The Egyptian language is the earliest known language in history. The most ancient written records show that they were written back in 3400 BC when no other form of writing was developed elsewhere in the old civilization. The language was used up to the latter part of the 17th century AD in Coptic form. Gradually, Coptic became less spoken and was eventually replaced by Egyptian Arabic, now widely used as the national tongue of Egypt in this modern age. The development of Coptic language in Egypt came about after the Muslims invaded the country. Nonetheless, Coptic is still spoken and recognized today in the religious ceremonies of the Coptic Church.
The Egyptian language is a part of the Afroasiatic language family or the former Hamito-Semitic. Among its features are fusional morphology, consonantal lexical roots, emphatic consonants, three-vowel system, nominal feminine suffix and some characteristic verbal affixes. The morphological form of Egyptian language, although recorded early on, does not bear similarity with the rest of Afroasiatic language family. It is actually Semitic, which means that the Egyptian language has been through some changes even before it was officially recorded through writing.
Form of writing
One of the most prominent features of the Egyptian language is its written form. Early Egyptians attributed writing as an invention of Thoth, one of their ancient gods. Egyptian writing was called hieroglyphic script, meaning god’s words. Hieroglyph originated from the Greek word “hieros” or sacred and “glypho” or inscriptions. Egyptians used this form of writing as early as 3400 BC with the latest recorded inscriptions dating back to 396 AD. The inscriptions were done mostly on papyrus for the purpose of recording events and communicating messages to the public. More hieroglyphic writings were discovered in caves, stones, walls and other surfaces whichever the Egyptian people found available and convenient to inscribe on. Hieroglyphics consisted of symbols, each representing an individual consonant, vowel and numeral to complete a whole set of symbolic language widely used for centuries.
Old Egyptian language
During the Early Dynastic Period and Old Kingdom, the Pyramid Texts evolved. These texts were mostly used for religious purposes as seen in the funeral inscriptions on pyramid walls bearing messages about the biography of the dead person buried in these monuments.
Middle Egyptian language
From the old Egyptian texts rose symbols that came to be the classical Egyptian language used for a certain period covering the First Intermediate to the Greek Roman Period. But beyond this period, Middle Egyptian language was used mainly in monumental inscriptions along with some new features.
Late Egyptian language
Following the Middle period of Egyptian language, a new vernacular surfaced during the 18th Dynasty. This new language became part of the writing system of the Egyptians for their personal, documentary and business correspondence. Inscriptions using this form were also later used in monumental writings in the 19th Dynasty.
The evolution of Egyptian language took a slow progress from the early to the modern spoken and written language. Much later, verbal practice took in other elements that introduced new words and terms as part of outside influence when Egypt became more exposed to other cultures.