Late Egyptian language

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Late Egyptian
RegionAncient Egypt
Eraca. 1350-700 BC, when it evolved into Demotic
Early forms
Language codes
ISO 639-3

Late Egyptian is the stage of the Egyptian language that was written by the time of the New Kingdom of Egypt around 1350 BC – the Amarna Period. Texts written wholly in Late Egyptian date to the Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt and later. Late Egyptian succeeded but did not fully supplant Middle Egyptian as a literary language.

Late Egyptian is not descended directly from Middle Egyptian, which was based on a different dialect.

Late Egyptian literature[edit]

Late Egyptian is represented by a large body of religious and secular literature, comprising such examples as the Story of Wenamun, the love poems of the Chester–Beatty I papyrus, and the Instruction of Any. Instructions became a popular literary genre of the New Kingdom, which took the form of advice on proper behavior. It was also the language of New Kingdom administration.[1][2]

Differences between Middle and Late Egyptian[edit]

Late Egyptian is not completely distinct from Middle Egyptian, as many "classicisms" appear in historical and literary documents of this phase.[3] However, the difference between Middle and Late Egyptian is greater than the one between Middle and Old Egyptian: from being a synthetic it became an analytic language.[4] Their relationship has been described as being similar to that of Latin and Italian.[5]

  • 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[edit]

Hieroglyphic orthography saw an enormous expansion of its graphemic inventory between the Late Period and the Ptolemaic Kingdom.

Middle Egyptian had a renaissance after the Third Intermediate Period (1070-664 BCE), when it was often used in hieroglyphic and hieratic texts in preference to Late Egyptian.


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



  1. ^ Loprieno, op.cit., p.7
  2. ^ Meyers, op.cit., p. 209
  3. ^ Haspelmath, op.cit., p.1743
  4. ^ Bard, op.cit., p.275
  5. ^ Christidēs et al. op.cit., p.811


  • Kathryn A. Bard, Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, Routledge 1999, ISBN 0-415-18589-0
  • Martin Haspelmath, Language Typology and Language Universals: An International Handbook, Walter de Gruyter 2001, ISBN 3-11-017154-6
  • Antonio Loprieno, Ancient Egyptian: A Linguistic Introduction, Cambridge University Press 1995, ISBN 0-521-44849-2
  • Anastasios-Phoivos Christidēs, Maria Arapopoulou, Maria Chritē, A History of Ancient Greek: From the Beginnings to Late Antiquity, Cambridge University Press 2007, ISBN 0-521-83307-8
  • Eric M. Meyers, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, 1997