Four Languages of Egypt

[ 0 ] January 19, 2016 |

By Sarah-Claire Jordan

sphinx  egypt langiageAnyone who has gone to school or even turns on the History Channel every once in a while knows that Egypt was home to one of the greatest ancient civilizations of all time, with a complex and unique culture and a language to go along with it. You may remember learning about Egyptian hieroglyphs, the writing system used by ancient Egyptians that looked more like art than writing.

Today, many of the vestiges of the ancient civilization remain in the country, but many things have changed, including the languages spoken in Egypt. Here are four of them:

1. Egyptian Arabic

Though Arabic was not brought over to Egypt until the 7th century AD, the Egyptian dialect of it is now the most widely-spoken language in the country. However, it did take a long time for Egyptian Arabic to completely replace Egyptian as the language of the people. Interestingly enough, Egyptian Arabic has no official status whatsoever, with Standard Arabic being the official language of Egypt. This has created a diglossia in the country, something that is common in North Africa and some Middle Eastern countries, where Standard Arabic is the “high” variety and a local dialect of Arabic serves as the “low” variety.

2. Nobiin

Also known as Mahas, Nobiin is the language of the Nubians and today is still spoken in southern Egypt along the shores of the Nile as well as in northern Sudan. It is one of the only African languages with a history that can be traced back to over 1,000 years ago, through written records. Despite having such a long written history, there is no specific orthography that Nobiin writers adhere to. It is written using both the Latin and Arabic scripts, and some people have attempted to revive the Old Nubian alphabet.

3. Beja

Another ethnic group that inhabits Sudan, Egypt, and Eritrea is the Beja people. They speak a Cushitic language of the Afroasiatic language family that is named after them. There were about 1.2 million speakers of Beja in 1982, and that is the most current statistic we have, so today’s numbers could be less or more. There are two different ways to transcribe Beja: one using Latin script, and another using Arabic script, though the Arabic script may not be used anymore.

4. Coptic

This liturgical language is all that is left of the Egyptian language, as it is the only language directly descended from Egyptian. It is, however, extinct in the sense that there are no native speakers anymore. It is used in the Coptic Orthodox and Coptic Catholic churches as a sacred language, though there have been some attempts to revive it. Coptic does not use the same writing system as Egyptian did, but rather an adaptation of the Greek writing system with some symbols added that aren’t present in the Greek alphabet. All Coptic nouns are either male or female, just like those of any Romance language. Though it is technically extinct, Coptic is still a strong symbol of Egyptian identity for those who use it religiously.

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Category: Foreign Language

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