Hierogylphs are perhaps the most intimidating of the ancient languages from the outside. There’s still an aura of mystery and even alien-ness about them that has faded from the others. Everyone has heard of the Rosetta Stone, even today.
This sense of great accomplishment and effort around translation persists even among academics on the subject – or at least, that’s what I’ve found. We were told so many times how difficult Egyptian was to learn in the first couple of weeks of class that I began to wonder if we would be assessed on perseverance, instead of ability.
Despite the assurances of the lecturers, it isn’t that hard. Like any truly foreign language, it occupies a very different headspace from English, and what seems logical to a native English speaker would be strange to an Egyptian. But that and the pictorial representation are the only serious hurdles. And they are difficulties innate in the student, not in the language.
The only actual handicap imposed upon the modern learner is the names given to all the grammar by previous scholars. Nominative? Infinitive? Perfect tense? None of that here. Or at least, not what you think those terms mean.
As a friend currently doing her masters in Egyptology explained to me, this confusion is largely due to the youth of Egyptology as a discipline. Hellenists and students of Latin stand on the foundations of centuries upon centuries of scholarship. Egyptologists haven’t yet had 200 years.
Today I will be beginning a study note series running through all the Egyptian Grammar thus far learnt. It is at heart targeted towards my revision, and thus discusses the mechanics of the language in detail. If you’re interested in languages, ancient history, or even just remember those weird symbols from primary school, this is for you.