How does Egyptian hieroglyphics translation work?

Egyptian hieroglyphics translator

Kim Raymoures answer to Cryptolinguistics: If the Rosetta Stone had never been discovered, would computers now be able to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs?This goes into some detail about how Egyptian hieroglyphic translation works.

Interesting, complicated stuff!

Egyptian hieroglyphs alphabet pdf

This doesnu2019t teach words or syntax, but practically any Arabic book or time I get from Egypt comes with these free bookmarks with the hieroglyphic alphabet, so that part is certainly very easy to find out even if learning the proper language is harder.

This is not a full answer to the question, but I just wanted to contribute the alphabet aspect.

hieroglyphics alphabet a-z

The Ugarit abecedary.

Image from UNESCO.

This is a very historically important rock.

We found the clay tablet and hundreds of others like it in Syria in the late 1920s, in the ruined and forgotten city of Ugarit, inscribed with what would appear at first to be Cuneiform, the writing system used in Mesopotamia.

Not too weird, typical mid-1400s BC fare, probably from some Akkadians whou2019d wandered off into the Levant.

,Oddly enough, it wasnu2019t.

It looked like Cuneiform, and it was written in the same way with the same tools and techniques, but the script itself was different.

The other widespread writing systems of the time were syllable- and pictogram-based, with hundreds (as in Cuneiform) or thousands (as in Egyptian hieroglyphs) of characters total.

These tablets had only thirty.

,And thereu2019s only one kind of script that has that few characters: an alphabet.

,The wealth of tablets that had been discovered dated to the 1400s BC; the alphabet as a concept had only been invented a few hundred years prior.

Alphabetic systems, where each character represents a single sound instead of a syllable or a whole word, were barely used for almost the entire second millennium BC.

The Phoenicians got hold of it in 1200 BC and spread it to the world along their trade networks, but before that, Cuneiform and Egyptian dominated the Middle East.

,What had apparently happened with this iteration of the alphabet was that a group of scribes who had been trained to write in Cuneiform adopted the then-unpopular alphabet and adapted the letter-shapes with a stylus in typical Mesopotamian style.

Its writersu2019 civilization fell in the Bronze Age Collapse around 1200 BC, and was forgotten till its rediscovery in 1928.

,Deciphering the tablets was easy: like most languages in the area, it was a Northwest Semitic language very close to Ancient Hebrew.

Within the week, the two researchers who had been working on the language had cracked it entirely.

The ruined city that had once been home to this writing system, the archaeologists learned, was called Ugarit, and their language was accordingly dubbed Ugaritic.

,The Ugaritic alphabet.

Image from Wikipedia.

The tablets recorded lots of normal tablet-recording business, like trade records and lists of names.

The existence of the Ugaritic alphabet would be fascinating just by itself: the earliest known sizeable collection of writings in an alphabetic system, centuries before the Phoenicians! Wonderful!,But for the non-nerds among us who donu2019t care about the preceding paragraph, thereu2019s something awfully cool in Ugaritic, too: that rock at the top of this answer.

What does it say? Strangely, it doesnu2019t say anything.

It is rather something called an abecedary: a collection of all the letters of the alphabet.

,In this case, the Ugaritic letters were written in a very specific, very familiar order:,u02bea b tg u1e2b d h w z tu1e25 u1e6d y k tu0161 l m u1e0f n u1e93 s u02bf p tu1e63 q r u1e6f u0121 t u02bei tu02beu s2,That doesnu2019t look familiar! However, if you remove all the Ugaritic-specific letters that we donu2019t have anymore and then acknowledge that they werenu2019t really big on vowels back then, you get this:,u02bea b tg d h w z y k l m n p q r s t,That one little rock up there contains the ancient seeds of the alphabetical order we use today.

The Greeks and Phoenicians shifted some around here and there, the Romans threw out a bunch and then stole some more from Greek, a few letters were added after that, etc.

, but for the most part that order you see there is the root of the modern A-B-C-D-E-F-Gu2026 order.

,But thereu2019s a bit of a problem.

Disappointingly, we donu2019t know why itu2019s in that order.

I know, I know, thatu2019s the point of the question, Iu2019m sorry.

Someone, for reasons entirely mysterious to us, created this order somewhere between 1800 and 1400 BC, and it started to be used and kept being used.

There could have been a logical motivation for it; we have no way of knowing.

,Or it might have been one of many random sets that were suggested.

Another order used at the time that we also find on some Ugaritic tablets is this one, which is how some South Arabian and North African scripts, like Geu2019ez, historically ordered their letters.

