The Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs

Fig. 1

Middle Egyptian, written by Proffessor James Allen, introduces the reader to the writing system of ancient Egypt and the language of hieroglyphic texts. It explores the most important aspects of ancient Egyptian history, society, religion, literature, and language. Grammar lessons and cultural essays allows users not only to read hieroglyphic texts but also to understand them, providing the foundation for understanding texts on monuments and reading great works of ancient Egyptian literature. This third edition is revised and reorganized, particularly in its approach to the verbal system, based on recent advances in understanding the language. (The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 1).

1. Language and Writing

1.1 Family
Egyptian is the ancient and original language of Egypt. It belongs to the language family known as Afro-Asiatic or Hamito-Semitic and is related to both of that family’s branches: North African languages such as Berber and Beja, and Asiatic languages such as Arabic, Ethiopic, and Hebrew. Within Afro-Asiatic, Egyptian is unique. It has features that are common to both branches, although it is closer to the African side of the family.

1.2 History

Egyptian first appeared in writing shortly before 3200 BC and remained a living language until the eleventh century AD1. Beginning with the Muslim conquest of Egypt in AD 641, Arabic gradually replaced Egyptian as the dominant language in Egypt. Today, the language of Egypt is Arabic. Egyptian is a dead language, like Latin, which can only be studied in writing, though it is still spoken in the rituals of the Coptic (Egyptian Christian) Church. Throughout its long lifetime, Egyptian underwent tremendous changes. Scholars classify its history into two phases and five major stages:

Earlier Egyptian

1) Old Egyptian is the first stage of the language. Although Egyptian writing is first attested before 3200 BC, these early inscriptions (called Archaic Egyptian) consist only of names and labels. Old Egyptian proper is dated from approximately 2700 BC, when the first extensive texts appeared, until about 2100 BC.

2) Middle Egyptian (or Classical Egyptian) is closely related to Old Egyptian. First attested around 2100 BC, it survived as a spoken language for some five hundred years but remained the standard hieroglyphic language for the rest of ancient Egyptian history. Middle Egyptian is the phase of the language discussed in this book.

Later Egyptian

3)Late Egyptian began to replace Middle Egyptian as the spoken language after 1600 BC, and it remained in use until about 600 BC. Though descended from Old and Middle Egyptian, Late Egyptian differed substantially from the earlier phases, particularly in grammar. Traces of Late Egyptian can be found in texts earlier than 1600 BC, but it did not appear as a full written language until after 1300 BC.

4) Demotic developed out of Late Egyptian. It first appeared around 650 BC and survived until the fifth century AD.

5) Coptic is the name given to the final stage of ancient Egyptian, which is closely related to Demotic. It appeared at the end of the first century AD and was spoken for nearly a thousand years thereafter. The last known texts written by native speakers of Coptic date to the eleventh century AD.

1.3 Dialects
Egyptian also had several dialects. These regional differences in speech and writing are best attested in Coptic, which had five major dialects. They can only be partly detected in the writing of earlier phases of Egyptian, but they undoubtedly existed then as well: a letter from about 1200 BC complains that a correspondent’s language is as incomprehensible as that of a northern Egyptian speaking with an Egyptian from the south. The southern dialect of Coptic, known as Saidic, was the classical form; the northern one, called Bohairic, is the dialect used in Coptic Church services today.

1.4 Hieroglyphs
The basic writing system of ancient Egyptian consisted of about five hundred common signs, known as hieroglyphs. The term “hieroglyph” comes from two Greek words meaning “sacred carvings,” which are a translation, in turn, of the Egyptians’ own name for their writing system, “the god’s speech.” Each sign in this system is a hieroglyph, and the system as a whole is called hieroglyphic (not “hieroglyphics”).

Unlike Mesopotamian cuneiform or Chinese, whose beginnings can be traced over several hundred years, hieroglyphic writing seems to appear in Egypt suddenly, around 3250 BC, as a complete system. Scholars are divided in their opinions about its origins. Some suggest that the earlier, developmental stages of hieroglyphic were written on perishable materials, such as wood, and simply have not survived. Others argue that the system could have been invented all at once by an unknown genius. Although it was once thought that the idea of writing came to Egypt from Mesopotamia, recent discoveries indicate that writing arose independently in Egypt.

