Most people mistakenly call the language of Ancient
Egypt "Hieroglyphics" -- that is not the
correct term. The writing is hieroglyphs, and Egyptian
is a hieroglyphic (adjective) language. It's a fascinating
method of writing, regardless of what you call it.
Despite the perceived limitations of writing by drawing
little pictures of things, Egyptian hieroglyphs are
a surprisingly complex and nuanced language. Some
of the little pictures are meant to communicate just
what they look like -- a basket picture means "basket"
and a cow symbol can mean "cow". But, the
language is far more complex than that. The symbols
represent sounds (sometimes single, sometimes multiple
consonants) and can convey a broad range of meaning
based on the combinations of symbols and how they
If you visit Egypt's historical sites, you will be
faced with hieroglyphs at every turn. Most of us recognize
that the pharaoh's name is in a cartouche, but the
rest of the pictures are meaningless. It is definitely
useful to have some idea what they mean.
If you have a good guide, they will most likely point
out the common phrases on the tombs and temples that
you see, but I got a tremendous amount of satisfaction
from being able to puzzle out some of them by myself,
especially when I could recognize the "standard"
signs that accompanied the names of kings.
Studying hieroglyphs is not the same as studying
another spoken language.There is no "real"
spoken version of the language, and you have to memorize
tons of the little symbols before you'll be able to
actually read inscriptions, but there are a few options
that can make it a bit easier: The books that ended
up with are:
How to Read Hieroglyphics, a
Teach Yourself Hieroglyphs
See the discussion of Hieroglyphs in the Notes section of the site
for more information on how this language works.