By sheer chance, the Phoenicians chose one order instead of the other, so today you could have been learning your HLMu2019s instead of your ABCu2019s:,h l m q w r t s k n b p u02bea g d z y,To answer your question, and maybe disappoint you, we donu2019t know who put the alphabet in alphabetical order, or when or why they did it.

Itu2019s at least 3500 years old, as evidenced by the Ugarit abecedaries, and it was the idea of a Middle Eastern, Semitic-language-speaking scribe(s).

Unfortunately, since there were so few records at the time, we canu2019t know much beyond that.

(For a longer and more general history of the alphabet, see here.

),Thanks for asking!

Egyptian hieroglyphics translation Chart


,Exactly one.

Our own Latin alphabet, the Hebrew alphabet, the Arabic alphabet, the Korean alphabet, all Indian alphabets, the native Indonesian alphabets, and quite literally every alphabet you can name all come from one alphabet.

,What youu2019re probably asking is u201cWhich civilizations invented their own writing systems?u201d, which is a different question altogether and Iu2019ve already answered it here.

In short, the ancient Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Chinese, and Mayans are the only ones known to have independently invented their own writing systems.

,But these werenu2019t alphabets.

They were more like advanced mostly-phonetic picture writing, or rebus writing if you want to be fancy about it.

This here is the example I usually use when explaining how the rebus principle works:,First, I need you to know that u201chieroglyphsu201d is not a language, any more than u201cthe alphabetu201d is a language.

Hieroglyphs are a writing system, and they were used to write a language called Egyptian.

You can speak Egyptian, but you cannot speak hieroglyphs.

,The image above is a word puzzle called a rebus, where pictures stand for words that when put together make a sentence.

This particular rebus is Eye sink tear four eye ham: u201cI think, therefore I amu201d.

,You may have solved the puzzle before reading the previous paragraph.

If so, congratulations! Youu2019ve u201ctranslatedu201d English hieroglyphs.

The problem is that the puzzle relies on you knowing how to speak English.

,Now letu2019s look at a French rebus:,If you try to solve it using English, you u201ctranslateu201d it as Nu2019holly bucket moo a bench back nose! - and donu2019t even bother trying to make sense of that.

The puzzle here relies on French, and not English.

If you solve it using French, you come up with Nhoux seau meuh a banc dos nez !, meaning Nous sommes abandonnu00e9s ! (u201cWeu2019ve been abandoned!u201d).

,You canu2019t translate this puzzle without knowing French.

Using English, as demonstrated, results in nonsense.

,Egyptian, to oversimplify things, was written in these sorts of puzzles.

Yes, it was written in u201cpicturesu201d, but the pictures stood for things other than what they literally looked like.

In the English rebus, the u201ceyeu201d stands for u201cIu201d, and isnu2019t supposed to be an actual representation of an eye.

Hieroglyphs follow the same basic idea.

,Just as you canu2019t translate the French puzzle without knowing French, you canu2019t translate Egyptian hieroglyphs without knowing Egyptian.

Hieroglyphs are not, contrary to popular belief, a (wholly) pictographic script.

Mayan, early Chinese, and the Mesopotamian Cuneiform system all worked in the same manner: some words stood for what they literally meant, but most represented sounds rather than pictures.

It would be like having the character [EYE] represent literally u201ceyeu201d as well as u201cIu201d the pronoun.

,The problem here is that you need different symbols to represent every syllable.

These systems had hundreds if not many thousands of characters, and had a habit of constantly gaining more.

Egyptian started with maybe seven hundred hieroglyphs, but had over five thousand (!) by the time it died out.

,If you ever did one of those sad little units in school on Ancient Egypt, you probably came across an u201calphabetu201d, something like this:,This is disgusting and inaccurate beyond words.

,But as with everything incorrect, however, thereu2019s a glimmer of truth to this.

The Egyptians had - to a degree - what we would think of as an alphabet: a writing system where each character, rather than representing a whole word or syllable, stood for a single sound.

They very rarely used it, saving it more for foreign names and the like, but it was there, a proto-alphabet hidden in the larger picto-phonetic system.

,Did I mention how difficult that picto-phonetic system, those hieroglyphs, were to learn? They were awfully convoluted.

It was inevitable that someone would give up eventually, and one poor group of scribes living in the Sinai peninsula finally did just that.

,The Sinai peninsula, link between Africa and Asia and home to an unexpectedly important group of frustrated scribes.

Thousands of characters, in inconsistent and confusing patterns? Years and years needed to learn hieroglyphs? No, this just wonu2019t do.

