Through its more than 3.000 year long history, it is but natural that the language of the Ancient Egyptians changed and evolved both grammatically and semantically. Considering grammatical evolution, several linguistic stages, more or less coinciding with important stages in history can be distinguished.
Old Egyptian is the language of the Early Dynastic Period and the Old Kingdom. This includes the language of the so-called Pyramid Texts, which displays some peculiarities of its own. Most texts of this period are official or religious, with funerary inscriptions and some biographical texts.
The earliest samples are dated to about 3.200 BC, seveal generations before the reign of Narmer, who is to be considered as the first king of the 1st Dynasty. These samples are nothing more than simple words and names of places. By Narmer's time, the texts become a bit more verbose, but it would take until the 3rd Dynasty before longer texts were written.
Middle Egyptian is a more evolved form of Old Egyptian. This language became the classical language of the Egyptian texts and it was used from the 1st Intermediate Period to the Greek-Roman Period. After the Middle Kingdom, however, it was only used in monumental and religious texts, contaminated with some popular elements.
The grammar of Middle Egyptian is well known and understood, thanks to the larger variety of texts, which include religious inscriptions, medical and scientific texts as well as literature and wsidom texts. Works of literature include the story of Sinuhe, the Shipwrecked Sailor, the Eloquent Peasant and the Conversation of a Man with his Ba.
Late Egyptian (or New Egyptian) was the vernacular used from the 18th Dynasty on, which found its way in writing, mainly in business documents and letters. From the 19th Dynasty on, however, it is also used in monumental inscriptions, literary texts, ... The difference between Late Egyptian and Middle Egyptian is far greater than the difference between Old and Middle Egyptian. This is possibly due to the fact that Late Egyptian is closer to the spoken language than Old and Middle Egyptian ever were. There is a larger variey of verbal constructions that are used to distinguish past, present and future tenses.
Demotic is an ambiguous word that refers to the language of the Late Dynastic Period as found in several documents and books as well as to the writing used for many texts from the 25th Dynasty on. Texts using the demotic grammar are not always written in demotic writing, and texts written in demotic writing do not always use the demotic grammar.
The Demotic grammar is a further evolution of Late Egyptian, which, by the Late Dynastic Period, must have been as archaic as Middle and Old Egyptian.
Coptic is the last stage of the Ancient Egyptian language. It was written using the Greek alphabet, with some additional characters for sounds unknown to Greek, and was mainly used by the Egyptian Christians. Next to the writing, Coptic was also influenced by Greek in its vocabulary. It was gradually replaced as a spoken language by Arabic from the Arab conquest of Egypt in 640 AD on and is now only used as a liturgical language (such as Latin in Europe was during the Middle-Ages). The language used by modern Egyptians is Arabic.
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|The Ancient Egypt Site created by Jacques Kinnaer||
Last update: 25 July, 2009