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Classification from Antiquity to Modern Times

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from Antiquity to
Modern Times

Sources, Methods, and Theories from an Interdisciplinary


Edited by
Tanja Pommerening and Walter Bisang

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ISBN 978-3-11-053612-6
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Tanja Pommerening and Walter Bisang
Classification and Categorization through Time   1

Part I: Classification in Ancient Times

Jochen Althoff
Categorization and Explanation of the World in Hesiod’s Theogony   21

Orly Goldwasser
What Is a Horse? Lexical Acculturation and Classification in Egyptian,
Sumerian, and Nahuatl   45

Sonja Gerke
All Creatures Great and Small – The Ancient Egyptian View of
the Animal World   67

Iolanda Ventura
Classification Systems and Pharmacological Theory in Medieval
Collections of Materia Medica: A Short History from the Antiquity to the
End of the 12th Century   101

Tanja Pommerening
Classification in Ancient Egyptian Medical Formulae and its Role in Re-Discovering
Comprehensive and Specific Concepts of Drugs and Effects   167

Part II: Classification in Modern Times

Walter Bisang
Classification between Grammar and Culture – a Cross-Linguistic Perspective   199

Joachim W. Kadereit
Classification and Naming of Living Objects – a Biologist’s Perspective
(Extended Abstract)   231

Roy Ellen
Tools, Agency and the Category of Living Things   239

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VIII   Contents

Roy Ellen
Categorizing Natural Objects: Some Issues Arising from Recent Work in Cognitive
Anthropology and Ethnobiological Classification   263

Part III: Tools

Dietrich Busse
Frames as a Model for the Analysis and Description of Concepts, Conceptual
Structures, Conceptual Change and Concept Hierarchies   281

Frederik Elwert (Bochum) and Simone Gerhards

Tracing Concepts – Semantic Network Analysis as a Heuristic Device
for Classification   311

Index   339

List of Contributors   349

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Orly Goldwasser
What is a horse? Lexical Acculturation and
Classification in Egyptian, Sumerian, and
Summary: The Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Amerindian cultures all had to respond
to a similar challenge: a new, ‘game-changing’ animal appeared in their worlds at
some point in their respective histories. How was the new ‘item‘ analyzed and incor-
porated into the languages and scripts of these cultures?

The Ancient Near Eastern material will be put in this article into the general frame-
work of Lexical Acculturation theory, as it has lately been comprehensively defined by
Cecil Brown in his book: Lexical Acculturation in Native American Languages.

1 The arrival of the horse in Egypt

Archaeology tells us that horses were unknown in Egypt until the end of 17th century
BC. As far as we know, the animal was introduced into Egypt during the early Hyksos
period, as a few horse bones were discovered in Avaris, Tell el-Dab’a.1 Somewhat later,
in first half of the 16th century, a mare, probably the beloved animal of one of the
kings, was found in an almost intact burial within the Hyksos palace in Avaris (fig. 1).
The careful burial in the palace itself behind the throne room reveals the importance
of this specific animal for someone in the royal circles. The context of the first horses
is to be expected — the Eastern Delta had been heavily settled since the end of the 12th
dynasty by foreigners of various Levantine origins.2

1 A single bone was found in the 13th dynasty context. Boessneck and von den Driesch 1992: 24 f. The
‘Buhen horse burial’ is dated frequently in publications to the Middle Kingdom. This is, however,
impossible as the horse was buried on top of the Middle Kingdom rampart pavement. This could have
happened only after the fortress was abandoned for a very long period so that sand could have accu-
mulated in such a way as to cover even the top of the wall. This horse dates most likely to the time of
the re-conquest of Nubia at the beginning of the 18th Dynasty, see Bietak 2010a: 170. Vernus suggests
that the horse may date to the Hyksos period, see Vernus & Yoyotte 2005: 535. On horses and chariots
as new technology in Egypt, see Shaw 2012: 99–102 with bibliography. For possible circumstantial
evidence for chariots already in the 13th dynasty, see Helck 1978.
2 On horses in Mesopotamia already in the 3rd Millennium, see recently Makowski 2014, with exten-
sive bibliography.

DOI 10.1515/9783110538779-003

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46   Orly Goldwasser

Fig. 1: Horse burial in the Hyksos palace in Tell el-Dab’a

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 What is a horse? Lexical Acculturation and Classification   47

1.1 The arrival of the horse into the Egyptian lexicon and script

The horse makes its appearance in the Egyptian lexicon in two forms. The earliest
attestations (very end of the 17th Dynasty, the beginning of the 18th dynasty) reflect
two different paths of admission into the recipient culture lexicon. On the first track,
a new differentiated meaning is added to an old local lexeme. The second track
shows the adoption of a foreign word, which will be activated as an integrated loan-
word in the Egyptian lexical system. Both tracks enjoy great success, and the words
appear in hundreds of attestations in various Egyptian texts of various genres and
registers from the 18th Dynasty on. In the script, two new conspicuous hieroglyphs
appear: and . In a recent encompassing study, Pascal Vernus has offered a
thorough analysis of the lexical history of the horse in Ancient Egypt. This work inclu-
des a detailed listing of occurrences, spelling variations of ‘horse words’, a discussion
of their possible origins, genre analysis, etc.3

1.1.1 Arrival of the horse into the Egyptian lexicon through the lexeme ḥtr –
referential extension4

Through the strategy of ‘insertion’, a new meaning referring to a new signified is

embedded into an existing lexeme.5 How an embedding lexeme is selected is still a
matter of debate, and different cultures show different paths.6 However, the lexeme
that was chosen by the Ancient Egyptians to introduce the horse is ḥtr — ‘team of
yoked quadrupeds’.7 A few additional Egyptian lexemes may refer to horses by exten-
sion, but they are rare cases.

