The pictorial language of Ancient Egypt.

Egyptian hieroglyphs were the formal writing system used in Ancient Egypt. Hieroglyphs combined logographic, syllabic and alphabetic elements, with a total of some 1,000 distinct characters. Cursive hieroglyphs were used for religious literature on papyrus and wood. The later hieratic and demotic Egyptian scripts were derived from hieroglyphic writing, as was the Proto-Sinaitic script that later evolved into the Phoenician alphabet. Through the Phoenician alphabet’s major child systems, the Greek and Aramaic scripts, the Egyptian hieroglyphic script is ancestral to the majority of scripts in modern use, most prominently the Latin and Cyrillic scripts and the Arabic script and Brahmic family of scripts.

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics were one of the hardest of Egypt’s mysteries to uncover! Check out our fascinating facts about hieroglyphics…

Facts about hieroglyphics
Although hieroglyphics are Egyptian, the word hieroglyphics is Greek. “Hiero” means “holy” and “glyphics” means “marks” or “writings” – so the word means “holy writings“. The Egyptians believed there was great power in a name. If someone’s name was remembered then he or she would survive in the afterlife. That’s why pharaohs’ names were written in hieroglyphics in their tombs!

What do the pictures mean?
Most of the pictures can stand for the object they represent, but usually they stand for sounds. In Egyptian, the owl stands for the sound “m”. The Egyptian symbol for a mouth can mean mouth but it’s usually read as the sound “r”. You can’t exactly match our alphabet to hieroglyphics, because they are two very different languages, but historians have come up with a simplified translation of our letters and Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Hieroglyphics can be pictures of living creatures, objects used in daily life or symbols. Some are easy to identify, some confusing and some impossible! If you look at the alphabet chart, you can easily spot the foot, the hand, the lion and the owl, but why are there two different kinds of snakes?

Why don’t you use the hieroglyphic chart above to see if you can write your own name?

For more about the Ancient Egyptians and their hieroglyphics, check out this cool clip…

Posted in Linguistics.