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Lesson V : Basic signs (conclusion)

1) Triliteral signs

Triliteral signs are signs that present the phonetic value of 3 consonants. Even more than was the case with biliteral signs, the distinction between phonogram and ideogram is rather vague for the triliterals. The following list provides an overview of the most common signs.

05_a2nx1.gif (116 bytes) anx
05_a2h2a2.gif (112 bytes) aHa
05_wa1s.gif (84 bytes) wAs
05_wa1d2.gif (104 bytes) wAD
05_bnr.gif (94 bytes) bnr
05_ma1a2.gif (92 bytes) mAa
05_nfr.gif (120 bytes) nfr
05_nt2r.gif (91 bytes) nTr
05_nd2m.gif (76 bytes) nDm
05_h2qa1.gif (81 bytes) HqA
05_h2tp.gif (107 bytes) Htp
05_x1pr.gif (171 bytes) xpr
05_x1rw.gif (73 bytes) xrw
05_sx1m.gif (94 bytes) sxm
05_sd2m.gif (115 bytes) sDm


As was the case with biliteral signs, triliteral signs can be accompanied by one or two uniliteral signs as phonetic complements. The phonetic complement either repeats the last or the last two consonants of the triliteral sign: 05_a2h2a2-d54.gif (201 bytes) reads aHa, "to arise", and not aHaa , with the last a being used as phonetic complement ; 05_a2nx1nx1.gif (206 bytes) reads anx, "to live, life" and not anxnx. In some more exceptional cases, all three consonants can be repeated. The triliteral signs can, like the biliterals, be used without any phonetic complement.
Biliteral signs are normally not used as phonetic complements for triliteral signs. Note however the group 05_ma1a2-phon.gif (141 bytes)  mAa that combines the biliteral sign 04_ma1.gif (155 bytes)  mA with the triliteral 05_ma1a2.gif (92 bytes)  mAa.

2) Special cases and peculiar writings

a) Abbreviations

It has already been mentioned that phonetic complements are optional and that some words may be written with phonetic or ideographic signs only. Some of the most common words, stereotyped phrases and formulae are often also abbreviated. These are some of the most frequently used abbreviations:

  • 05_a2ws.gif (213 bytes) is an abbreviation for anx wDA snb, "may he live, prosper and be healthy". It is used after words referring to anything royal, including the king and his name. This phrase was so stereotype that it was reduced to three vertical lines in hieratic writings and later to just a number of vertical lines.
  • 05_ma1a2-x2rw.gif (112 bytes) or 05_ma1a2-x1rw-a.gif (126 bytes) , fuller writing 05_ma1a2-x1rw-full.gif (495 bytes) is read mAa-xrw and literally means "true of voice", although it is also translated as "justified". It is an epithet that was added to the names of the deceased. It refers to the fact that the deceased has passed the judgement and is allowed to enjoy the afterlife.
  • 05_nsw.gif (101 bytes) was used as an abbreviation for 05_nsw_full.gif (259 bytes), nsw, "King (of Upper Egypt)". The full writing of this word itself is a special cases and will be explained in the next paragraph.
  • 05_nsw-bity.gif (218 bytes) is read nsw-bi.ty and is usually translated as "the King of Upper and Lower Egypt". It was part of the royal titulary that will be elaborated in the next lesson.
  • 05_ka1_nx1t.gif (172 bytes) is used as abbreviation for 05_ka1-nx1t_full.gif (508 bytes) kA nxt , "victorious bull", often used to refer to the king.

In addition to these abbreviations, it must also be reminded that words can be written using ideograms only. E.g. the sign 05_ra2.gif (93 bytes) can be used for 05_ra2_full1.gif (174 bytes) ra, "sun" and for 05_ra2_full2.gif (269 bytes) ra, "Re", the solar god.


b) Transpositions of signs and words

The normal order of signs as explained in Lesson I, can be changed, either for graphic or for honorific reasons. Transposition of signs for graphic reasons was led mostly by a concern to use the available space as much as possible.
Small signs may be placed under the breast of a sign representing a bird, even when the latter sign needs to be read first. The group 05_tw.gif (151 bytes) can thus be read tw and wt, depending on the context.
Long narrow signs are usually written before a sign representing a bird, where the normal sign-order would expect them to follow. Thus we find 05_wd1.gif (171 bytes) for wD.

More drastic are the transpositions with honorific intent, which could not only change the order of single signs, but also of words and entire phrases. Words referring to the king or to the gods are often written before other words to which they are closely connected. For instance, the sign-group 05_s1s2_nsw.gif (232 bytes), meaning "scribe of the king" must be read sS-nsw and not nsw-sS. The plant, used as an abbreviation for the word "king" is placed before the sign sS, "scribe" because the king was more important than his scribes.
For the same reason the sign meaning "god" is written before the sign meaning "servant" in 05_h2m-nt2r.gif (144 bytes) Hm-nTr, "servant of god", "priest".
The names of gods may be moved to the front of phrases, even if, grammatically, they belong at the end. Thus 05_mry-imn.gif (439 bytes) needs to be read mry imn, "beloved of Amun". Any honorific titles added to the name of a god, are moved to the front as well: 05_imn-nb-nswt-ta1wj-mrj.gif (667 bytes) mry imn, nb ns.wt tA.wj, "beloved of Amun, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands".



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