The ancient Egyptian language, which corresponded with the Semitic languages, is dead. The Egyptians today speak Arabic. However, the ancient Egyptian language was spoken for more than 3000 years, and it had a number of written forms over the years.
The system of writing used in ancient Egypt is known as Hieroglyphics, also known as Hieroglyphs. The term 'hieroglyph' was first coined by the Greeks in 500 BC, which has been derived from 'hieros', which means 'sacred' and 'glypho', which means 'engrave'. The Greeks used this word because they used a similar kind of writing for their holy texts.
The ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics were composed of drawings and pictures, which were carved on the walls of monuments and tombs, and written on papyrus. They were created by painters, craftsmen, and sculptors who made models of these intricate images in relief on plaster. The drawings of the hieroglyphic alphabets were composed to symbolize ancient Egyptian letters.
In other words, the drawing that made up the hieroglyphic alphabets represented the sound of the letter. Plus, small pictures that represented whole actions, ideas, or words were also used in hieroglyphics.
The only people allowed to write and read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs were scribes, who were thought to be professionals and held in high regard. The ancient Egyptians were of the belief that the scribes were given the ability to write by Thoth, whom they worshipped as the God of Hieroglyphics.
Although the ancient Egyptian art of writing is complex, it is also relatively straightforward. The collection of signs has been divided into three main categories, which are: logograms, which are signs that depict morphemes; phonograms, which are signs that depict one or more sounds; and determinatives, which are signs that represent neither sound nor morpheme but are an aid to understand a collection of signs that come before them.
Like other scripts from the Proto-Sinaitic period, the ancient Egyptian writing had only consonants. Consequently, all the phonograms are uniconsonantal, or biconsonantal, or triconconantal.
Technically speaking, it is not known what vowels were used in between the consonants of each hieroglyphic sign. Since archeologists found it difficult to pronounce a bunch of consonants devoid of vowels during their lectures, they created a protocol of inserting vowels into hieroglyphs artificially. Hence they placed 'a' and 'e' between consonants, they turned 'y' into 'i', 'w' was turned into 'u', and 'a' substituted '3'. This system of protocol was adopted by everybody, and many people think that the Egyptians actually pronounced their words in this way. For instance, R'-mss, the 19th Dynasty king, is known today as Rameses or Ramses. But, according to cuneiform documents that were written for diplomatic exchanges that occurred between Egypt and Mesopotamia, the name was most likely pronounced Riamesesa.
The ancient Egyptian system of writing comprised around 700 letters. Hieroglyphs were used primarily for religious as well as formally secular purposes. Early in its history, a script that was simpler and cursive was developed. In this version, simplified versions of each character of a hieroglyph were formed, which today is called hieratic. This script was used widely up to around 800 BCE for religious, literary and business texts. By around 700 BCE a further development of the hieratic script took place, which is referred to today as demotic. Demotic was used to write literary, legal and business inscriptions.
Hieroglyphs continued to be used in Egypt until around 400 AD, after which time it was replaced by Coptic, another form of written language. The 24 letters that it comprised were taken from the Greek system of alphabets along with 6 other symbols that represented particular Egyptian sounds. Later, Arabic became the language spoken and written in Egypt, and the ancient knowledge of writing and reading in symbols was forgotten.
Scholars and researchers have been trying to interpret the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics for centuries, but with little success. However, when French troops that were fighting in Egypt, found the Rosetta Stone, named because of the name of the town Rosetta where it was located, in 1799, a breakthrough occurred.
The inscriptions are in three languages: On the topmost portion, which is the part where the writing is broken off, the text is in Egyptian hieroglyph; the middle portion is written in the demotic script; and in the bottom portion the text is written in koine Greek, which is a form of Greek that existed in the Hellenistic period.
Both the demotic Egyptian script and the Greek language were well-known by the Egyptologists of the 19th century who worked on deciphering the script on the stone. Since the text of both the demotic and Greek was identical, it was understood that the Egyptian hieroglyphs also was the same.
It was Jean-Francois Champollion who is credited to have been the first to have 'cracked the code' of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. He was able to decipher them correctly when he visited Egypt to see the temple carvings in 1828. Although he died in 1832, his drawings, translations and notes have been left behind for others to study.
And as far as the Rosetta Stone is concerned, although a French officer had claim to it, the British, who were victorious, demanded and got it. Hence, the stone has become a part of the exhibits of the British Museum.