3 See Vernus 2009. Special consideration will be given here to the classifier system. The Egyptian
script contains an elaborate system of unpronounced graphemic classifiers that are shared by all
script variations from hieroglyphs to hieratic (Goldwasser 2002; 2006; Goldwasser and Grinevald
2012; Lincke and Kammerzell 2012). Certain tendencies of classifier use can be detected as typical
of a certain script variety, such as a tendency to choose iconically more simple signs in hieratic or a
tendency to multiply classifiers in cursive varieties; however, there are not a few exceptions to these
4 See Brown 1999: 28, and below.
5 For the cultural integration of the horse on all levels of Egyptian society as reflected by its texts, see
Vernus 2009, also Vernus and Yoyotte 2005: 202.
6 See here Eco’s discussion of the perceptual cognitive and semiotic considerations that may be in-
volved, in Eco 1996, and Brown 1999: 53 with analysis of many cases in different languages.
7 The French word Attelage and the German word Gespann may provide a closer meaning, as it in-
cludes the team and the yoke in a single word. Earlier interesting treatments of the word may be found
in Schulman 1963; Schulman 1980; Gardiner AEO: Vol. 1, *113 f.

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48   Orly Goldwasser

1.1.2 The lexeme ḥtr in the lexicon before the extension into the meaning horse

The most important recipient lexeme for horse(s) in Egyptian is ḥtr, ‘the yoked ones’
which describes two draft quadrupeds yoked to a plough. The word is known from
texts since the Old Kingdom, and it frequently appears in proximity with the verb skꜢ
‘to plough’. The root ḥtr ‘yoke’ is known rather early (already in the Old Kingdom) to
receive an extended metaphorical meaning: ‘tax’. The tax seems to be conceptualized
as ‘the yoke on the back of the people.’8 The yoked pair of draft animals were usually
cattle, but rarely also donkeys (see below).

1.1.3 Classifiers of the lexeme ḥtr before the horse: ‘team of yoked quadruped’

In most Old and Middle Kingdom attestations, the word ḥtr — referring to a team of
hard-working draft animals — takes a bovine classifier. This manifests sometimes
as a single hieroglyph + plural strokes, and other times as a pair of bovines. A rare
logogram of the animals attached to their plough is known from a 1st Intermediate
Period stela (DZA 27.540.720, and fig. 2). A few examples of two consecutive classi-
fiers – [yoke] and [cattle] (DZA 27.540.810) or (DZA 27.540.750) —
always in this order — are also known. However, the most common classification until
the New Kingdom is by far by the animals themselves. The fact that the classifiers
never show the plough alone shows that the semantic load of the lexeme indeed rests
on the animals and their ‘yoked’ state.

Fig. 2: The Stela of Uha, First Intermediate Period, Dynasties 7-10 (2250–2134 BC)

In the Middle Kingdom, a rare example shows donkeys (DZA 27.540.830)

instead of cattle as a classifier, thus exemplifying the ‘open door’ within the semantic
core of the word for ‘a pair of (any) yoked draft quadrupeds’. The donkey may reap-
pear in disguise during the New Kingdom when the hieratic manuscript dating to the
19th dynasty (Prophecy of Neferti) shows an example with the imaginary Seth animal
as classifier followed by the [hide & tail] (DZA 27.540.890).9

8 The classifier for this root in this meaning when used in verbal and nominal forms is
usually (Faulkner 1962: 181). However, during the 19th dynasty the word takes also the
classifier , which puts the word into the category of [(Administrative) power], see DZA 27.542.980,
DZA 27.542.970. This classification will become more prominent in later periods.
9 Here I disagree with the reading of Goedicke 1977: 73. The Canaanites are described as disturbing
the process of harvesting and stealing the draft animals on their ploughs.

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 What is a horse? Lexical Acculturation and Classification   49

It is indeed possible that donkeys were used occasionally for ploughing, but it
seems that the prototypical quadrupeds were bovines. Ploughing scenes in Egyp-
tian tombs always show ploughing by cattle. Nevertheless, another rare and chal-
lenging classifier appears in the tomb of Senmose in Aswan from the New Kingdom.
Here (DZA 27.540.880) appears in a broken context which reads ‘…skꜢ.i m ḥtr m
tp n rmṯ’ — ‘(I did not?) plough with a human team’ (lit. ‘head of man’). The unusual
referent for the yoked team is marked by the [human/male] classifier for the word
ḥtr, followed by a lexical explanation. 10
By the New Kingdom, following the general diachronic trend in classifier deve-
lopment of all lexemes referring to cattle, the word ḥtr starts to take the [hide &
tail] classifier (see below), instead of bovines, or in addition to bovines.11

