Since classifiers are evident in the Egyptian script from its early stages, through Demotic, and up until the demise of Ptolemaic, the overall corpus should comprise millions of examples. The digital platform iClassifier is designed for large-scale data collection, analysis, and study of classifiers in complex scripts.

1 State of the Art: Classifier Studies in Egyptology

Understanding the essence of Egyptian classifiers was a necessary step in the decipherment of the Egyptian script. Jean-François Champollion was the first to have acknowledged and defined the essence of the signs playing a role he described as déterminatif. He then offered a detailed survey of these unpronounced signs that head generic categories in the Egyptian script.2 Since Champollion’s publication in 1836, the term “determinative” has been continuously used by Egyptologists to refer to signs playing this functional role in the Egyptian script. Determinatives were regarded by post-Champollion Egyptological research as silent “reading-aids.” Egyptologists considered them as informative, associative, meta-linguistic additions, optionally added to words to help the reader choose the correct meaning from a few possible signified concepts represented by the Egyptian vowelless script. Their role as word dividers (played in other early alphabetic scripts by strokes, dots, or spaces) in a text was also acknowledged. Egyptologists had always recognized the apparent semantic value of the determinatives, but they were never regarded as a rule-governed linguistic system.

In the two recent decades, research exposed how the phenomenon of “determinatives” shows up in various complex writing systems: Cuneiform, Anatolian hieroglyphs, Chinese (ancient and modern), and others.3 Moreover, it gradually became clear that determinatives play a functional role very similar to the well-known pronounced classifier systems in hundreds of classifier languages around the world, e.g., Mesoamerica, East Asia, or Australia.4 In Egyptology, the study of Egyptian determinatives as graphemic classifiers has developed as a new research field. It took a concerted effort to set the grounds to study this unique script phenomenon as a linguistic phenomenon on its merit and to question the possible “semantic domain” or category each semantic classifier governs.5 A theoretical framework was gradually established6 and applied in several case studies.7 At the same time, while studying this script phenomenon, its similarity to systems of pronounced classifiers became more and more evident. Hence, the suggestion to identify these signs using the word “classifier,” a linguistic term more closely reflecting the semantic essence of this sign type and its link to classification and categorization.8 Thus, graphemic and pronounced classifiers seem to result from the same human categorization effort, emerging in different media. The last decade gave rise to a series of studies about classifiers in sign languages, including a comparative article on the use of graphemic classifiers in Egyptian and the use of classifiers in German sign language.9 These findings establish classifiers as a unified cognitive and linguistic phenomenon surfacing in three different media: speech, script, and sign language. Once the Egyptian graphemic classifiers came to be regarded as a system, the next step was to establish and define the functional roles of that system. In the last decade, classifiers were recognized as an essential level of analysis in the “semantic-trail” of every Egyptian lexeme.10 Additionally, scholars surveyed specific lemmas and corpora with linguistic tools, highlighting the diachronic changes in the use of classifiers along the long durée of Egyptian written discourse in hieroglyphs, cursive hieroglyphs, and hieratic.11 These studies strongly support the analysis of classifiers as reflecting semantic categories.

Up to this day, Gardiner’s “Determinative List,”12 published in 1928/1957, is followed as a reference for the classifier corpus, and an up-to-date comprehensive classifier list is yet to be created. An early attempt to list sign functions per hieroglyphic sign was made in Berlin by J. Spiegel und E. Lüddeckens during the 1930s and published as Zeichenliste des Wörterbuches der ägyptischen Sprache.13 While impressive for their time, these ingenious lists lack consideration of classifiers’ frequency, category size, or diachrony.

A new standard for sign-function annotation is offered in the Thot Sign List (TSL), a project that aims at creating a digital attestation record of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs in their various sign functions. “Classifier” as a sign function is marked in the new datasets.14 Alongside traditional Gardiner sign numbers, TSL entries refer to a Gardiner number and a comprehensive glyph list created by Dimitri Meeks.15 For later stages of the Egyptian script, the Demotic Paleographical Database Project digitizes signs in the role of classifier in Demotic texts.16

