Egyptian language

Egyptian language
Extinct Afro-Asiatic language of the Nile River valley.

Its very long history comprises five periods: Old Egyptian (с 3000–с 2200 BC), best exemplified by a corpus of religious inscriptions known as the Pyramid Texts and a group of autobiographical tomb inscriptions; Middle Egyptian (с 2200–с 1600 BC), the classical literary language; Late Egyptian (1300–700 BC), known mainly from manuscripts; Demotic (с 700 BC–с AD 400), used in the periods of Persian, Greek, and Roman dominance and differing from Late Egyptian chiefly in its graphic system; and Coptic (с AD 300–at least the 17th century), the language of Christian Egypt, gradually supplanted as a vernacular by Arabic from the 9th century on but still preserved to some degree in the liturgy of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Egyptian was originally written in hieroglyphs, out of which evolved hieratic, a cursive rendering of hieroglyphs, and demotic, a kind of shorthand reduction of hieratic. Coptic was written in a modified form of the Greek alphabet, with seven signs added from the demotic script for sounds that did not occur in Greek.

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 extinct language of the Nile valley that constitutes a branch of the Afro-Asiatic (Afro-Asiatic languages) language phylum. The Semitic (Semitic languages), Cushitic (Cushitic languages), Chadic (Chadic languages), Omotic (Omotic languages), and Amazigh (Amazigh languages) (Berber) language groups constitute the remaining members of the phylum.

      On the basis of ancient texts, scholars generally divide the history of Egyptian language into five periods: Old Egyptian (from before 3000 to about 2200 BCE), Middle Egyptian (c. 2200–c. 1600 BCE), Late Egyptian (c. 1550–c. 700 BCE), Demotic (c. 700 BCE–c. 400 CE), and Coptic (Coptic language) (c. 2nd century CE until at least the 17th century). Thus, five literary dialects (dialect) are differentiated. These language periods refer to the written language only, which often differed greatly from the spoken dialects. Coptic is still in ecclesiastical use (along with Arabic (Arabic language)) among the Arabic-speaking Monophysite Christians (monophysite) of Egypt.

      The phonetic (phonetics) values of the consonants (consonant) have not all been established with certainty. The emphatics *ṭ and *ṣ (an asterisk indicates a hypothetical form derived from later attestations) seem to have merged with originally nonemphatic stops (stop). Final *-r (at end of syllable) shifted to (hamzah, a glottal stop); *li and *lu to ʾi; *ki and *ku to (pronounced as tch); and *gi and *gu to (pronounced dj).

      In some cases and apparently reflect original affricates (affricate). Egyptian d and (both possibly unvoiced) also correspond to Afro-Asiatic emphatics and were so transcribed in Hebrew (Hebrew language). Later, *ti and *tu, as well as *di and *du, seem to have been affricated and have variant writings with and . The original lateral sounds were lost. The values of g and q are unclear but were transcribed as emphatics in Hebrew. The sibilants (sibilant) s and š are straightforward.

Word formation, morphology, and syntax
      Word formation in Egyptian is similar to the “root and pattern (root and pattern system)” system found across the Afro-Asiatic language phylum. In such systems, consonantal “roots” that indicate the general meaning of a word join with vocalic “patterns” that create more specific meaning. An example in English would be the difference between the words wake and woke, in which the root √wk provides a basic notion of “being awake” and combines with the patterns -a-e and -o-e to create verbs of a particular tense. In ancient Egyptian texts, roots were predominantly composed of three consonants, and vowels were omitted.

      Of the original Afro-Asiatic verb system, only the stative survived. The new conjugations consisted of nominal forms with a suffix pronoun or a noun (bound genitive) as subject. Suffixes indicated tense and voice. Later these conjugations were replaced by adverbial predicates (e.g., preposition plus infinitive).

      Stem modifications were limited. An s- causative stem corresponds to the Semitic causatives, but it was no longer productive by Late Egyptian. The pronouns are close to those of Semitic. Some nouns of place or instrument were formed with the prefix m-. The masculine singular noun had no ending or was *-aw, feminine singular *-at, masculine plural *-āw, and feminine plural *-āwāt.

       syntax was governed by a rigid word order, with modifiers occurring in second position. Genitival constructions are of two types in all phases of Egyptian: noun with reduced stress bound to the possessor or noun plus the genitival adjective n(y) ‘of' followed by the possessor.

 The writing system was both logographic and phonetic. Logographic signs (logogram) represent words, and phonetic signs represent one to three consonants (vowels not being of concern). Phonetic signs are used without regard for their original meaning. Thus, because the logograph for ‘house' also signifies the sound pr, it is used to write the word prn ‘to go out.' Because vowels are not represented in writing, the logograph for prn is differentiated from that for pr ‘house' by the addition of the sign ‘walking legs.' This type of addition is known as a “semantic determinative” because it indicates the part of speech (and thus the meaning) of the word in question.

      Several scripts were in use: hieroglyphic (hieroglyphic writing) in monumental inscriptions and the cursive hieratic (hieratic script) (and its later derivative, demotic (demotic script)) on papyrus, potsherds, and stone flakes. Coptic has an alphabetic script based on the Greek alphabet, with several letters derived from demotic signs. There is a considerable and varied literature in Egyptian. Coptic texts are mostly of a religious nature.

James Hoch

Additional Reading
Introductory texts include Thomas Lambdin, Introduction to Sahidic Coptic (1983); Antonio Loprieno, Ancient Egyptian: A Linguistic Introduction (1995); and John B. Callender, Middle Egyptian (1975). Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 3 vol. (1973–80, reissued 2006), is an introduction to the literature in translation.Reliable analyses of Egyptian grammar are James E. Hoch, Middle Egyptian Grammar (1997); Alan Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, 3rd ed., rev. (1957, reissued 1988); Jaroslav Černy, Sarah Israelit Groll, and Christopher Eyre, A Late Egyptian Grammar, 4th ed. (1993); and Janet H. Johnson, Thus Wrote ʿOnchsheshonqy: An Introductory Grammar of Demotic, 2nd ed. rev. (1991).Dictionaries include Raymond O. Faulkner, A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian (1962, reissued 1981); and W.E. Crum, A Coptic Dictionary (1939, reissued 2005).

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Universalium. 2010.

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