The Ancient Egyptian Language

The ancient Egyptian language is a dead language, like Latin. It has been extinct since the 1500's, and is now only used by Egyptologists, or by people who study it extensively.

It is categorized as an Afro-Asiatic language.

Some of the earliest forms of ancient Egyptian inscriptions come from as far back as 3180 BC, which is earlier than unified Egypt, before King Narmer .

This form of the language is called "Old Egyptian".

The Coptic language can be considered a much later form of ancient Egyptian, and it survived up until 1936 AD. Traces and words still survive in the Coptic Christian church, especially during rituals – sermons are usually conducted in the language of modern Egypt (Arabic) for the benefit of the audience's understanding.

I have friends that study Coptic as part of their religious studies, and to better understand the sermons when they go to church.

I also have a friend who studies the Coptic language just for fun!

By Calculation, ancient Egyptian then has survived approximately 5,000 years in one form or another, as its writing system is still one of the most intriguing and exciting pieces of history available to us.

The unlocking of the ancient Egyptian writing system is what unraveled many of the facts and stories about this ancient land.

The writing was done on both stone and papyrus paper, giving us some fantastic reading. There are still love letters and hate mail that survive till now!

The most commonly known form of this language used by historians and Egyptologists is "Middle Egyptian". This is the ancient Egyptian language that was written from the end of the Old Kingdom, all the way through the Middle Kingdom and lasting until Rome invaded Egypt.

It's the language that was spoken from around 2240 to 1990 BC.


The Grammatical System

There are 4 parts that are used to make up sentences in ancient Egyptian:

  • Subjects
  • Verbs
  • Objects
  • Qualifiers

And here are the general grammar rules:

  • Word Order - VERB + SUBJECT + OBJECT
  • Gender - Words can be either masculine (m) or feminine (f). If a word is feminine it ends in 't', masculine words don't have a particular ending. This holds true for Arabic as well.
  • Plurals – A masculine plural word will end in 'w' and a feminine plural word will end in 'wt'.
  • Questions – Introductory question words will sometimes be used before the question. For example, the word "what" is "ih" and is inserted at the beginning of the sentence to form the question.
  • Qualifiers – Some are put before the word they describe, like prepositions such as "on", "by", and "with". Some are put after the word they describe, like adjectives and adverbs. Adjectives have to have the same number and gender as the word they describe.


Pronunciation

As with Arabic and other Semitic languages, the pronunciation can vary. The writing system consists mostly of consonants and very few vowels. In fact some words contain only consonants and therefore we can't know the pronunciation for sure.

Reconstruction of the ancient Egyptian language relied a lot on the Coptic words still in use today, but it is not too certain if they still maintain the original phonetic structure...

One can only guess at this point!

Until now, an Arabic word can be pronounced in so many different ways depending on locale. Sometimes I don't understand other native Arabic speakers because their dialect is so different from Egyptian Arabic.

In fact, sometimes I don't understand other Egyptians that come from other parts of Egypt!



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