Over the last two decades, linguists have examined the impact of pronounced classifier systems on speakers of various classifier languages. One of the research tracks follows how classifiers affect the performance of cognitive tasks. These studies show a constant tension between the language-specific and cross-linguistic effects tied to classifier assignment.17 Experimental studies are also conducted, e.g., studies of classifier languages have demonstrated that the speaker considers objects belonging to a particular classifier category more similar.18 As linguists continuously collect data for modern classifier languages, we suggest addressing similar questions by mapping the Egyptian classifier system and looking at how this system reflects culture-specific vs. universal categorization schemes.19

2 Primary Goals: Systematic Transliteration of Classifiers and a Modern Classifier List

As of today, there is no standard technique in Egyptology for transcribing classifiers. Unlike other ancient complex scripts (e.g., Cuneiform),20 most transcriptions of Egyptian texts have neglected the marking or glossing of classifiers. Some older valuable lexicographical resources listing lemmas and compounds sometimes even omit the classifiers completely from their hieroglyphic transcription (e.g., Ranke 1935). In some recent publications, when transcribed, they may be marked in an upper case by their “Gardiner no.” from Gardiner’s general list of hieroglyphic signs, or by transcribing in upper case their reconstructed semantic value as analyzed by the scholar.21 Just as transliterations of Egyptian are not unified across different academic schools of Egyptology, the transcription of sign functions does not yet adhere to a unified method.22

This situation deprives the student of Egyptology of a very substantial layer of information that appears in most Egyptian lemmas—verbs, nouns, and sometimes adverbs and prepositions. Moreover, this partial representation of lemmas makes it impossible to reconstruct the original spelling of the lemma from the transliteration.23 Should the method of transliteration be changed, it would save students and researchers precious time, freeing them from dependence on libraries or digital resources, which in many cases are incomplete or not available at all. As not all students of Egyptology always have access to original publications in libraries, this classifier marking target is of great importance.

Egyptology is in dire need of a user-friendly, modern list of classifiers, ranked by frequency and co-occurrence. The pioneering list of Gardiner24 offers no clue to the student of Egyptian if a certain hieroglyph is of very high frequency in the system or low frequency (e.g., A2 vs. A9 ) or if a classifier heads a category of many members or only a few members. One can create a current list by marking classifiers for each example (tokens) of a lemma (or “host” word). Then all classified meanings (CM s), calibrated statistically by their frequency of appearance with the classifier, would define a classifier’s semantic scope, variability, and frequency through time. A user of such a resource would get a clear picture of the spectrum of words occurring with a classifier. Gradually, information about the central and peripheral lemmas in the category will emerge. Such a “reverse dictionary” would also be helpful for philological work of word reconstruction in broken or partially lost inscriptions.

3 How to Reach Our Goals: iClassifier, a Collaborative Digital Research Environment

iClassifier is a data collection and analysis tool specifically created to investigate the extensive use of classifiers in their contexts (©Goldwasser, Harel, Nikolaev). The platform aims to serve as a digital space to apply uniform marking to classifiers in Egyptian texts, store and display the results, and offer classifier analysis reports for data of any existing projects.25 By using this tool, a comprehensive picture of classifier categories in ancient Egypt will gradually take shape. After classifiers are marked, an evolving image of their emergence, distribution, and patterns of variation will emerge, making it possible to put the Egyptian data in a general typological perspective.

In iClassifier, each classifier analysis has two axes: the lemma axis and the classifier axis. The lemma-axis aims to study a host lemma and the range of classifiers it may “take” in synchronic and diachronic perspectives and show variation according to scripts or genres. The classifier axis focuses on a particular classifier. It attempts to collect lexical items that occur as its hosts (e.g., collect all lexical items with a [hide & tail] classifier).

4 Workflow Guidelines for Data Input in iClassifier

The following guidelines outline the main input tasks and research emphasis of iClassifier.

4.1 Witness (Text)


Figure 6.1

An example of WITNESS, LEMMA, and TOKEN annotation forms in an instance of the [adoration/greeting] classifier, A30 in Gardiner’s list, with the lemma šrm (to greet, to seek peace)

The user provides information about the text (witness) in which a token appears (see the witness form in fig. 6.1 below, colored green). The user may annotate metadata for each text using the witness form. Possible annotations are text genre, object type, script,26 location, and date. The metadata entries feature the values of the THOT thesauri.27 Later, using queries, users may examine the classification patterns of a specific text (e.g., a particular Coffin Text) or study any variation that was recorded and automatically order their examples by script type, date, geographical location, etc. Additionally, a user can add a complete witness transcribed either in transliteration or Manuel-de-Codage (see below, § 5.4).

