Learning Egyptian Hieroglyphs - Lesson 2 (Part I)by Caroline Seawright
December 19, 2000
Learning to Read 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!
Ideograms (Sense Signs)
Ideograms convey their meaning pictorially, usually accompanied by phonograms. A picture of the sun suggests sun, light and time, and as phonograms are used to give the exact meaning of words, can be seen in words such as:
(or ) r' means "sun"
hrw means "day", "daytime"
rk means "time", "period"
wbn means "rise", "shine"
But, in writing, ideograms need not be accompanied by all of the signs needed to express its complete sound value. Full writings are rare, but they show the sound values where the shortened forms don't. For example:
sdjm (full version) and sdjm both mean "hear".
Note that ideograms do not have to end the word.
When ideograms end the word, they are called determinatives. This is because these ideograms determine the meaning of the foregoing sound signs. They also define the meaning in a general way.
Note that words written as ideograms can also have determinatives:
Only very common words do no have determinatives. Also, some words have more than one determinative!
Ideograms that serve to determine a huge number of different words can only express the kind of sense of these words, rather than their specific meaning. These are known as generic determinatives.
Here is a list of the more important generic determinatives:
|old man, old, lean on|
|official, man in authority|
|exalted person, the dead|
|high, rejoice, support|
|2||eat, drink, speak, think, feel|
|or||lie down, death, bury|
|mummy, likeness, shape|
|head, nod, throttle|
|hair, mourn, forlorn|
|eye, see, actions of the eye|
|actions or conditions of the eye|
|nose, smell, joy, contempt|
|ear, states or activities of the ear|
|tooth, actions of the teeth|
|force, effort (exchangeable with )|
|arm, bend arm, cease|
|phallus, beget, urinate|
|leg, foot, actions of the feet|
|tumours, odours, disease|
|savage, Setite (Typhonian)3|
|small, bad, weak|
|or||vine, fruit, garden|
|sun, light, time|
|fire, heat, cook|
|air, wind, sail|
|sand, minerals, pellets|
|water, liquid, actions connected with water|
|sheet of water|
|road, travel, position|
|desert, foreign country|
|foreign (country or person)|
|town, village, Egypt|
|shrine, palanquin, mat|
|boat, ship, navigation|
|rope, actions with cord or rope|
|hoe, cultivate, hack up|
|break, divide, cross|
|(less accurately )||pot, vessel, beverages|
|or||loaf, cake, offering|
|or (older form )||book, writing, abstract|
|4||royal name, king|
|one; the object depicted|
|(also , , )||several, plural|
|\||substitute for signs difficult to draw (not often used)|
1The king was often thought of as the incarnation of the falcon god Horus, and the queen as the cobra goddess Edjo. This is how the falcon and the cobra became determinatives for both royalty and deities.
2Note the difference of the arms from the determinative for man.
3This animal represents the god Set (identified by the Greeks with Thyphon), the brother and murderer of Osiris, enemy of his nephew Horus (son of Osiris).
4The hieroglyphs spelling the royal name are written inside this shape.
Purely Ideographic Writings
When ideograms stand for the actual objects that they depict, the phonetic signs that would indicate the sounds of these objects are often not used. These ideograms are usually indicated by the use of the stroke determinative .
If the noun is feminine, the stroke is preceded by t, the feminine ending.
Masculine and Feminine
The Egyptian language distinguishes things into two genders - masculine and feminine. Most feminine nouns end in t. Most of the other nouns are masculine.
© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2000 - present
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