Middle Egyptian

Middle Egyptian

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Middle Egyptian is the typical form of Egyptian
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...

 written from 2000 BCE to 1300 BCE (after Old Egyptian
Old Egyptian
Old Egyptian is the stage of the Egyptian language spoken from 2600 BC to 2000 BC during the Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period. The Pyramid Texts are the largest body of literature written in this phase of the language. Tomb walls of elite Egyptians from this period bear autobiographical...

 and before Late Egyptian
Late Egyptian
Late Egyptian is the stage of the Egyptian language that was written by the time of the New Kingdom around 1350 BC – the Amarna period. Texts written wholly in Late Egyptian date to the Ramesside Period and later...


Although evolving into Late Egyptian from the 14th century, Middle Egyptian remained in use as literary standard language
Standard language
A standard language is a language variety used by a group of people in their public discourse. Alternatively, varieties become standard by undergoing a process of standardization, during which it is organized for description in grammars and dictionaries and encoded in such reference works...

 until the 4th century AD. As such, it is the classical variant of Egyptian that historically attracted most attention from Egyptology
Egyptology is the study of ancient Egyptian history, language, literature, religion, and art from the 5th millennium BC until the end of its native religious practices in the AD 4th century. A practitioner of the discipline is an “Egyptologist”...

. Whilst most Middle Egyptian is seen written on monuments by Hieroglyphs
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...

, it is also written using a cursive variant
Cursive hieroglyphs
Cursive hieroglyphs are a variety of Egyptian hieroglyphs commonly used for religious documents written on papyrus, such as the Book of the Dead. It was particularly common during the Ramesside Period and many famous documents, such as the Papyrus of Ani, utilize it...

, and the related Hieratic
Hieratic refers to a cursive writing system that was used in the provenance of the pharaohs in Egypt and Nubia that developed alongside the hieroglyphic system, to which it is intimately related...

. As it is usually the first and most used form of the Ancient Egyptian language, it is frequently (incorrectly) referred to simply as "Hieroglyphics".

Progress in the understanding of Middle Egyptian is due to Adolf Erman
Adolf Erman
Johann Peter Adolf Erman was a renowned Egyptologist and lexicographer.-Life:Born in Berlin, he was the son of Georg Adolf Erman and grandson of Paul Erman....

 and his "Berlin school". Erman also published the first Middle Egyptian grammar in 1894, surpassed in 1927 by Alan H. Gardiner's monumental work. From the mid 20th century, Egyptologists considered their understanding of Middle Egyptian to be essentially complete, and began focussing on Old Egyptian, but debate on Middle Egyptian grammar was revived by Hans Jakob Polotsky
Hans Jakob Polotsky
Hans Jakob Polotsky was an Israeli orientalist, linguist, and professor for Semitic languages and Egyptology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.- Biography :...

and his "standard theory" from 1944.


  • James P. Allen: Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000.

  • A. H. Gardiner: Egyptian Grammar, Oxford, 1927, 3rd ed. 1957.