Egyptian language

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Egyptian (also: Egyptian Coptic or Chemish ) is the language of ancient Egypt and includes - as a younger voice level - including the Coptic , the language of the Copts (Egyptian Christians). It is an independent branch of the Afro-Asian language family to which u. a. also include the Hebrew , Arabic and the Berber languages . With around 5000 years of tradition, Egyptian is the language that has been documented in writing for the longest time worldwide.

Coptic, the latest stage of development, was handed down into modern times, but the pre-Coptic Egyptian was only made possible with the discovery of the Rosette stone in 1799. This is a large stele on which a decree of a Ptolemaic king was written in two languages, Greek and Egyptian, and in three scripts, Greek , Demotic and Hieroglyphic . By comparing the texts, Jean-François Champollion laid the foundations for the development of Egyptian.

Linguistic position

Egyptian is considered a branch of the Afro-Asian language family and is unique as a branch of language within it in that it comprises only a single language. However, it is possible that the language of during the Old Kingdom based in the western desert Ḥ3.tjw-ˁ represents a separate branch of the Egyptian (see. To the Ḥ3.tjw-ˁ belonging personal names ḫwj.t-jtj = s "of the her father protected ”and ws3 , which could be related to Egyptian wsr.w “ the strong ”). In addition to specifically Egyptian features such as suffix conjugation, the morphology also shows clear parallels to other Afro-Asian languages, especially Semitic and Berber languages . Exploring the lexical parallels is less certain; There is still no consensus in Egyptology on some fundamental questions of phonetic correspondence between Egyptian and other branches of Afro-Asian.

While there have been various attempts to further break down the Afro-Asian languages, there is no consensus as to which branches of Afro-Asian Egyptian is most closely related to. It is striking that Egyptian has apparently completely lost the Afro-Asian prefix conjugation at an early stage, whereas the tripod formed with suffixes in the form of the Egyptian pseudoparticiple and fragmentary in Coptic quality was retained. In the area of nominal inflection , the ending - w has prevailed in Egyptian from the numerous original plurals , while all other educational options have been suppressed. Only a plural through vowel changes cannot be ruled out. In the area of ​​the sound system, too, Egyptian shows a number of significant changes.

In addition to Afro-Asian lexemes, the Egyptian word material also shows similarities with other African language families, mainly the Niger-Congo languages .


A distinction is made between the following language levels:

  1. Early Egyptian language (language of the pre- and early dynastic times); around 3300 BC Until around 2700 BC Chr .; is often counted as part of ancient Egyptian
  2. Ancient Egyptian language (language of the Old Kingdom ); around 2700 BC Until around 2200 BC Chr.
  3. Middle Egyptian language (language of the Middle Kingdom ); around 2200 BC Until around 1500 BC Chr .;
  4. New Egyptian language (language of the New Kingdom ); approx. 1500 BC Until approx. 700 BC Chr.
  5. Demotic (language of the late Egyptian Empire); around 700 BC Until around 400 AD
  6. Coptic (language of Christian Egypt); around 300 to around 1700

Middle Egyptian was considered the classical language throughout Egyptian antiquity and was used for public, but especially for religious, texts up to the Roman period. It differs only slightly from the ancient Egyptian and is combined with it in one group ("older Egyptian"). As in the New Kingdom in the Amarna period , around the 14th century BC BC, the gap between the Middle Egyptian and the spoken language grew larger and larger, the New Egyptian began to be used in letters and stories.

In addition to the demotic and the Coptic, Greek was widely used as a written language in Egypt from the Greek colonization until the victory of Islam . Egyptian was replaced by Arabic as a colloquial language around the 11th century . It was used locally in Upper Egypt until the 19th century. Today an Arabic dialect is spoken in Egypt , the Egyptian-Arabic . The general written language today is standard Arabic .

Late Middle Egyptian of the late period and Ptolemaic Egyptian of the Greco-Roman period occupy a special position . They are written languages ​​used in certain cases that are not based on the corresponding spoken language, but on Middle Egyptian of the Middle Kingdom. A collective term for various forms of language from the 1st millennium BC Is the late Egyptian .

Typology and language change

The long period of time and the large number of documents handed down make it possible to trace the development of Egyptian in great detail. Similar changes in grammar can also be found in the development of other, unrelated languages.

Ancient and Middle Egyptian had no article . The tense system , i.e. the chronological classification of an action, was of secondary importance and on an equal footing with other aspects such as the permanence or repetition of an action. Auxiliary verbs were rarely used. The possessive pronouns were added to the noun as an ending ( suffix pronouns ).

New Egyptian showed many changes compared to its predecessors: The preferred word order changed from the older verb-subject-object (VSO) to SVO. Certain articles and possessive pronouns emerged. The aspects were combined with adverbs and Ä. reproduced; In addition, a verb tense system was introduced that is very similar to the German system. The inflection of the verbs gave way more and more to the use of an inflected auxiliary verb in combination with an unbowed verb, similar to our infinitive or participle (cf. I thought - I thought). Many differences also emerged in the lexicon, including a. through the adoption of numerous Semitic loanwords into New Egyptian. In contrast to Middle Egyptian, New Egyptian remained dynamic as a written language, i.e. In other words, it continued to develop and changed into demotic and finally into Coptic , without any further break in development. At the same time, strong phonetic changes were noticeable, unstressed vowels and the ending .t of the feminine disappeared .


Until Christianization, hieroglyphs or their italics, the hieratic , were used in writing . The hieratic was created in the time of the strings , around 700 BC. In everyday use it was replaced by a lower-Egyptian shorthand, the demotic, and then used, similar to the hieroglyphs, primarily for religious texts. Coptic was and is written with its own script developed from the Greek alphabet , the Coptic alphabet , and is still the liturgical language in the Coptic Orthodox Church to this day .




