Friday, September 21, 2012

Language of the Ancient Egyptians

The ancient Egyptians spoke a language which called now "Egyptian". No one exactly knows the correct pronunciation of this language, which in any event changed greatly over the course of several thousand years (as did the written language), and maybe there were regional dialects and variations in pronunciation as well.
The language is known only through its various written forms, the most formal of which is the pictorial script called hieroglyphic. The Greek word "hieroglyph" literally means "sacred writing," an appropriate term for a writing system that was used on the walls of temples and tombs, and which the Egyptians themselves called the "god's words. "Linguists classify languages by placing them in families of related languages, such as the Indo-European family, which includes English and many European and Asian languages.
Ancient Egyptian is a branch of the language family called Afro-Asiatic(also known as "Hamito-Semitic"). Ancient languages of the Afro-Asiatic family, such as Egyptian, are known only from preserved written texts, whereas many Afro-Asiatic languages spoken in northern and eastern Africa and recorded in recent times have no earlier written form.

The Semitic languages form the most widely spoken branch of the Afro-Asiatic languages, and include ancient languages such as Akkadian (an "East Semitic" language spoken and written in ancient Mesopotamia, in a script called cuneiform, which means "wedge-shaped writing"), and Hebrew (one of the "Northwest Semitic" languages of Syria and Palestine, of the 1st millennium bc). Semitic languages spoken today include Arabic and Hebrew, as well as several languages of central and northern Ethiopia and Eritrea. Other branches of the Afro-Asiatic language family include Cushitic, Berber, Chadic, and Omotic. These names relate to peoples and regions in Africa where these languages are spoken. Berber and Cushitic are geographically closest to Egypt. One of the Cushitic languages is Beja, which is spoken by nomadic peoples in the Eastern Desert, and has some close analogies to Egyptian.

Although Egyptian was certainly one of the languages spoken in the lower Nile Valley in prehistoric times, the first writing of the language did not appear until about 3200 bc. The earliest known hieroglyphs appear at the same time that a large state was consolidated and controlled by the first Egyptian kings. From the beginning the writing system had a royal context, and this is probably the setting in which writing was invented in Egypt.
It used to be proposed that writing was first invented in Mesopotamia and then the idea of writing diffused to Egypt. The structure,scripts, media, and uses of the two writing systems, however, are very different, and it seems more likely that writing was invented independently in both Egypt and Mesopotamia.

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