4.2 Lemma (Word)28

The iClassifier lemma list is based on the TLA lemma list. The user simply starts typing the transliteration or translation and chooses the correct lemma. If a lemma does not appear in the TLA list, the user can add it as a new lemma, referring to another dictionary.

4.3 Token (Example)

Then, one goes on marking classifiers in a specific token of the lemma. The minimal information for each token is which lemma it attests to, a spelling of the token (its complete transcription in Manuel-de-Codage = MdC), the text and line where it occurs. In each MdC example, the user marks classifier transcriptions with a standardized marking—a tilde symbol (~)—before and after each classifier, e.g., the classifier in the example (SA-A-r:Z1-G20-A30) is marked as SA-A-r:Z1-G20-~A30~.

Then, an analysis box for each classifier is generated. iClassifier offers a uniform platform for the analysis of classifiers.

4.3.1 Classifier Analysis (CA)

This analysis is optional and could be used partially or not at all. Users may leave the analysis to later stages of their work and choose only to mark the classifier/s (or lack thereof).

4.3.2 Classifier-Host Relations

Classifier-host relations define the semantic relationship of a classifier to its host lemma: taxonomic, taxonomic-repeater,29 taxonomic-metaphoric,30 or schematic (various, meronymic or metonymic, e.g., “made of,” “part of,” etc.).31 If necessary, the user can resort to the “unclear” option. (See in fig. 6.1 above)

4.3.3 Classifier Information Types

iClassifier’s “Information types” are meant to distinguish between various classification types. This additional analysis scheme follows distinctions suggested in the “Ebene” analysis by Lincke and Kammerzell 2012 and Lincke 2011 and was adapted to correspond to the terminology of Contini-Morava and Kilarski 2013, used for describing types of classifier functions in classifier languages. “Encyclopedic/Lexical” vs. “Pragmatic” Classification.

While the lexical meaning suggests that a classifier refers to the encyclopedic meaning of a lemma, the term pragmatic refers to cases where a classifier of a specific token of a lemma has a specified meaning in a particular context. In such cases, it represents a specific referent in the text. For example, in a historical hieroglyphic text.32 The lemma wr, “ruler” is written with a pragmatic classifier that signifies a particular foreign ruler: . In the original, the hieroglyph presents the Libyan ruler, not as an upright man holding a staff, but a somewhat bent man wearing a long dress. His hands are hanging to his sides. This variation occurs throughout this text as the same hieroglyph is used as a logogram referring to a foreign ruler. In such cases, the user marks the classifier as pragmatic and comment about its particular referent. Grammatical Classification.

This grammatical/derivational type, also referred to as “word-form” classification, refers to the additional morpho-syntactic role of some classifiers,33 e.g., in constructions such as names of trades, a classifier marks nominalization, for example, the lemma wḥꜥ.w, “fowler,” below. Metatextual Level

This level was suggested by Allon 2010.34 For example, in rare cases, the classifier (T14) or (A2) marks a lemma as “foreign” in Egyptian, i.e., belonging to a foreign language, without any connection whatsoever to its lexical meaning.35

4.3.4 Phonetic Classifiers

“Phonetic classifiers” (phonological interpretants) are found in various complex scripts.36 Marking this information-type will expose the distribution of phonetic classification versus semantic classification in the Egyptian script. It would enable us to survey this script phenomenon with quantitative tools for the first time. Such “phonetic classifiers” have been shown to occur also in classifier languages.37 Once marked in iClassifier, phonetic classifiers would appear as a separate, non-semantic classification list, and their report is excluded from the semantic classification report.

4.3.5 Classifier Valency (Semantic Role Relations)

Users may analyze semantic relations marked by a classifier. Semantic relations apply mainly to verbs but also to deverbals (see the wḥꜥ.w example in fig. 6.2 below). Semantic relations may include experiencer, patient, instrument, source, goal, location, mover, zero, causee, and absentee. The list of semantic relations may expand as data is gathered. Our current list of options (see the analysis of classifier (G41) in fig. 6.2 below) follows the study of semantic relations of verbs and their classifiers in “The Tale of Wenamun,” undertaken in Kammerzell 2015.

