So as many of you know there has been a ongoing “feud” among anthropologists and historians alike on what the cradle of civilization was. Many believe it was Mesopotamia (I’m among those people) and the others believe that it was Egypt. There are many parallels when it comes to these two regions especially when talking about technology, language and mythology. This feud had become so bad that these two regions are hardly ever studied together.
For example my Mesopotamian Civilizations class hardly ever mentioned the Egyptians when talking about the wars, kings, religion, etc. The only time my professor mentioned Egypt was to point out this split when it comes to the study of the Ancient World. Now usually I am on the side of Mesopotamia that they had more innovations and ultimately lead to how we live our lives (hell I even wrote my entrance essay for UMD on that) but today I’m going to touch on Egypt and the progression of language.
We’ll pretend for a second that I love the Egyptians more (and that they’re not egocentric idiots) to explain their development of their language. There development is actually quite ingenious and fascinating to study (and I can see my Mes. Civ. Professor rolling his eyes now). They had four stages of their language: First stage Hieroglyphics, second stage Hieratic, third stage Demotic, and fourth stage Coptic.
Hieroglyphics was one of the first writing systems developed by man, 5000 years ago. Hieroglyphics are phonetic (representing a sound). Hieroglyphic was the earliest script form of Egyptian. It was a recognizable forms that to represent a person, an object, or an idea. They could be combined with different signs to spell out the words of the spoken language. However, the hieroglyphic indicates consonants only. Hieroglyphic was used for formal inscriptions, and mainly found on stone, pottery, and ivory.
Hieratic was used until 650 BC. It was a more simple style of writing compared to Hieroglyphics. Hieratic was adopted from hieroglyphic script for a quicker record of non-monumental context. It was a more fluent form of script than Hieroglyphics. It was a script for administration and business use that to record literature, scientific, and religious documents. Hieratic was written in black ink with a brush made of reed or a reed pen. The scribes wrote on papyri and ostraca (fragments of pottery or stone used as writing surfaces). It was always written from right to left.
Demotic script was used from 650 BC - AD 450. Demotic comes from Greek, meaning popular script. It was simplified to use for daily purposes. Yet, it derived directly from hieratic, making it difficult to read and almost impossible to transcribe into any hieroglyphic counterpart. It was a cursive script with no more icons or pictures. It was maintained in horizontal lines and written right to left. Demotic texts were generally administrative, legal and commercial. A few are literary compositions, scientific and religious texts.
Coptic was used from AD 100 - AD 640. Coptic derived via Arabic from the Greek word Aiguptios, 'Egyptian.’ It was spoken by Egyptian Christians. It is considered the final phase of Egyptian language. Coptic script consisted with borrowings from Greek and different Semitic languages. It consisted of 24 letters from the Greek alphabet, each letter representing a single sound. There were also 6 signs from Demotic, for sounds not represented in Greek. It became a fully alphabetic script with vowels and consonants
The decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs was made possible by discovery of the Rosetta Stone, found in 1799 by Napoleonic troops fighting in Egypt. Although the stone was first the possession of a French officer, the victorious British demanded (and ultimately got) it, and it currently resides in the British Museum.
So what does this all boil down to? Well I have a very ingenious example that I came up with to further break down this progression:
Picture of someone walking through a door then coming back → Be right back →
brb → Someone saying the words “be right back”
Hopefully that puts it more in perspective so that you all can understand the progression and understand how language works. Now that I got that off my chest I can go back to my thoughts that the Mesopotamians were the better ones. I mean come on Ziggurats are awesome are they not? What about the fact that they carved everything into stone so we have long records of them? Okay, okay I’ll leave that for another day I guess.
Image Courtesy of fontriver.com