Relationship with other Afro-Asian languages

  • Otto Rössler : Egyptian as a Semitic language . In: Franz Altheim , Ruth Stiehl : Christianity on the Red Sea . de Gruyter, Berlin et al. 1971, ISBN 3-11-003790-4 , vol. 1, pp. 263–326, (key work of the Rössler school).
  • Gábor Takács: Etymological Dictionary of Egyptian . Brill, Leiden et al. 1999-running. (= Handbuch der Orientalistik , First Department 48, ISSN  0169-9423 ), (2 volumes published until 2009), (Represents the traditional reconstruction of the consonant system).
  • Gábor Takács: Semitic-Egyptian Relations. In: In: Stefan Weninger et al. (eds.): The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook. de Gruyter - Mouton, Berlin 2011, pp. 7-18.


  • Elmar Edel : Ancient Egyptian grammar. 2 volumes (= Analecta Orientalia 34/39). Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, Rome 1955–1964.
  • AH Gardiner : Egyptian Grammar. 3. Edition. Oxford University Press, London et al. 1957, (Basic, especially in the verbal system, sometimes outdated reference grammar of Middle Egyptian, with the Gardiner list and word lists English-Egyptian and Egyptian-English in the appendix).
  • Boyo G. Ockinga: Middle Egyptian grammar. 2nd revised edition. von Zabern, Mainz 2005, ISBN 3-8053-3600-4 .
  • Boyo G. Ockinga: Concise Grammar of Middle Egyptian. 2nd revised edition. von Zabern, Mainz 2005, ISBN 3-8053-3601-2 .
  • Jaroslav Černý / Sarah Israelit Groll / Christopher Eyre: A Late Egyptian Grammar . 3rd updated edition. Biblical Institute Press, Rome 1984, ( Studia Pohl Series maior 4).
  • Friedrich Junge : Introduction to the grammar of New Egyptian . 2nd improved edition. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1996, ISBN 3-447-04073-4 .
  • Janet H. Johnson: Thus Wrote 'Onchsheshonqy - An Introductory Grammar of Demotic (= Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization (SAOC) 45, ISSN  0081-7554 ). 3rd edition. The Oriental Institute, Chicago 2000, ISBN 0-918986-76-1 , online .
  • Wolfgang Kosack : * Short language teaching of Middle Egyptian. Verlag Christoph Brunner, Basel 2013, ISBN 978-3-9524018-8-0 .
  • Dieter Kurth: Introduction to Ptolemaic. A grammar with a list of characters and exercises. Vol. 1. 3rd edition. Backe-Verlag, Hützel 2008, ISBN 978-3-9810869-1-1 .
  • Thomas Oden Lambdin: Introduction to Sahidic Coptic. Mercer University Press, Macon GA 1983, ISBN 0-86554-048-9 .


Text output

  • Kurt Sethe : The ancient Egyptian pyramid texts based on the paper prints and photographs of the Berlin Museum . 4 volumes. Hinrichs, Leipzig 1908-1922, Volume 1 , Volume 2
  • Wolfgang Kosack : The ancient Egyptian pyramid texts. In a new German translation; completely edited and edited by Wolfgang Kosack; Christoph Brunner, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-9524018-1-1 .
  • Georg Steindorff (Ed.): Documents of Egyptian antiquity . Hinrichs, Leipzig 1904 ff.
    • Volume 1: Kurt Sethe: Documents of the Old Kingdom . Leipzig 1933
    • Volume 2: Kurt Sethe: Hieroglyphic documents of the Greco-Roman times . Leipzig 1904
    • Volume 3: Heinrich Schäfer : Documents of the older Ethiopian kings . Leipzig 1905
    • Volume 4: Kurt Sethe: Documents of the 18th Dynasty . 4 volumes, Leipzig 1906–1909
    • Volume 5: Hermann Grapow: Religious documents . Leipzig 1915-1917
    • Volume 6: Siegfried Schott: Documents of mythological content . Leipzig 1929
    • Volume 7: Kurt Sethe (†): Historical-biographical documents of the Middle Kingdom . Leipzig 1935


  • Carsten Peust: Hieroglyphic word for word . Reise Know-How Verlag Peter Rump GmbH, ISBN 3-89416-317-8 , (= gibberish. 115).

(Language level: New Egyptian)

Web links

Commons : Egyptian language  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Gerhard Fecht: The Ḥ3.tjw-ˁ von Ṯḥnw, an Egyptian people in the western desert. in: Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländische Gesellschaft Volume 106, Issue 1 1956 (= New Series Volume 31) Steiner, Wiesbaden 1956. pp. 37–60. The interpretation is criticized by: Rafed El-Sayed: African-born loan vocabulary in older Egyptian: Studies on Egyptian-African lexical interference in the third and second millennium BC Chr . Peeters, Leuven 2011, ISBN 978-90-429-2572-4 .
  2. cf. More recently: Helmut Satzinger : Afroasiatischer Sprachvergleich. in: S. Grunert, I. Hafemann (ed.): Text corpus and dictionary. Aspects of Egyptian Lexicography (= Problems of Egyptology. Vol. 14) Brill, Leiden / Boston / Cologne 1999 ISBN 90-04-22536-6 , pp. 367–386.
  3. Wolfgang Schenkel: From the work on a concordance to the ancient Egyptian coffin texts (= Göttinger Orientforschungen. IV. Series, vol. 12). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1983, ISBN 3-447-02335-X .
  4. Takács: Etymological Dictionary. Vol. I, pp. 38-46.