Ancient Egyptian Language History
The ancient Egyptian language is the oldest indigenous language and considered to be a branch of the Afro-Asiatic languages plus it is related to the Berber and other Semitic languages such as Arabic, Amharic, and Hebrew. It is one of the oldest recorded languages known alongside Sumerian. Its first known records date back to the mid-3rd millennium BC during the old kingdom of Egypt in 3400 BC, it was in use in the form of demotic and until the 17th century in the middle ages in the form of Coptic. The language was accompanied by hieroglyphs which became the official writing system. The national language of the modern –day Egypt has become Egyptian Arabic which has taken over after the Muslim conquest in the 7th century.
Classification of Ancient Egyptian Language
The transformative history of the ancient Egyptian language can be divided into six major chronological parts:
Archaic Egyptian (Before 2600 BC)
It is the reconstructed language of the early dynastic and the late predynastic period. It also contains the earliest examples of Egyptian hieroglyphic writings on many works of art like Naqada II pottery vessels.
Old Egyptian (2600 – 2000 BC)
It became the official language of the old kingdom and the first intermediate period as it was used to write the pyramid texts which are the largest body of literature written in this language and was used to showcase the autobiographical writings representing old Egyptian. It is characterized by the tripling of ideograms, phonograms, and determinatives to indicate the plural.
Middle Egyptian (2000-1300 BC)
It became known as Classical Egyptian as it was used to create a variety of textual writings in hieroglyphics and hieratic scripts that include various funerary texts like the coffin texts and wisdom texts that act as a guide on how any person can lead a life symbolizes the ancient Egyptian philosophical worldview. It was also used to tell the adventurous tales of certain individuals, medical and scientific texts such as Edwin Smith papyrus and the poetic texts or certain ancient Egyptian gods or ancient Egyptian pharaohs. The language was so powerful and very common within the public; the Egyptian dialect began to change to match the classical middle Egyptian. The grammatical structure of this language doesn’t differ much from the language of the old kingdom.
Late Egyptian (1300-700 BC)
This language appeared in Egypt new kingdom which is considered to be the golden age of ancient Egyptian civilization. It contained many rich religious passages and secular literature and various classicisms appeared in historical and literary texts during this period. The difference between the middle languages is far bigger than the middle and the old. It also offers a perfect example of the spoken language. It also saw a massive expansion of its graphemic inventory by the hieroglyphic orthography.
Demotic (600 BC – 400 AD)
It is a name of the ancient Egyptian vernacular of the late and Ptolemaic periods. It was used for more than 1000 years. The word demotic is derived from the northern forms of hieratic (writing system) used in the delta. It had three stages during its time:
The Early Demotic
It was developed in Lower Egypt between 650 and 400 BC as most texts were written in the 26th dynasty and the following Persian period. The demotic language was used for administrative, legal and commercial passages and texts.
The Middle Demotic (400-30 BC)
It is a stage of writing that was massively used for literary and religious texts. At the end of the third century, Greek was used as an administrative language of the country.
Late Roman Demotic
Greek became the semi-official language texts, religious texts, mummy, and graffiti-like the ones on the walls of the temple of Isis on Philae that you can visit during your trips to Egypt and demotic began to disappear but there is a number of literary texts from the first and second centuries AD but unfortunately, most of the demotic texts decreased after the rise of greek.
The Coptic language is the final phase of transformation as it is the last direct descendant of the ancient Egyptian language. Despite the fact that the language can be written in Egyptian hieroglyphics and demotic scripts, the Coptic alphabet was highly modified by the Greek alphabet. The language became the official language of the land from 200 AD to 1100 AD and the last record of it being spoken was during the 17th century. The language was able to survive thanks to the European scholars who learned it from the native speakers during the Renaissance and can be only found today as a liturgical language of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
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