Why Study Ancient Egyptian?
- Ancient Egyptian is one of five branches of a family of languages spoken in North Africa and the ancient Near East called Afro-Asiatic (also known as Hamito-Semitic). The ancient Egyptian language survives in modern-day Coptic, the language of Christian Egyptians. The language spoken by everyone in Egypt today is Arabic, which is also remotely related to Ancient Egyptian.
- Ancient Egyptian was the language of the people who built the pyramids, erected monumental temples that still stand today, and carved and decorated the tombs in the so-called Valley of the Kings. Their texts tell us about their afterlife beliefs and history, their state and economic systems, and even their medical treatments, and they reveal what amused these people and what they found sad. They also teach us that human concerns have not changed all that much over the last 5,000 years, and discerning such consistency can be one of the most fascinating aspects of studying this language.
- Ancient Egyptian is still present today, in terms such as "ebony" and "gum", which are direct descendants of ancient Egyptian words, and the name Susan, which derives - via Hebrew - from the ancient Egyptian word for "lotus flower".
- The earliest records written in Egyptian go back to the late fourth millennium B.C.E., which makes Ancient Egyptian one of the very earliest written languages in the world, and the latest hieroglyphic inscription is found at the
temple of Philae and is dated to 394 C.E. The hieroglyphic “picture script” of Egypt has fascinated scholars for millennia, and it is not only beautiful to look at but also unique within the broader context of the Ancient World.
- Ancient Egyptian was the language of the people who built the pyramids, erected monumental temples that still stand today, and carved and decorated
the tombs in the so-called Valley of the Kings.
- Throughout its three thousand-year history, ancient Egyptian evolved from Old Egyptian to Middle Egyptian to Late Egyptian, and later to Demotic and Coptic. Besides in hieroglyphic, it was also written in the cursive Hieratic and, later, the Demotic and Coptic scripts. With some exceptions, all of these can be studied at the UofT.
- Students interested in ancient Egypt, the ancient Near East, and the archaeology of the area will benefit from a reading knowledge of ancient Egyptian, the language of one of the most influential cultures in the ancient world.
- How can you learn to read hieroglyphs? There are so many pictures!
Once you've learned a number of hieroglyphic signs you can start reading easy Egyptian words, after which you start building up your vocabulary and go on to short sentences. In fact, you will soon find that it is often much easier to remember a “picture” sign than a(n abstracted) letter. The rest is pretty much like anything you've ever
done: practice, practice, practice.
- Is studying ancient Egyptian hard?
All university students willing to put in the time to do the work should be capable of learning ancient Egyptian. The introductory class is designed to teach the language to beginners, with ample time for practice. Specialists in NMC as well as students studying a variety of other disciplines, such as anthropology, science, and even pharmacy and medicine, have enjoyed studying
this ancient language. In some ways, Egyptian is easier than Greek and Latin, because, unlike those, ancient Egyptian has no case endings. Like
English and French, much is done with word order. How convenient!
- Isn't ancient Egyptian a dead language?
You can't converse in ancient Egyptian (except perhaps with crazy scholars!), but the primary purpose of learning this language is to read the ancient texts. There's something magical about being able to decipher a story that's over three thousand old, as if an ancient Egyptian
is reaching across time to talk to you directly. You can also get more out of a visit to a museum if you can read the original "captions" on the objects themselves, or if you ever get to visit Egypt itself.