I am looking at the word /ki/ such as this 𓎡𓇋. However, I noticed there are some words/sounds like /ka/ (𓂓) which is one symbol. Typically you see the word for the "sun god of egypt" as Ra, but wikipedia has it as 𓁛 and Re. So I'm wondering if Ancient Egyptian is sort of like Hebrew or Arabic in that the vowels could be left off and/or changed to anything really. Wondering how that works, and if it would be permissible to use the word 𓂓 "ka" instead as "ki" (/ki/).

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    "... like Hebrew or Arabic in that the vowels could be left off and/or changed to anything really" ← that's definitely not how Hebrew and Arabic work. The vowels can be left off in writing, which doesn't mean they were randomly changeable in either writing or speech. What you might be thinking of is the fact that Semitic roots are often composed of consonants, and then what IE languages use suffixes or grades for is done by inserting different vowel patterns in between those consonants. They cannot be changed to anything, though, and the changes have specific meanings. – LjL Jan 4 '20 at 0:38

As Arnaud Fournet said, the modern "Egyptological" pronunciation has really very little to do with how the actual Egyptians pronounced the words. Hieroglyphic writing seldom if ever indicates vowels, and it has a bunch of consonants that English-speakers don't like.

So Egyptologists make the words pronounceable ("Ra", "Tutankhamun", "sekhem") like so:

  • If a consonant isn't in English, replace it with its closest equivalent (/h/, q/k/, etc)
  • If you can't find an equivalent, replace it with /a/ (/a/, /a/)
  • Replace w with /o/ or /u/, and j and y with /i/
  • Insert /ɛ/ wherever you like

In the case of "ra" (the word for "sun"), the Egyptian word is transliterated rꜥ. That second consonant (ayin) has no good equivalent in English, so it's replaced by "a". But the actual pronunciation was probably something like /riaʕ/ or /riʕ/, depending how you interpret certain evidence from Akkadian.

This does not mean the Egyptians didn't use vowels, or that they could change them around arbitrarily—it just means they didn't write them down. Pronouncing the word for "sun" as /ruʕ/ back in the Middle Kingdom would probably get you a bunch of blank stares. But nowadays, we generally don't know what those vowels were, and archaeologists are generally more interested in what inscriptions mean than how they were actually pronounced five thousand years ago. So they use the rules I mentioned above to turn them into something English-speakers can work with easily.

P.S. Because you mentioned it specifically: the "ka" you're talking about is kꜣ "life-essence", probably pronounced /kuʔ/, though Loprieno argues that was actually /ʀ/ until somewhere after the Middle Kingdom. But the vowel definitely wasn't /a/, and the was definitely a consonant.

You'll also see it spelled a bunch of different ways: D28 was the most common glyph for it, but it can also be spelled with a phonetic complement for the , with a determinative for "life", and so on.


You have to be aware that the way modern Egyptology "reads" the hieroglyphs is artificial.
As you wondered on your own, hieroglyphs normally write only consonants. Egyptology inserts vowels to make blocks of consonants pronounceable in our languages.
For example god Râ or Re was written with two consonants r and &(ayn). We know from cuneiform that the vowels in these consonants were Ri&a.
Some languages in Nigeria have a word re& "noon".
Surprisingly, wikipedia explains nothing...

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