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Learn about the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic alphabet and the history of Egyptican hieroglyphs.
The history of hieroglyphics is thousands of years old.
The word hieroglyph is of Greek origin and means sacred carving. It was a writing system used in ancient Egypt which contained both logographic and alphabetic symbols.
Hieroglyphs were called "the words of the gods" (mdju netjer) by the Egyptians and were used mostly by the priests. These beautifully drawn symbols were used to decorate the walls of holy sites and temples but not for day to day transactions.
Hieroglyphic writing began about 5000 years ago and ceased after the closing of all non-Christian temples in AD 391 by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I. Eventually the language was forgotton and remained undecipherable until Jean-Francois Champollion enabled by the Rosetta stone, made the complete decipherment in the early 1820s.
The Rosetta Stone is a large black stone which was found by Napolean's troops in 1799 while digging a fort in Rosetta, Egypt during Napoleon's Egyptian invasion. It contains a message about Ptolemy V written in three languages; Greek, Demotic and Hieroglyphic.
Although scholars realized that the same passage was written in all three languages they could not determine how to match up the Greek words with the hieroglyphic ones. Champillion was able to make the final break through when he realized that the hieroglyphs that spelled "Ptolemy" were enclosed in a cartouche, allowing him to then match the hieroglyphs to the Greek spellings. As it turned out only kings (and sometimes queens and high priests) had their names in cartouches.
Hieroglyphs are written in rows or columns and can be read from left to right or right to left. Vertically, symbols are always read from top to bottom. Horizontally, the symbols should be read from left to right if they are facing left (as they face the beginning of the line) or right to left if they are facing right.
There are two basic types of hieroglyphs. Ideograms and phonograms. Ideograms represent either the specific object drawn or something closely related to it. Phonograms represent either syllables (ba-by) or basic sounds (b-a-b-y). Phonograms are used for their phonetic or sound value and have no relationship to the meaning of the word they are used to spell. Phonograms can represent one consonant (uniliteral) or the combination of two or three consonants or syllables (biliteral, triliteral).
Vowels are generally omitted from written text. To avoid ambiguity (for example boat versus bat which would both be written as bt) ideograms are added to the end for clarity. Used in this way, ideograms are referred to as determinatives. So using our example, bat would be written using the symbols for b, t and animal.
Vowels are however used to avoid ambiguity when writing names or to immitate sounds in foreign languages and are therefore used in our translator.
A summary of how the translation is done is listed below.
Most online translators translate letter for letter which is not always the most accurate translation.
Modern language names and words should be translated into hieroglyphics based on their sound rather than their spelling as some of the letters may be silent or actually sound like other letters.
Please refer to the rules in the table below for an accurate translation. We have tried to incorporate many of these rules into our translator. If you want to print out the result and are getting an inaccurate translation, try change the spelling of the name you enter based on the rules below.
|A||Vulture||Short A; cat, bar, father|
|A||Arm||Long A; bake, pail, make, way, hey|
|C||Folded Cloth (no symbol use S)||Soft C; mice|
|C||Basket (no symbol use K)||Hard C; cat|
|E||Reed (no symbol use short I)||Short E; egg, pet, earn|
|E||Two reeds||Long E; reed, be, bleach, mary, radio|
|F||Horned Viper||fish, phone, tough|
|G||Snake||Soft G; judge, gym|
|G||Jar stand||Hard G; grape, girl, ghost|
|H||Twisted flax or shelter||her, who|
|I||Reed||Short and Long I; him hide|
|J||Snake||Hard English J; jump(German J - Y sound in English, Spanish J - H sound in English; use Y or H)|
|K||Basket||kite, pick, kid, technology, clique|
|Kh||Placenta||Like Scotch 'Loch'|
|L||Lion (no symbol use form of R)||lake, lead, bell|
|O||Lasso or Quail Chick (no symbol use form of W)||Long O; coat, rose, sew, mow, boat|
|O||Vulture||Short O; dog, tall, all, shawl, daughter|
|OO||Reed and Chick||food, rude, blue|
|OO||Quail Chick||too, book, push|
|P||Mat (for stool)||pin|
|Q||Slope (hillside)||form of K; clique|
|Qu||Basket and Chick||Q+U sounds like K+W so use those symbols; quick, quiet|
|S||Folded cloth||Soft S; sit, nice|
|S||Door bolt||Hard S; days, fission, measure, zinc|
|T||Loaf of bread||tiger, thyme|
|Th||Hand (no symbol use D)||Soft Th; this, that, thumb|
|Th||Loaf of bread (no symbol use T)||Hard Th; think, math, the|
|U||Quail Chick||Short U; cut, about, ugly|
|U||Reed and Chick||Long U; cute, rude, food, blue|
|V||Horned Viper (no symbol use F)||vine|
|W||Quail Chick||win, wind, what, cow|
|X||Basket and Folded Cloth||K+S; fox, fix|
|Y||Reed||Hard Y; yellow, crayon, yes|
|Y||Reed||Y like I; fly, gym, byte|
|Y||Two Reeds||Y like long E; ready, mary|
|Z||Door bolt||zebra, dogs, xylophone|