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From a study of a society's spoken and written language system, it is possible to gain great insight into the nature of that society's culture. The language as a whole evolves over time as that society changes and grows, adapting the spoken language (and to a lesser extent, the written) to fit. When we look at the reasons for the choice of words or written symbols used to represent those words, we can learn much of a people's way of life.

Whilst this relationship between culture and language/writing exists in nearly all societies, I will focus here on the Ancient Egyptian world. The Egyptian culture/language relationship is especially interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, because of its use of hieroglyphs (from Greek: hiero = sacred, gylph = symbol) as a writing system, we get a visual window into their world. Secondly, because of the belief that their (written) language was a gift from neteru, or the gods (Specifically the god Thoth).

In the language of ancient Egypt, words could have multiple meanings (just as in our language, e.g 'great' can mean large in size, or resulting in a positive outcome). In english when writing words, to clarify the meaning we look only at the context, but the egyptians employed silent determinative signs. These signs can give interesting insights into the culture of the time. For instance, the word for 'school' uses the determinative symbol of a man hitting something with a stick. This shows us the attitude taken towards schooling (not too dissimilar from our own attitude until fairly recently) as being one of hard work, and punishment for mistakes and wrongdoing.

Another interesting use of symbols is in a variant of the verb 'to give' (pronounced 'dee' or 'di'). Representing this word, we have a triangle within another triangle; an abstract rendition of a type of ornate bread often given (hence, 'to give') as a gift in ancient egypt.

Whilst language provides insight into culture, it can also provide insight into the physical surroundings of a society. For instance, the egyptian hieroglyph for king (of upper egypt, at any rate) - 'nisut' - is a tall reed. This reed was commonly found in upper egypt, and so is used to represent the area under the rule of the given king.

On a grammatical note, middle egyptian (the form of the language most commonly studied by modern scholars, and actively spoken during the time of the middle kingdom, approx. 2000-1700 BCE) used a gender system (much like modern german or french) with words being either masculine or feminine. To denote a feminine word, the phonogram 't' was used. This symbol was represented by a small loaf of bread, as it was the females who were in charge of baking bread for the family.

The language of ancient egypt is a fascinating and beautiful one. In many ways this is due its consistency. In all the thousands of years it was a living spoken language, the hieroglyphic writing remained largely unchanged. This is because, as mentioned ealier, their writing was believed to be a heavenly gift, and to change the work of a god would be seen as blasphemous. For this reason, the structure and syntax of the language was never altered, only ever added to.

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