4.4 Image Input

iClassifier allows users to add images of source inscriptions by uploading an image file from their hard drive and then marking and cropping a specific example. Users must cite the copyright status of an image, and all images offered for reuse will publicly appear in search results.


Figure 6.2

Marking ‘classifier level’ and ‘classifier type’ of a token of wḥꜥ.w ‘fowler’ in iClassifier token input form. These analyses are optional in iClassifier.


Figure 6.3

Sample token with a source image, created by Simon Thuault. An example from the mastaba of Metjen at the Berlin Museum

5 Additional Queries by iClassifier

iClassifier offers its users an array of new answers for new and old questions. Researchers may use the platform to pursue their specific research interests. Users conduct their research using the forms and add philological comments for each entry. After compiling a list of tokens, some possible research questions are:

5.1 Classifier Order and Compatibility Rules

Cases of multiclassification show a tendency for ordering first metonymic classifiers and then taxonomic ones (e.g., fig. 6.2 above). This phenomenon and its functional rules have been hardly studied systematically in Egyptology. Compatibility vs. incompatibility of classifiers with each other has also been very rarely studied. Complex searches also enable studies of classifier combinations, such as [water/body-of-water](N35A-N36:N23), and their statistics, compatibility patterns, and inverse correlations.

5.2 Classifiers in Compounds

iClassifier allows the user to dissect the parts of compounds. Users can mark which classifiers classify the compound and which classify a lexical element within a compound. This annotation enables us to examine how the classification of a lexical item varies when it is a part of a compound. We hypothesize that the loss of classifiers may point to the bleaching of a compound constituent’s original meanings. Conversely, in cases where a compound is “broken” into its components, classifiers may point to lexical awareness of the constituents that make a compound. Additionally, one may track the link between phonological changes and changes in classification, showing a possible loss of word boundaries.

5.3 Classifiers and Grammar

Classifiers may point to what we would term today “grammatical awareness.” As already noted by Gardiner 1957, in most cases, classifiers appear directly after the root in verbal forms, thus functioning as semantic root markers, e.g. i͗i͗.n⸗(i͗) vb:to come [CL:D54]-pst-1sg.m[CL:A1]-“(that) I came.”38 Note that old (and modern, e.g., Modern Hebrew) Semitic scripts featuring root+suffix systems for verb declination always show the word division (vertical line, dot, or space) after a suffix.39

5.4 Classifier Distribution across Entire Text and Datasets

iClassifier features an input scheme in which a user can feed in a complete text, either in Manuel de Codage or transliteration, separating tokens with spaces. The user either adds the tilde signs on both sides of each classifier (e.g., ~A2~) in the transcription or marks classifiers later using iClassifier’s token-edit menu. As a result, the user gets a tokenized version of their text and can further analyze each token and its classifiers. This feature allows researchers to track classifier tendencies of a specific text or group of texts (e.g., by a certain scribe, from a particular coffin, or geographic area) as well as to compare classifier assignments across texts and datasets. The iClassifier platform is currently used to annotate classifiers for fully transcribed and analyzed texts, courtesy of the TLA project, with a pilot analysis of the entire papyrus Ebers.40


Figure 6.4

A Network analysis map of lexical borrowings by their classifiers in iClassifier. “Classifying the Other” map. The “big picture” of lexical borrowings and foreign proper names and their classifiers.Blue lines link a classifier with all lemmas it occurs with.Red lines link classifiers that co-occur in a specific tokenThe width of a line represents the number of examples featuring a certain link.

6 Technical Overview of the System: Database, Website, API

The iClassifier annotation is compatible with the TLA data scheme, and users annotate tokens and link them to respective TLA-ids. Classifiers are marked with a tilde sign (i.e., ~CL~) wherever they appear and then further annotated and analyzed within the framework of Classifier Analysis, as described above (§ 4.2). The back end (data storage and web server) of the current version of the database, iClassifier BETA (Released May 2020), is implemented as an array of SQLite databases (with a separate database file for each project), with Python (Flask+Gunicorn) and Golang web stack. Its user interface is based on Mithril.js. Maps are drawn using the JavaScript library Vis.js. Hieroglyphs are drawn using Serge Rosmorduc’s JSesh library (Java), adapted as an HTTP API (, and the database supports Unicode hieroglyphs in most text fields.