1.1.4 The new referential extension — the embedded lexeme ḥtr — ‘team of horses’

Ḥtr is the first lexeme that appears in the Egyptian texts by the end of the Hyksos
period with a clear new reference to horses & chariot. The choice of this extension
is both utilitarian and morphological. It anchors the horse in its utilitarian function
as (part of a) ‘team of draught animals’, but also reflects a perceptual-morphological
basis for the equation. Yoked animals are naturally domesticated and thus the horse
in this version is inserted directly into the realm which we would call ‘domesticated
quadruped’. or more specifically, ‘draught quadrupeds’.
The two earliest known references for ḥtr referring to horses emerge from the
domain of royal texts — the Kamose stela and the parallel hieratic version of the same
text on the Carnarvon tablet, circa 1550 BC.12
The word probably referred to a team of chariot horses, which seems to be one
of the earliest forms in which horses were encountered by the Egyptians, at least in
Egypt in direct contact (see below). Literally, the horses are another example of ‘The
Yoked Team’. Nevertheless, the horses are yoked not to a plough, but to another new
artefact (and new hieroglyph ) imported into the Egyptian universe: a chariot.13

10 See Edel 2008, Tafel LIX, QH 351, Text 1. For ‘referent classification’ in the context of ‘lexeme
classification’ see Lincke and Kammerzell 2012: 91–101 and compare Goldwasser and Grinevald 2012,
11 All ‘bovine-words’ are late arrivals into the [hide & tail] category, see the explanation and dis-
cussion in Goldwasser 2002: 82–85.
12 See below 1.1.6. During this early stage of the New Kingdom, the repertoire of what would be the
official linguistic register of Egyptian royal texts is not yet organized and canonized. The Kamose stela
shows the variation tꜢ-nt-ḥtr which may be translated as ‘chariotry’, see discussion below.
13 Schneider and others favor a loanword, Zeidler (2000) sees in it a new Egyptian creation, see
Schneider 2004: 20 f.; 2008: 184.

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50   Orly Goldwasser

For this impressive new vehicle, a new lexeme was created (or adopted) in Egyptian:
wrryt.14 At a later stage, an additional Semitic loanword, mrkbt, is introduced in hiera-
tic administrative texts, probably as a result of strong language contact and a partially
bilingual situation in the military sphere.15 Nevertheless, mrkbt does not replace wrryt
and they continue to be used side by side, mostly in texts of different genres.
However, already in the 18th Dynasty, we find the word ḥtr with a more direct refe-
rence to the animals themselves. This is the imminent meaning in an example from
the tomb of Paheri (fig. 2).

Fig. 3: ḥtr in the tomb of Paheri

The inscription above the team of horses and chariot reads: pꜢ-ḥtr iḳr n ḥꜢty-Ꜥ mry
nb.f ꜤbꜤ.n. (?)...ḥꜢty-Ꜥ im.f n bw nb — ‘The excellent team of the prince, beloved of his
master, of which the prince boasts to everyone’.16 It seems that the signifieds in this
case are the animals, as the patient of love in the common phrase mry nb.f ‘beloved of
his master’ is almost always animated.

14 The word wrryt belongs to the royal domain and tends to appear in hieroglyphic texts where it
mostly carries the as a unique classifier. The hieroglyph may also serve a logogram. In not a few
examples in hieratic, but in hieroglyphic texts as well, the word takes the [wood] classifier, show-
ing alternative classification into a typical meronymic classifier that describes the relation of ‘made
of’ between the host and its classifier, Goldwasser 2002: 39–55. The choice of this classifier in hieratic
manuscripts may be due to the complexity of the new chariot hieroglyph.
15 The loanword mrkbt always shows the [wood] classifier, Hoch 1996: 145–147. For a recent dis-
cussion of the linguistic variety of the Egyptian army lexicon in the New Kingdom and its extensive
use of foreign words, see Schneider 2008.
16 DZA 27.540.940, see the interesting discussion on the Zettel.

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 What is a horse? Lexical Acculturation and Classification   51

There are some examples of insertion of the horse into other Egyptian lexemes, even
though these are very marginally attested in comparison to the high frequency of
ḥtr.17 Such a case is the root rnp ‘young’, in a nominal use as ‘young one’, referring to
a young horse. Originally it referred to bovines. This noun may be extended into the
meaning ‘young horse’, as both signifieds are large domesticated quadrupeds that
share somewhat similar functions and perceptual qualities.

1.1.5 Nomenclatural manifestation of referential extension — overt

marking18 — tꜢ-nt-ḥtr

The referential extension of ḥtr into horse may have resulted, in the spoken language
at least, in a polysemy. This linguistic situation might have promoted an overt lexical
marking through a compound lexeme. The compound tꜢ-nt-ḥtr ‘that(?) of the Gespann’
comes to denote the team of horses and chariot very early19. When this compound is
used, the speaker/hearer is not hindered by polysemy. However, the compound form
variation is in use together with ḥtr alone throughout texts (AEO I: A237, Schulman
1963; 1980: 112 f.).

1.1.6 The classifiers of ḥtr when referring to horse

As we saw above, the moment the horse was embedded into the lexeme ḥtr, the word
became polysemic, with two very different meanings: ‘a team of draught animals
(with a plough)’ and ‘a team of horses (with a chariot)’. The difference is manifested
not only in the daily use, but also in the social context — mundane versus prestige.20
In Egyptian we can follow the tendency to clarify ambiguity, at least in the written
language, by the classifier system. In not a few cases, the word, when referring to
horses, takes the classifier . Although horses were imbedded into the lexeme ḥtr,
which included the team and its chariot, the lexeme is never classified by the chariot,
or chariot and horses.

