Hieroglyphs were not primarily an alphabetic script. Signs represented one, two, or three consonants, and vowels were not expressed. Different means were used to clarify the meaning of a glyph, and to make it distinctive. Nevertheless, names and inflections were usually spelled out with a limited group of glyphs that represented basic sounds. These 24 one-consonant signs are shown at the right, with a hint at their sounds. The sounds marked 'a' are throat catches and glottal stops, h1 is a throaty h, kh1 is a guttural sound, kh2 is palatal, like German ach and ich, respectively. K1 is pronounced in the throat, k2 in the mouth, a normal k. D2 is like a voiced j. There are alternative signs for several of the sounds. What the glyph depicts is also given.
These glyphs are drawn for reading from left to right. When reading from right to left, they should be mirrored to look the other way. There are actually several hundred commonly used glyphs.
A good introduction to hieroglyphs is Collier and Manley, How To Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of Cal. Press, 1998), which is intended for self-study and concentrates on the inscriptions in the British Museum.
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Composed by J. B. Calvert
Last revised 8 August 1999