The EGYPTIAN LANGUAGE was spoken in ancient
It was spoken until the late 17th century AD, in the form of Coptic .
The national language of modern
Coptic is still used as the liturgical language of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and has several hundred fluent speakers today.
* 1 Classification * 2 History * 3 Dialects * 4 Orthography
* 5 Phonology
* 5.1 Consonants * 5.2 Vowels * 5.3 Phonotactics * 5.4 Stress * 5.5 Egyptological pronunciation
* 6 Morphology
* 6.1 Nouns * 6.2 Pronouns * 6.3 Verbs * 6.4 Adjectives * 6.5 Prepositions * 6.6 Adverbs
* 7 Syntax * 8 Vocabulary * 9 See also * 10 Notes * 11 References * 12 Bibliography
* 13 Literature
* 13.1 Overviews * 13.2 Grammars * 13.3 Dictionaries * 13.4 Online dictionaries
* 14 External links
In Egyptian, the Proto-Afroasiatic voiced consonants */d z ð/ developed into pharyngeal ⟨ꜥ⟩ /ʕ/: ꜥr.t 'portal', Semitic dalt 'door'. Afroasiatic */l/ merged with Egyptian ⟨n⟩, ⟨r⟩, ⟨ꜣ⟩, and ⟨j⟩ in the dialect on which the written language was based, but it was preserved in other Egyptian varieties. Original */k g ḳ/ palatalise to ⟨ṯ j ḏ⟩ in some environments and are preserved as ⟨k g q⟩ in others.
Egyptian has many biradical and perhaps monoradical roots, in contrast to the Semitic preference for triradical roots. Egyptian is probably more conservative, and Semitic likely underwent later regularizations converting roots into the triradical pattern.
Although Egyptian is the oldest Afroasiatic language documented in written form, its morphological repertoire is very different from that of the rest of the Afroasiatic, in general, and Semitic, in particular. There are multiple possibilities: Egyptian had already undergone radical changes from Proto-Afroasiatic before it was recorded, the Afroasiatic family has so far been studied with an excessively Semito-centric approach, or Afroasiatic is a typological , not a genetic group of languages. (The general consensus is that Afroasiatic is indeed a genetic group and that Egyptian really diverged greatly in its prerecorded history, but there is almost certainly a Semitic bias in Afroasiatic reconstruction.)
Scholars group the
Archaic Egyptian language
The earliest Egyptian glyphs date back to around 3300 BC. The early texts are generally lumped together under the general term "Archaic Egyptian" and record names, titles and labels, but a few of them show morphological and syntactic features familiar from later, more complete, texts. Seal impression from the tomb of Seth-Peribsen , containing the oldest known complete sentence in Egyptian
Old Egyptian is dated from the oldest known complete sentence, found in the tomb of Seth-Peribsen and dated to around 2690 BCE. It reads:
dmḏ.n.f t3wj n z3.f nswt-bjt pr-jb.snj
"He has united the Two Lands for his son, Dual King Peribsen ."
Extensive texts appear from about 2600 BCE. Middle Egyptian was
spoken from about 2000 BCE for a further 700 years, when Late Egyptian
made its appearance. Middle Egyptian, however, survived until the
first few centuries CE as a written language, similar to the use of
Latin during the Middle Ages and that of
Old, Middle, and Late Egyptian were all written using hieroglyphs and hieratic . Demotic was written using a script derived from hieratic, and its appearance is vaguely similar to modern Arabic script and is also written from right to left, but the two are hardly related. Coptic is written using the Coptic alphabet , a modified form of the Greek alphabet , with a number of symbols borrowed from Demotic for sounds that did not occur in Ancient Greek .
The Bible contains some words, terms and names that are thought by scholars to be Egyptian in origin. An example of this is Zaphnath-Paaneah , the Egyptian name given to Joseph .
Pre-Coptic Egyptian does not show great dialectal differences in the written language because of the centralised nature of Egyptian society. However, they must have existed in speech because of a letter from c. 1200 BCE, complaining that the language of a correspondent is as unintelligible as the speech of a northern Egyptian to a southerner.
Recently, some evidence of internal dialects has been found in pairs of similar words in Egyptian that, based on similarities with later dialects of Coptic, may be derived from northern and southern dialects of Egyptian. Written Coptic has five major dialects, which differ mainly in graphic conventions, most notably the southern Saidic dialect, the main classical dialect, and the northern Bohairic dialect, currently used in Coptic Church services.
zẖȝ n mdw-nṯr in hieroglyphs
Some uniliteral signs and their transliterations SYMBOL TRANSLITERATION
EUR. TRAD. COMP.