These scribes werenu2019t Egyptian, but rather Semites, closely related to the Phoenicians, Jews, and Arabs, but only very distantly to their Egyptian neighbours, who looked down upon them as generically negative foreigners.

,The scribesu2019 language was poorly suited to hieroglyphs - and, arguably, so was the Egyptian language itself.

We should create our own system, they declared, designed especially for the Semitic languages! It shall be a thousand times better than hieroglyphs! We will make it simpler, easy enough to master in a week - nay, a day, even! At last, our language will have a writing system of its own.

,But they couldnu2019t create it entirely from scratch.

They knew only one writing system, Egyptian.

Try creating a writing system for yourself and youu2019ll find that it will look a lot like the alphabets you already know.

The scribes here had the same problem.

,Well, hereu2019s a good system already, buried within the hieroglyphs.

Instead of standing for a syllable or a whole word, why not have each character represent one single sound? Letu2019s pull that out, modify it for our own languageu2019s words and sounds, and flesh out the edges.

,Each letter would have a character assigned to it.

That character would be a crude drawing of a word that started with that sound.

For instance, the u201cKu201d sound would be represented with a drawing of an open hand, or kap in their language.

All you would need to do is remember the word associated with the letter and you could remember its shape and sound.

This was a genius mnemonic system.

,u201cWhat shall we call it?u201d asked one scribe.

The new writing system needed a name, after all.

The others thought for a moment, until a brilliant name emerged: the Ox-House!,u201cOx-Houseu201d? What kind of name is that? Itu2019s still the very same name you use.

The letter u201cAu201d - or, rather, the ancestor of our modern letter u201cAu201d - was named for the languageu2019s word for u201coxu201d, namely u2019alp or u2019alep.

The letter u201cBu201d was named for a house, or bet.

If you put the two first letters together, you get u2019alp-bet: the ox-house, the great-great-grandmother of the letters youu2019re reading right now.

,The first alphabet, Proto-Sinatic.

Image from Omniglot.

,Every alphabet - that is, every truly alphabetical system in use today - comes from this one, invented in the middle of the desert by some fed-up scribes.

Their alphabet was stolen by the Ethiopians to the south and the Phoenicians to the north, who sent it off to the Greeks and the Indians, both of whom revolutionized the alphabet.

,The Phoenician alphabet.

Image from Wikipedia.

The Greeks added proper vowels, most importantly, and also changed the names a little: u2019aleph and bet became alpha and beta.

They shipped it to the Slavs, who turned it into the Cyrillic alphabet, and to the Etruscans, who lent it to the Romans and the Norse.

The Norse turned it into their runes; the Romans turned it, slowly, into the Latin alphabet, which is ours.

,An early Greek alphabet.

Image from Omniglot.

The Indians turned it into an abugida, where the vowels are parasitically attached to the consonant characters rather than being characters in their own right.

The result was the Brahmi alphabet; see here for more on its history.

Every native script of South and Southeast Asia that doesnu2019t come from Chinese comes from Brahmi, including Korean Hangul, which you can read about here.

,Brahmiu2019s basic characters.

Image from here.

Meanwhile in the alphabetu2019s native Middle East, it developed into the Hebrew and Arabic alphabets.

Today they may seem completely alien to us, but you can see their slow evolution in charts like this one:,Image from Wikipedia.

,To answer your question, this one alphabet is the direct parent to this alphabet and every other you can name.

Itu2019s one of those fun little bits of history where the actions of a tiny, insignificant few turn out to be greater and more meaningful than anyone could have expected.

I have many more answers on the history of the alphabet here, if youu2019d like to learn more.

Thanks for asking!

Egyptian Hieroglyphs copy and paste

Sumerian cuneiform is extremely complex and riddled with ambiguities.

Even if you have a relatively strong foundation in the Sumerian language, reading an unfamiliar text is more like working a crossword puzzle than it is reading a newspaper article.

By comparison, Egyptian hieroglyphs or Chinese characters are relatively easy to decipher using a dictionary and a grammar (provided you have a basic understanding of the language).

With Sumerian cuneiform, a dictionary ordered by cuneiform signs would be unwieldy, impractical, and almost useless for deciphering an unfamiliar text.

,In order to overcome the ambiguities of the writing system and make the language more manageable, scholars use a system for transliterating Sumerian that allows you to read the phonetic values smoothly while also providing the information that you need to transcribe the text back into the original cuneiform.

,The best way to learn to read cuneiform is to work backwards, so to speak, by first studying a passage in its transliterated form, converting that back into the original cuneiform, and then learning to read the passage in the cuneiform.

