Orly Goldwasser

Orly Goldwasser
Résidents Labex RFIEA+
pas Eurias

dates de séjour

17/09/2012 - 15/02/2013


Archéologie et préhistoire

Fonction d’origine


Institution d’origine

Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University (Israël)

pays d'origine


projet de recherche

The landscape of the Ancient Egyptian mind seen through the classifier system of the Egyptian script.

The Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic script is formed of hundreds of iconic signs with different semiotic roles. However, almost every word is followed by a “silent icon,” (the so-called “determinative”) that carries no additional phonetic value of its own. As such, this grapheme is a “mute” icon, which does not exist on the spoken level of language but supplies the word in question, through its iconic meaning alone, with extra semantic information. The script hosts a variety of categories, from relatively simple “object categories” such as : 
“BUSH,” “FISH,” “QUADRUPED-ANIMAL,”“HUMAN FEMALE,” “SUN,” “WOOD,” “FLUID” (distinct from “beer,” versus “HABITAT,” and “MOVEMENT,” “ACTION OF FORCE.” Uppermost on the pole lie such abstract categories as “DIVINE.” The divine is represented by a prototypical zoomorphic god, or by an anthropomorphic prototype.

The “determinatives” were defined as classifiers in my 2002 book. My project in Lyon is to continue my interdisciplinary work on the Ancient Egyptian classifier system with Colette Grinevald, linguist of the DDL laboratory in Lyon, and expert of linguistic classification systems. In our joint work we concentrate on a thorough linguistic analysis of the system within a typological-functional framework. Our approach is to do systematic text based studies, instead of the more traditional studies based on occurrences of single items taken more or less in isolation. This approach complements the only source of information existing to date, restricted to the early analysis of single items, as they are presented in the data bases. This new approach permits an analysis of the distribution and activation of the Egyptian classifier system. The same method is used today by the majority of field linguists working on oral tradition languages.


Orly Goldwasser is an Israeli Egyptologist, Professor of Egyptology at the Hebrew University. She occupies the chair of Egyptology at the Hebrew University, and is an Honorary Professor at the University of Göttingen, she was a guest professor at the University of Göttingen, Harvard University and at the Collège de France. Her main interests are the semiotics of the hieroglyphic script, intercultural relations: Egypt and the Levant, metaphors and literary images in ancient Egyptian literature and the origin of the alphabet. She is the discoverer of the classification system in the hieroglyphic script.