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What educational material can you recommend me for learning (Egyptian) Hieroglyphs given the following goals and background.

Goals:

  • I must have an understanding of the the geographical and spatial variations of the written language.
  • I must be able to read a "significant" part of existing, original texts.
  • I must be able to write simple texts.

Background:

  • I can read, write and speak several languages.
  • I don't know anything about Hieroglyphs or any related modern languages.
  • I have some time I can spend on this.
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    I guess it may be worth giving the languages you already speak as you may be more familiar with some of the linguistic concepts existing in ancient egyptian.
    – Ugo
    Jul 23, 2014 at 11:58
  • Start with Semitic structure, I spose. You'll need to learn to read Egyptian first in transliteration, to get the pronunciation and grammar that the hieroglyphs represent, partially at least. That's how they were deciphered in the first place. Read up on Champollion's methods while you're studying the language and you'll gradually get to recognize some of the characters. After that you'll need chrestomathies and dictionaries.
    – jlawler
    Jul 23, 2014 at 14:47
  • This, jlawler, is not a very well-informed answer. First of all: Egyptian is not Semitic, but a separate branch of Afro-Asiatic. Second: nobody actually knows how Ancient Egyptian was pronounced, as the vowels are not written. You cannot, therefore, "get the pronunciation" before learning the hieroglyphs. At my university, and (I believe) at all other universities, students of Egyptology are taught the hieroglyphs from the outset. This is also Gardiner's method in the very useful book to which I refer below.
    – fdb
    Jul 23, 2014 at 17:15

3 Answers 3

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Gardiner's Egyptian Grammar is old, but still very useful for self-teaching.

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I would definitely start with Gardiner: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_Grammar:_Being_an_Introduction_to_the_Study_of_Hieroglyphs. That's what I used back in the day and it was concise and clear.

But there are a number of caveats.

  1. You ask introduction to 'hieroglyphs' but that's just the writing system. What you really mean when you want to read text is understanding of Ancient Egyptian. This is a Hamito-Semitic language (now called Afro-Asiatic) which means it shares some features with Hebrew and Arabic - so it helps a little if you already have some familiarity with those but not much when it comes to any of the details.

  2. Ancient Egyptian is not a single language just like Old English and Modern English are not the same language. So you need to pick a time you want to study. Gardiner is an introduction to the language of the 'Middle Kingdom' which will enable you to read some famous stories like Sinuhe but also later texts written in the form (different from language spoken at the time).

  3. Hieroglyphics is just one of three scripts in which Ancient Egyptian was written. The others being Hieratic and later Demotic. (It would be four, if you count Coptic which was written in a modified version of the Greek alphabet.) So your focus should vary depending on the period you want to study and the types of texts you want to study.

Your goals are certainly achievable but do expect to spend a lot of time with Gardiner and read a lot of texts. Don't expect to be a fluent reader any time soon, though. Most of your reading will be done with frequent references to a dictionary for a long time to come.

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I am user4919, who posted the question. I bought 'Gardiner', and have found it very useful for a person like me having a decent language-technical background. Dominik Lukes, thank you for pointing out some caveats. That's exactly what I mean by my first goal. I notice some relations to Arabic, but not much.

I've got two follow-up questions I hope you can help me with:

1) Some of the interpretations of the hieroglyphs in Gardiner seems to be disputed in other, newer works. I.e. how Q1 (stairs) should be transliterated. Is there a source for interpretations of the glyphs that is generally accepted as 'the' standard?

2) Where do I find a good forum for discussing Ancient Egyptian?

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  • Gardiner is definitely not the latest in the interpretation. I just liked him as an introduction. Unfortunately, I left the study of Egyptology over two decades ago so can't point you to anything more recent. There are definitely newer grammars and much more research on the language has happened since. Of course, much of it (like refinements of transliterations) may not be that relevant to the interpretation of text. Aug 15, 2014 at 19:51

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