The writing system
The writing system of LE is often a bit puzzling for the beginner. We have been
taught, when working on Middle Egyptian texts, to consider very seriously all ,
in a word, and we are now confronted to such writtings as
for the infinitive of sgb, "to shout" !
A few rules will help here :
- final "t" in a word were not heard as early as the middle kingdom. With the
generalisation of the definite article ,, it was no longer useful to
write it. The result was that the presence or absence of "t" at the end of a
word is basically meaningless. For instance, in , the
possessive article proves that the word is in fact the feminine mry.t, port.
Yet the "t" is left unwritten. In other cases, a "t" might be written after a masculine
word : , pAy grH, this night.
- On the other hand, final "t"s were heard when followed by suffix pronouns.
In this case, they were indicated by written after the word.
iAt=f, his function. Note that this tw is only there for phonetic
purporses, and has nothing to do with, for instance, a passive.
You will find however the translitteration iAt.tw=f for the previous group,
but it only indicates that the scholar wanted to be faithfull to the observed
- LE scribes tried to adapt the hieroglyphic system to the language they used.
A number of writtings can be explained as attempts to render some features of it.
In particular, , , in the end of words are probably attempts to render vocalic
features. However, there was little normalization, and these indications are
to be considered only as hints.
- the preposition is often written .
- simple prepositions are often ommited, especially in later texts.
- The scribes wrote usually in hieratic, and often saw signs as groups. There
is often a certain mechanical tendency to automatically write these groups, which
leads to strange writting. One may find the writing for the demonstrative
nn, for instance. In this case, the scribe "stole" this orthography from the
- LE scribes have a tendency to use lots of determinatives in a word.
Consider for instance sbAy.t mtr. In some cases,
the determinatives were borrowed from words with similar writings.
One might find, for instance,
for the infinitive of nHm, to take.
In these cases, the scribe was clearly wrong.
Group-writing is an important sub-system of Late Egyptian orthography.
It was used when traditional orthography didn't exist or was forgotten.
It's in particular true for foreign words, but also for new egyptian words.
There are a number of theories on this system. They all make good points, but
it's quite difficult to choose one. In fact, it's quite likely that the scribes used multiple
systems, and not one coherent iso-9001 certified system.
In a number of cases, it seems that the system attempts to write syllables.
In this system, a group stands for a specific syllable, with a given vowel.
would be read as Hu.
Here, groups stand for Consonnant + a. When the vowel is not "a", it's indicated
by the correspondant weak consonant ( or ).
In this system, the groups are considered as writing a single consonnant.
In demotic, the uniliteral signs are often derived from group writing. For instance,
the demotic for & and A come from and respectively.
In practice, the safer way to go is to transliterate only the consonnants.
Hannig's dictionnary has got a discution of these, and a list of groups, p. LI-LV.
List of values
(mainly compiled from Junge, Neveu, and Hoch's semitic words)
The following list is a pratical tools, for dictionary searching mainly, so
I ommited the possible vowels, except when it was too important to bypass.
- i, ia, mark a vocalic attack at the beginning of a word.
- i, ê
- ; ; ; i
- ; a
- ; ; ;
- ;; p
- ; m
- ; ;
- ; r/l
- l : this groups is a specific writing for "l". It's found, for instance in
the word , bl, outside.
- ; r (the latter at word ends).
- ; H
- ; ; s
- q note that q, g and k might be confused.
- ; ;
- ; ; t note confusions between t,T,d and D.
- ; T
- ; ; d
- ; D
- ; u
When a word starts with a vowel (from a western point of view),
it's indicated by a prothetic yod. This use of the yod is similar to the use of aleph
in semitic alphabets, and is the reason for the funny accent on the i.
The presence of a weak consonnant sign after the yod might be an indication for
a specific vowel :