Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

Department ofClassics and Ancient
Mediterranean Studies

CAMS 481: Egyptian Language

CAMS 481: Egyptian Language

An introduction to the language and script of Ancient Egypt, familiarizing the student with grammar, syntax and lexicon. CAMS 481 Introduction to Middle Egyptian & Hieroglyphics (3) This course is offered as a basic introduction to that stage in the evolution of the Egyptian language known as ‘Middle Egyptian’ (used as a vernacular c. 2300-1700BC, and as a ‘literary’ dialect c. 2200-1350BC). First encountered in caption texts and snippets of conversation of the workers and peasants in late Old Kingdom mastaba depictions, Middle Egyptian originally was the vernacular of the ‘street’ during the outgoing Old Kingdom. In the upheaval that swept away the monarchy and elite of the Old Kingdom the language which characterized the Pharaonic court (Old Egyptian) was swept away as well. In the subsequent First Intermediate Period, the language that everyone speaks is a lower class register. Middle Egyptian was given a fillip shortly after the turn of the millennium when the new regime of the 12th Dynasty (c. 1991-1786 BC) established a writing school and adopted this dialect as the accepted literary medium. The scribes of this institution produced a number of literary pieces, hymns and poetry which although created in writing, were intended for oral dissemination parlando. They rapidly became classics and were copied and learned by heart for centuries into the future. Middle Egyptian was used in every walk of life from monumental inscriptions, religious, and mortuary texts to letters, business documents and accounts, and the output from Dyn. 12 through 18 was prodigious. Even beyond the 14th Century BC learned scribes would continue to make the attempt at composing in Middle Egyptian, even though the language was no longer spoken, and as a quasi-ecclesiastical speech it continued down to Greco-Roman times. By that time its restriction to temple texts gave the false impression that both language and script had always had the purpose of conveying religious concepts, hence the Greek misnomer ‘hieroglyphs’, i.e. holy script.


Donald Redford
Professor, Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies and History
Pronouns: He/Him