17 Faulkner 1962: 150. For the rare use of nfrw and nhp in reference to horses, see Vernus 2009: 29.
18 Brown 1999: 28.
19 See above, note 12.
20 On the horses and chariot as prestige symbols, see Vernus 2009: 38–45.

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52   Orly Goldwasser

Fig. 4: Horse sign on top of the Kadesh ‘poem’, pSallier 3, 6. See also lines 6, 9 as classifiers of ḥtr
(the horse classifiers are in the wrong direction!)

In most cases, the lexeme is classified by the horse(s) alone, or by the [hide &
tail] classifier, which is used since the New Kingdom for the classification of ḥtr refer-
ring to the cattle team and their plough, as well as to the team of horses and chariot.
When classified by the horse hieroglyph the reader is pulled immediately into the
extension of ‘team of horses’. In this case the classifier, even if not pronounced, has
an active linguistic role in modelling the correct semantic signified of the polysemic
word. Nevertheless, what may be one of the first known occurrences in the texts of
the lexeme ḥtr (overt marking tꜢ-nt-ḥtr) in the Kamose stela, shows the superordinate
[hide & tail] classifier according to Habachi. However, the picture in the publica-
tion shows a break in the inscription, and the remains allow easily the reconstruction
of a hieroglyph. The ears and the front leg of the animal may still be visible (fig. 5).
The word ḥtr in the Carnarvon tablet indeed shows the superordinate which is the
preferred classifier in hieratic texts (See Habachi 1972: 36, fig. 22 and Gardiner 1916:
106, line 16).

Fig. 5: ḥtr in the second stela of Kamose

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 What is a horse? Lexical Acculturation and Classification   53

1.2 Loanwords for HORSE

1.2.1 The Loanword ssm(t)

However, the conceptual tie between horse and chariot did not stand in the way of
the most impressive actual animal. One or two decades after the appearance of the
word ḥtr in the texts, a loanword ssm first appears in Egyptian sources, possibly
addressing the ‘need’21 to refer more directly to this sensational new animal. And
indeed the lexeme ssmt or ssm mostly refers throughout its long history in the Egyp-
tian texts to the animal itself. The ‘need’ might have been influenced by direct inter-
action and care for the prestigious animal, as may be surmised, for example, from
the careful single mare burial mentioned above. The Canaanite king would probably
refer to his choice pet animal by its proper ‘word’ in his source culture. Vernus (citing
Vycichl) suggests that the loanword ssmt was ‘imported’ into Egyptian before the New
Kingdom, probably through Semitic intermediaries. The mimation of the foreign word
known in as sisi in Sumerian, sisium in Akkadian and ssmt in Egyptian may indi-
cate an early loan in Egypt, already in the beginning of the Middle Kingdom, maybe
even before the arrival of the actual animal.22 This suggestion offers the probability
that the loanword settled in Egypt through a foreign language rather early and might
have entered the Egyptian lexicon via a colloquial register. Such reconstruction would
also explain its relatively late appearance in the written repertoire. When eventually
written down, the well-integrated ssm(t) does not show a version in ‘syllabic writing’,
i.e. it is probably not felt to be a loanword anymore. As both the Egyptian recipient
culture and the Mesopotamian donor cultures of the Northern Levant were ‘writing
cultures’, it is feasible that the word entered through an unknown textual venue.23
However, this textual material has not yet been discovered. Another possibility is to
surmise a scenario such as the one that Casson terms ‘pidgin trade language’, where
special lexical items would move among culture agents such as travellers, merchants,
soldiers, etc. (Casson 1994: 108).24
The first of attestation of ssmt in an Egyptian text comes from the hieroglyphic
inscription of Ahmose, son of Ibana, that describes the Egyptian struggle against the
Hyksos in Canaan. Ahmose chose to refer to the three elements of the war chariot

21 Here ‘need’ as a building block in cultural interference theory, see Even-Zohar 2005.
22 The correspondence between the Canaanite and the Egyptian s is unusual. For an in-depth dis-
cussion of the origins of this loanword with extensive bibliography, see Vernus 2009.
23 On similar issues in Burmese, see Lehman 1994: 111.
24 Practically a Wanderwort.

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54   Orly Goldwasser

separately — the horse, the chariot, and its charioteer, all brought by him to Egypt
(fig. 4). This specific lexical dismantling of the complex Gespann may enhance and
detail his achievement.25

Fig. 6: Detail of horse hieroglyph from the tomb of Ahmose son of Ibana

However, it is the indigenous Egyptian lexeme ḥtr which survived in Coptic as the
signifier for horse, while the loanword ssmt disappeared after the 3rd Intermediate
Period (see Vernus 2009: 3; 36).

1.2.2 Classifiers of the loanword ssmt

In the script, the written loanword ssmt is analyzed correctly by the Egyptians in terms
of its classification; it is classified either by the newly introduced hieroglyph of the
horse (in this case activated in the role of a pictorial ‘repeater’), or by the superor-
dinate [hide & tail]. In the Egyptian script system, the [hide & tail] classifies the
category of animals that ‘have hide and tail’ (see below).
The new hieroglyph became an active participant in the hieroglyphic system. It
plays the role of logogram for a few ‘horse words’, or of classifier also for some additi-
onal words denoting different types of horses.26 In some rare cases it may be extended
to classify words strongly connected to horses, such as iḥ ‘stable’ (Vernus 2009: 28 f.).

