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Hieroglyphic Dictionary

You know, I love eBay -- especially for books! I was searching for a book on learning the basics about hieroglyphs, and found someone offering this two-volume dictionary set. It was an impulse purchase, but an interesting one. This is another Dover reprint. The original books were published by Budge in 1920.

Budge is Sir. E.A. Wallis Budge and the description of the title page reads thus:

By Sir E. A. Wallis Budge, Knt., F.S.A.,
M.A. and Litt.D., Cambridge; M.A. and D.Litt., Oxford; D.Lit., Durham;
Sometime scholar of Christ's College, Cambridge, and Tyrwhitt Hebrew Scholar;
Keeper of the Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities, British Museum

As evidenced by his many titles Budge was considered a foremost authority in Egyptian Antiquities. However, Budge has been pretty much discarded as a resource for serious egyptologists; many of his translations and examples have been replaced by newer, more accurate translations. For me, a complete novice, it's probably good enough to get an idea, and his translations and transcriptions of names are still fairly accurate. However, if you are a serious scholar, there are a number of later works that are considered more accurate.

Reading the introduction to this book is a good history of hieroglyphs, early translations, and the vagaries of trying to decipher the remnants of a language that hasn't been used in millennia.

The dictionary, however, is of less use to the novice. While the first part lists commonly used hieroglyphs and their common definitions, is useful, the rest of the dictionary is arranged in a confusing manner that defies use. Words are ordered by their transliteration in English, not by the actual signs that are used. After awhile, it is obvious how things are "alphabetized", but it is hard to actually find things unless you know the English transliteration of the word. Since the same sound may be represented by more than one symbol, I haven't been able to actually look things up in the dictionary without knowing a lot more about hieroglyphs than I originally thought.

More confusingly, the same transliteration can mean be written in multiple ways, and each different "spelling" means something else entirely. For example, mama (as shown below) can mean 'to give light', 'to fan', 'the drum palm' It all depends on the additions of determinatives, or other non-sound symbols that alter the meaning of the word.

Of course, Budge doesn't actually tell you that, or tell you what signs in the word are not actually "sounds" that are pronounced. This makes the dictionary harder to use than it might be. That -- and the inability to look things up the the symbol itself --makes this more of a curiosity and interesting browsing book than a usable dictionary (at least to someone who is not actually able to read hieroglyphs already.)

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