Thirty-seven years in the making, scientists have finally completed a dictionary that translates Demotic Egyptian – a language that has been dead for over 1500 years.
Unlike hieroglyphs, which was a more formal script used by the elite, Demotic Egyptian was the spoken and written language of everyday life in ancient Egypt from around 500 B.C. to A.D. 500.
The dictionary, called the Chicago Demotic Dictionary (available online), has recently been completed by researchers at the Oriental Institute of the University of
Chicago and will “provide a wealth of information about the Egyptian-speaking population in Egypt” and is “an indispensable tool for reconstructing the social, political and cultural life of ancient Egypt during a fascinating period,” says Janet H. Johnson, an Egyptologist at the Institute.
The scholars were able to compile the 2000-page dictionary from Demotic script found on stone carvings, pottery pieces and papyrus. Demotic, hieroglyphs and Greek were the three languages found inscribed on the Rosetta Stone, which enabled the first Egyptologists to decode the hieroglyphic script.
Surprisingly, although the language has been extinct for over 1500 years, the dictionary reveals that several words live on today, such as “adobe” (passed on to Arabic and Spanish), and “ebony.”