25 Probably spelled ssmt, see Davies 2009: 156.

26 The iconic signifier may refer to different horse-word signifieds, on this phenomenon see Vernus
2009: 26–29. However, this semiotic phenomenon in not rare in the Egyptian script system and occurs
with the [bovine] iconic signifier which may refer to several different signifieds, i.e. different
names for different types of cattle, see Goldwasser 2002: 82–85.

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 What is a horse? Lexical Acculturation and Classification   55

1.2.3 The Canaanite loanword i-b-r / ‘stallion’27

The other prominent loanword for horse, the Canaanite i-b-r surfaces in the lexicon
about a hundred years after ssm, in the days of Thutmosis III in the list of booty from
Megiddo in Canaan. Its use in the Egyptian sources is, however, much more limited.
Hoch suggests that it refers specifically to stallions (Hoch 1996: 18). If this is indeed
the case, it may be the necessity for gender marking that pushed this loanword into
the written aggregate. Unlike ssmt, the word is written in the syllabic writing, i.e.
marked as ‘foreign’. The lexeme i-b-r also takes the [horse] or the [hide & tail]
as classifiers.

2 Comparable cases
The introduction of the horse into two other cultures is briefly discussed below. The
first comparison comes from the Sumerian and Akkadian languages and the cunei-
form script. The second parallel comes from the description of the introduction of the
horse into Nahuatl, an Aztec language.

2.1 The introduction of horse into the Mesopotamian lexicon and

cuneiform writing28

The horse was also a new arrival in Mesopotamia. There is no consensus as to when
exactly horses were first introduced into the Mesopotamian world and cuneiform
writing, but it was clearly known from the very beginning of the second millennium,
i.e. earlier than the recorded finds in Egypt.29 The same challenge of incorporating
the new animal into language and script faced the writers of cuneiform texts. In a
stratified process, related to the different languages operating in the cuneiform script,
we find the horse in the Sumerian-Akkadian lexicon in two forms: as anše.kur.ra =
‘donkey of the mountain’ and sisi an apparent loanword.

27 Examples after Hoch 1996: 18, from Urk. IV 663,18 and pAnastasi IV 17,9.
28 I am grateful to Gebhard Selz for all the data on the introduction of the horse into the cuneiform
script. See also Selz, Grinevald and Goldwasser (in press) for additional discussions.
29 See above note 3 and bibliography there.

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56   Orly Goldwasser

Gebhard Selz describes the introduction of the horse into the script system in the
following words:

... the process of extension of a class by absorption of new items that have entered the culture
is illustrated by the case of the classifier anše [donkey] (Equus asinus asinus) – ... extended
beyond its prototypical value of the specific species of domestic animal to head a class that inclu-
des wild donkeys (probably the Asiatic onager (Equus hemionus), also (Equus hemionus hemip-
pus) and perhaps even deer. It finally comes to head a class that has absorbed various foreign or
wild animals, such as the horse (called the ‘donkey from the mountain’ anše.kur.ra = read /
sisi/), and later occasionally even the camel as anš = ‘donkey of the sea (lands)’ (Selz,
Grinevald and Goldwasser (in press)).

The cuneiform anše.kur.ra is a clear case of overt marking of a referential exten-

sion. It is similar, for example, to the case of sheep which is called ‘cotton “deer”’ =
stunimal chig in Tzeltal (Brown 1999: 28).
Like the above case of sheep in the Amerindian language, anše.kur.ra is the
name for the horse embedded in an animal of similar form and function – the donkey,
while sisi is the loanword which is introduced into Sumerian and Akkadian, known
in Egyptian as ssm or ssmt (see above).30
The Sumerian cuneiform system, like the Egyptian script, includes a system of
classifiers. However, the Sumerian classifier system differs from the Egyptian system
in a few important aspects. Firstly, the Sumerian system is strictly a ‘noun classifier’
system — it does not classify verbs as the Egyptian, Anatolian and Chinese writing
systems do, and most classifiers are in pre-position.31 Secondly, the number of classi-
fiers is considerably smaller. Moreover, the Sumerian system probably emerged from
a system of pronounced compounds.
Two examples from the cuneiform texts show a distilled combination of the
process of embedding and word-loaning in a single written word. In the Old Baby-
lonian Akkadian writing [anše] sí-s[í-i] (18th century BC) and probably also in the
much earlier Sumerian writing anše-zi-zi (in UR III period, 21st century BC),32 [anše]
is activated as an unpronounced classifier for the loanword written as si-si or zi-zi.

30 Compare also the Biblical Hebrew loanword

31 See Selz, Grinevald and Goldwasser (forthcoming), Chen 2016, and Payne (in press).
32 E.g. ELA/Ur III/Drehem 4(diš) anšesi2-si2 BIN 03, 085 1; 2(diš) anšesi2-si2 BIN 03, 454 1 (from the elect-
ronic Pennsylvanian Sumerian Dictionary [ePSD]). In the case of Sumerian it is difficult to know whe-
ther the classifier was pronounced or unpronounced. All cuneiform examples have been provided by
Gebhard Selz.

