Whenever I see Hieroglyphs reproduced and read the translation provided it always strikes me that the text appears very stilted and un-natural.

Could hieroglyphs be used to transcribe a normal conversation? Could a scribe accurately reproduce conversation or speech with word for word accuracy? Or is the language only really suited for royal proclamations and formal documents?

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    Same as with e.g. runes... sure you could, but the person would have to speak very slowly and you would soon run out of stone. :-)
    – DevSolar
    Commented Oct 24, 2018 at 9:11
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    Hietoglyphs wouldn't be used to record day-to-day conversations, but the Ancient Egyptian language was certainly capable of recording conversations of that type (for example in hieratic script). The Story of Sinuhe, for example, includes 'conversations' - albeit slightly stilted. However, that was due to the writing style in use, rather than the innate capability of the language. Commented Oct 24, 2018 at 9:55
  • Perhaps you should elaborate on what you mean by stilted. Hieroglyphs allowed for phonetic writing, although they also had semantic components, which means you could record everything, even loanwords and foreign names, just like in modern writing systems. I would assume that what you see as stilted may be due to cultural conventions and the fact that the language changed over the course of the 4000 years throughout which hieroglyphs were used. (Compare this to reading a medieval text that is not even 1000 years old.)
    – 0range
    Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 16:56
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    To add an example, there is a hieroglyph edition of the "Peter Rabbit" tale, provided by the British museum. As far as I can tell, it's written in ancient Egyptian language, but the name "Peter" is, of course, not translated. On the cover you can see the title in hieroglyphs. The three characters left of the "man" determinative (second line, the sitting guy facing left) read "PTR", so "Peter" (vowels are not written and have to be inferred).
    – 0range
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 22:49

1 Answer 1


The reason why many Ancient hieroglyphic texts appear “stilted and unnatural” may be because most texts that survived are found in or related to tombs and these get most of the attention because of magic cantations/utterances that at first glance do not seem to make a lot of sense, because words are translated by the meanings we know, not by the meanings they stood for within the context of the intention of the writers. (Metaphores, synonyms and such are harder to understand outside the culture that uses them). Priest canon was intended for priests to be understood and one could secure information in a text by describing it in a myth as a mnemonic form of for instance the changing times of the year that was passed on from generation to generation. Some hieroglyphic descriptions speak of what monument or tomb or pyramid was restored by which pharaoh and there is evidence of administration of market ware and produce. So one could write down a daily conversation in hieroglyphs with greetings, curses, jokes and puns included. The Ancient Egyptians used word puns often and analogies or homophones were good material for the scribes to show their skills. It seems from my own observations that the Ancient Egyptians were keen on using analogies to magically be related to the subject (often a God). They did it with forms too in their art. One of the busts of Akhnaten is deliberately sculptured to have lion features in the face. So a daily conversation could be written down as a metaphore for a deeper meaning. And the use of Proto Canaanite words in the pyramid text of Unas (3rd dynasty) shows bilingual conversations between Unas and the Gods (Proto Canaanite Mother Serpent).

On the Ancient Egyptian scripts for different purposes: https://www.ancient-origins.net/artifacts-ancient-writings/egyptian-hieroglyphs-language-gods-002990

On Proto Canaanite in Pyramid text of Unas: https://phoenicia.org/byblos-priests-spells.html

On Egyptian humour http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/people/humor.htm

The Akhenaten bust showing lion features in the face: http://www.mansooramarnacollection.com/macgallery/ This bust is from the Mansoor collection and the late Edgar Mansoor whom I had the privilege to converse with did everything in his power to prove that the collection was not fake, which the German Dietrich Wildung claims. Looking at this bust shows how Ancient Egyptian artists created a Sphinx like appearance with the lion faced Akhenaten. I don’t think a forger would think of turning the face of Akhenaten into a lion faced bust while so many other busts show him with human facial feautures. If it is a forgery, Akhenaten would have paid double the price for this ‘lion king’ bust. This as a side note.

A read on metaphores among other info http://www.ramonalouisewheeler.com/now--i-am-osiris-.html

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    Interesting information. Sources would improve this answer. Can you edit and add some references?
    – Kerry L
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 23:14
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    Sure, but it is late now. I will add reference soon.
    – Ajagar
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 23:27
  • Yes, imagine if all we had of Latin was a Catholic prayer book.
    – Robert Columbia
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 1:15
  • There are texts that describe aspects of everyday life, such as the Heqanakht papyri reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/texts/heqanakht.htm Agatha Christie used them as the basis for a historical mystery, "Death Comes as the End".
    – jamesqf
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 4:29

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