jueves, 1 de octubre de 2009

Pharaoh´s language: the hieroglyphs

The History of Egyptian writing

Although it´s difficult to make sure when they appeared, the first hieroglyphs dated to about 3000BC, in the Predynastic Period. The hieroglyphic language has suffered six periods during the History. After the Roman Empire began, hieroglyphs faded from popular use. When Napoleon invaded Egypt and discovered the Rosetta stone, hieroglyphic writing started to be known among the population. This stone was written in two Egyptian symbols: demotic and hieroglyphic. The second one was developed towards the end of the ancient language´s use and utilized a cursive script. If you want to write as the ancient egyptian gods did, follow these instructions.

Some rules to decipher hieroglyphs

This “literary art” is composed by phonetic symbols and ideographic characters. Each symbol can mean a sound, a letter or even the same thing that the symbol represents (for instance, a figure of a man means “man” or “servant”, but an owl represents the letter “m”). The “grammar” of this language is written as follows.

There are three kind of symbols:
  • The determinatives. They help to determine when a word ends. They haven´t a phonetic sense, they represent the nature of the thing they refer to. For example, if you want to write the name of a person, you must draw a man after the name .
  • The phonograms. Symbols which represent sounds. They are always consonants, but we can also find weak vowels which are pronounced as consonants. This signs can represent only a letter, two letters (these are the most usual), three letters (for example, the famous beetle contains these three consonants “hpr”) or even four letters.
  • The ideograms. These symbols represent words, not sounds. It can become a logogram if the picture is the exact word that it means.

More ideas to understand hieroglyphs:

  • Direction: the symbols which compose the hieroglyphs can not be lined-up. They must appear regrouped inside an imaginary square. It does not exist spaces between the words or sentences and this language does not own punctuation rules. Besides, some symbols can appear in a vertical or horizontal position to fit in that imaginary square.
    The Egyptian writing can be written in vertical or horizontal direction too. This is a real example of vertical hieroglyph from the Vatican Museum.
    Symbols can also be facing left or right: this fact will determine the direction on which we must read them.

  • Pronunciation: hieroglyphic writing has not got vowels, it is composed only by consonants. Trying to understand the meaning of a word which has not got vowels is difficult. To solve that problem, some experts in Egyptian writing have decided to include an “e” between all the consonants. If Egyptians wanted to write plural words, they added three ticks under the symbol.

If you follow these rules you are prepared to decipher a hieroglyph as a good egyptologist! And that is not all, you can also write your name in this ancient language, click here!

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