To a specific group of Brazilians, the signs and drawings on limestone and papyruses of Ancient Egypt are not just signs and drawings. Half a dozen scholars in Brazil, most connected to the academic world, understand the language of the pharaohs very well.
They are researchers and professors like Ciro Flamarion Santana Cardoso, Antonio Brancaglion Junior and Moacir Elias Santos who know and even teach the Egyptian language around Brazil. The knowledge is used by the specialists, and also by their apprentices, to decipher original documents from Ancient Egypt.
Egyptian is considered a dead language as it is no longer spoken. The language is currently only used in rituals in the Coptic Church, explains Cardoso. What the church uses is, in reality, the last unfolding of the original Egyptian language, officially called Coptic.
The first registry of the Egyptian language is from around 3,000 years before Christ. The language of the time is called Archaic or Ancient Egyptian. After that the language evolved to Old, Middle and Late Egyptian, Demotic and then Coptic. Coptic is already based on the Greek alphabet, but it also uses Egyptian characters.
Cardoso, an Ancient History professor at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF), learnt the Egyptian language at the time of his doctor's degree at the University of Paris, in France. While preparing his doctorate, he took Egyptian classes at the Louvre School.
When he returned to Brazil, after 12 years in Europe, Costa Rica and Mexico, Cardoso entered the UFF to teach History of the Americas, the area of his Master's degree. A few years later he opted for Ancient History. At the time, the end of the 1980s, the Ancient and Medieval History department was set up in the Post-Graduate History Program at the UFF and Cardoso started teaching Egyptian to Master's and Doctoral students.
The discipline is opened when there are students researching Egyptology. Last year, for example, there were three regular students and another seven sitting in. The course lasts one term and gives basic notions of how Middle Egyptian works. To have total domination, explained Cardoso, it is necessary to continue researching alone.
The professor believes that Ancient Egypt generates great interest in people due to the art of the period and also due to the belief in eternity of the ancient Egyptian civilization. "People are interested in the aesthetics of the civilization," stated the professor, explaining why the Egyptian lessons attract so many student listeners, who are normally not academic researchers of the matter.
Moacir Elias Santos was one of Cardoso's students of Egyptian language. He is currently a professor in the History course at the Campos de Andrade University Center (Uniandrade), in Curitiba, Paraná, having learnt Egyptian when he took his Master's degree in archaeology at UFF.
Now Santos also teaches the language of the pharaohs. He has already given courses in the area at Uniandrade and this year the Egyptian Language discipline will be introduced in the specialization in Ancient and Medieval History at the university. The program will be run by the professor.
There are also other masters in Egyptian language in Brazil, like researcher Antonio Brancaglion Junior, connected to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and to the University of São Paulo (USP), and historian Margaret Bakos, of the Pontifical Catholic University (PUC) of Porto Alegre.
In total, according to estimates by the researchers, there are less than ten people that dominate Ancient Egyptian in Brazil. In Ancient Egypt, those who knew how to read and write worked directly in the area and were called scribes. According to Santos, there was no grammar. The learning was through practice.
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