ȝ ꜣ A
j ı͗ i
y y ii
ʿ ˁ a
Most surviving texts in the
In the language's final stage of development, the Coptic alphabet replaced the older writing system.
The native name for Egyptian hieroglyphic writing is zẖȝ n mdw-nṯr ("writing of the gods' words"). Hieroglyphs are employed in two ways in Egyptian texts: as ideograms to represent the idea depicted by the pictures and, more commonly, as phonograms to represent their phonetic value.
As the phonetic realisation of Egyptian cannot be known with certainty, Egyptologists use a system of transliteration to denote each sound that could be represented by a uniliteral hieroglyph. The two systems still in common use are the traditional system and the European system, but a third system is used for computer input.
Further information: Transliteration of Ancient Egyptian
While the consonantal phonology of the
Phonologically, Egyptian contrasted labial, alveolar, palatal, velar,
uvular, pharyngeal, and glottal consonants in a distribution rather
similar to that of
Since vowels are not written until Coptic, reconstructions of the Egyptian vowel system are much more uncertain and rely mainly on the evidence from Coptic and records of Egyptian words, especially proper nouns, in other languages. Also, scribal errors provide evidence of changes in pronunciation over time.
The actual pronunciations reconstructed by such means are used only by a few specialists in the language. For all other purposes, the Egyptological pronunciation is used, but it often bears little resemblance to what is known of how Egyptian was pronounced.
The following consonants are reconstructed for Archaic (before 2600 BC) and Old Egyptian (2686–2181 BC), with IPA equivalents in square brackets if they differ from the usual transcription scheme:
EARLY EGYPTIAN CONSONANTS
LABIAL DENTAL POSTALVEOLAR PALATAL VELAR UVULAR PHARYNGEAL GLOTTAL
NASAL m n
STOP VOICELESS p t
ṯ k q *
VOICED b d *
ḏ* ɡ *
FRICATIVE VOICELESS f s š ẖ
ḫ ḥ h
ꜣ (ȝ) ꜥ (ʿ)
APPROXIMANT w l
*Possibly unvoiced ejectives .
/l / has no independent representation in the hieroglyphic orthography, and it is frequently written as if it were /n / or /r /. That is probably because the standard for written Egyptian is based on a dialect in which /l / had merged with other sonorants. Also, the rare cases of /ʔ / occurring are not represented. The phoneme /j / is written as ⟨j⟩ in initial position (⟨jt⟩ = */ˈjaːtVj/ 'father') and immediately after a stressed vowel (⟨bjn⟩ = */ˈbaːjin/ 'bad') and as ⟨jj⟩ word-medially immediately before a stressed vowel (⟨ḫꜥjjk⟩ = */χaʕˈjak/ 'you will appear') and are unmarked word-finally (⟨jt⟩ = /ˈjaːtvj/ 'father').
In Middle Egyptian (2055–1650 BC), a number of consonantal shifts take place. By the beginning of the Middle Kingdom period, /z / and /s / had merged, and the graphemes ⟨s⟩ and ⟨z⟩ are used interchangeably. In addition, /j / had become /ʔ / word-initially in an unstressed syllable (⟨jwn⟩ /jaˈwin/ > */ʔaˈwin/ "colour") and after a stressed vowel (⟨ḥjpw⟩ */ˈħujpvw/ > /ˈħeʔp(vw)/ ' Apis').
