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Audio examples of different languages spoken in Egypt

From the time of the invention of writing around 3000 BC, the rulers and inhabitants of Egypt have spoken predominantly three languages, in successive periods: Egyptian, Greek, and Arabic. Each language has changed over the course of time, and are recorded in different scripts.

Greek and Arabic are still spoken today, but may have sounded very different in the various periods and places of their use.

For the Egyptian language, there are four principal scripts in use at different times: hieroglyphic, hieratic, demotic, Coptic. The first of these three provide consonants, while the fourth and latest provides consonants and vowels. The first Europeans able to decipher hieroglyphic scripts used a combination of the Coptic language and ancient bilingual Greek-Egyptian writings to work out which signs referred to which consonants.

Today there remain many uncertainties in our knowledge of the Egyptian language, with widely differing views on the precise sound and place of the vowels, and even the precise sound of the consonants, in earlier inscriptions. However, there is broad agreement on the consonantal skeleton making up the words, and the language seems not to have changed substantially between the Late Egyptian (from New Kingdom, starting 1550 BC) and Coptic phases. The acute lack of knowledge on vowels that particularly disturbs readers of European scripts brings two advantages:

  1. it provides a cultural continuity to modern Egypt, because Arabic too can be written without vowels, as in a daily newspaper in Cairo today
  2. it opens the eye and ear of the reader to the variability of sound, obscured in reading more familiar writing - if it seems hard to 'hear' the ancient Egyptians speaking their language, the same problems affect our hearing of Shakespeare or Chaucer - do we know what they or their readers in each period and place sounded like?

The sound clips below, and on the pages on this website linked underneath, are offered as an experiment both in the pronunciation of ancient Egyptian, and in raising awareness of Egyptian as a human language and its literature. We are grateful to Okasha Eldaly, Merlyn Gaye, Kenneth John, Colleen McKenna, Natalie Wright for contributing to this experiment.

Old Egyptian
Neferty
Demotic
Greek
Coptic
Arabic
UC 14310
UC 39637 UC 28078, mummy label found at Hawara UC 71106 UC 23015, glass weight

iii mrHt n tp-m-anx
mri mr.k iw nn snb
iT it r hh n.k

iw wdn wrt Hmt pw

click here to see the text and the audio (only available as mp3)

 

pyltwn pA rm ym sA Hwy ta hwr(w)

Philton of the Fayum, son of Huy (f) of Hawara

Bobastous of the gate of the Therthouthiac quarter of the metropolis of Arsinoe province
Concerning the garments which you had prepared for me, I have given six items for you; they should be worth a termission of gold
What was ordered by the servant of God, 'Abdallah, amyr of the faithful. Have exact measure, and be not thou of prevaricators
mp3 (392 KB)
mp3 (208 KB)
wav (190 KB)
mp3 (487 KB)
wav (189 KB)
mp3 (276 KB)
mp3 (275 KB)

parts of a medical papyrus | lovesong (only in English) | letter to the dead (only in English) | part of the Teaching of king Amenemhat I


 

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