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A determinative in ancient writing systems ( hieroglyphics , cuneiform and other) a silent additional or ideographic signs that (divine names, cities, rivers about) is used to identify a conceptual class. It can also be used to distinguish homonyms . In cuneiform script, determinatives are usually at the beginning of the word, in hieroglyphics mostly at the end of the word.

Determinative in the Sumerian and Akkadian cuneiform script

The determinatives usually come before, in some cases after the sign to which they refer and thus explain it or change the meaning (reading).

These are characters such as ? Cuneiform sumer gisz.jpg ( giš , presented ?, Sumerian for wood), ? Cuneiform sumer ki.jpg ( ki , followed by, Sumerian for country) or a name wedge that is placed in front of personal names for clarity.

Determinatives can be meaningful, especially since a sign can have multiple readings, for example the sign ? has Cuneiform sumer pa.jpg the reading ugula (overseer) and, after the determinative ? Cuneiform sumer gisz.jpg ( giš , Sumerian for wood), the reading ĝidru (stick). So ?? means giš ĝidru (wood stick) and not giš ugula (wood overseer). Cuneiform sumer gisz.jpgCuneiform sumer pa.jpg

Determinative in the Egyptian script

Determinatives, also known as classifiers ( Orly Goldwasser ), are written after the word in question and are primarily used to distinguish between words with the same consonant , as the hieroglyphic script does not reproduce the vowels. This resulted in many words with different meanings that were spelled the same, because they had the same consonants. The determinative originally embodied the phonograms on which it was based as a pictorial unifying character . Only later was the determinative to be combined with other general terms.

So-called determinants (also classifiers or Deutzeichen) were added to most words, which explain the meaning in more detail. The hieroglyph “house” means with the consonants pr without determinative the word “house” (Egyptian pr (w) ), with two running legs as determinative it means “to go out” (Egyptian pr (j) ). Names were also determined, as were some pronouns . The names of kings or gods were emphasized by the cartouche , a loop around the word. Due to their position behind the word in question, determinatives also serve as word separators. You have z. E.g. whether a thing is made of wood, clay or fabric, whether an action is good or bad. However, a determinative now and then also stands for several properties. For example, the determinative for "woman" is behind:

  • Women's names,
  • Women professions,
  • female relatives etc.

Examples of homophonic words with different classifiers with regard to the consonant stock ( wn : / w / + / n /) are:

Egyptian olog ical
Word meaning
Object represented by the classifier / determinative
Meaning of the
wn to open Door leaf Gate / door / gate u. Ä .;
to open
wn (j) rush Pair of legs Move
wn Error; Fault; Rebuke Sparrow, sparrow, etc. bad, bad, inadequate, etc. Ä .;
Bad, evil, inadequate
wn bald Tufts of hair Hair, hairy;
Sadness, sad
wn (y) light Sun with rays shine, shine; light

In the spoken language these words were not homophonic; they differed in terms of their vowel level.

In the hieratic writing system, the determinative system represents a non-expandable set of classes. In hieroglyphic-Egyptian writers were able to create new determinatives which, due to the imagery of the hieroglyphs, ideally even the uninitiated reader could understand. This option was used very rarely in the classical period (3rd and 2nd centuries BC), but it was often used in the Greco-Roman period .

Determinative in Maya script

The Maya script knows a few determinants. The most important is the day-mark cartridge. If another sign is combined with it, it changes its reading and reflects a day sign of the ritual calendar.

Individual evidence

  1. Jan Assmann : Stone and Time: Man and Society in Ancient Egypt . Fink, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-7705-2681-3 , p. 80.