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Hieroglyph Transliteration Characters

An Explanation of Hieroglyph Transliteration Characters and the Sounds They Make


There are 24 different sounds used in the hieroglyphic written form of ancient Egyptian, somewhat like the sounds of the English alphabet. However, like Hebrew, hieroglyphs are not used to write vowel sounds (a, e, i, o, u), but only to write the sounds of consonants. It can take a while to get used to this, and to the ambiguities which it creates. It also means that we can not know for sure exactly what a particular word sounded like, since we can only estimate (usually from the equivalent word in Coptic) what the sound may have been. (As a result, Egyptologists tend to use the vowel "e", the most common vowel sound in English, as a "universal filler" in hieroglyphic words.)

Fourteen of the sounds are similar to those of the English alphabet: b, d, f, g, h, k, m, n, p, r, s, t, w, and y.

The remaining ten sounds are not normally made in spoken English, and require special transliteration symbols.

The standard order of hieroglyph transliteration symbols, as used in vocabularies for example, is: ɜ, , y, c, w, b, p, f, m, n, r, h, , , , s, š, , k, g, t, , d, and .

See the table below for the sounds associated with the special translation characters.

Special Transliteration Symbols and their Sounds
Symbol Name Written
ɜ aleph a Believed to have been a GLOTTERAL STOP, a sharp "uh" sound made in the throat. Think of the way a Cockney says the word bottle: "bo'tle".
yogh i or y Technically a weak consonant rather than a vowel, it may not have even been spoken. Treat it as a soft "y", as in the word "yes".
c ayin a Believed to have been a GUTTERAL A, an "ah" sound made deep in the throat.
emphatic h h An "h" sound made in the throat rather than the front of the mouth.
third h kh A "ch" sound as made in the Scottish pronunciation of the word "loch".
fourth h kh A "ch" sound as made in the German word "ich". This is probably impossible to differentiate for normal English speakers from the version above.
š shin sh A "sh" sound made as in the word "ship".
emphatic k k or q An emphatic "k" or "q", made at the back of the throat.
second t tj A "tj" sound, as made in the word "tune"
second d dj A "dj" sound, as made in the word "joke".
Hieroglyph Transliteration Characters, first published November 2005, republished July 2010.
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