7 A Case Study in iClassifier: Network Analysis Map of Classifiers of Lexical Borrowings in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom

The corpus displayed in fig. 6.4 is a study of approximately 500 lemmas and their tokens, comprising lexical borrowings as well as foreign names and toponyms. The lemma list includes lexical items that are possible foreign loans. The corpus follows the list published by Hoch in his Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period (1994). As Hoch’s list does not include all tokens of his enumerated lemmas, additional tokens are added.41 Additional examples not included in Hoch are of foreign place names and divine names. Hoch’s lemma list was linked to its corresponding entries in the Thesaurus Lingua Aegyptia (TLA) and Ramses databases via their lemma ID s using iClassifier. Transliterations are consonantal after the TLA lemma list.

All classifiers of lexical borrowings and proper names of foreign origin were marked using the iClassifier data input scheme (see above, § 4). According to the network map of this specific corpus, one can track immediately classifier communities in the network of categories- e.g., the [hide & tail] (F27) classifier, the [metal] (N34) and the [vessel] (W7/W6) classifiers.

8 Reading the Network Maps: Center and Periphery

At this stage, the most significant categories in the emerging classifier map of lexical borrowings are containers for commodities, e.g., [vessel] (W7), or classification of the commodities themselves by material, e.g., [metal/made of metal] (N34), [wood/made of wood] (M3). The other dominant categories are the classifier [throw-stick] (T14) and [foreign lands] (N25), which identify toponyms or people as “foreign.” These results coincide with historical information and archaeological findings pointing towards strong economic relations between Egypt and Canaan in the New Kingdom. During the Ramesside period, the Southern Levant was rather heavily exploited by the Egyptian administration.42 Other classifiers and their host words are more isolated “islands” of categorization and occur only with one lexical item. An example is a lexical borrowing meaning “snow,” srḳ, classified with a [sky+water/rain] (N4) classifier.43 The loanword for “snow” is attested in the records of Ramses II, when the king ponders how his army and officials will reach the Syrian frontier in days of rain and snow to meet the king’s Hittite bride.44

An interactive version of the release of the project classifier maps and reports in figs. 6.4–6.9 is accessible at:

8.1 Glimpses on the Classifier Axis: A Sample Classifier, (V19) in the “Classifying the Other” Dataset


Figure 6.5

A detail of network analysis map of lexical borrowings by their classifiers. In the center, the classifier (V19)

Fig. 6.5 shows which other classifier categories are linked to lemmas classified by (V19). The user can query each classifier and produce for it a detailed quantitative distribution report. The graphs in figs. 6.6–6.7 depict the classifier axis- lemmas and classifiers that occur with the classifier. Thicker lines show more frequently co-occurring lemmas. All host words seem to belong to the [packing]45 category and represent various measurements for commodities.

As seen in the above figure, all examples of the (V19) classifier appear in hieratic sources.46 These occurrences are mainly in administrative texts but also in literary compositions such as The Taking of Joppa, where there are mentioned “200 tḫbš.t-baskets full of men.”47


Figure 6.6

The category governed by the (V19) classifier in the “Classifying the Other” datasetLeft: Lemmas by frequency rate. The width of lines represents the number of tokens occurring with this classifier. Right: Lemmas by frequency rate. Turquoise lines represent the number of examples a lemma has with a classifier. The color of the node represents the percentage of examples a particular lemma has with this classifier. Six different shades of pink are used; each color represents a range of percentages.


Figure 6.7

Classifier co-occurrence graph for (V19)


Figure 6.8

The lemma axis: Lemmas šrm and its classifiers

For each classifier category, iClassifier presents classifier co-occurrence (Fig. 6.8). In the case of , its co-occurrence with the (D54) [movement] classifier probably suggests the close connection of packing and transport categories. Its co-occurrence with (T9) is when classifying foreign commodities, e.g., pomegranates and grapes. This classifier combination may reflect a particular stretched feature of the classified pdr, “sack” (or “measure”).48

8.2 The Lemma Axis, a Preliminary Map, and Analysis of a Sample Lemma: šrm, from “Greeting” to “Surrender”

In iClassifier, each lemma is an abstract entity represented by concrete tokens. An example of the lemma axis is the lemma šrm, which has examples as a noun and a verb. All tokens added to iClassifier are assigned a lemma and a root when available.49 The part of speech of each token is marked, and grammatical analysis is added to each token.50 iClassifier allows the user to overview together all tokens of a lemma and look for tokens analyzed as pertaining to a specific part of speech or occurring in a particular text. Examples of šrm are classified into a few classifier categories. As can be seen in the report in Figs. 6.8–6.9 below, tokens of this lemma appear with various classifiers, yet most frequently with [submission/adoration] classifiers, A30 and A4/A4C.