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 What is a horse? Lexical Acculturation and Classification   57

2.2 The Aztecs and the horse

In his book Kant and the Platypus, Umberto Eco approaches many aspects of the
theory of categorization and classification. He dedicates a special, colourful chapter
to ‘Montezuma and the horses’ (Eco 2000: 127–130). Basing himself on indigenous
Spanish chronicles recording the event, he reconstructs the reaction of the locals to
the arrival of the first horses to America with the Spanish invaders. The first messen-
gers were sent to Montezuma to tell him of the landing and of the ‘… terrifying marvels
they were witnessing ... one scribe … explained that the invaders were riding deer as
high as the roofs of houses’ (Eco 2000: 128).33
Nahuatl, the language spoken by Montezuma, is a special case in Latin America.
It remains widely spoken in Mexico today. The language, however, is best known as
the speech of the Aztecs who ruled large parts of Middle America during the Spanish
invasion in 1519 AD. The Spanish promoted Nahuatl as a vehicle of administration.
As such, textual materials written in Nahuatl using Spanish orthography were produ-
ced abundantly immediately after the conquest. As a result, unlike other cases, the
post-contact history of Nahuatl is relatively well documented. We know that ‘horse’
was not unique in being embedded in an extended lexeme; other new-comers to the
continent underwent the same process, such as totolin ‘turkey’ for chicken. Nahuatl is
also rich in what may be called ‘coinage’, when a descriptive compound becomes the
‘name’ of the new item. Such an example is tentzone, ‘bearded one’, for goat.
Being under colonial rule, the local speakers probably became at least partially
bilingual. The extended local maçatl ‘deer’ that hosted horse, is replaced by cahuallo,
the Nahuatl version of the Spanish caballo. Yet, not all extended local lexemes disap-
peared. The extended Nahuatl mizton ‘little cougar’ = cat, for example, has not been
replaced by a Spanish loanword (Brown 1999: 96).

3 Discussion — the emergence of horse in the three

From their cognitive-anthropological and socio-linguistic points of view, Brown (and
his commentators, Brown 1994; 1999; Oswalt 1994; Lehman 1994) try to trace the
linguistic and social settings that are present in a repetitive linguistic situation: a new
item appears on the horizon of a culture. How would this item be treated linguisti-
cally? What will it be ‘called’? The paradigm of Linguistic acculturation enumerates
five types of possible venues for the acculturation of a new item or concept:

33 Eco’s interest lies in the analysis of the cognitive and perceptual reasons that caused the beholders
to call the new animal ‘deer’.

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58   Orly Goldwasser

1. Extension of native term

2. Compound extension – native term + modifier.34
3. Coinage – a newly invented ‘name’ in the recipient language.
4. Loan words
5. Loan translation

Brown, following Casagrande, suggests a clear division between the options. ‘Primary
accommodation’ is represented by types 1–3. They are usually the earliest linguistic
reaction to a new item that appears in a certain culture’s universe. Types 1–3 do not
entail any type of bilingualism. ‘Secondary accommodation’ is represented by types
4 and 5. In many cases, types 4–5 require at least some level of language contact or
a minimal level of bilingualism, sometimes even only in the case of a single ‘key
person’, (e.g. king) or other influential culture agent(s) (Brown 1990: 160).35
The Nahuatl example shows a clear phase of ‘primary accommodation’, followed
by the introduction of the Spanish loanword, which eventually replaces the original
maçatl in a ‘secondary accommodation’ process.
The Ancient Near Eastern material paints a somewhat more complicated picture.
In Egypt, we find firstly an extension of a native term, ḥtr, as expected by the general
theory. Yet, the horse indeed enters a local lexeme, but not a lexeme that refers to an
animal alone, but a lexeme that refers to a team of draught animals in a specific role —
‘a team in ploughing’. In this case, the extension of the meaning is in the field of
function. The new draft animals are ‘a team leading a chariot’. Nevertheless, the per-
ceptual information is also active, as it keeps the general structure of two quadrupeds
drawing a heavy item. Interestingly, the embedding process of ḥtr ignores completely
the different social setting and the role in society of the two signifieds of the word ḥtr.
Unlike the slaving cattle and the field workers, the horses and chariotry were elite and
prestige markers, and kings and scribes were keen to describe themselves as chariot
riders and horse owners.
When classifiers are added to the word ḥtr, they guide the reader to the ‘animal
itself’, either through the classification by the iconic horse hieroglyph, or by the clas-
sifier of [hide & tail] that is reserved mainly for classification of those ‘having hide
and tail’, which is roughly parallel to our category of animals.
In a very early period of use, we also find an example of extension + modifier. We
encounter the variation tꜢ-nt-ḥtr ‘belonging to the ḥtr’. The compound contains an
overt marking confined to the horses and chariot signified alone, which solves any
polysemy that might be created by the simple extension of the old ḥtr into the new

34 See here also ‘reversal marking’, Brown 1999: 159.

35 For the notion of ‘key’ persons, see Lehman 1994: 110.

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 What is a horse? Lexical Acculturation and Classification   59

