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Scholars compile dictionary on ancient Egyptian life

Washington: Scholars took 37 years to compile a dictionary recording the daily lives of ancient Egyptians, including what taxes they paid, what they expected in a marriage and how they worked.

The ancient language is Demotic Egyptian, a name given by the Greeks to denote it was the tongue of the demos, or common people.

It was written as a flowing script and was used in Egypt from about 500 B.C. to 500 A.D., when the land was occupied and usually dominated by foreigners, including Persians, Greeks and Romans.

"Demotic was used for business and legal documents, private letters and administrative inscriptions, and literary texts, such as narratives and pieces of wisdom literature," said Janet Johnson, editor of the Chicago Demotic Dictionary and professor at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

"It was also used for religious and magical texts as well as scientific texts dealing with topics such as astronomy, mathematics and medicine.

"It is an indispensable tool for reconstructing the social, political and cultural life of ancient Egypt during a fascinating period of its history," she continued.

Johnson has worked with Demotic since she was a graduate student at the Oriental Institute.

The advent of computer technology facilitated the assembly of the Demotic Dictionary.

The language lives on today in words such as adobe, which came from the Egyptian word for brick.

The word moved through Demotic, on to Arabic and eventually to Spain during the time of Islamic domination there, explained Janet Johnson, editor of the Chicago Demotic Dictionary.

Ebony, the dark wood that was traded down the Nile from Nubia (present-day Sudan), also has Demotic roots.

The name Susan is indirectly related to the Demotic word for water lily, according to a Chicago statement.

"The University of Chicago is pretty much Demotic central," said James Allen, professor of Egyptology at Brown University.

"Besides the Demotic dictionary, the University also has some of the world`s top experts on Demotic on its faculty."

The work began in 1975 as a supplement and update to Wolja Erichsen`s Demotisches Glossar, published in 1954.

The dictionary is based on texts in Demotic that were published by scholars from 1955 to 1979, and lists new words not included in Erichsen`s work as well as new uses of words included there.
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