ancient egypt: history and culture
Transliteration and pronunciation of ancient Egyptian
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Transliteration and pronunciation of ancient Egyptian

    The three writing systems, hieroglyphs, hieratic and demotic, while very decorative, are difficult to represent on an internet page and not very useful to the ordinary reader. Khufu

Cartouche with the name of Khufu
(to be read from right to left)
Source: R. Lepsius, Denkmäler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien Abth. II, Bl.1

Transliterations are therefore often used to represent Egyptian writing. The transliteration system which does not require any special font and is therefore accessible to all, is referred to as Manuel de Codage (MdC). It is based on the Latin script, with some upper and lower-case letters having different values, e.g. the minuscule s retains the pronunciation it has in most European languages, while the capital S is pronounced like the English "sh". The transliteration gives the reader some idea of how the words may have been pronounced, but nobody knows how ancient Egyptian, in any of its historical versions, sounded.
    One of the difficulties is the complete absence of representation of vowel sounds in the hieroglyphic, hieratic or demotic system. This has resulted in a plethora of ways of how to transcribe Egyptian texts. The god Amen for instance is also represented as Ammon, Amon, Amun, Imen etc. If there are no historical clues "e" is used as default vowel.
    Even when transcribers agree on how a word (probably) "sounded" at a certain time in history, its popular transcription will differ in the various European languages. French would spell the "u" sound in Tutankhamen as "ou", while the Dutch prefer "oe". A German will transcribe the Manuel de Codage X as "ch", in English "kh" is used, while a Spaniard might write "j".
    On this site you will find "popular" transliterations which include vowels and Manuel de Codage transliterations, often side by side. In the MdC transliteration full stops, hyphens and other marks inside words are of grammatical significance, but can be ignored when reading the words.
    The following tables list some frequently used hieroglyphs, their hieratic counterparts, their scientific transliteration and how some people think they may have sounded. Note that some hieroglyphs can be read in a number of ways: as phonemes, logograms and/or determinatives, e.g. the pr hieroglyph, which can be read as the phoneme pr, as a logogram meaning "house", or as a determinative for buildings. Fortunately for us, most hieroglyphs are not as versatile.

Monoliteral hieroglyphs and their hieratic equivalents

transliteration table  
    There are hundreds of hieroglyphs [1], some transliterated by a single, others by two or more Latin letters.

Frequently used bi- and tri-literal hieroglyphs and their hieratic equivalents

transliteration table


    A great number of hieroglyphs are not represented at all in transliterations, being used as determinatives—pictorial qualifiers—rather than phonemes.
determinatives table
    Hieroglyphic was written in lines from right to left or left to right, or in columns from top to bottom. Hieratic was always written with the signs facing to the right arranged vertically or, since the Middle Kingdom, increasingly horizontally. The individual strokes of the hieratic signs were often written from left to right.


- -Index of topics
-Main index and search page
-[1] List of hieroglyphs according to Gardiner
Offsite links   (Opening in a new window)
These are just suggestions for further reading. I do not assume any responsibility for the content of these sites
Manuel de CodageManuel de Codage
List of hieroglyphs according to GardinerList of hieroglyphs according to Gardiner (in German)
Egyptian writing systems and grammarEgyptian writing systems and grammar
Basic Lessons in HieraticBasic Lessons in Hieratic
Projet RosetteProjet Rosette
How To Pronounce EgyptianHow To Pronounce Egyptian
The Pronunciation of Ancient EgyptianThe Pronunciation of Ancient Egyptian
Thesaurus Linguae AegyptiaeThesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae: Lemmata, searchable in Egyptian (MdC), Demotic, and German or English
Luca Brigatti's Egyptology PageLuca Brigatti's Egyptology Page: Hieroglyphics flashcards
Beinlich wordlist search formBeinlich wordlist search form (results in German)
Aegyptus: Hieroglyphic unicode fontAegyptus: Hieroglyphic unicode font


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© April 2005
Update: July 2005