No ‘coinage’ is known for the horses themselves. Yet the chariot, called wrryt, if indeed
this is a new linguistic creation in Egyptian as some scholars believe, would fall into
the type 3 – coinage.36
After a few decades, the Egyptian texts show, for the first time, the loanword
ssm(t). It is not known how this word was transmitted to Egypt, when, from where,
or by whom. It appears in the texts as a ‘second accommodation’, fitting the gene-
rally prescribed expectations of linguistic acculturation theory. However, due to the
spelling considerations mentioned above, it may be a wrong impression created by
the written material. The loanword might have entered the lexicon in the spoken lan-
guage much earlier. Interestingly, a replacement37 process never took place in Egyp-
tian, and the ‘horse lexemes’, the extended forms, and the loanwords all lived on, side
by side, for hundreds of years.
In Mesopotamia, we find an interlacing process. On the one hand, there is a
clear lexical extension where the horse is embedded in a local, prototypical pack
animal — the donkey. This kind of lexical extension into a ‘similar’ animal is identical
in essence to the examples known from the languages studied by Brown.38 The animal
was used for long-distance transfer and riding, and even pulled war chariots. The
donkey is a closer, more accurate prototype for the horse than cattle. Like the donkey,
the horse is not used regularly for meat consumption or for leather-goods production.
However, the earliest occurrences of the horse, which are known already from the 21st
century BC in cuneiform, show a sort of ‘blending’ — an embedding in anše donkey
with the addition of the loanword sisi or zi-zi. These examples should testify to early
encounters and linguistic contacts with some carriers of the loanword sisi. Spellings
such as [anše]-zi-zi solve all problems of possible polysemy between donkey and
Interestingly, the compound extension anše.kur.ra ‘donkey of the mountain’,
appears in the cuneiform texts only a few hundred years after the loanword sisi. It
contains an explanation and specification of the special ‘donkey’.
Looking at the results of the cuneiform and Egyptian texts, in the light of the theo-
retical framework suggested above, it seems that in both cultures the results favour an
early linguistic contact and maybe even limited bilingualism with some carriers of the
foreign ‘horse word’. This linguistic contact might have pushed the loanword forward.
In the cuneiform system, the loanword sisi is the earliest to emerge as referring to

36 A unique early example for a coinage (1850 BC) may be tbt n ḫntš ‘box for walking around’, see
Schneider 2004: 20.
37 For this term and its definition see Brown 1999: 92–104.
38 In Brown’s large collection of Amerindian languages, Brown shows examples of the embedding
of ‘horse’ in the designations of different local animals. A few languages show an extension of ‘dog’
into horse, see Brown 1999: 53.

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60   Orly Goldwasser

horse. However, the loanword does not always appear by itself. The new loanword
is combined with a lexical extension to create a compound anše-zi-zi or anše-sí-sí.
Prima facie, the Egyptian evidence favours the general framework suggested by
Brown – Extension (ḥtr), extension + modifier (tꜢ-nt-ḥtr) and later the loanword (ssm).
However, here too one must be vigilant, as the spelling of the word points to a possi-
ble earlier loan of ssm not attested in the existing textual material.
In both systems, cuneiform and Egyptian scripts, the classifier system plays
an important role. Even if anše is an unpronounced classifier in the combination
[anše] sí-s[í-i], the extension into the donkey is firmly expressed and cognitively
takes place in the mind of the reader. When the unpronounced classifies the
lexeme ḥtr, it resolves immediately all possible polysemy (cattle or horses), at least
in the written lexicon.

4 Words of conclusion — animal classifiers in Egypt

and Mesopotamia.
A study of animal classifiers in the Egyptian scripts and in Sumerian cuneiform
carried out on another occasion should be mentioned here.39
If we look at Sumerian knowledge organization as evidenced by the classifier
system of the cuneiform script, there is, first and foremost, a noticeable absence of
any classifier that represents a generic category of the sort of ‘animal’. The animal
world is divided in the script by the classifiers into five classes, which seem to corre-
spond to a utilitarian perception of the animals beyond some physical similarities.40
This clear utilitarian classification distinguishes between classes of mušen [bird],
ku [fish], gud [bovine], udu [sheep], and anše [donkey].
The role of the classes of [bird] and [fish] is clear, as they form the basis of the
nutrition system and have a clear economic value, as shown by numerous economic
documents from the earliest phases of writing.
The same could be said about the livestock classes of [bovine], [sheep] and [donkey]
which have an immeasurable industrial role, for food consumption, leather products
and wool production, as well as transport.

39 Selz, Grinevald and Goldwasser (in press).

40 See Denny 1976 for an early discussion in classifier studies of the three principles of categori-
zation: by essence, by form or by function. For utilitarian considerations in classification, see
Hunn 1982.

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 What is a horse? Lexical Acculturation and Classification   61