The preliminary results show the first occurrences of šrm to be in hieroglyphic sources in monumental royal inscriptions (c. 1200 BCE). There, one sees a consistent use of the (A30) and/or (A4C) or (A4), a kneeling man with a raised arms classifier. It is not entirely clear if the hieroglyph that appears in this word is the same hieroglyph that appears as a classifier in typical Egyptian words of praise/adoration.51 It may be a different sign that features a kneeling (+submission? + adoration?) person, as in the Amada 52 or Medinet Habu 53 examples.

Later, examples in the hieratic script show an additional classification of šrm into the (A2) category. The magical pBoulaq 6 (21st dynasty) portrays an idiosyncratic repetitive spelling (,54 , ) (A30-F18-A2).55 This spelling includes the composite use of the two “speech” classifiers . The emergence of the (A2) classifier for this word in the hieratic texts of this period may be linked to a new metatextual level of as marking in hieratic texts the notion of “foreign word” (see above, § 4.2.2).56 Another variation of classification which appears in Ramesside royal hieratic texts is with the (D40) classifier (pHarris I) .57 An attestation with the same classifier surfaces years later in a royal hieroglyphic text (dated to the reign of Pianchy).

What emerges is a clear illustration of classifier differences in hieratic and hieroglyphs, as well as possible genre variation in classification. However, further context-sensitive research is needed to analyze this variation and perhaps to tie it to the scribal tendencies of royal vs. non-royal texts.


Figure 6.9

The classification report of lemma šrm in iClassifier

To sum up, the Egyptian scribes of the official texts of the 19th and 20th dynasties assign šrm to their category of submission and adoration—exposing the various semantic aspects it represents—from greeting to surrender. The one who seeks šrm from the Egyptian king is in no way in an equal position, and šrm is not peace between equals. The (D40) classifier may further support such analysis. A single appearance of the (Y1) classifier probably reflects a residual classification in hieratic.58 In modern Hebrew and Arabic, the terms ‘shalom’ and ‘salaam’ no longer refer to ‘surrender’ or ‘submission,’ but to a willful cessation of hostilities, preferably between equals.

9 A Final Note for Our Readers

iClassifier allows for and wishes to advance collaborative scholarly research. Anyone interested can join in and use the platform for their research project. Contributors are invited to feed their data into an iClassifier private project portal. Our vision is to gradually collect classifier markings over all public datasets to compile a new, extended and corpus-based, growing and changing classifier list for ancient Egyptian. In all cases, contributors receive full credit, and data reused is credited.59 Gradually, we hope to create together with many other Egyptologists a growing, comprehensive network mapping of Egyptian conceptual organization, as manifested in the script classifier system of the analyzed corpora. Further details are available at iClassifier serves as a common discussion ground and a crowd-sourced portal for studying and comparing classifiers within Egyptology and between other complex scripts (Sumerian, ancient Chinese, et al.) and classifier languages.60 Our vision and hope are to contribute a new research tool that will allow us to approach the conceptual knowledge and organization of the human mind, as reflected in the elaborate classifier system of ancient Egypt.

List of Figures—Credits

Figures are courtesy of the ©iClassifier (Goldwasser, Harel, Nikolaev) reuse guidelines, produced by Haleli Harel, and are based on the “Classifying the Other” dataset.


Goldwasser 2002, and 2003, and recently Winand 2021, 12.


Probably under the influence of Chinese studies, see Lefebvre 1955, 18, n. 6. On Champollion’s definitive, long-forgotten contribution to the role of classifiers, see Goldwasser 2006a, 17–20. For a recent contribution on this topic, Polis 2018. For an overview of classifiers in the Egyptian scripts, Goldwasser, in press a.


Selz, Grinevald, Goldwasser 2018; Selz and Zhang, in press; Payne 2017, for Chinese, Chen 2016; Handel, in press and Myers 2019. For a general survey of the history of classifier studies, see Kilarski 2014 and Bauer 2017.


