Why does Egypt speak Arabic today and not Egyptian?

Many who are not familiar with Egypt's history and culture wonder why Egypt does not speak Egyptian today and not Arabic. This article tries to answer this question for those who ask it.

The New Kingdom: The Last Empire

Egypt's last purely Egyptian great empire, known as the New Kingdom, lasted from 1567 B.C. to 1085 B.C. During this period Egypt dominated a lot of its neighbors, such as Nubia, and Syria. This was achieved by various means, such as Thutmosis military campaigns, Ramses II's peace treaties, and Amenhotep III's diplomacy via marriage. The riches of Tut-Ankh-Amen are from this period, as well as the religious revolution of Akhnaten, the heretic monotheistic pharaoh.

Even then, the language of diplomacy was not Egyptian, but rather cuneiform. Baked clay tablets from Tell El Amarna are written in cuneiform script, and form the letters sent from/to vassals in Syria.

Decline and Decay

Egypt's decline started after this period, when priests took over, and centuries of weakness and decay ensued. During that time, most of the royal tombs were looted, either bypriests recovering the riches of long gone by pharoahs to prepare thenew ones, or by robbers looking for gold. Egypt came under successive rule from foreign powers, such as the Nubians, the Libyans, the Persians, and the Assyrians.

An interesting observation is that Egypt was never ruled by a native Egyptian from the time of Nectanebo II, c. 343 B.C. down to 1952 C.E. when Mohamed Naguib came to power! That is about 23 centuries!

The Hellenic Era

Then after Alexander conquered Egypt in 323 B.C., the era of Hellenism started, where Egypt was a Greek cultural center. Egypt saw a renaissance, but not an Egyptian one, it was purely a Greek one. The cultural centers of old in the south never recovered their past glory as cities of pharoahs. The Egyptian language fell into disuse: apart from use in liturgy by some priests and a dialect for the peasants. It was not the language of the state, the language of commerce and trade, nor the language of learning.

Roman and Christian Eras

When Christianity came to Egypt, Egypt was already in decline, having came under Roman rule, and later under Byzantium. Egyptians, like others in the area, never liked their Roman overlords, in fact they loathed them.

Under Christianity, there was persecution against the pagans, such as the mob killing of the philosopher and mathematician Hypatia of Alexandria, and the destruction of whatever remained from the Library of Alexandria.

The Arab and Islamic Era

So, Egypt was ready for another era of greatness, but as was true for 1.5 millenia, it would be under a foreign power. The Arabs came in at the invitation of the Egyptians, who loathed the Byzantines. This was a recurring theme in early Muslim conquests, such as that of Julian, the ruler of Cuetta in western North Africa and the supporters of Witiza summoning the Muslim Arabs and Berbers to conquer Iberia (al-Andalus).

Arabic as a Language

As for the loss of language, Arabs/Muslims never enforced Arabic on the population. In fact the process of changing from a minority language to the language of the majority took six centuries to happen.

The simple explanation is that Arabic, being a semitic language, was close to spoken Coptic, and other Semitic-derived languages. This is why areas where a semitic language was spoken (e.g. Nabatean, Syriac, Assyrian, and even Berber) were all easily supplanted by Arabic, while in areas where no semitic language was spoken (e.g. Persia) the native languages persisted.

This is why we see that in Central Asia, India, Malay and Indonesian Archipelago, West Africa, and East Africa, Arabic never took hold as a majority language, despite of a significant portion of the population being Muslims, and a majority in most cases.

Hence, Coptic, the successor to Ancient Egyptian, was relegated to becoming a liturgical only language, and Arabic became the majority language for Muslims and Copts alike.

Greatness and Decay, once again

Egypt was once againt destined to become the leader of a great civilization. The Fatimids build Cairo, and Al Azhar university. Saladin brought the downfall of the Fatimids, but he and his successors, continued to make Egypt a great hub of civilization and learning. After the fall of Baghdad in 1256 C.E. to the Mongol hordes, Egypt became the greatest center in the region, under the Mamelukes. Only after the rise of the Ottomans and their conquest of Egypt in 1517 C.E. did the center of power and greatness shift to Istanbul.

 

Contents: 

Comments

References please?

Just because your bias goes against history, does not mean that your bias is historical truth.

The official language was not Coptic even before the Arab conquest. Coptic was the language of the masses for many centuries, but since Alexander's time (3 centuries BC), the official language was the non-native Greek. It was also the language of Byzantium, the rulers of Egypt before Arabs.

When the Arabs took over they had the documents written in both Arabic and Greek. The Arabic papyrii discovered in Egypt has correspondence between Arab governors and Coptic leaders, and it is in both Arabic and Greek. No Coptic in sight here, since it was not the official language of correspondence, bookkeeping, taxation, ...etc.

Explain why it took Egypt four centuries to become an Arabic speaker, and even a Muslim majority country? If it was "by force" as you claim, it would have been done sooner (e.g. look at South America with Spanish and Catholicism, a mere century did the trick).

Please list credible historical references to the contrary of what I said.

@ True Egyptian - "Egypt was primarily Christian"

I'm in no way an Egyptologist or Historian, but I'd like to object to the statement by True Egyptian, that "Egypt was primarily Christian before the take over".

Egypt would seem to have become Christian after the invasion of the Romans - around the turn of millenia, 0AD...give or take a few centuries! Thousands of years before this point, TRUE Egyptians had worshipped and celebrated Gods/Goddesses such as Mother Isis, Serapis, Osiris, Sekhmet, Hathor, Ra itself and MANY others.

Wannabe Egyptian! :)

Freezing history at a point that suits our prejudice

The bigots has a common tactic: they try to freeze history at a point that suits their preconceived prejudice. For some Copts, they only recognize the period between 2nd century to 7th, and all history, culture and language before and after that are ignored. For Iranians, there are some who do this too and keep lamenting the Arab invasion, 1,400 years after it happened. For others, it is the Iberian Andalus, and the forced conversion and then expulsion of Moriscos. And it goes on and on.

To them I say: get over it! It happened! You can't change the past. The country is a product of all its eras, culture. This mix is unique and makes the current mosaic picture. Enjoy it instead of hiding your head in the sand.

Typical Muslim distortion of

Typical Muslim distortion of the truth. that facts are the arabs burnt the great Alexandrian Library. the arabs invaded Egypt uninvited. the arabs forced conversions to islam and still do that today. the arabs cut off tongues of the copts to prevent them from speaking their language to destroy their culture and heritage. you cannot change history or hide it but the arabs/muslims are a lying, ignorant and violent mob who want to do everything by the sword.

Typical ignorant bigot

Typical ignorant bigot who just spouts lies that fit their biased worldview, against all facts.

Read what Israel Wolfenson, a Jewish professor of Semitic languages at the University of Cairo in the early 20th century wrote about why Egypt speaks Arabic.

As for the Library of Alexandria, it is definitely the Romans burned the library of Alexandria.

That's pretty much my view of

That's pretty much my view of the Arab/Muslim people too... as invasive as Japanese Knotweed.

Irrelevant

This is irrelevant to the article's main theme.

The Persian period did not leave any cultural or linguistic remnants.

Moreover, Persian belongs to the Indo European linguistic family, and not the Semito-Hamitic family, and it not leaving any remnants re-inforces my theory in that Egyptians made the transition from a Semito-Hamitic language to a Semitic language more easily than across language families.

Coptic Egyptian is nothing

Coptic Egyptian is nothing like Arabic what a crock of s***

Coptic Egyptians is nothing

Coptic Egyptians is nothing

hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

all of you are same

Pages