Large wild carnivore quadrupeds such as lions and panthers and smaller domesti-
cated quadrupeds such as dogs, cats, monkeys or even mice, remain unclassified in
cuneiform. Reptiles such as snakes or invertebrates such as worms remain unclassi-
fied, too.
Egypt, on the other hand, presents us with a ‘silent show’ in the script, in which
we can watch the slow cognitive formation of a pre-verbal concept somewhat parallel
to our Western animal. Nevertheless, this concept never matured into a lexeme and
was never born into the lexicon of the Egyptian language. The unifying quality that
caught the attention of the Egyptians was not the ‘breathing’ ability of the animals,
but a more morphological aspect: ‘having hide and tail’. In its cognitive formation
process, this pre-verbal assessment, it is closer to Western morphological concepts
such as mammal (having mammae) or quadruped (‘having four legs’).
From the Old Kingdom onwards, the classifier , which carried the iconic meaning
[hide] or [hide & tail], was used as a classifier for different types of hide. Somewhat
later, it was extended to classify artefacts ‘made of hide’. All members in this class
(stage 1) were always inanimate, and almost all members that were not a ‘kind of hide/
leather’ could be defined as manufactured (‘made of’). In the meantime, during the
Old Kingdom, animals were classified by their own icon (e.g. ‘dog’ = pho-
nograms – ṯsm + [dog] classifier) (see Müller 2002: Appendix II, 25). In these cases,
the classifying icon repeats via iconic depiction the same information given by the
previous hieroglyphs, which are themselves used as phonograms. These cases corres-
pond to the well-known type of classifier in classifier languages known as ‘repeater’.41
This kind of classifier does not represent a concept ranking higher in the taxonomic
hierarchy and seems to ‘repeat’ the lexical information.
By the end of the Old Kingdom, the classifier was suddenly extended to the
classification of living animals that ‘have [hide & tail]’.
One of the first animals known to receive the classifier was the lion (Goldwas-
ser 2002, 64 f.), a big carnivore with no obvious utilitarian qualities. Another early
example appears on clay tablets recently published, and found in the provincial town
of Balat, dating to the end of the Old Kingdom. The [hide & tail] is found as a classi-
fier in a place-name mw-mꜢ ‘the water of the antelope’ (Pantalacci and Lesur-
Gebremariam 2009: 247). The antelope species may have played here the lexical role
of prototype for all desert animals that come to the pools of the oasis. Moreover, the
appearance of [hide & tail] in this early example cannot be due to a reluctance to
present the full animal hieroglyph. The tablets from Balat, although written in hie-
ratic on clay, never refrain from presenting the names of the various cervine animals
with rather iconic repeaters or logograms showing in detail the differences between
various quadrupeds, marked by their different horn forms.

41 See Appendix by Grinevald in Goldwasser and Grinevald 2012, with examples in Yakaltek. See also
Goldwasser 2006.

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62   Orly Goldwasser

By the Middle Kingdom the extension into the living animals had become a
clear tendency in the script, with dog, cat, mouse, as well hippo and pig, getting
the , all recorded in lapidary hieroglyphic inscriptions, as well as in cursive script
and hieratic.
To sum up, the main differences between the classification of animals in the
Egyptian script and cuneiform scripts in the 2nd millennium are:
1. Unlike the sensitivity of the cuneiform system to the differentiation of domestica-
ted vs. non-domesticated, the Egyptian [hide & tail] classifier is not sensitive
to this criterion. The Egyptian classifier system also is insensitive to differences
between carnivores and herbivores. Lions, antelopes, mice, donkeys, dogs and
cats belong to the same category of .
2. Unlike the cuneiform classification, the Egyptian classification of animals in the
script is basically non-utilitarian. It is a sortal classification based on observable
characteristics of the animals, disregarding their function or specific relations to
man. Members of the category are those ‘having hide and tail’.
3. By extension processes of the category, almost all quadrupeds may be classified
in the script by by the New Kingdom.42 Newcomers such as the horse, the main
topic of this study, are immediately analyzed as and put into the script with
the correct classifier. Even some clear fringe-members, such as the turtle in the
Middle Kingdom and the flea and scorpion in the New Kingdom, are occasionally
classified in this class.43 The only animal that has a kind of ‘hide & tail’ but keeps
being classified almost always with a repeater is the crocodile.44
4. [bird] 45 and [fish] have no ‘hide & tail’ and show separate categories. As
we have seen above, [fish] and [bird] also appear as separate categories in cunei-
form, which, in both Egyptian and Sumerian systems, have dozens of members.
By the end of the New Kingdom it seems that the generic category [hide & tail]
starts to be further extended, to occasionally include also birds - thus moving
towards our generic concept [animal].
5. Unlike the Sumerian system, snakes and worms are classified by the Egyptian
system. The classifier is hosted by words describing all kinds and sizes of
snakes and worms — termed [Swarms] in my earlier work (Goldwasser 2002:
57, 68). By the end of the New Kingdom, the category [hide & tail] begins to
occasionally embrace [Swarm] members, thus confirming the extension of the

42 The Egyptian script system always keeps the parallel option of classifying an animal by repeater or
unique, or both by repeater and the generic [hide & tail]. See the tables by Müller 2002, Appendix II.
43 See discussions in Goldwasser 2002, passim. Fringe members are defined as such if they only
rarely show the [hide & tail] classifier.
44 This may be due to the special place of the crocodile within the Egyptian culture. It may be parallel
to the case of the dog in Yakaltek, see Selz, Grinevald and Goldwasser (in press).
45 The word ḥtm translated as ‘provide’ may take the [bird] classifier, see Faulkner 1962: 180 and
Goldwasser 1999.

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 What is a horse? Lexical Acculturation and Classification   63

[hide & tail] category into a higher superordinate concept that now also encom-
passes reptiles and similar.

To sum up, the Sumerian and Egyptian classifier systems reflect rather a dissimilar
mental organization of the animal world. The reasons for these differences should be
reserved for another study.

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Fig. 1: After Bietak 2010b: 978, fig.5
Fig. 2: After Oriental Institute Museum, 16956, Teeter 2003: 33 f.
Fig. 3: After Taylor and Griffith 1895: pl. 3.
Fig. 4: Photo courtesy British Museum, 10181.4.
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