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The system of hieroglyphic writing, a short introduction

This is a short text on a coffin found in Sedment

the text reads: Anubis, on his mountain, who is in Ut

Two basic types of signs are used: (1) signs denoting sounds and (2) signs denoting ideas

The name of the god Anubis (Anubis is a Greek word, the Egyptian writing is: inp) is written in this inscription with fo ursigns:


The first three signs each denote a single consonant, and these particular three consonants have rough equivalents in English and other European languages, and so should not cause speakers of those languages much problem

see a full list of all sound signs

The last sign requires explanation. The ancient Egyptians only wrote the consonants (to pronounce the word, Egyptologists insert an 'e' between the letters of the Egyptian words. inp is difficult pronounce, but i + n + e + p = inep is). 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 you write only the consonants it is very 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. Here the god Anubis is shown directly, as a jackal on a shrine. This kind of sign is called a 'determinative' because it 'determines' the meaning of a group of consonants.

on his mountain


For this short phrase the writer of the text used variations on the two basic sign types (sound and image)

tp is a phonetic sign for two letters; from its primary meaning 'head' (exactly what the sign depicts) it denotes 'first' and then 'what is over', 'on'
Dw is even less phonetic - in this context it is a picture of its word, 'mountain' (in Egyptian Dw)

f is the simple letter for 'f' and has the meaning 'his' (in Egyptian grammar placed after its word, as in Arabic, not before it as in English).


there are again two signs

the phonetic sign 'i'
the phonetic sign 'im'

'The i-reed is redundant strictly speaking, because the sound is included in the im-sign: however, particularly in simplified writing, it was useful to add 'reminders' of the content of two and three consonant signs, to avoid confusion between similarly formed signs. The i-reed here reminds the reader that there is an i-sound in the adjacent sign. This use as a 'phonetic complement' is one of the most frequent uses of single-consonant signs in Egyptian inscriptions. There is also an important aesthetic reason for adding 'reminders' of this sort: Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions were composed as sequences of blocks, and the paired vertical reed and cross form a perfect block according to this sense of beauty

wt - a place name

the phonetic sign 'w'
the phonetic sign 't'
a stroke. To make sure that the meaning of a signs is identical with the picture of the signs, there is sometimes a stroke next to it. Here the stroke refers to the following sign and announces that 'nwt' really stands for 'town'.

nwt - town
This sign belongs to a group of signs which denote either sound or idea depending on the context, like the head 'tp' above.

see the use of these signs in one specific inscription


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