Egyptian as an Additional Language

Photograph of carved hieroglyphs

Hieroglyphic captions in the temple of Senwosret I at Karnak, Luxor, ca. 1900 BC.

Egyptian was the only written language of ancient Egypt and is one of the few languages that was regularly written in hieroglyphic script. The Egyptian language and script were also used in ancient Nubia and Sudan, as far upstream as the confluence of the Blue and the White Nile.

The Egyptian script was invented around 3200 BC and material that is recognizably in the Egyptian language is known from around 3000 BC onward. It continued in use for about three millennia, developing through stages known as Old, Middle, and Late Egyptian, and Demotic, directly into Coptic (the language of Christian Egypt, in use from the early centuries AD). Coptic ceased to be a spoken language in about 1000 AD, but survives in the liturgy of the Coptic Church in Egypt. During the second and first millennia BC the most prestigious form of the language was Middle Egyptian, which was retained in use as a learned language (like Latin) long after it had given way to later forms for ordinary use.

Egyptian is written in a group of scripts known as hieroglyphs, hieratic, and demotic. These are different graphic forms of the same system. Hieroglyphs, which have a pictorial character, were used for formal and monumental purposes, and hieratic for everyday writing and for literary and some religious texts. Demotic developed from hieratic around 700 BC and gradually took over most of its functions. The script system writes words with phonograms (sound-signs) indicating single or multiple consonants (vowels are not written), and also uses logograms (signs writing whole words) and determinatives (classifiers written at the end of words).

Egyptian may be offered as a first or second language within the B.A. in Egyptology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies. Students taking Arabic, Hebrew, or Classics as a main subject may choose Egyptology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies as a second subject, specializing in Egyptian.

The course in Egyptian as a first language lasts nine terms and begins in the first year. Core teaching encompasses all main stages of the language from Old to Late Egyptian, with Coptic and Demotic as options. Egyptian as a second language or within a second subject is studied for six terms; the course begins in the second year of a three-year degree or the third-year of a four-year degree depending on the main subject taken. The focus is on texts written in Middle Egyptian, but Late Egyptian is also studied.