For general discussion on classifiers, see Senft 2000; Kilarski 2013, 319–173; Grinevald 2015; Bisang 2017. For building bridges between pronounced classifier systems and graphemic classifier systems, see Rude 1986; Kammerzell 1999; Goldwasser 2006a; Goldwasser & Grinevald 2012; Lincke & Kammerzell 2012; Nyord 2015; Bauer 2017.


For classifiers as markers of “semantic domains,” see Denny 1976; Senft 2000, 2.3.2; Croft 1994. For ingenious early steps in this direction in Egyptology, see Te Velde 1967, in his analysis of the Sethian “determinatives.”


Goldwasser 2002, Werning 2011, 98–110, Lincke 2011, Goldwasser and Grinevald 2012, Lincke and Kammerzell 2012, Polis and Rosmorduc 2015, Kammerzell 2015, Chantrain 2014; 2021.


E.g., Goldwasser 1999, 2002, 2005, 2006b, 2010, 2017; Shalomi-Hen 2000, 2006, 2008; David 2000; Müller 2002; Allon 2007; 2010; Werning 2011, 98–110 and 323–326; Lincke 2015; Pommerening 2017.


A result of a series of collaborative research projects, starting from “Classifiers and Classification in Ancient Egypt” (1997–1999) sponsored by the Niedersächsisches Vorab der Volkswagen Stiftung. PI s Orly Goldwasser, Friedrich Junge and Frank Kammerzell. Our most recent research project will be discussed below.


Lincke and Kutscher 2012.


See Polis and Winand 2015; Grossman and Polis 2012.


See Lincke 2011; Werning 2011, 98–110 and 323–326; Peust 2012; Chantrain 2014, 2021; Kammerzell 2015; Winand 2016, 2019, Pommerening 2017 and others.


Gardiner 1957, 438–548.


Accessible at:


Polis and Rosmorduc 2015; Hafemann 2018.


Meeks 2013.


Attestation-based classifier lists for Demotic are created by the Demotic Palaeographical Database Project (DPDP), available at and a preliminary classifier list has been compiled by the Demotic Word List database, accessible at:


See Zhang and Schmitt 1998; Saalbach and Imai 2007.


Kemmerer 2017; for the links between object concepts and classifier categories, see Zhang and Schmitt 1998; Saalbach and Imai 2010, 2012. For the grammatical essence of classification on a continuum of nominal gender marking, see Corbett and Fedden 2016.


For a survey on the typology of classifier systems, see Grinevald 2015. The first steps in the study of culture-specific versus universal categorization were taken already in Goldwasser 2002, 2003, and recently in Goldwasser, in press b.


For example, ePSD (University of Pennsylvania) records sign functions in Sumerian in its transcription. Signs that are considered by the compilers as classifiers (semantic or phonetic determinatives) are represented in an upper-case script, see


E.g., Schneider (1992), marking in uppercase F words with the classifier T14 for the [foreign], or transcribing the phonetic value of a classifier in small caps and uppercase, as in Schneider 2008. For a proposal for an advanced transcription system for classifiers in Egyptian, see Kammerzell 2015.


Some advancements are published online in the digital project Thot Sign List. For an elaborate proposal for glossing ancient Egyptian, see Di Biase-Dyson et al. 2009.


Transliteration also ignore phonological interpretants, for a transliteration that includes phonetic classifiers, see Kammerzell 2015 with discussion.


Gardiner 1957, 31–33.


Data will be published for re-use and linked to TLA, TSL, Ramses, and other relevant datasets. Semantic fields are linked to ID s of the Concepticon database ‘concept’ and ‘lexical field.’ Each language portal in iClassifier offers links to datasets in its area of expertise. By default, each project’s data is private, and a user can choose when to publicly share their data reports.


See Van der Moezel 2018 for recent advancements in the codification of hieratic signs.


See Polis and Razanajao 2016 for a theoretical framework for recording ancient Egyptian texts’ metadata.


Or compound. A compound token is marked, and its elements are also analyzed by linking them to a lemma and marking their classifiers, see below in § 5.2.


Cases of unique classifiers should be marked as repeaters. The definition of the unique i.e., a classifier explicitly related to a single referent, entails studying all its occurrences. For unique classifiers, see, Goldwasser and Grinevald 2012, Werning 2011, 100.


