Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 33

Hi again, everybody! ‘Hall Of Shame’ continues!


First: thanks to Pacal for the comments on my last! I don’t disagree with any of these comments, and I didn’t INTEND to be ‘too kind’!

On to this week’s instalment.

In his previous work, notably in his book Discovering Ancient Biblical Hebrew Word Formation (Las Vegas, 2010; see my earlier comments in this blog), David Leonardi has argued that both Ancient (Biblical) Hebrew and Ancient Egyptian have been badly misanalysed by mainstream scholars. In fact, he rejects the accepted decipherment of Egyptian (starting in the 19th Century); and he believes that medieval and modern scholars (starting with the ‘Masoretic’ reformers of Hebrew spelling) have failed to recognise major changes in the use of the Hebrew script (a previously unembellished 22-character ‘abjad’ = an alphabet displaying only consonants) and have thereby missed major changes in the language itself. He holds, in fact, that Ancient Hebrew and Ancient Egyptian were much more closely related than is generally held (he now suggests that the degree of ‘overlap’ is around 80-85% or even higher) – and that the Ancient Hebrew language in particular, with its supposedly coeval abjad, was closely equivalent to a implausibly recent universal ancestor language or ‘Proto-World’ (this itself is an obviously non-standard position).

In a new book (Egyptian Hieroglyphic Decipherment Revealed: A Revisionist Model Of Egyptian Decipherment Showing Evidence That The Ancient Egyptian Language And The Ancient Hebrew Language Are Closely Related; 2013), Leonardi presents, in much greater detail than before, his claim that Ancient Egyptian is closely related to Ancient Hebrew. Leonardi’s focus here is mainly upon vocabulary: Ancient Egyptian and Hebrew words, as written and (as far as can be determined) spoken. Like most non-mainstream authors, he pays little attention to matters of grammar, especially syntax – although grammar is often crucial in establishing relationships between languages. He does refer to matters of morphology; but even here he ignores what is known about the Semitic language ‘family’ which includes Hebrew and also Phoenician (crucial in context), and writes as if Hebrew were considered a language ‘isolate’ with no known (close) ‘genetic’ relatives (like Basque).

Now it is generally agreed by linguists that there is indeed a ‘genetic’ relationship between the Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Hebrew languages; they are both considered part of the Afroasiatic language family which includes Semitic and some other more specific language families. But this does not mean that they are closely related in respect of their vocabulary (or other features), still less that they are the same language or even were to any degree mutually intelligible. Leonardi claims to have a good knowledge of historical linguistics, and he even runs a bulletin board called (arguably misleadingly) simply Historical Linguistics and promoting his idiosyncratic ideas on decipherment and historical morphology (see also below); but he does not appear to grasp this rather basic point (or, if he does grasp it but REJECTS it, he is far too inexplicit about his position). He does attempt to explain the mainstream view in terms of the failure of scholars to notice the allegedly large number of shared features. However, this attempt depends entirely upon three principles (listed by him here as 1)-3)); all of these principles involve his own undemonstrated (and often obscure) reinterpretations of Egyptian and Hebrew.

A review of this book, written with the help of an Egyptologist at the University of Liverpool, is in preparation and will appear in the British skeptical press (reference on request as and when). But to summarise in advance: overall, the model proposed by Leonardi has no basis in reality and can be shown to be incongruous with the slightest academic rigour. Leonardi’s statement ‘[m]y claim is one that can be proven true or false, though it may take years to reach an irrefutable proof’ is extremely bold; but it takes only minutes to demolish it. And when Leonardi claims (personal communication) that ‘the evidence I have gathered thus far would be exceedingly unlikely unless Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Hebrew were [closely] genetically related’ he displays only his own inadequate grasp of the principles involved.

More next time!


For my book Strange Linguistics, see:

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany. Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address.

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