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How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs: A Step by Step Guide

First off, if you want to really learn hieroglyphs (and it's not "hieroglyphics", regardless of what most books say ), and are serious about studying, then the primary source you should get is Sir Alan Gardiner's: Egyptian Grammar. Not only is it the best textbook, it is still used as a primary research source by many egyptologists.

I'm not quite that serious (even though I have ordered a copy of Gardiner's book) and just want some basic understanding of how all those little pictographs work. So, I stumbled upon How to Read Hieroglyphs, which is a short, lesson-oriented book on understanding the basics of the Egyptian language.

This book focuses on recognizing the basics and understanding the structure of the language, with just enough grammar thrown in to let you do some simple transcription. You aren't going to be able to read the enormous texts of the Book of the Dead, for example, but you'll be able to read some of the temple inscriptions and recognize a "word" here or there. For most of us, that's enough. It was pretty cool to be able to read some of the names, and the formulaic inscriptions in the temples we visited -- "may he have long life and prosperity", and "blessed are the aspects of Re" and that sort of thing.

The first few chapters cover the basics of the language, the "alphabet" -- although note that hieroglyphs has no real concept of an alphabet, per se (see Writing) -- and the rules about reading and writing. There are exercises for each chapter, and a few larger translation exercises included that build on the basic knowledge.

Like all books on hieroglyphs, the authors use the convention of 'e' between consonants as a pronunciation guide, and their transliteration seems to be clear, if not always the same as some of the other books. I used this book mostly to memorize some of the more common elements, not necessarily to learn how to read the whole of the inscriptions. All of our guides, with a bit of work, could read the inscriptions on the temples, and pointed out the "standard" epithets and inscriptions to us. They were very impressed that we could both recognize and even "pronounce" some of the signs we found -- for example, we could identify the standard epithets attached to the king's names, and some of the funerary texts (by pure memorization), and we could recognize our own names based on the alphabet that is presented.

For a brief intro to the language, and enough of a basis to be able to pick out individual signs (instead of seeing a mishmash of little pictures), I'd definitely recommend this one. However, if you just want to be able to pick out the kings names and understand some of the standard words, Understanding Hieroglyphs may be a better choice.

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