,Here are a few online resources that you will need to begin your study of Sumerian:,Introduction to Sumerian Grammar and Elementary Sumerian Glossary by Daniel Foxvog:,http://cdli.






pdfSumerian Lexicon by John Halloran:,http://www.



htmThe Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL):,http://etcsl.




uk/The Electronic Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary (ePSD):,http://psd.




htmlUnicode Cuneiform Signlist (see links at the bottom of this article for Unicode fonts):,https://en.


org/wiki/Cuneiform_(Unicode_block)How to use Foxvogu2019s Introduction to Sumerian Grammar:,This is relatively straightforward.

Start at the beginning, pay special attention to how cuneiform is transliterated, then work your way through each grammatical topic.

You can use the ETCSL website to put together a short vocabulary that you can use to build your own exercises based on Foxvogu2019s grammar.

,How to use the ETCSL Website:,If you start on the main page of the ETCSL website, you will see a button to the middle right that says u201dCorpus content by category.

u201d Click that button, and it will take you a list of Sumerian texts that are available on the ETCSL website.

These are organized by topic, and you can pull up either the transliteration or the translation of each text.

On the transliteration page for any given text you can hover your mouse over a word to see the definition.

,Also, from the main page of the ETCSL website, you can go to the drop down list labelled u201dWord lists, sign list, and full catalog.

u201d From there, you can view a glossary that covers all of the texts on the ETCSL website, an *Emesal glossary, a list of proper nouns, and a sign list.

(*Emesal is a special dialect used to record the speech of goddesses, as well as some of the liturgical rites performed for goddesses.

),In order to convert one of the texts back into cuneiform, select u201csign listu201d from the drop-down.

This will take you to a page with the sign names (always written in capital letters) down the left side, the cuneiform down the middle, and the possible phonetic values for each sign down the right.

For example, in order to look up the cuneiform values for the word u201cnam-gilim-mau201d (a word that means u201cdestructionu201d), you would search the sign list page for the syllable u201cnam,u201d which corresponds to the cuneiform sign NAM.

u201cGilimu201d corresponds to the sign GI%GI (or u201cGI crossing GIu201d).

And u201cmau201d corresponds to the sign MA.

So, the word u201cnam-gilim-mau201d would be written as NAM.



You will be able to see the cuneiform on the sign list page, but you can also look up each of these signs on the Wikipedia page linked above in order to copy and paste the Unicode characters, or use whatever input method you prefer (I use Autohotkey to enter cuneiform text on my PC).

,If you have a cuneiform font installed, the word u201cnam-gilim-mau201d would be written as:,U00012246U00012103U00012220,Any Emesal words that you encounter in a text will be listed on the Emesal page, and any proper names that you find will be listed on the proper nouns page.

So, if you canu2019t find the word or syllable that you are looking for in the sign list or the standard glossary, check the Emesal page or the list of proper nouns.

Also note that u201cdeterminativesu201d are written as superscripts.

Those are described pretty early in Foxvogu2019s grammar.

,How to use the ePSD:,This can be a little confusing, but it is an invaluable resource.

Down the left-hand side of the page you will see a table with a bunch of crosses on it.

Across the top of the table you see the letters C, T, S, A, E, and down the left side you see all of the letters used in Sumerian.

The C stands for u201ccitation forms,u201d which is what we might call the u201cnormalizedu201d text without all of the superscripts and subscripts used in a full transliteration.

If you cross-reference the C with the A down the left side of the table and click the corresponding cross, you will get a list of all the words that start with the letter A in their citation forms.

[Note: the citation form of the word u201cnam-gilim-mau201d is u201cnamgilimau201d in the ePSD.

],In the same manner, you can cross-reference the letter T along the top for the transliteration (the form used in the ETCSL texts), the S for the words spelled by sign name (for example, you will find the word NAM.


MA = namgilima on that page), the A for the Akkadian translation of each word (where it is known), and the E for a list of English words and their Sumerian equivalents.

,That should get you started.

Good luck u2013 ancient Sumerian is a fascinating language!

Egyptian hieroglyphs meaning

Our letter B comes to us from the Latin alphabet, which in turn comes from the Greek beta and from the Canaanite-Phoenician bet u201chouseu201d of their alephbet, which in turn comes from the Egyptian hieroglyph for u201chouse, dwelling.


Hieroglyphic writing

When you get right down to it, the English writing system hasnt changed altogether too much in the past thousand years.