In Late Egyptian (1069–700 BC), the phonemes d ḏ g gradually
merge with their counterparts t ṯ k (⟨dbn⟩ */ˈdiːban/ >
More changes occur in the 1st millennium BCE and the first centuries CE, leading to Coptic (1st–17th centuries CE). In Sahidic ẖ ḫ ḥ had merged into ϣ š (most often from ḫ) and ϩ /h / (most often ẖ ḥ). Bohairic and Akhmimic are more conservative and have a velar fricative /x / (ϧ in Bohairic, ⳉ in Akhmimic). Pharyngeal *ꜥ had merged into glottal /ʔ / after it had affected the quality of the surrounding vowels. /ʔ / is not indicated orthographically unless it follows a stressed vowel; then, it is marked by doubling the vowel letter (except in Bohairic): Akhmimic ⳉⲟⲟⲡ /xoʔp/, Sahidic and Lycopolitan ϣⲟⲟⲡ šoʔp, Bohairic ϣⲟⲡ šoʔp 'to be' < ḫpr.w */ˈχapraw/ 'has become'. The phoneme ⲃ /b / was probably pronounced as a fricative , becoming ⲡ /p / after a stressed vowel in syllables that had been closed in earlier Egyptian (compare ⲛⲟⲩⲃ < */ˈnaːbaw/ 'gold' and ⲧⲁⲡ < */dib/ 'horn'). The phonemes /d g z/ occur only in Greek loanwords, with rare exceptions triggered by a nearby /n/: ⲁⲛⲍⲏⲃⲉ/ⲁⲛⲥⲏⲃⲉ < ꜥ.t n.t sbꜣ.w 'school'.
THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS COPTIC TEXT. Without proper rendering support , you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Coptic letters.
Earlier *d ḏ g q are preserved as ejective t' c' k' k' before vowels in Coptic. Although the same graphemes are used for the pulmonic stops (⟨ⲧ ϫ ⲕ⟩), the existence of the former may be inferred because the stops ⟨ⲡ ⲧ ϫ ⲕ⟩ /p t c k/ are allophonically aspirated before stressed vowels and sonorant consonants. In Bohairic, the allophones are written with the special graphemes ⟨ⲫ ⲑ ϭ ⲭ⟩, but other dialects did not mark aspiration: Sahidic ⲡⲣⲏ, Bohairic ⲫⲣⲏ 'the sun'.
Thus, Bohairic does not mark aspiration for reflexes of older *d ḏ g q: Sahidic and Bohairic ⲧⲁⲡ */dib/ 'horn'. Also, the definite article ⲡ is unaspirated when the next word begins with a glottal stop: Bohairic ⲡ + ⲱⲡ > ⲡⲱⲡ 'the account'.
The consonant system of Coptic is as follows:
LABIAL ALVEOLAR PALATAL VELAR GLOTTAL
NASAL ⲙ m ⲛ n
STOP VOICELESS ⲡ (ⲫ) p (pʰ ) ⲧ (ⲑ) t (tʰ ) ϫ (ϭ) c (cʰ ) ⲕ (ⲭ) k (kʰ ) * ʔ
ⲧ tʼ ϫ cʼ ⲕ kʼ
ⲇ d ⲅ ɡ
FRICATIVE VOICELESS ϥ f ⲥ s ϣ ʃ (ϧ, ⳉ) (x ) ϩ ħ
VOICED ⲃ β ⲍ z
APPROXIMANT (ⲟ)ⲩ w ⲗ l (ⲉ)ⲓ j
*Various orthographic representations; see above.
Here is the vowel system reconstructed for earlier Egyptian:
Earlier Egyptian vowel system
CLOSE i iː u uː
OPEN a aː
Vowels are always short in unstressed syllables (⟨tpj⟩ = */taˈpij/ 'first') and long in open stressed syllables (⟨rmṯ⟩ = */ˈraːmac/ 'man'), they but can be either short or long in closed stressed syllables (⟨jnn⟩ = */jaˈnan/ 'we', ⟨mn⟩ = */maːn/ 'to stay').
