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The System of Egyptian Hieroglyphic Writing

There are different kinds of signs in the hieroglyphic script; the following series of pictures indicates how often the different kind of signs are used in one inscription of the Old Kingdom.

1. Sound (Phonetic) signs
They represent one or more consonants (b, c, d, f, g, h, j (i), k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z). As in Arabic and Hebrew, vowels (a, e, i, o, u) are not written and no signs exist for them. Signs may represent one, two or three consonants.

A. One sign represents one consonant. These signs are marked red.

B. The signs which represent two consonants. They are marked in blue.

C. Signs which represent three consonants. These signs are marked in yellow.

2. Idea signs/ determinatives
These are signs representing an object or object group. The ancient Egyptians only wrote the consonants. As in modern languages there are many words with the same consonants (about - but - bite - all three words have only the consonants B + T). If only the consonants are written, it would be easy to confuse two different words. To avoid confusion a special sign was placed after most of the words, showing the object or the area to which the word belongs - 'determining' their general significance (so called 'determinatives'). These signs are marked green.

3. Ideograms
These are signs which represent sometimes a sound, sometimes an object (idea sign), most often both. These signs are marked purple.



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