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Understanding Hieroglyphs

Where 'How to Read Hieroglyphs' purports to actually teach you the language, the slim volume 'Understanding Hieroglyphs' is probably a much more useful book for travelers.

While the basic signs for the alphabetic letters are presented, this book focuses more on particular words that are used in names, places, and specific titles. For example, the concept of naming kings is discussed in depth and several tables of signs show the common name-pieces so you can easily identify and even pronounce the names of most kings. For example, Nefer-khau-re is easily shown to be "nefer" beautiful, "khau" soul, "re" the god Re, so you can decipher that neferkhaure's name means "Beautiful is the Soul of Re", and identify the combination of signs that mean each part.

I also found it much easier to pronounce the names after reading through the explanation of the syllables and their meanings. No one knows how hieroglyphs were really spoken, of course, but the accepted phonetic pronunciation suddenly made sense. I stumbled over Nubneferkaenre until I saw that the pieces were really nub-nefer-ka-en-re. After a few tries, the rhythm was clear and I even sounded reasonably intelligent.

It's an interesting book more for the insight into the naming conventions of the Pharaohs than as a real learning tool. There is very little discussion of grammar or translation, or even language concepts. However, I found this book to be very useful when trying to understand the names of places and people, especially when faced with king lists that contain Khasekhemwy and Neferhotep, etc.

The clear examples of each "word" displayed in hieroglyphs, in standard transliteration, and in English made it easy to start predicting the meaning of names and places based on a very small vocabulary. It's not for a true student, but as a quick reference, it was invaluable. It might be useful to photocopy the pages with the signs for kings names.

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