In the Late New Kingdom , after
In the Early New Kingdom, short stressed */ˈi/ changes to */ˈe/:
Unstressed vowels, especially after a stress, become */ə/: ⟨nfr⟩
'good' */ˈnaːfir/ > */ˈnaːfə/ (
Egyptian vowel system c. 1000 BCE
FRONT CENTRAL BACK
MID e eː ə oː
In Sahidic and Bohairic Coptic, Late Egyptian stressed */ˈa/ becomes */ˈo/ and */ˈe/ becomes /ˈa/, but are unchanged in the other dialects: ⟨sn⟩ */san/ 'brother' > Sahaidic and Bohairic ⟨son⟩, Akhminic, Lycopolitan and Fayyumic ⟨san⟩; ⟨rn⟩ 'name' */rin/ > */ren/ > Sahaidic and Bohairic ⟨ran⟩, Akhminic, Lycopolitan and Fayyumic ⟨ren⟩. However, Sahaidic and Bohairic preserve */ˈa/, and Fayyumic renders it as ⟨e⟩ in the presence of guttural fricatives: ⟨ḏbꜥ⟩ 'ten thousand' */ˈbaʕ/ > Sahaidic, Akhmimic and Lycopolitan ⟨tba⟩, Bohairic ⟨tʰba⟩, Fayyumic ⟨tbe⟩. In Akhmimic and Lycopolitan, */ˈa/ becomes /ˈo/ before etymological /ʕ, ʔ/: ⟨jtrw⟩ 'river' */ˈjatraw/ > */jaʔr(ə)/ > Sahaidic ⟨eioor(e)⟩, Bohairic ⟨ior⟩, Akhminic ⟨ioore, iôôre⟩, Fayyumic ⟨iaal, iaar⟩. Similarly, the diphthongs */ˈaj/, */ˈaw/, which normally have reflexes /ˈoj/, /ˈow/ in Sahidic and are preserved in other dialects, are in Bohairic ⟨ôi⟩ (in non-final position) and ⟨ôou⟩ respectively: "to me, to them" Sahidic ⟨eroi, eroou⟩, Akhminic and Lycopolitan ⟨arai, arau⟩, Fayyumic ⟨elai, elau⟩, Bohairic ⟨eroi, erôou⟩. Sahidic and Bohairic preserve */ˈe/ before /ʔ/ (etymological or from lenited /t r j/ or tonic-syllable coda /w/),: Sahidic and Bohairic ⟨ne⟩ /neʔ/ 'to you (fem.)' < */ˈnet/ < */ˈnic/. */e/ may also have different reflexes before sonants , near sibilants and in diphthongs.
Old */aː/ surfaces as /uː/ after nasals and occasionally other consonants: ⟨nṯr⟩ 'god' */ˈnaːcar/ > /ˈnuːte/ ⟨noute⟩ /uː/ has acquired phonemic status, as is evidenced by minimal pairs like 'to approach' ⟨hôn⟩ /hoːn/ < */ˈçaːnan/ ẖnn vs. 'inside' ⟨houn⟩ /huːn/ < */ˈçaːnaw/ ẖnw. An etymological */uː/ > */eː/ often surfaces as /iː/ next to /r/ and after etymological pharyngeals: ⟨hir⟩ < */χuːr/ 'street' (Semitic loan).
Most Coptic dialects have two phonemic vowels in unstressed position. Unstressed vowels generally became /ə/, written as ⟨e⟩ or null (⟨i⟩ in Bohairic and Fayyumic word-finally), but pretonic unstressed /a/ occurs as a reflex of earlier unstressed */e/ near an etymological pharyngeal, velar or sonorant ('to become many' ⟨ašai⟩ < ꜥšꜣ */ʕiˈʃiʀ/) or an unstressed */a/. Pretonic is underlyingly /əj/: Sahidic 'ibis' ⟨hibôi⟩ < h(j)bj.w */hijˈbaːj?w/.
Thus, the following is the Sahidic vowel system c. 400 CE:
Sahidic vowel system circa 400 AD
FRONT BACK CENTRAL
CLOSE iː uː
MID e eː o oː ə
Earlier Egyptian has the syllable structure CV(:)(C) in which V is long in open stressed syllables and short elsewhere. In addition, CV:C or CVCC can occur in word-final, stressed position. However, CV:C occurs only in the infinitive of biconsonantal verbal roots, CVCC only in some plurals.
In later Egyptian, stressed CV:C, CVCC, and CV become much more common because of the loss of final dentals and glides.
Earlier Egyptian stresses one of the last two syllables. According to some scholars, that is a development from a stage in Proto-Egyptian in which the third-last syllable could be stressed, which was lost as open posttonic syllables lost their vowels: */ˈχupiraw/ > */ˈχupraw/ 'transformation'.
As a convention, Egyptologists make use of an "Egyptological pronunciation" in English: the consonants are given fixed values, and vowels are inserted according to essentially arbitrary rules. Two consonants, alef and ayin, are generally pronounced /ɑː/. Yodh is pronounced /iː/, w /uː/. Between other consonants, /ɛ/ is then inserted. Thus, for example, the name of an Egyptian king is most accurately transliterated as Rꜥ-ms-sw and transcribed as "Ramesses"; it means "Ra has Fashioned (literally, "Borne") Him".
In transcription , ⟨a⟩, ⟨i⟩, and ⟨u⟩ all represent
consonants; for example, the name
Experts have assigned generic sounds to these values as a matter of convenience, which is an artificial pronunciation and should not be mistaken for how Egyptian was ever pronounced at any time.
