Late Egyptian

Late Egyptian

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Late Egyptian is the stage of the Egyptian language
Egyptian language
Egyptian is the oldest known indigenous language of Egypt and a branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Written records of the Egyptian language have been dated from about 3400 BC, making it one of the oldest recorded languages known. Egyptian was spoken until the late 17th century AD in the...

 that was written by the time of the New Kingdom
New Kingdom
The New Kingdom of Egypt, also referred to as the Egyptian Empire is the period in ancient Egyptian history between the 16th century BC and the 11th century BC, covering the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Dynasties of Egypt....

 around 1350 BC – the Amarna period
Amarna is an extensive Egyptian archaeological site that represents the remains of the capital city newly–established and built by the Pharaoh Akhenaten of the late Eighteenth Dynasty , and abandoned shortly afterwards...

. Texts written wholly in Late Egyptian date to the Ramesside Period and later. Late Egyptian succeeded but did not fully supplant Middle Egyptian
Middle Egyptian
Middle Egyptian is the typical form of Egyptian written from 2000 BCE to 1300 BCE .Although evolving into Late Egyptian from the 14th century, Middle Egyptian remained in use as literary standard language until the 4th century AD. As such, it is the classical variant of Egyptian that historically...

 as a literary language
Literary language
A literary language is a register of a language that is used in literary writing. This may also include liturgical writing. The difference between literary and non-literary forms is more marked in some languages than in others...


Late Egyptian literature

Late Egyptian is represented by a large body of religious and secular literature
Ancient Egyptian literature
Ancient Egyptian literature was written in the Egyptian language from Ancient Egypt's pharaonic period until the end of Roman domination. It represents the oldest corpus of Egyptian literature...

, comprising such examples as the Story of Wenamun
Story of Wenamun
The Story of Wenamun is a literary text written in hieratic in the Late Egyptian language...

, the love poems of the Chester–Beatty I papyrus, and the Instruction of Any
Instruction of Any
The Instruction of Any, or Ani, is an Ancient Egyptian text written in the style of wisdom literature which is thought to have been composed in the Eighteenth Dynasty of the New Kingdom, with a surviving manuscript dated from the Twenty-First or Twenty-Second Dynasty...

. Instructions
Sebayt is the ancient Egyptian term for a genre of pharaonic literature. The word literally means 'teachings' or 'instructions' and refers to formally written ethical teachings focused on the "way of living truly"....

 became a popular literary genre of the New Kingdom, which took the form of advice on proper behavior. It was also the language of the Ramesside administration.

Differences between Middle and Late Egyptian

Late Egyptian is not completely distinct from Middle Egyptian, as many "classicisms" appear in historical and literary documents of this phase. However, the difference between Middle and Late Egyptian is greater than the one between Middle and Old Egyptian: from being a synthetic
Synthetic language
In linguistic typology, a synthetic language is a language with a high morpheme-per-word ratio, as opposed to a low morpheme-per-word ratio in what is described as an isolating language...

 it became an analytic language. Their relationship has been described as being similar to that of Latin and Italian.
  • Written Late Egyptian was seemingly a better representative than Middle Egyptian of the spoken language in the New Kingdom and beyond: weak consonants 3, w, j, as well as the feminine ending .t were increasingly dropped, apparently because they stopped being pronounced.
  • The demonstrative pronouns p3 (masc.), t3 (fem.), and n3 (pl.) were used as definite articles.
  • The old form sḏm.n=f (he heard) of the verb was replaced by sḏm=f which had both prospective (he shall hear) and perfective (he heard) aspects. The past tense was also formed using the auxiliary verb jr (make), as in jr=f saHa=f (he has accused him).
  • Adjectives as attributes of nouns are often replaced by nouns.

Developments during the first millennium BC

Egyptian hieroglyphs
Egyptian hieroglyphs were a formal writing system used by the ancient Egyptians that combined logographic and alphabetic elements. Egyptians used cursive hieroglyphs for religious literature on papyrus and wood...

The orthography of a language specifies a standardized way of using a specific writing system to write the language. Where more than one writing system is used for a language, for example Kurdish, Uyghur, Serbian or Inuktitut, there can be more than one orthography...

 saw an enormous expansion of its graphemic inventory between the Late Dynastic
Late Period of Ancient Egypt
The Late Period of Ancient Egypt refers to the last flowering of native Egyptian rulers after the Third Intermediate Period from the 26th Saite Dynasty into Persian conquests and ended with the death of Alexander the Great...

 and Ptolemaic
Ptolemaic dynasty
The Ptolemaic dynasty, was a Macedonian Greek royal family which ruled the Ptolemaic Empire in Egypt during the Hellenistic period. Their rule lasted for 275 years, from 305 BC to 30 BC...


Middle Egyptian had a renaissance after the Third Intermediate Period, when it was often used in hieroglyphic and hieratic texts in preference to Late Egyptian.

Late Egyptian grammars

  • J. Cerny, S. Israelit-Groll, C. Eyre, A Late Egyptian Grammar, 4th, updated edition – Biblical Institute; Rome, 1984


  • Kathryn A. Bard, Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, Routledge 1999, ISBN 0415185890
  • Martin Haspelmath, Language Typology and Language Universals: An International Handbook, Walter de Gruyter 2001, ISBN 3110171546
  • Antonio Loprieno, Ancient Egyptian: A Linguistic Introduction, Cambridge University Press 1995, ISBN 0521448492
  • Anastasios-Phoivos Christidēs, Maria Arapopoulou, Maria Chritē, A History of Ancient Greek: From the Beginnings to Late Antiquity, Cambridge University Press 2007, ISBN 0521833078
  • Eric M. Meyers, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, 1997