hieroglyphic

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hieroglyphic

(hī'rəglĭf`ĭk, hī'ərə–) [Gr.,=priestly carving], type of writingwriting,
the visible recording of language peculiar to the human species. Writing enables the transmission of ideas over vast distances of time and space and is a prerequisite of complex civilization.
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 used in ancient EgyptEgypt
, Arab. Misr, biblical Mizraim, officially Arab Republic of Egypt, republic (2005 est. pop. 77,506,000), 386,659 sq mi (1,001,449 sq km), NE Africa and SW Asia.
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. Similar pictographic styles of Crete, Asia Minor, and Central America and Mexico are also called hieroglyphics (see Minoan civilizationMinoan civilization
, ancient Cretan culture representing a stage in the development of the Aegean civilization. It was named for the legendary King Minos of Crete by Sir Arthur Evans, the English archaeologist who conducted excavations there in the early 20th cent.
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; Anatolian languagesAnatolian languages
, subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see The Indo-European Family of Languages, table); the term "Anatolian languages" is also used to refer to all languages, Indo-European and non-Indo-European, that were spoken in Anatolia in ancient times.
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; MayaMaya
, indigenous people of S Mexico and Central America, occupying an area comprising the Yucatán peninsula and much of the present state of Chiapas in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, parts of El Salvador, and extreme western Honduras.
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; AztecAztec
, Indian people dominating central Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquest. Their language belonged to the Nahuatlan subfamily of Uto-Aztecan languages. They arrived in the Valley of Mexico from the north toward the end of the 12th cent.
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). Interpretation of Egyptian hieroglyphics, begun by Jean-François ChampollionChampollion, Jean François
, 1790–1832, French linguist and Egyptologist. He is considered the founder of the science of Egyptology. His first important accomplishment was his two-volume work on the geography of ancient Egypt, which appeared when he was 24.
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, is virtually complete; the other hieroglyphics are not nearly as well understood. The distinguishing feature of hieroglyphics is that they are conventionalized pictures used chiefly to represent meanings that seem arbitrary and are seldom obvious. Egyptian hieroglyphics appear in several stages: the first dynasty (3110–2884 B.C.), when they were already perfected; the Old Kingdom; the Middle Kingdom, when they were beginning to go out of use; the New Empire, when they were no longer well understood by the scribes; and the late hieroglyphics (from 500 B.C.), when the use of them was a tour de force. With a basic number of 604 symbols, hieroglyphics were written in several directions, including top to bottom, but usually from right to left with the pictographs facing the beginning of the line.

There were in general three uses to which a given hieroglyphic might be put (though very few were used for all three purposes): as an ideogram, as when a sign resembling a man meant "man" or a closely connected idea (thus a man carrying something meant "carrying"); as a phonogram, as when an owl represented the sound m, because the word for owl had m for its principal consonant; or as a determinative, an unpronounced symbol placed after an ambiguous sign to indicate its classification (e.g., an eye to indicate that the preceding word has to do with looking or seeing). As hieroglyphic developed, most words came to require determinatives. The phonograms were, of course, the controlling factor in the progress of hieroglyphic writing, because of the fundamental convenience of an alphabetalphabet
[Gr. alpha-beta, like Eng. ABC], system of writing, theoretically having a one-for-one relation between character (or letter) and phoneme (see phonetics). Few alphabets have achieved the ideal exactness.
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.

In the Middle Kingdom a developed cursive, the hieratic, was extensively used for private documents where writing speed was essential. In the last centuries B.C. a more developed style, the demotic, supplanted the hieratic. Where the origin of most hieratic characters could be plainly seen in the hieroglyphics, the demotics were too conventionalized to bear any resemblance to the hieroglyphics from which they had sprung.

Bibliography

See A. H. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar (3d ed. 1957); N. Davies, Picture Writing in Ancient Egypt (1958); E. A. Budge, Egyptian Language (8th ed. 1966); H. G. Fischer, Ancient Egyptian Calligraphy (1983); W. V. Davies, Egyptian Hieroglyphics (1988).

hieroglyphic

1. of or relating to a form of writing using picture symbols, esp as used in ancient Egypt
2. written with hieroglyphic symbols
3. a picture or symbol representing an object, concept, or sound