Goldwasser 2005; Chantrain and Di Biase Dyson 2018.


Terms are adapted after Goldwasser 2002; Goldwasser & Grinevald 2012.


Medinet Habu, Ramssess III, pl. 27; KRI V, 27, 28. Compare here the discussion in Kammerzell 2015, 1397–1398.


Lincke 2011; Lincke and Kammerzell 2012; Werning 2011, 102–104, discussing the term “Grammato-Klassifikator,” referring to plural classification and to the classification of pronouns. We mark these sub-types of classification in order to track and study them independently of semantic classification.


See here additional examples for ‘Metasprachlich’ classification in Werning 2011, 103.


For another possible type of metatextual classification, see Chantrain and Di Biase Dyson 2018.


Werning 2011, 104; Polis and Rosmorduc 2015.


see Grinevald in Grinevald & Goldwasser 2012, 46–50.


Goldwasser and Grinevald 2012, 28.


See Werning 2011, 100, 102 fn. 55 and passim; Goldwasser and Grinevald 2012, § 2.4.


The eBersClassifier research project is conducted by Prof. Tanja Pommerening and Svenja Stern, thanks go to Lutz Popko and the “Strukturen und Transformationen des Wortschatzes der ägyptischen Sprache” project, Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig.


A comprehensive analysis of the classifiers of lexical borrowings is to appear in Harel, Forthcoming.


See most recently Naaman 2020; Goldwasser 2016.


TLA lemma no. 139820; Hoch 1994, no. 375, additionally it is attested several times in lexical lists.


KRI II, 249, 7–15, RITA II, 94.


The category’s label is a preliminary term, and various semantic aspects of this category are gradually delineated.


See discussion in Manassa 2012 regarding the classification of the term tḫbš.t with V19 throughout the 18th and 19th dynasties.


Taking of Joppa, LES, 83,12.


TLA Lemma no. 63090, Hoch 1994, no. 159.


Linking to the ‘root’ list of the TLA.


This lemma appears in Hoch 1994 as several separate entries—nos. 406, 407, and 408. Hoch separates the entries into three lexical categories, ‘to greet, make obedience, do homage,’ a second meaning ‘to lay down (arms), seek peace’ and a noun ‘peace, greetings.’ Here we show together all entries of the root šrm. Tokens are marked for their specific grammatical role in each example in the database.


Gardiner 1957, 445.


Merneptah Nubian victory stela at Amada, Youssef 1964; KRI IV, 35,1. Hoch (1994, 285) mistakenly transcribes the following hieroglyph as a second classifier for this token, yet it is probably a logogram for wr ‘chief.’


Medinet Habu, Ramses III, 1st Libyan War, 28, 56.


Möller II, no. A2, Möller does not differentiate between a standing A4 and a seated A30 prototype.


The examples occurring in pBoulaq 6 include additionally a hieratic stroke. Using iClassifier we aim to expose the usage patterns of strokes, and define their possible role as word dividers.


Allon 2010.


Hoch, as well as Erichsen, transcribes this classifier as A5. However, it highly resembles A30. See Möller II, no. A2 vs. A39, and compare discussion in Werning 2011, 99.


Kammerzell 2015.


Each dataset created using iClassifier is subject to copyright rules of its creator, and that of the ©iClassifier research platform.


The platform’s development was financed by the Israel Science Foundation Grant 735/17 “Classifying the Other.” Preliminary results of network analysis map of Sumerian using iClassifier are in Selz & Zhang, in press.


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Digital Projects Mentioned

  • “Concepticon Project’s Semantic Fields-Concept Sets,” Concepticon 2.2.0. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, last accessed September 10, 2021,

  • “Demotic Word List Database,” last accessed May 10, 2020,

  • “Determinatives Tab,” Demotic Palaeographical Database Project (DPDP), last accessed September 10, 2021,

  • “Ramses Database,” last accessed September 10, 2021,

  • “Thot Sign List, Function type—Classifier,” last accessed September 10, 2021,

  • “Thot Metadata Guidelines,” last accessed September 10, 2021,

  • “TLA—Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae,” last accessed September 10, 2021,

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Ancient Egypt, New Technology

The Present and Future of Computer Visualization, Virtual Reality and Other Digital Humanities in Egyptology

Series:  Harvard Egyptological Studies, Volume: 17


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