Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs

Academic Paper, 2018
4 Pages, Grade: A



Remarkably, the ancient Egyptians have been noted to have applied writing as a form of communicating information about an individual shown on a relief or sculpture. According to several scholars and historians, the Egyptians termed their writing as a divine word since they believed that Thoth, who was the god of wisdom, was responsible for their knowledge of writing (The British Museum 3). In this sense, the word hieroglyphs has been derived from a phrase that refers to sacred carvings which was used by the ancient Greek explorers to Egypt in describing the symbols which they saw on temple and tombs walls. Arguably, the number of hieroglyphic signs that were used in Egypt gradually grew to more than seven thousand, even though not all of these signs were regularly used. Hieroglyphs were selected from a variety of observed images such as people, buildings, birds and even trees. Moreover, some of these signs represented ancient Egyptian language sounds, although they represented consonants only; vowels were not written out. Scholars also note that these sounds did not take an alphabetic order because a single sound had the potential of representing a combination of two or even more consonants, for example, the gaming-board hieroglyph that represented the consonants mn (The British Museum 4). According to Egyptologists, these sounds are made pronounceable by placing an e in between the consonants such that mn will be read as men. However, several hieroglyphic signs were not pronounced at all, yet they played significant roles in clarifying meanings, for instance, a boat that follows the sign dpt -standing for the word boat.

According to archaeologists, the Egyptian hieroglyphs have been assumed to be the oldest form of writing, with the earliest evidence believed to be from around 3300 BC, and the Egyptians are believed to have used them for the next 3,500 years. Apparently, the hieroglyphs remained highly ubiquitous in the 1,700-year period, a time when the Egyptians spoke and wrote the Old Egyptian as well as Middle Egyptian age (Guisepi, par. 2). Observers also note that only a small percentage of the Egyptian population especially priests, the royalty, and civil officials used hieroglyphs because they were challenging to learn alongside consuming much time. By the time Egypt became a prominent Christian state in the 4th Century AD, hieroglyphs had no requisite in the region, though the Egyptian language continued to be used, but in this time round, it was written in an alphabetic script that was termed as Coptic. After the Egyptians were conquered by the Arabs in the seventh century AD, they brought the Arabic form of written as well as spoken language that remains to be used by the Egyptians today (Guisepi, par. 4).

The hieroglyph system that was used in the ancient Egypt had more than seven-hundred basic symbols that were called glyphs, a number that expanded in the last centuries of the civilization of the ancient Egypt due to increased interest in religious texts writing. The Egyptians wrote the hieroglyphs in long lines that ran from the right to left and from top to the bottom; they never utilized spaces or punctuation marks (Huckvale 49).

Significantly, the Egyptian glyphs are broken into two categories: phonograms and ideograms. The phonograms are the ones that represent sound while the ideograms are the glyphs that refer to ideas or objects, but the Egyptians used the two in constructing words. Phonograms were used to represent the sounds given by single consonants, as well as combinations of consonants. With respect to this, the Egyptians never wrote vowels, and; hence, it was easy for an individual to exactly know the manner by which they pronounced the hieroglyphic texts (Guisepi, par. 4). The time the Egyptians speak, it is possible for them to express vowel sounds in distinguishing varied words that may look alike in writing.

On the other hand, ideograms were noted to represent either a certain object or something that is closely related to the object. A good example of this is the hieroglyphic sign of a pair of legs, which can represent the noun motion. In this regard, after combining with other glyphs, the sign has the potential of representing the verb approach, or in other instances, the concept, to give directions as noted below:

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Fig. 1-( Guisepi, par. 6)

Accordingly, the Egyptian in most cases constructed their hieroglyphs by placing their phonograms at the beginning of a certain word, followed by an ideogram, termed as a determinative after it has been used in this form. The category to which this word belonged, for example, motion or animal words, was specified by the determinative and clued the reader on the anticipated meaning. Thus, the below examples can be used to demonstrate hieroglyphs that have the sounds s (on the right) and r (on the left) that combine determinatives and phonograms (Guisepi, par. 6).

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Fig.2 - (Guisepi, par. 7)

In speech, the Egyptians are believed to have distinguished between these words through adding vowel sounds, for instance, they could have done this by saying ser, sor or sur (Guisepi, par. 7) On the contrary, since they never wrote vowels, they are believed to have used determinatives, which appeared to the left side of the phonograms so that they may specify the meaning of each word. As a result, it can be summed that writing phonograms alongside determinatives in varied combinations made it possible for the Egyptians to develop several words without being mandated to create a single varied glyph for every object, action or idea.

However, the various reconstructions that were evident in the ancient Egypt had a substantial impact on the neo-Egyptian operas, and different people were unable to read the hieroglyphs. As a consequence, the famous Rosetta Stone was discovered, whose bilingual text in three scripts of Greek, Egyptian, and Demotic hieroglyphs was discovered in the year 1779 (Huckvale 69). The Rosetta Stone refers to a stone that contains writing on it in two different languages; Greek and Egyptian, but uses the three aforementioned scripts. Thus, different scholars and Egyptologists used different discoveries and signs to come up with diverse art. In this sense, different engravings of the Egyptian artifacts that were inspired by the Egyptian culture, architecture, religion and tradition were improved and the language turned out to be commercial leading to movie production on the basis of these hieroglyphs (Huckvale 70).


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Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs
Mount Kenya University
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Business Administrator Mutinda Jackson (Author), 2018, Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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