An Introduction to Egyptian Hieroglyphs

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Course DatesMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
June 17, 2019 - June 28, 20196/17 - 6/28M-F 8:30A-11:20AOpenChristian Casey

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Course Description

The language of the Ancient Egyptians has been a source of fascination for millennia, but how can an interested student begin to learn such an obscure subject? This course will provide an entry point to the rich field of Egyptology by looking at the Egyptian language as it is known to modern scholars. Through the use of carefully selected texts and activities designed to pique an interest in foreign languages, students will quickly learn to read and write Egyptian Hieroglyphs.

Egyptian has the longest written history of any language, with surviving texts spanning four millennia, from approximately 3200 BC to at least 1100 AD. However, knowledge of this ancient language was lost until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 AD. There are no longer any native speakers of Egyptian, and the language can only be studied through an imperfectly-understood script. Despite these shortcomings, Egyptologists have made great headway in understanding this once incomprehensible script and the language it ultimately represents.

One of the greatest barriers to learning the hieroglyphs is their lack of connection to a spoken language. Egyptologists generally work with an artificial reconstruction of the language which bears little similarity to actual spoken Egyptian. This scholarly form of Egyptian is difficult to understand for new students, especially those who lack experience with advanced studies of philology, phonetics, and syntax. However, thanks to new information about pronunciation and grammar preserved in later Coptic texts, which is still being developed through ongoing research, it is possible to teach Egyptian with a deliberate focus on what we do know about the spoken language.

In keeping with this aim, this course will teach the most recent stage of Egyptian that was written using the hieroglyphic script: Late Egyptian. This method will enable students to learn the hieroglyphic script through the medium of a language that they can practice by speaking aloud. The goal behind this approach, which is supported by extensive scientific research in the field of second-language acquisition, is to create an introduction to Egyptian which provides the best foundation for long-term study, and which communicates the crucial message that Hieroglyphic script represents a real language, which was once spoken by real people who lived lives that were not entirely different from ours.

By the end of the course, students will be able to read short Egyptian texts similar to those studied in class. They will have a broad understanding of the history of the Egyptian language, and they will be well prepared to begin a serious study of Egyptian at the undergraduate level. Students will also develop a familiarity with the resources available to them so that they can continue their studies on their own if they wish.

Prerequisites: This course requires some knowledge of English grammar so that parallel concepts in Egyptian can be introduced quickly. Students who have not studied grammar in school will be expected to read a short book on English grammar in preparation for the course.

Though the course does not require any knowledge of Ancient Egyptian, students who have studied the language will still be able to learn a great deal. The course's special focus on the spoken language, as evidenced by later texts and current research into Egyptian phonology, makes it very different from any other, and it will give those who are interested in pursuing a career in Egyptology unique insights into the actual sounds and rhythms of these usually silent texts.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEEG0909
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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