Was Ancient Egyptian a Semitic language?

What was the nature of the language that the ancient Egyptians spoke, the one that they used hieroglyphs for? Was it a form of semitic, like Hebrew and Arab, or did it belong to some other language? Is Coptic a modern descendant, or related in some way? And, do Egyptologists know what ancient Egyptian sounded like?

I found some good information here.

Ancient Egyptian (and Coptic, the modern descendent now only used in the Coptic Christian Church) are not Semitic, but members of a closely related group traditionally called Hamitic. A couple of our more learned philologists will be along to clarify the reconception in relationships between Semitic and the northern African languages, which I don’t understand well, but which has uncovered a web of complexity not well understood when the Semitic-Hamitic grouping was invented.

Well, going by this page from www.ethnologue.com, Coptic is also known as Neo-Egyptian. The same site tells us that Coptic’s language lineage is: Afro-Asiatic -> Egyptian -> Coptic. It is the only language in the Egyptian subclassification. Afro-Asiatic has 372 languages, among them Arabic.

Arabic’s language lineage is given as: Afro-Asiatic -> Semitic -> Central -> South -> then 35 Arabic dialects.

Modern Hebrew’s lineage is given as: Afro-Asiatic -> Semitic -> Central -> South -> Canaanite -> Hebrew. The other languages in the Canaanite subclassification are Ancient Hebrew and Samaritan.

IIRC, the deciphering of the hieroglyphs came to fruition based on guesses as to which sounds were represented, so it’s likely that some fairly good guesses as to what the language sounded like have been made.

BTW, Poly; in the US, linguist is preferred over philologist for what we do (what I’m in school to learn how to do, actually).

Yeah, Poly, you wouldn’t want to cut a whole generation out of being cunning linguists, would you?

:: ba-dum-bum! ::


Hamito-Semitic is no longer used as a name for the Afro-Asiatic language family. The problem was that it seemed to imply that the Semitic and the Hamitic groups were on an equal level in the language tree. In fact, Semitic is only one of six branches, so it’s rather artificial to throw together all the other five and call them Hamitic.

I think that they have some idea of pronunciation (for words that are written phonetically) based on names that are written in both hieroglyphics and in some other language, such as Greek.

Derleth: That joke was old when Adam was a lad.