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What is Hieroglyphics?

Hieroglyphic writing is a system that tends to employ the characters in pictorial form. There are individual signs that are known as hieroglyphics. These alphabets can be read as symbols for certain objects or pictures or sounds as well. Hieroglyphic in Greek means sacred carving. This language was first seen in the writings of Diodorus Siculus in the 1st Century BCE. 

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Greeks also spoke of certain signs when they referred to Egyptian writing. Amongst the different Egyptian scripts, the script that was seen in the public monuments and the temple walls was termed as hieroglyphics. There are characters that are carved in stone in the form of pictures. The Greeks didn’t take much time to distinguish this particular script from the various other forms of the Egyptian alphabet which used ink for writing on smooth surfaces such as papyrus. In this article, students will get to see the different aspects of the hieroglyphics alphabet chart and much more. 

Hieroglyphics Meaning and the History of Hieroglyphics 

If we go by the proper meaning of Hieroglyphics, it is used to designate the writings which are found on the ancient Egyptian monuments. However, this particular word has also been applied ever since the ending stages of the nineteenth century in order to denote the writings of some others as well. In this particular form of writing, picture signs are used as writing characters. This example can explain the concept clearly. According to the history of hieroglyphics symbols, they have been in use to describe the monumental inscriptions related to the Indus Civilization along with the Hittites. They had other scripts such as the Incan, the Mayan, and the forms of Easter Island writing. 

Because the alphabets only existed in the form of pictures, hieroglyphics were pretty difficult in terms of writing and hence were just used to write on monuments. The Egyptian hieroglyphics symbols were later supplemented for some other more convenient forms of writing. The hieroglyphic scripts are not really in use any longer. 

Main Characteristics of Hieroglyphic Writing 

The system of hieroglyphic writing consisted mostly of signs that would represent certain recognizable objects in the constructed, natural world. So, these writing alphabets could be classified into three different groups. The first one is known as a logogram. In this form of writing, a single sign is used to write a word. This would provide the meaning as well as the sound. This was used for denoting the objects that the sign would properly represent. The hieroglyphics translator will easily be able to decipher what these signs would mean. 

The second group is known as a phonogram. This represents the sound in this language. The group doesn’t just have phonemes which are a derivation of the logograms. These alphabets had a purely phonetic character and also consisted of certain biliteral as well as triliteral signs too which would represent more than one sound. These bi and triliteral signs along with the logograms were accompanied with a reading aid. 

The third group in hieroglyphics consisted of certain determinatives. These signs didn’t have any phonetic significance but still are used in order to specify the meanings in word divisions. Here’s an example: the phonetic writing p + r + t could actually signify the verb form ‘to go’ or for ‘fruit seed’. Hence, the word meaning can be deciphered using the terminal determinative. This is also known as the word maker. Certain generic determinatives are the ones that tend to denote activities such as running or walking. 

When it comes to understanding hieroglyphics meaning, it can be said that the inscriptions of Egypt actually used a proper combination of all these 3 different categories along with liberal allowance to variation as well. The grouping and spelling of these signs were also pretty important. Egyptians always avoided the vowels except for the semivowels. Hence, hieroglyphic writing is often a representative of some consonant words. 

Number of Symbols Used In Hieroglyphics 

During the classical period when Egyptian writing was used the most, the total number of hieroglyphic symbols used was about 700. However, during the late period, these numbers were multiplied with the addition of more symbols and alphabets. Such a type of proliferation took place because all the scholars and educationists began inventing new signs and forms of writing. However, these newly added symbols in the hieroglyphical format of writing were always based on the principles that would govern the writing form used in Egypt. The entire system of hieroglyphic writing was pretty flexible throughout the time it was used. There were new innovations made in the script. But still, the convention had a very important role to play in the formation of the new writing styles and systems. 


The following article provides some significant details regarding the Egyptian hieroglyphics symbols. Students can use this information to know more about this particular writing system. 

Last updated date: 01st Oct 2023
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FAQs on Hieroglyphics

1. What are hieroglyphics?

Ans: The hieroglyphic system of writing can be described as an ancient writing system that employed different characters in a pictorial format. The individual signs that were used to depict certain words and characters were known as hieroglyphics symbols. One important thing to keep in mind about hieroglyphic symbols is that these were used in order to represent certain sounds along with the meaning of the word. The hieroglyphics were mostly used to write on Egyptian monuments. Hence, such pieces of writing can still be found in different historical structures in Egypt. These symbols proved to be a very important field of study for language experts. 

2. Describe the number of symbols used in the hieroglyphic writing system.

Ans: The hieroglyphic system of writing was founded during the Classical period. This was when Egyptian writing was used the most. During that time, the total number of symbols used in this particular form of writing was about 700. However, in the later periods of time, the numbers actually grew a lot. There were new characters and symbols added to the entire list of hieroglyphic symbols. Such an event took place due to the fact that scholars were inventing new modes of writing and hence were introducing more symbols and signs to the already existing script. However, all these additions were made on the basis of the Egyptian writing system, and hence, a conventional tone was followed throughout.