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Egyptian Language 101: Discover the Development of the ‘’Holy Writing’’


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Once you hear the words “Egyptian Language,” you’re most probably thinking: Hieroglyphs!

That’s right. 

But the Egyptian language today is totally different than thousands of years ago. Of course, Egyptians are not writing birds and hands signs to communicate. 

However, it might be surprising to know that some words from the ancient languages are still used today.

In fact, Egyptian Language is divided into more than one type according to the time and the place. It is developed over the centuries and every dialect has its characteristics. 

Today, the official Egyptian language is the Egyptian Arabic.

Thorough out this article, you will learn how the language has evolved over centuries until this very day. 

Let’s delve it!

The Ancient Egyptian Language

The Egyptian language is considered to be the oldest known indigenous language of Egypt and it is also a branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. It is part of the Afro-Asiatic group of languages. The spoken language had evolved into Demotic by the time of Classical Antiquity and then it turned into Coptic by the time of Christianization. It remained in a form of Coptic language till the late 17th century AD. There are written records of the ancient Egyptian language found dated from about 3200 BC.

Egyptian Language Hieroglyph

Egyptian Hieroglyph is a part of the Egyptian ancient language. It was believed by Herodotus that Egyptian hieroglyph was something sacred; so that, it was named as ‘holy writing’. The word hieroglyph itself is a Greek word means the “gods’ words”. The Egyptian hieroglyphic language was evolved into hieratic and demotic.

Egyptian Language Hieroglyph Alphabet


Egyptian Language Development

The Egyptian language is divided into six major chronological divisions:

Archaic Egyptian (before 2600 BC)

This language was represented in inscriptions from the late Pre dynastic and Early Dynastic period. 

Old Egyptian (2600 BC – 2000 BC)

It was represented in the Pyramid texts which are considered to be the greatest body of literature written in this phase of the language.

Middle Egyptian (2000 BC – 1300 BC)

It was represented in a variety of textual evidence in hieroglyphic and hieratic scripts.

Late Egyptian (1300 BC – 700 BC)

It was represented in a rich collection of religious and secular literature.

Demotic (17th century BC – 5th century AD)

It refers to the ancient Egyptian script derived from northern forms of hieratic, in addition to, the Egyptian language stage following Late Egyptian and preceding Coptic.

Coptic (4th-14th century AD)

Coptic was the last phase of the ancient Egyptian language. It is the direct descendant of the ancient language written in Egyptian hieroglyphics, hieratic, and demotic scripts. Coptic still exists as it is considered a liturgical language of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

What is the Egyptian language today?

Egyptian Colloquial Arabic

Egyptian Arabic or Egyptian colloquial Arabic is the most widely spoken language in Egypt and it is also the common national language in the country. 68% of people in Egypt use Egyptian Arabic. Moreover, it is the main language used in media forms such as advertising, films and programs; it is also sometimes used in literature such as plays and novels. Cairo is the most prominent form of Egyptian Arabic.


Standard Arabic

Modern Standard Arabic or MSA is the official language of 22 Arab countries, many in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and Northern Africa. It is one of the most common languages spoken in the world. Besides, it is one of the United Nations official languages. It is spoken by only 1.6% of the population in Egypt. However, it is still used in some forms of media such as newscasts, some programs, films, cartoons, plays, poems and novels. MSA is mainly represented in Islamic texts as the language of the Quran is Arabic.

To conclude, the Egyptian language nowadays is totally different from the Egyptian language in ancient times. It was spoken in ancient Egypt and was a branch of the Afro-Asiatic languages. The ancient Egyptian language was one of the most popular languages that continued for centuries. The history of the language is divided into six periods. The Coptic language is the last phase of the ancient Egyptian language and it still exists till now in the Coptic Orthodox Church. Today, Egyptian Arabic is the common national language in Egypt; it can be divided into colloquial Arabic which is the main language used among people and the modern standard Arabic which is less used.

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