Early Egyptian Language
Western Civ

Research Report
Web Resources


On the right is a sample of the Egyptian language called Hieroglyphs.  These pictures  were used to write the ancient Egyptain language.  During the beginning of the Egyptian language ideally the hieroglyphic signs were used to keep records of all the king's possesions.  Scribes could easily make the records of the king's possessions by drawing a picture of a cow or a boat followed by a number.  Then as the language became more complex the need for more pictures were a must.  As a result, the language were composed of more than 750 individual signs.  Like other languages this Egyptian communication consisted of sounds, mostly of consonants and partly of vowels.  This language was more than just a way of writing, they were also pictures that was meant to be relatively pleasing to the eye.  The sign or pictures can be written from right to left; from left to right; or vertically, reading downwards.  The key in reading an Egyptian line is to look for pictures of men or animals.  By looking at the direction the pictures are facing, the text can then be read towards the faces.  If the symbols are vering off to the left, the inscription is read from the left to the right.  On the other hand, if they are facing the right, the inscription is read from right to left.

Historical Background

Human communication is a process that we as humans need in order to survive.  We communicate with one another everyday, sometimes without even knowing.  This communication pattern in which we interact with one another can be either verbal or non-verbal.  The range for non-verbal can vary from symbols, numbers, paintings, or anything else that can provide meaning and understanding to another person.  One culture that took this communication process to a high level was the Egyptians.  Like every human being they needed a way to interact and understand one another. They needed something concrete that would link everyone within that culture together.  This was the foundation of the Egyptian language.

Research Report

    The Egyptian language is one of the oldest languages of the world.  The language itself has thousands of years more recorded history then any other human language.  However, this Egyptian language, at one point in history, was not even used or understood by anyone.  Roman authors during those times believed that hieroglyphics was not even a language.  This particular period was during the Ptolemic dynasty and under Roman rule only Latin was used.  Along with Latin, Greek was used, but at a very minimum.  The Roman Empire collapsed bringing forth the Middle Ages.  Europe and Egypt needed constant contact and the understanding was usually hieroglyphics, which was known by the European elite.  The reason for this is that medical practices of the Middle Ages resulted in the prescription of bitumen, ground up mummies as a cure for various kinds of diseases.  Thus there was a trade in whole mummies which resulted in examples of hieroglyphics coming into Europe throughout the Dark Ages.  This resulted in many people trying to translate this language.

In 1633, a Jesuit priest named Anthanasius Kircher took the word autocrat and translated it into German.  He did this by simply substituting ideas for the languages.  This style of translating generated many scholars trying to do the same.  However, during the 16th and 17th century, deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphics was no easy task.    Many scholars still had varying opinions relating to this language.  Many believed that this language was the start of other languages.  Others were still stuck on the notion that hieroglyphics spelled nothing at all.

    It took warfare between Britain and France to end the speculation regarding this language.  The French were led by Napoleon Bonaparte, who thought he could defeat the British by attacking Egypt and by doing so he could control the rich food supply from along the Nile.  However, Lord Horratio Nelson defeated the French near Cario and Napoleon's plans were ruined.  He originally planned to be in Egypt for a few months, but he and his men were stranded there for three years. He had with him 1000 civilians. Bonaparte and his people studied and observed different art, architecture, and Egyptian culture during their extended stay.  They dug and dug and dug.  Then in 1799, in Rosetta a city near Alexandria, a French officer named Pierre-Froncois Bouchard found a block.  This particular block was no ordinary block as it consisted of three distinct bands of writing.  This stone was called the Rosetta Stone.

The top band contained hieroglyphics.  The middle band was a script by the Egyptians called Demotic.   The bottom was ancient Greek which Froncois Bouchard could not identify.  The stone was then taken to the scholars who studied written languages used in Egypt during that time.  The first of the three bands was linked to Hieroglyphs, which were used to decorate temples and monuments.  It was carefully carved or painted as accurately as possible.  The second was called Hieratic, which was the cursive form of writing.  This was a much quicker way to write since primarily the picture quality of the language consisted of pattern of lines and squiggles.  The third part of the band was called Demotic, which was the shorthand of the Hieratic script.  Silver deSacy was the first to make sense of the Demotic script.  What he did was identify the symbols, which comprised the word ‘Ptolemy’, and ‘Alexander’ and he established a relationship between the symbols and sounds.  However, Reverened Stephen Weston was the first who translated the Greek text on the Rosetta Stone into English form.
The hieroglyphic, hieratic, and demotic are the three primary scripts that made up the Egyptian language.  The finding of Rosetta Stone in 1799 identified the relationship of these three scripts and made possible translations into modern languages, revealing much of Egypt's ancient history.

Historical Significance

    Picture a world where everyone was silent and never depended on anyone.  Everyone went about their business day in day out without communicating. Within this particular world there would be total chaos.  No one would know how a person feels that day or what is going on.  This world would be a rather difficult place to live in.  A human being cannot exist without communicating.  How would people learn?  How would companies hire employees?  For that reason how would companies even be successful?   All of these whirling questions rests on the basis of  communication.  Regardless of what people thought of the Egyptian language they  still managed a way to make it work within their culture. It does not get any simpler than this.  Hieroglyphs started a line of communication in the Egyptian culture.  Communication is forever changing, so it is natural that things may have changed within the Egyptian culture. Hieroglyphs was the foundation of Egyptian communication and understanding it opens the door of understanding for one of the oldest and most sophisticated cultures of ancient times and might some day lead scholars to solving some of the ancient Egyptian mysteries.


Andrews, Carol.  The Rostta Stone.  London:  British Museum Press, c1981

Forman, Werner.  Hieroglyphs and the afterlife in ancient Egypt.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, c1996

Gardiner, Sir Alan Henderson.  Egyptian grammar; being an introduction to the study of hieroglyphs.  London: Oxford University Press, 1950

Parkinson, R.B.  Cracking codes:  the Rosetta stone and decipherment.  Berkeley:  University of California Press, c1999

Watterson, Barbara.  Introducing Egyptian hieroglyphs. Edinburgh:  Scottish Academic Press, 1981.

Web Resources

 One of the largest Egyptian photo gallery.  It includes a variety of ancient Egyptian histoy.  It is a helpful guide for who have a general interest in this culture.

This site gives a closer look of the Rosetta Stone.  You can distinctly see the three bands that was inscribed on the stone.

The egyptian language was rather complex so here is a detailed description that will help many get a better understanding of this language.  The pronunciation of the Egyptian hieroglyphs  is also displayed here on a very organized chart.

To look deeper into Egyptian history here are some helpful resources that will help you journey back into the Egyptian past.

Hierglyphics has expanded even to modern times.  Graffiti is used all around the world and what is now a destruction was once a form of communication.  Here are some modern hieroglyphics used today.