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It may therefore have been Phe or Pi, adopted from the primitive alphabet. (See table.)
Thus plain is it that the framers of this Egyptian alphabet must have known the original whence the other alphabets were derived, and been familiar with the principle of its construction.
These thirteen letters are the foundation of the whole written system of Ancient Egypt. In the most ancient texts of it they are placed, either immediately before or after other characters denoting the same sounds, to interpret them. In later texts these characters are not so interpreted. Their powers had become perfectly well known, so that they no longer need interpretation.
The following are examples. Yo ab “flesh,” is so written in texts of all ages except the oldest, where it stands thus, ... The syllable hl or hr is likewise written in all later texts; but in the most ancient tombs it is always written thus, L. By thus comparing together the ancient with the more recent texts, we obtain the following alphabet :
4 Name of Usercheres, Ghizeh, &c. 5 Tomb at El Bersheh, Leps. II, 184. 6 Tomb 91. Ghizeh. 7 Tomb of Amenemes, Benihassan. 8 Tablet, 567. Brit. Mus. 9 Nahrai c. 157.
10 Nahrai pass. 11 Tomb 20. Saquara.
12 idem. 13 id. et passim.
14 id. 17 Saq. 15 Nabr. c. 174, &c.
16 Aménemes. 17 Nah. c. 18 &c. &c.
18 Nah. c. 211, &c. &c. 19 Ghiz. 26.
20 id. c. 171 &c. &c. 11 Nah. c. 206.
22 Nah. passim. 23 Amenemes.
24 Nah. passim. 25 Nah. c. 194.
26 Ghiz. 49 &c.
All these additional characters are written, interpreted in the ancient, and uninterpreted in the later texts. The pronunciation of most of them had before been ascertained by modern students, from their occurrence in proper names and elsewhere.
This comparison of texts of different ages makes it very clear that the thirteen letters of our alphabet were the best known in the primitive times, and had therefore been the first invented.
The writing of Ancient Egypt then was alphabetic; that is, its characters represented sounds, in exactly the same manner as the other two systems with which we have compared it. It differs from them however in a remarkable particular. Its inventors determined that its letters should always retain their first forms without degrading into mere arbitrary signs. They wanted them to be decorative as well as illustrative: so that their inscriptions might adorn the objects on which they were written as well as explain them.
The twelve sounds denoted by these thirteen letters were not enough to write the primitive language intelligibly in any of its dialects. They express the elementary articulations of the human voice only. But these may be uttered in many ways, and the sense of words often varies according to the mode of their pronunciation : so that a sepa
rate letter is required for each difference. Hence it was that the Hebrew alphabet came to have twenty-two letters, and the Greek twenty-four ; and also, that so many of the letters in both alphabets are closely allied to each other in sound.
This necessity likewise contributed to the increase of the Egyptian alphabet. Many of the new letters were retained in the system to express modifications in the sounds of the primitive letters that at first interpreted them.
But the circumstance that every letter in this mode of writing remained a picture, supplied another and still stronger motive for the multiplication of the number of characters in it, and to an extent very far beyond that of either of the other systems. Such a writing requires, and of necessity, that the meanings of the words as well as the sounds should be suggested by the pictures of which it is composed ; it could not be read without a help of this kind. This is so clear that it might have been known beforehand. It was found out by experience in Egypt. The most ancient texts are altogether alphabetic or nearly so : i. e. every character in them denotes a sound. They are likewise scarcely to be understood! This obscurity however was soon perceived, and two devices were framed to render them somewhat more perspicuous. These are just as simple and child-like as that by which the radi. cal letters were formed.
A. INITIALS. This device is merely an extension of the principle of the radical or first alphabet. The medial and final sounds of a word written with the letters already invented, were added to the picture of the thing it denoted, which was made the initial (or first) letter. In the earliest times this initial was accompanied by the radical letter, the sound of which it represented; but afterwards, through long use, the form and sound became sufficiently associated, and the interpreting or index letter was no longer needed. Thus the word hotp “a shew table of offering,” was written in the oldest texts. The second character is a picture of the table itself, as set forth before the images of the gods. The cord that precedes it shows that it is to be pronounced h. But the pronunciation of this frequently used group soon became sufficiently known without the index letter: so that nearly everywhere it is written thus . In the same manner sha,“ a joint or cut consisting of the ribs of an ox," was at first written thus 0:4 :* but very soon afterwards the power of the initial picture became familiar to men's minds, and in all later texts
* Tomb, No. 17 Ghizeh.