Thursday, September 20, 2012

That Other Late Antique Egyptian Language: Demotic

There is currently the major stirring around a Coptic fragment of an ancient Gospel (see my posts here, here, and here).  But most have overlooked another report that came out this week on a major undertaking of compiling a 2000-page dictionary of the other late-antique Egyptian language:  Demotic (from the Greek "Demos" meaning "of the people" or the "common speech").  I only saw it because my spouse pointed it out (in the Science Section of the New York Times).  The New York Times reports here:
Demotic was one of the three scripts inscribed on the Rosetta stone, along with Greek and hieroglyphs, enabling European scholars to decipher the royal language in the early 19th century and thus read the top-down version of a great civilization’s long history. 

Now, scholars at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago have completed almost 40 years of research and published online the final entries of a 2,000-page dictionary that more than doubles the thousands of known Demotic words. Egyptologists expect that the dictionary’s definitions and examples of how words were used in ancient texts will expedite translations of Demotic documents, more of which are unpublished than any other stage of early Egyptian writing. 

A workshop for specialists in Demotic research was held at the university last month as the dictionary section for the letter S, the last of 25 chapters to be finished, is being posted on the Oriental Institute’s Web site, where the dictionary is available free. Eventually a printed edition will be produced, mainly for research libraries, the university said.
Demotic is more difficult to read than, say, Coptic; nonetheless, if one seeks to have a grasp on the daily dealings and realities of people in Egyptian antiquity and late antiquity (for the Persian, Greek, and Roman periods), it is a must.  This is quite an accomplishment!

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