Hieratic was an ancient Egyptian cursive writing, used from the 1st dynasty (c. 2925-c. 2775 BC) until about 200 BC. Derived from the earlier, pictorial hieroglyphic writing used in carved or painted inscriptions, hieratic script was generally written in ink with a reed pen on papyrus; its cursive form was more suited to such a medium than were the formal hieroglyphs. It was originally written vertically and later horizontally from right to left. After about 660 BC demotic script replaced hieratic in most secular writings, but hieratic continued to be used by priests in the transcription of religious texts for several more centuries.
Writing was not one, but two inventions. First, the script itself - a comprehensive series of signs made by a series of brush strokes, capable of representing all the words or sounds of human speech.
Then a second remarkable invention was the technological development of materials (papyrus, pen, ink) to record, transmit and preserve the script along with an education system to pass the system on, from generation to generation. Likely, the Egyptian school was called or located in "The House of Life" (Per-Ankh), for writing bestowed a kind of immortality.
The cursive hieratic writing is at least as different from carved Egyptian hieroglyphs as cursive modern handwriting is from Roman block letters, and many times the ancient scribes used a sort of shorthand, especially for the most common signs. This makes reading hieratic a challenge.
At a very early date, by 3000 BC, Egyptians had already made extraordinary advances in writing. Egypt was that great center of early literacy, from whom we have learnt to write with pens on paper in an alphabetic script, descended directly (if distantly) from Egyptian hieratic.
The extinct language of ancient Egypt that is generally classified as a member of the Hamitic subfamily of the Hamito-Semitic family of languages (see Hamito-Semitic languages).
The development of ancient Egyptian is usually divided into four periods: (1) Old Egyptian, spoken and written in Egypt during the IV to VI dynasties of the Old Kingdom (3d millennium B.C.); (2) Middle Egyptian, a form of the language noted for its great literature and current from the XI dynasty (beginning 2134 B.C.) to the reign of Ikhnaton (c.1372Ð1354 B.C.) in the XVIII dynasty; (3) Late Egyptian, which was used from the time of Ikhnaton through the XX dynasty of the 12th cent. B.C.; and (4) demotic, dating from the late 8th cent. B.C. to the 5th cent. A.D.
The ancient Egyptian language first used a hieroglyphic form of writing that underwent several stages of development in the course of the centuries. From hieroglyphics evolved an Egyptian cursive handwriting known as hieratic; and from hieratic, a simplified script called demotic, in which was recorded the form of the Egyptian language also called demotic. Egyptian hieroglyphics and the styles of writing derived from them are associated with pagan civilization. Their extinction followed the victory of Christianity over the pagan religions. Some scholars regard Coptic as a fifth period of ancient Egyptian, although others classify it as a different language descended from the ancient tongue. If Coptic, which is written in a modified version of the Greek alphabet, is considered a continuation of the Egyptian language, a written record of the latter may be said to cover an unbroken span of at least 40 centuries, the longest such record known for a language.
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