Heres how scholars generally transcribe the first few lines of Beowulf today:n,Hwu00e6t, we gardena in geardagum, nu00feeodcyninga u00ferym gefrunon, nhu u00f0a u00e6u00feelingas ellen fremedon!,And what does the actual text look like?,,nThis is practically a matter of differing typefaces.

Old English used a few more letters than contemporary English does (u00fe, u00f0, u00e6), but thats really the big change in the writing system from a thousand years ago to now.

Even in cases of spelling, changes can take a very long time to take effect.

English spelling more closely resembles late Medieval pronunciation than it does modern pronunciation, a problem that the French and Tibetan writing systems also have.

[1],Now, there are substantial differences between Old English and contemporary English, but these really dont come down to writing.

I mean, sure, nobody spells out gefrunon anymore, but thats more to do with how the language as a whole evolved, rather than how the writing system did.

,Or, to put it another way, heres a comparison between modern Chinese characters and Chinese seal script:,,nThe characters on the right are intelligible, but theyre from 2000 years ago.

As it turns out, if you have a largely continuous, centralized form of government and a fairly homogeneous culture, writing systems dont change much - everyones too invested in having learned the old one.

,This has been true of Chinese for the past two thousand years, and for the most part, it was true of Egyptian as well.

The earliest hieroglyphs weve found come from about 2900 BCE and the latest come from about 400 CE.

Weve found Egyptian writing from earlier, and that writing did not use hieroglyphs, but these examples also predated a unified Egypt by about two centuries.

,The big way in which hieroglyphs changed was that, as time went on, more were created.

From the Old Kingdom to the New Kingdom, (roughly 2700 BCE - 1100 BCE), there appear to have only been 800 distinct hieroglyphs.

In the following millennium, this ballooned out by a factor of about six.

Still, the basic system didnt change.

,Its also not very surprising that the number of hieroglyphs grew as time went on.

To put it simply, the Egyptian writing system was an absolutely crazy mess: some characters were logographs (one character represented one word), some characters were phonetic (one character represented one sound) and some characters were simply there to help narrow down what the logographs meant.

The more trade and technological development an empire has, the more words it needs in its language, so the larger number of logographs and determinatives made sense.

,Because of this, later hieroglyph texts, such as the Rosetta Stone, are more valuable in terms of deciphering hieroglyphs than earlier artifacts would be: the newer texts potentially have more hieroglyphs than the older ones could.

,By the way, this wasnt the only way hieroglyphs were a seriously difficult writing system.

The spelling was highly nonstandard and often relied on redundancy, and it could be written left to right, right to left or up to down.

[2],Hieroglyphs were not the only writing system available in Egypt.

While they were used in formal contexts, writing them down takes a long time and sometimes you just need to be fast.

This is where Hieratic script came into play.

Hieratic script predated hieroglyphs by a few hundred years, but the two systems did have some influence on each other.

By the middle of the first millennium BCE, Hieratic mostly had given way to another cursive script, this one called Demotic.

Demotic, along with hieroglyphs and Greek, is found on the Rosetta Stone.

,All of these scripts fell into general disuse when Egypt became part of the Roman Empire.

[3] In their place came the Coptic script, which looks extremely similar to the Greek alphabet, just with a few Demotic letters chucked in there for good measure.

The Coptic script is still used today, albeit purely in liturgical contexts.

The last anyone really used Coptic in a non-religious setting was in the 1600s - a few centuries of official discouragement from the Arab and Mamluk rulers marginalized the Egyptian language, eventually causing its extinction.

,[1] Tibetan spelling actually more closely resembles Tibetan pronunciation from about the time of the High Middle Ages, but point stands: spelling doesnt necessarily change that much.

,[2] In case youre wondering, you read it so that the characters face you.

So, for example, this would have been read left to right:,,nNotice how some characters are stacked.

Those are distinct, but stacked, characters.

They are not compound characters.

And you thought you had it bad trying to remember how to spell onomatopoeia.

,[3] They were used liturgically for a few centuries after that, but then died out completely when the Ancient Egyptian religion did.

Hieroglyphics for kids

Some things are simply not age-appropriate and the child will benefit nothing from knowing it.

Children should not be burdened with financial woes or deep problems at work amongst others.

Never involve a child in a marital conflict as that forces the child to take sides against a parent they love and they are embroiled in a fight that is not their own.

,If we went through a slightly tight patch money-wise, we would tell the children that we wont be having any treats or outings for the next while because as a team we all just need to save a little bit more.

Make them part of something like that but only by telling them what you are doing about it and what the solution is.