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Learning Egyptian Hieroglyphs - Lesson 3 (Part I)

by Caroline Seawright


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!

Biliteral Signs

Combinations of two consonants (biliteral signs) are of great importance in Egyptian writing.

Here are some signs with a as the second consonant:

`a `a
pa pa
kha kha
sa, sa (old) sa
ta ta
wa wa
ma ma
ha ha
sha sha
tha tha
ba ba
ha ha
sa sa
ka ka
dja dja

Phonetic Complements

The biliteral signs (and triliteral signs) are almost always accompanied by alphabetic signs that express part or the whole of their sound value.

This means that shaa is read as sha, not shaa. (shaa would be written as shaaa!)

These alphabetic signs, used in that way, are called Phonetic Complements.

The way of combining these signs varies, but from our list above, these signs follow the pattern used by shaa:

wa, ma, ha, ka, tha and dja.

The others, apart from `a, have a pattern where the two consonants surround the biliteral (the first consonant before the biliteral, the second after), as in bbaa ba (not bbaa).

`a uses this pattern: a`a (though a` is also used).

These patterns come through intuitive practise of Egyptian writing.

Although uncommon, there are some words with an absence of the phonetic complements, seen in such words as kha kha 'a thousand', sa stroke determinativeman determinative sa 'son', bakman determinative bak 'servant' and katman carrying basket determinative kat 'work, construction'.

Personal Pronouns

Personal Pronouns appear in several different forms:

  1. Suffix pronouns
  2. Dependant pronouns
  3. Independent pronouns

These will be explained further on and in another lesson.

Suffix Pronouns

Suffixes must follow a preceding word. Here are the ones we will be learning in this lesson:

Suffix Hieroglyph Sound Meanings
Singular 1 man determinative *y 1, me, my
        also feminine woman determinative  
        kings sometimes use hawk determinative, king determinative, god determinative  
Singular 2, masculine k *k Thou, thee, thy
Singular 2, feminine th *tsh Thou, thee, thy
        later on, also t *t  
Singular 3, masculine f *f He, him, his, it, its
Singular 3, feminine s *s She, her, hers, its
        later on, also s *s  
Plural 1 n three strokes determinative *n We, us, our
Plural 2 tshn three strokes determinative, tshn *tshn You, your
        or tshn three strokes determinative, tshn *tn  
Plural 3 sn three strokes determinative, sn; s, s three strokes determinative *sn They, them, their
        or sn three strokes determinative, sn; s three strokes determinative *sn  
Plural 3 w three strokes determinative *w They, them, their
        later on w three strokes determinative *w  
Dual 1 n two slash determinative1 *ny We two, us two, our
Dual 2 thn two slash determinative1 *tshny You two, your
Dual 3 sn two slash determinative1 *sny They two, their

1 These became obsolete.

Chief Uses of Suffix Pronouns

  1. As genitive after nouns, with the sense of our possessive adjectives.
    Eg. pr stroke determinativef pr*f 'his house' ('house of him'/'a house of his'); nywt stroke determinativesn three strokes determinative nywt*sn 'their town' ('town of them')
  2. After prepositions.
    Eg. n man determinative n*y 'to me'; hn`s hn`*s 'together with her'
  3. As nominative with the simple tenses of the verb.
    Eg. djdk djd*k 'thou sayest'; ear determinativemntsh sdjm*m*tsh 'thou (fem) hast heard'

'Myself', 'Thyself', Etc

In Egyptian there are no special reflexive pronouns. This means that djdfnf djd*f n*f could mean 'he says to himself'.

For emphatic 'myself', 'thyself', etc, we can use djs djs*, later on written as djs with the appended suffix.

This is found:

  1. After nouns, as in sun determinative stroke determinativegod determinativedjsf R` djs*f 'Ra (in person) himself'
  2. To strengthen a suffix when used as a genitive, eg. rnman determinativedjsman determinative rn*y djs*y 'my own name'
  3. Adverbially, with the meaning 'by ones own effort', eg. sncross determinative legs determinativenkqrtwood determinative three stroke determinativedjs three stroke determinativesn three stroke determinative sn n*k qrwt djs*sn 'the bolts open to thee by themselves'

In later times, 'myself', 'thyself', etc, are regularly paraphrased by h` flesh determinativeIII determinativeman determinative h`w*y or h` flesh determinativeIII determinativek h`w*k (literally 'my (thy) members').

<< Lesson 2 (Part II) || Lesson 3 (Part II) >>

© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2001 - present

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