People since the ancient Greeks have tried to understand this system as a mystical encoding of secret wisdom, but hieroglyphic is no more mysterious than any other system that has been used to record language. Basically, hieroglyphic is nothing more than the way the ancient Egyptians wrote their language . To read hieroglyphic, therefore, you have to learn the Egyptian language.

[1]  Some scholars prefer BCE and CE rather than BC and AD. Because both conventions use the same benchmark (see Essay 9), however, this book retains the older system.

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Read the full excerpt from Middle Egyptian, An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs, here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Study of Language by George Yule | 5th Edition

The Study of Language has proven itself to be the student and instructor choice for first courses in language and linguistics because of its accessible approach to, what is often, a complicated subject. In every edition, readers have praised the book for being easy to follow, simple to understand, and fun to read, with its quirky anecdotes and examples of languages from around the world. Now in its fifth edition, it is further strengthened by the addition of new student ‘tasks’ (guiding readers to connect theory to real-world scenarios), including examples from even more foreign languages, and updating the text to reflect the most current linguistic theory. We will also be offering an enriched learning experience with our new enhanced eBook (publishing in Autumn), which will include pop-up glossary terms, embedded audio and interactive questioning. All of these features make this the most student-friendly edition of the textbook yet.

 

The Study of Language

Paragraph above by Valerie Appleby, Development Editor, Cambridge University Press

Writing Essays in English Language and Linguistics

by Neil Murray

When it comes to writing, academic disciplines – particularly those within the humanities and social sciences – have a good deal in common and, for the most part, they share very similar expectations of students’ writing.

However, despite such similarity, each discipline also tends to have its own particular set of conventions, its own way of doing things, and the fields of English language and linguistics are certainly no exception. The variation that can exist between the writing practices of different disciplines can leave students who are just starting out on course assignments or research projects uncertain about what exactly they should be doing and how. Although libraries or student services units will often produce guides to help them navigate this territory, these tend to be generic rather than discipline-specific; and while individual departments may give their students guidance on how to write within their particular discipline, such guidance is often sketchy at best, providing only a few general pointers and often leaving them with more questions than answers.

Writing Essays in English Language and LinguisticsMy new book Writing Essays in English Language and Linguistics uncovers, for the intending or newly-enrolled student, some of the particularities of writing English language and linguistics essays and research projects. In doing so, it presents discipline-specific guidance on such things as assignment questions, information sources, the nature of evidence, referencing, stylistic issues and formatting, alongside much that is more generic and applicable to other areas of academic inquiry. All examples, tasks and illustrations are English language/linguistics related and many are authentic.

The book has been written in a style which, I hope, is engaging and easily accessible to undergraduate students. In order to clarify explanations, it includes numerous examples, as well as tasks designed to help you test and consolidate your understanding of the ideas presented. It also includes ‘tips’ – experience-based insights to help you improve your writing and avoid common pitfalls. Finally, there’s a handy section on Frequently-Asked Questions and a glossary of linguistics terms.

Neil Murray is Associate Professor in Applied Linguistics at the University of South Australia, and has over 30 years’ experience of lecturing in the subject.

Writing Essays in English Language and Linguistics is available from Cambridge University Press at £16.99 / $27.99

 

Lexical Meaning

NEW TEXTBOOK: Lexical Meaning, M. Lynne MurphyLexical Meaning

The ideal introduction for students of semantics, Lexical Meaning fills the gap left by more general semantics textbooks, providing the teacher and the student with insights into word meaning beyond the traditional overviews of lexical relations. The book explores the relationship between word meanings and syntax and semantics more generally. It provides a balanced overview of the main theoretical approaches, along with a lucid explanation of their relative strengths and weaknesses. After covering the main topics in lexical meaning, such as polysemy and sense relations, the textbook surveys the types of meanings represented by different word classes. It explains abstract concepts in clear language, using a wide range of examples, and includes linguistic puzzles in each chapter to encourage the student to practise using the concepts. ‘Adopt-a-Word’ exercises give students the chance to research a particular word, building a portfolio of specialist work on a single word.

‘A lucid, explanatory, problem-oriented textbook promoting original student research. The Adopt-a-Word scheme is ingenious.’ Carita Paradis, Linnaeus University

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