Ancient Egypt Writing
Paper and Ink, The Gift to the world
Ancient Egypt Writing
In the higher grades the student was allowed to use paper. One of the main items of Egyptian trade, and one of the permanent gifts to the world is Ancient Egypt writing on paper.
The stem of the papyrus plant was cut into strips, other strips were placed crosswise upon these, the sheet was pressed, and paper, the very stuff (and nonsense) of civilization, was made.
How well they made it may be judged from the fact that manuscripts written by them five thousand years ago are still intact and legible.
Sheets were combined into books by gumming the right edge of one sheet to the left edge of the next; in this way rolls were produced which were sometimes forty yards in length; they were seldom longer, for there were no verbose historians in Egypt.
Ink, black and indestructible, was made by mixing water with soot and vegetable gums on a wooden palette; the pen was a simple reed, fashioned at the tip into a tiny brush.
With these modern instruments the Egyptians wrote the most ancient of literatures
With these modern instruments the Egyptians wrote the most ancient of literatures.
Their language had probably come in from Asia; the oldest specimens of it show many Semitic affinities.
The earliest writing was apparently pictographic and object was represented by drawing a picture of it: e.g. the word for house (Egyptian per) was indicated by a small rectangle with an opening on one of the long sides.
As some ideas were too abstract to be literally pictured, pictography passed into ideography: certain pictures were by custom and convention used to represent not the objects pictured but the ideas suggested by them; so the forepart of a lion meant supremacy (as in the Sphinx), a wasp meant royalty, and a tadpole stood for thousands.
As a further development along this line, abstract ideas, which had at first resisted representation, were indicated by picturing objects whose names happened to resemble the spoken words that corresponded to the ideas; so the picture of a lute came to mean not only lute, but good, because the Egyptian word-sound for lute—nefer— resembled the word-sound for good—nofer.
Queer rebus combinations grew out of these homonyms words of like sound but different meanings.
Since the verb to be was expressed in the spoken language by the sound khopiru, the scribe, being puzzled to find a picture for so intangible a conception, split the word into parts, kho-pi-ru, expressed these by picturing in succession a sieve (called in the spoken language khau), a mat (pi), and a mouth (ru); use and wont, which sanctify so many absurdities, soon made this strange assortment of characters suggest the idea of being.
In this way the Egyptian arrived at the syllable
In this way the Ancient Egypt writting arrived at the syllable, the syllabic sign, and the syllabary i.e., a collection of syllabic signs; and by dividing difficult words into syllables, finding homonyms for these, and drawing in combina¬tion the objects suggested by these syllabic sounds, he was able, in the course of time, to make the hieroglyphic signs convey almost any idea.
Only one step remained to invent letters in ancient Egypt writing.
The sign for a house meant at first the word for house per; then it meant the sound per, or p-r with any vowel in between, as a syllable in any word.
Then the picture was shortened, and used to represent the sound po, pa, pu, pe or pi in any word; and since vowels were never written, this was equivalent to having a character for P. By a like development the sign for a hand (Egyptian dot) came to mean do, da, etc., finally D; the sign for mouth (ro or ru) came to mean jR; the sign for snake (zt) became Z; the sign for lake (shy) became Sh. . . .
The result was an alphabet of twenty-four consonants, which passed with Egyptian and Phoenician trade to all quarters of the Mediterranean, and came down, via Greece and Rome, as one of the most precious parts of our Oriental heritage.
In Ancient Egypt writing, Hieroglyphics are as old as the earliest dynasties; alphabetic characters appear first in inscriptions left by the Egyptians in the mines of the Sinai'peninsula, variously dated at 2500 and 1500 B.c.
The Egyptians never adopted a completely alphabetic writing
Whether wisely or not, the Ancient Egypt writing never adopted a completely alphabetic writing; like modern stenographers they mingled pictographs, ideographs and syllabic signs with their letters to the very end of their civilization.
This has made it difficult for scholars to read Egyptian, but it is quite conceivable that such a medley of longhand and shorthand facilitated the business of writing for those Egyptians who could spare the time to learn it.
Since English speech is no honorable guide to English spelling, it is probably as difficult for a contemporary lad to learn the devious ways of English orthography as it was for the Egyptian scribe to memorize by use the five hundred hieroglyphs, their secondary syllabic meanings, and their tertiary alphabetic uses.
In the course of time a more rapid and sketchy form of ancient Egypt writing was developed for manuscripts, as distinguished from the careful "sacred carvings" of the monuments.
Since this corruption of hieroglyphic was first made by the priests and the temple scribes, it was called by the Greeks hieratic; but it soon passed into common use for public, commercial and private documents.
A still more abbreviated and careless form of this script was developed by the common people, and therefore came to be known as demotic.
On the monuments, however, the Egyptian insisted on having his lordly and lovely hieroglyphic perhaps ancient Egypt writing was the most picturesque form of writing ever made.
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