In a first, a new dictionary of ancient Egyptian colloquial

I have written before about how language and translation can be about conquest and power, but it can also be about understanding.  A new dictionary — the first of its kind — from the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago translates the colloquial or demotic language of ancient Egypt.  These are not hieroglyphs, which you could say were the fusha of their day, but rather the ammiya spoken in everyday life.  As the New York Times article points out, this was one of the three languages on the Rosetta Stone (the others being Greek and the hieroglyphs) so you wouldn’t think it would have taken this long to produce the dictionary.  But since this was not the language enshrined on temples, its utility in archaeology was less apparent though some of its words (like the antecedents of adobe) remain with us in altered form.  Still, one of the most striking things about visiting the Egyptian Museum in Cairo — amid all the royal mummies and grandeur that tends to predominate in ancient Egyptian museums elsewhere in the world — is how ordinary some of the small statues appear.  Though 4,000 years old, they depict people as you might see them today in the streets outside the museum walls.  How fitting, then, to finally have a dictionary to hear them talk.


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