Monday, November 14, 2011

Failing at Hieroglyphics?

I think it’s about time I commented on our civilizations ende

avor to translate Egyptian hieroglyphics. Ideally, we planned on finding a book on Ancient Egyptian characters, matching up the characters

with English words and coming up with a coherent message about written knowledge.

However, that was not the case, and I don’t think that’s what happened in reality either when original languages needed to be translated back in the day. Unless you had a Rosetta Stone, deciphering a language into had to be a lot of guess work.

There weren’t always language experts who could help you, and there were no keys that would tell you exactly what pictures of birds and staffs meant.

Such was the case with our group. We must have looked through at least 10 books on Egyptian hieroglyphics and every single one had different interpretations of each character. And in our search for knowledge, we found several difficulties with deciphering Egyptian.

First, Egyptians did not use vowels. A lot of phonetic words in

hieroglyphics typically left out vowel characters main

ly because the Egyptians considered them unimportant. This greatly contrasts with written language today in which we heavily rely on vowel sounds.

Second, I predetermined that hieroglyphs were simply a list of symbols in which each one a distinct independent meaning. Wow, was I

wrong. Different characters form clusters of each other the same way different letters in our alphabet make up words. As you can see in one alphabet on the right, the letter E corresponds with the double dash in hieroglyphics. However, in several of the books I looked at in the library, the double dash actually indicates dualism. Such discrepancies between hieroglyphic alphabets are everywhere and its

almost impossible to find the pure source.

Thirdly, there is no standardized Egyptian hieroglyph chart of today. Each book we read had different interpretations of the characters, and in fact some of them didn’t even address the characters that were on our artifact. It was frustrating. In order to truly decipher the code we needed the exact source that the original artifact was written from. In other words, we needed the book that the group before used. Since we could not find the exact source, it was impossible to come up with a true translation.

So was the project a complete failure? No it wasn’t. Our group got to experience first-hand that not all translations are always correct. In fact, some of them may be utterly wrong and fictional. It makes me wonder how much we can actually trust in modern translations of ancient written sources. It only takes one person to alter a sentence’s meaning for generations to come.


  1. T's lk lrnng bt hw th lghtblb ws md; "...lrnd 1000 wys hw NT t mk lghtblb." Trnsltng frm ghm ws srprsngl mr dffclt thn xpctd; m rmmt fnd dffrnt lphbt t s whn hlpng m nd ths dffrnt trnsltn.

    Okay, sorry for being completely obnoxious; I just couldn't resist. Basically, my roommate found a different alphabet for translating the stone tablet that we got (she was just doing it for fun) and I really needed to be coached through the process of identifying the words and then finding the book the phrase came from online. It was a relief to have someone who knew what they were doing helping me out. I wonder how often scribes ran into the problem of translating from a language they didn't know.

  2. It makes me glad that God hid the Book of Mormon until Latter Days and let it be translated by his power rather than by man's intelligence. Although this was in his plan all along, imagine if it had been translated the same way the Bible had. What plain and simple truths would have been lost?