For example, the name twt-ꜥnḫ-ı͗mn is conventionally pronounced /tuːtən.ˈkɑːmən/ in English, but, in his lifetime, it was likely to be pronounced something like * .
Egyptian is fairly typical for an Afroasiatic language in that at the heart of its vocabulary is most commonly a root of three consonants, but there are sometimes only two consonants in the root: rꜥ(w) "sun" (the is thought to have been something like a voiced pharyngeal fricative). Larger roots are also common and can have up to five consonants: sḫdḫd "be upside-down".
Vowels and other consonants are added to the root to derive different
meanings, as Arabic, Hebrew, and other
Egyptian nouns can be masculine or feminine (the latter is indicated, as with other Afroasiatic languages, by adding a -t) and singular or plural (-w / -wt), or dual (-wy / -ty).
Articles , both definite and indefinite, do not occur until Late Egyptian but are used widely thereafter.
Egyptian has three different types of personal pronouns : suffix, enclitic (called "dependent" by Egyptologists) and independent pronouns. There are also a number of verbal endings added to the infinitive to form the stative and are regarded by some linguists as a "fourth" set of personal pronouns. They bear close resemblance to their Semitic counterparts. The three main sets of personal pronouns are as follows:
SUFFIX DEPENDENT INDEPENDENT
1ST SG. -ı͗ wı͗ ı͗nk
2ND SG. M. -k tw ntk
2ND SG. F. -t tn ntt
3RD SG. M. -f sw ntf
3RD SG. F. -s sy nts
1ST PL. -n n ı͗nn
2ND PL. -tn tn nttn
3RD PL. -sn sn ntsn
Demonstrative pronouns have separate masculine and feminine singular forms and common plural forms for both genders:
MAS. FEM. PLU. MEANING
pn tn nn this, that, these, those
pf tf nf that, those
pw tw nw this, that, these, those (archaic)
pꜣ tꜣ nꜣ this, that, these, those (colloquial & Late Egyptian)
Finally are interrogative pronouns.They bear a close resemblance to their Semitic and Berber counterparts:
PRONOUN MEANING DEPENDENCY
mı͗ who / what Dependent
ptr who / what Independent
iḫ what Dependent
ı͗šst what Independent
zı͗ which Independent ivory (Egyptian ꜣbw, literally 'ivory, elephant'); pharaoh (Egyptian 𓉐𓉻 pr-ꜥꜣ, literally "great house", transmitted via Greek); sack (Egyptian 𓆷𓈎𓄜 šꜣq, "bag", via Greek) and the proper names Phinehas (Egyptian pꜣ-nḥsy, used as a generic term for Nubian foreigners) and Susan (Egyptian sšn, literally "lily flower"; probably transmitted first from Egyptian into Hebrew Shoshanah).
Ancient Egyptian literature
* ^ There is evidence of Bohairic having a phonemic glottal stop: Loprieno (1995 :44). * ^ In other dialects, the graphemes are used only for clusters of a stop followed by /h / and were not used for aspirates: see Loprieno (1995 :248).
* ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank,
Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Egyptian (Ancient)".
Glottolog 2.7 . Jena:
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
* ^ A B Allen, James P. (2013-07-11). The Ancient Egyptian
Language: An Historical Study. Cambridge University Press. p. 2. ISBN
* ^ The language may have survived in isolated pockets in Upper
* Allen, James P. (2000). Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs. Cambridge University press. ISBN 0-521-65312-6 . * Callender, John B. (1975). Middle Egyptian. Undena Publications. ISBN 0-89003-006-5 . * Loprieno, Antonio (1995). Ancient Egyptian: A linguistic introduction. Cambridge University press. ISBN 0-521-44384-9 . * Satzinger, Helmut (2008). "What happened to the voiced consonants of Egyptian?" (PDF). 2. Acts of the X International Congress of Egyptologists. pp. 1537–1546.
* Loprieno, Antonio, Ancient Egyptian: A Linguistic Introduction, Cambridge University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-521-44384-9 (hbk) ISBN 0-521-44849-2 (pbk) * Peust, Carsten, Egyptian phonology : an introduction to the phonology of a dead language, Peust ;background:none transparent;border:none;-moz-box-shadow:none;-webkit-box-shadow:none;box-shadow:none;">v
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