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Ancient Egypt
1. Introduction
2. People
3. Life styles
4. Culture
5. Education and Science
6. Society
7. Economy
8. Government
9. Cities and Villages
10. Language
11. Religion
12. Kings / periods
13. History
14. Map

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Open map of Ancient EgyptAncient Egypt /

Extinct language of Ancient Egypt, a branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family, formerly called Hamito-Semitic.
Ancient Egyptian is usually divided into 5 periods, all referring to the written language. Hence, a stage prior to them all must also be identified, people were not without language or spoke a complete different one.
At the same time, it is important to note that the spoken language could well be very different, and have independent time spans, as well as geographical differences.

0. Archaic Egyptian
This is the stage of Egyptian language prior to any real sources. It is a language related to what was to come, but nothing definite can be said about it.

1. Old Egyptian
The first period starts with the emergence of dynastic Egypt around 3000 BCE, but due to lack of sources it may well be even older. It lasts until about the end of the Old Kingdom, or somewhat into the First Intermediary Period. Hence its end comes around 2180 to 2100 BCE.

2. Middle Egyptian
Gradually a new form of Ancient Egyptian emerged, and corresponds with the Middle Kingdom., and is also called Middle Egyptian. The shift in language was a result of migrations and the discontinuation of central government through the First Intermediary Period.
Middle Egyptian is dated from about 2150 to 1600 BCE, meaning that it survives into the Second Intermediary Period.

3. Late Egyptian
The shift into Late Egyptian happens from the same reasons as during the First Intermediary Period. The immigration and control of the foreign Hyksos people had much impact on language transitions. Late Egyptian is dated from about 1600 to 700 BCE.

4. Demotic and 5. Coptic
The two last period of Ancient Egyptian overlaps. Demotic lasts from about 700 BCE until 400 CE, while Coptic emerges around 150 CE and would continues at least into the 17th century. Coptic developed its own alphabet, in which elements from both Demotic and Greek were mixed. See also Demotic script.

Basic structure
The language of the Egyptians was related to Semitic, but it was also influenced by non-Semitic languages of North Africa.
In the Egyptian language a 3-consonant structure dominates. By this it resembles modern Semitic languages, like Arabic and Hebrew. Short structures may consist of as little as 2 consonants.
In brief, this system involves that a specific combination of 3 consonants contain a special meaning. By changing vowels and adding specific consonants at places, nouns and verbs of related meanings could be constructed.
And since vowels were not written, the reading of Egyptian script is complicated, and victim to misunderstandings. Two different words could well be written similar.
The syntax structure of Egyptian was Verb-Subject-Object, while most modern languages may put the subject first, the verb in the middle.
Egyptian had 2 genders, masculine and feminine. Masculine had no ending to the root form, feminine was indicated by "-at."
Equal to modern Arabic, in addition to singular and plural it had the dual form.
There was no normal form of verb conjunction, rather action was indicated by prefixes or suffixes.

The writing system used by the Egyptians was Hieroglyphic, or Demotic with Hieratic being employed for everyday use. Hieroglyphs were used for monuments and temples.
Egyptian have used 3 forms of writing: hieroglyphs, hieratic script and demotic script.
Neither of these scripts allowed the writing of vowels. From this, much confusion has arisen over the exact pronunciation of words.
Coptic script used an alphabet, with signs for vowels.

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By Tore Kjeilen