The Death of Ancient Egyptian

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The Death of Ancient Egyptian

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jun 22, 2008, 10:37pm

The Egyptians were conquered by Arabs and converted to Islam. In a relatively short time, this ancient people, down to the lowliest illiterate peasant, gave up it's language and adapted Arabic. The culture of a large population was completed displaced by a small number of invaders.

We've read how the Chinese, while maintaining their culture, absorbed many barbaric invaders over the centuries. We know Persia and peoples farther East acceped Islam while preserving their languages. So, what happened in Egypt?

Redigeret: jun 25, 2008, 11:05am

The Egyptians were not completely displaced by the Muslim Arab invaders. The original native community, which had converted to Christianity during the Roman imperial period, is still there as a minority population. They are known as the Copts, and although they use Arabic in everyday life, the liturgical language of the Coptic Orthodox Church is a descendant of the ancient Egyptian language (with Greek influences).

Egypt is not alone. Although countries to the East of Arabia generally retained their own languages, countries to the west of Arabia, from Syria to Morocco, were culturally dominated by Arabic Islam. I have no special knowledge of the field, but I wonder there is a difference in the effect of the Muslim invasion on countries which had previously had their ancient cultures partly effaced by the double effect of Roman occupation and conversion to Christianity. By the time the Arabs arrived, probably most literate Egyptians were speaking Greek anyway, not Egyptian.

feb 15, 2009, 4:35pm

Arabic is dominant, but neither Coptic (in Egypt) nor Berber (in Morocco) are dead languages.

feb 19, 2009, 3:50pm

According to Wikipedia, Coptic pretty much died out as a spoken language in the 17th century. I'm under the impression that Berber is still spoken. None of the Coptic Christians I've met in the U.S. speak Coptic, but the next time the Coptic church in my area has a festival, I will ask them if anyone is speaking it or trying to revive it.

I think it was tough for many Afro-Asiatic languages to be retained under the expansion of Arabic Islam. Saying that, it seems to me that the sub-Saharan Afro-Asiatic languages have fared quite well under Islam.

feb 19, 2009, 4:00pm

Could be Coptic is only kept alive for lithurgical use - maybe that doesn't qualify... My interest in Egypt pretty much ends with the New Kingdom. Never studied that "modern" stuff. ;-)

Berber is - or should I say are, there are several forms - still spoken. For many in the Moroccan community here in Holland it's still their first language - while for others that's Arabic. From what I've been told the divide is still an ethnic thing - going back to the Arab conquest.

Redigeret: feb 19, 2009, 4:04pm

Have been thinking about that original question a bit. Maybe, but I stress maybe, the gradual demise of Coptic is partly due to the fact that is was so closely associated with Christianity (in an overwhelmingly Muslim community). This does not go for Berber, since they are predominantly Muslim too.

feb 19, 2009, 5:41pm

I hadn't really thought of the Coptic case. I'll have to add that to my list of future Afro-Asiatic studies. Thanks for the idea!

In Morocco and its neighbors, the division between speaking Arabic and speaking a Berber language is partly geographical. Minority languages probably survived longer in southern Egypt, but these might not have been Coptic. I know some Nilo-Saharan languages are still spoken in rural areas of Sudan.

feb 19, 2009, 5:58pm

The Coptic Orthodox church in Vienna certainly still teaches Coptic to their children. At a recent open house I attended (fascinating), a class in both written and spoken Copt was one of the activities I took part in. No I did not manage to learn anything even for the duration of the class. I have no idea what language they actually speak at home, but i came away with the impression that the Coptic language is something they are very proud of.

feb 19, 2009, 6:29pm

> 8 : And rightly so, it's a direct descendant of the language spoken in ancient Egypt - a bit like Italian being derived from Latin.

mar 1, 2009, 5:09am

# 2The last Cleopatra, (seventh of that name) although a true Egyptian Pharaoh was also terminus of the Macedorian Ptolemaic line; in addition to Greek and basic Latin, she was the first of that long-lived dynasty to speak Egyptianis said to be have been fluent in Aramaic so could converse with the most of the peoples in the region.

okt 19, 2010, 12:29am

In Egyptian History they tell of the Coptic Church in Cairo and how it was famously visited by Jesus for protection. After seeing the church for myself, I realised that languages are only about a quarter of history telling. Include heiroglyphs and word of mouth, which has been passed down since @ 5 thousand bc.In Egypt they do speak Arabic and English. To learn the Pharonic language, the first recorded language of Egypt, i'm afraid you have to study Egyptology for that.They did not say that there was such a language called Coptic- only relgion based. But your idea keeps me interested.

nov 18, 2010, 3:31pm

My understanding, from my study of Middle Egyptian and chats with a Copt, is that Coptic is a dead language. Coptic Egyptians know some Coptic phrases the same way Roman Catholics used to a few lines of Church Latin, but I don't know of anyone who converses in it or uses it to transact business.