Sorry for another addendum. Duketown brings up a good point I did not make sufficiently clear.
There is an alphabet of Egyptian phonograms.
These symbols are used in as you would write according to the Rebus Principle. It's not what you see, it's what you hear. For example the sign for "f" is the snake. I am not aware of any use of this symbol as either a word or as a context symbol. In fact, the words for snake, e.g. rkrk or hefaw, are fully spelled out and determined with Gardiner I14. So there is a very clear boundary.
Then there are 100's of ideograms, like I31, which can function as words, usually demarcated with a vertical strike beneath, or as context signs, when placed after the spelling of a word. So there are strict rules you can go by to know when something was used a word or a context sign.
Addendum: Finally, there is a phonetic class of some 200 or so symbols called biliterals and triliterals besides the standard monoliteral alphabet. These are phonetic symbols which carried a double or triple consonant/weak consonant value..for example "sm" or "ab" or "kht" or "ankh". Many of these were words contracted to their component consonants and so the idea you see in the ideogram is still represented in the corresponding remnant consonant phonetic value encoded by the symbol. One way to explain the use of these symbols is that they economized writing. Instead of carving to or three symbols, the scribe could just carve one.
There is so much information on all this, I am just trying to cram a few highlights into a post here. To the point of reconstructing the phonetic values of the language, Madeleine, there was a system in Egyptian to write foreign names: Group writing. In Middle Egyptian Egyptian words were linked together to imitate the sound of a foreign name. In the New Kingdom, syllables were linked. This besides the Coptic language and its expanded alphabet from Greek were important in deciphering Egyptian symbols. Egyptian Christians did not want to write in Demotic and so they used an expanded modified form of the Greek alphabet which had extra letters for sounds not contained in the Greek alphabet. For example, there is a sound in Egyptian, "q" which is unknown in the western world but which middle easterners know. This is a sound not contained in Greek, which is why Alexandrian Christians imported it from Demotic.
So it is the Coptic alphabet, not the Greek Alphabet which forms the historical conversion from phonetic monoliteral hieroglyphs to an alphabet in antiquity to which both medieval Arab and later modern western scholars could relate because not only was Coptic spoken and written until a thousand years ago, it also used vowels which Old, Middle, and Late Egyptian left out in its writings and that helped a lot. Modern scholars denote the sound values using a transliteration convention which has been refined over the years.
Here is a great lecture by an Egyptian scholar Okasha El-Daly who has compiled good evidence that the decipherment of hieroglyphic was done lone before Thomas Young and Jean-François Champollion. No matter who was the first, what matters, and El-Daly points this out well, is that it was the Coptic script of the (Demotic) Egyptian language (~650 B.C.; the fourth written phase after Old, Middle, and Late Egyptian), which decoded hieroglyphic. In other words, the Egyptians of antiquity themselves decoded their own language for the rest of world. It just took a few centuries for scholars to realize it. More importantly, early Arab scholars who wrote books about this would have had direct contact with Copts when the language was still being spoken and written.
Coptic has also been useful to get an idea what Egyptian may have sounded like the bridge being Demotic, which was the fourth phase of the language after Old (e.g. PT's), Middle (e.g. Wisdom Literature), and Late Egyptian (e.g. Edfu Texts).
Actually, the more significant areas where translating written Egyptian has presented problems has been the vocabulary and the verb forms. A refined understanding of the verb forms has only occurred in the last half century. The lexicon is probably the main remaining hurdle. A lot of words have been translated but the problem is that many words have more than one meaning in different contexts and if there is no context sign, this becomes problematic. The use of the same word to encode different meanings isn't unique to Egyptian. In English we say, bolt for a metal rod and a lightning and also for running away. From the context of the speech we know which is meant and Egyptologists use the same method to identify which meaning was intended when translating written Egyptian. That works some times and some times it doesn't. Sometimes, it is only the wider context of the passage which helps to identify a specific word in a sentence.
Finally, a word about the Pyramid Texts:
These texts are written in Old Egyptian, maybe 300 years before it became Middle Egyptian the two being closely related. In all likelihood the Pyramid Texts are written around the central theme of astronomy (see Adolf Erman, Henry Breasted, Rolf Krauss e.g.). Today, we separate the sciences from religion, but an ancient Egyptian astronomer was essentially a priest. Since the main religious themes were inspired by the sky, the Pyramid Texts' resurrection and protection formulas are written around a journey taken by the king, and later others too, to become one with Osiris, become alive again, and travel to the immortal stars. This theme was probably modified with the solar theme in the Fourth Dynasty and that is why both stellar and solar ideas reverberate in the texts. However, which ultimately came first is still debated. The solar theme appears to dominate and since the earliest rendition of the texts are from Unis (ie the latter half of the Old Kingdom), we only have a few clues, some archeological for example, to reconstruct the sequence before.
Edited 10 time(s). Last edit at 03-Dec-18 06:39 by Manu.