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Discovering Writing: Learning Egyptian Hieroglyphs - Lesson 1


Learning Egyptian Hieroglyphs - Lesson 1

 

by Caroline Seawright

 

 

Leaning Hieroglyphs


I'm going to go through the book, "Egyptian Grammar" by A.H. Gardiner, and try to learn Middle Egyptian hieroglyphs. In this column, I will attempt to share what I learn as I go along!

 

 

h01

 

 

Note that the Egyptians, when writing hieroglyphs, generally drew each hieroglyph in a square (or rectangular) area. Sometimes there might be one, two or more hieroglyphs in the one area. The secondary hieroglyphs were usually smaller than the main one, though a number of small hieroglyphs could be used instead.

 

Direction of Writing

 

 

h02

 

 

Hieroglyphs could be read in a number of directions, depending on how the hieroglyphs are set out. It is usually easy to tell - you read into the face of the hieroglyphic animals.

 

h03

 

For example, if the hieroglyph of the snake (or bird, etc) is facing to the right, you read the hieroglyphs from left to right... and vice versa! If there are two hieroglyphs in the same area, read the top-most one first, then the one(s) under in the correct direction.

 

This goes for hieroglyphs set out in rows or columns. Rows are, of course, read in the correct direction, and downwards... and columns are read across ways!

 

Phonograms

 

The Egyptians used a mixture of signs to get their meanings across in writing. They did not just use an alphabet, like we do, but they used signs that were combinations of sounds (such as the Japanese use 'kanji', the Chinese characters which usually have meanings that are words, as well as a specific Japanese alphabet.)

 

Vowels were usually ignored, due to the fact that one hieroglyph may have different vowel sounds when used in combination with other letters. The singular form of a word might change vowel sounds when it becomes the plural!

 

The Egyptians used:

  • Unilateral (alphabetic) signs of one consonant (r r)

  • Bilateral signs of two continents (m+n mn)

  • Trilateral signs of three consonants (n+f+r nfr)

Alphabet

 

Here is the Egyptian alphabet:

 

Glottal stop

Glottal stop, like at the start of German words

Egyptian vulture

Consonantal y

Like a glottal stop, a consonantal y

Flowering reed

y

y

Two flowering reeds/oblique strokes

', Guttural sound

', Guttural sound

Forearm

w, u

w or u

Quail chick

b

b

Foot

p

p

Stool

f

f

Horned viper

m

m

Owl

n

n

Water

r

r

Mouth

h

h as in 'English'

Reed shelter in fields

h

Emphatic h

Wick of twisted flax

ch

ch as in Scottish 'loch'

Placenta(?)

ch

ch as in German 'ich'

Animal's belly with teats

sz

s/z

Belt/folded cloth

sh

sh

Pool

Backward k

Backward k, like q in 'queen'

Hill slope

k

k

Basket with handle

g

Hard g

Stand for jar

t

t

Loaf

tsh

Originally tsh (or tj)

Tethering rope

d

d

Hand

dj

Originally dj and also a dull, emphatic s

 

Snake

 

 

 

Transliteration Since vowels were not usually written, two signs could be pronounced in a range of different ways.

For example, w, uz (ws) could sound like was, wes, ews, awsa, etc. The way that is normally used (according to the 'Egyptian Grammar' book), is to use an e, except where the glottal stop (Glottal stop) and the guttural sound (Guttural sound) occur; these translate to a.

 

But remember - it is unknown how the words were actually said - we don't know where the vowels were placed!

Biliteral and triliteral words are written, except for when they are near similarly pronounced uniliterals. For instance,Consonantal ymnn is consonantal y-mn, not consonantal y-mn-n.

 

Semi-vowels

Consonantal y and w, u are consonant signs, but the sounds of these consonants are close to the vowels i and u. These are known as semi-vowels.*

 

If y is used at the start of a word, it is pronounced as y otherwise it is pronounced i. As it is only found at the end of a word and is pronounced as y.

 

Weak Consonants

 

Glottal stop and rConsonantal yare known as weak consonants. They were often changed or omitted - often, they were replaced by Consonantal y.

 

* Note, it seems that Consonantal y and Glottal stop are also translated as an a, these days. Eg. Amen-Ra, rather than Imen-Ra!

 

Absence of the Article

Middle Egyptian didn't have an equivalent of the English article in their writings. For example, rn (name) could be 'the name', 'a name', or just simply 'name'! The Egyptian equivalent of 'a' and 'the' came later on in Middle Egyptian, but was really only used regularly in Late Egyptian writing.

 

Vocabulary

 

Hieroglyph

Sound

Transliteration

Meanings

m

m

em

1. in

2. by means of, with (of instrument)

3. from, out of

n

n

en

1. to, for (in sense of dative)

2. to (of direction, only to persons)

r

r

er

1. to, into, towards (of direction towards things)

2. in respect of

pn

pn

pen

1. this (masculine)

Follows the noun

tn

tn

pen

1. this (feminine)

Follows the noun

ky

ky

key

1. other, another (masculine)

Precedes the noun

kt

kt

ket

1. other, another (feminine)

Precedes the noun

Consonantal ym

ym

yem

1. there, therein, therewith, therefrom

bw

bw

bew

1. place (masculine, singular only)

cht

cht

chet

1. place (feminine, singular only)

pth

pth

Pteh

1. a god of Memphis (also translated as Ptah)

Consonantal yw

yw

yew

1. is, are

rn

rn

ren

1. name (masculine)

djd

djd

djed

1. say, speak

hn'

hn'

hena

1. together with

 

Exercise

 

Try to translate the following in hieroglyphs, with transliteration sounds (in the same order of the English, unless otherwise specified by the small numerals, or specified previously in the lesson or vocabulary):

 

1.To another place To Ptah

2.Another

3.thing 1is here

4.In this name

5.2Ptah 1is there in this place

6.Together with another name

7.A 2thing 1is in this place

8.2Ptah 1speak(s) in respect of this thing

 

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