Phonetically, Egyptian hieroglyphs use what's called the Rebus principle. For example, in English we could write https://i.imgur.com/Rp51iOt.png
(hn ate my emoji) for belief. When this symbol is used phonetically, it represents the consonants "mt" because the ancient Egyptian word for phallus used those consonants. If we wanted to write "phallus," we could write 𓂸𓏺 with the stroke afterwards to denote that we mean the symbol, not its phonetic value.
Edit: hn cut out my emoji unicode. Replaced the emoji unicode with an image link.
That's an interesting fact. As someone with no knowledge of how languages are formed it makes me wonder why have a written language that purposefully omits vowels if other characters would need to be introduced in their place for disambiguation? What was the point of removing vowels?
By contrast, cuneiform (of Sumer origin -- a traditional rival power to ancient Egypt) did have vowels.
A surprising amount of history—writing, speaking, war, splitting the world into objects, naming them, whatever—is pure chance, turned tradition, turned myth and legend. That's the power of beginnings.
One caveat: As I understand things, Sumerian started out without vowels (or consonants), much like Chinese, but developed phonetic usage over time (unlike Chinese :( ). This has resulted in early texts being much harder to read than later texts.
Unfortunately, those characters are mostly pretty old and the pronunciations have diverged. So the situation is a bit similar to that of English, where the orthography is a good guide to Middle English pronunciation, but confusing for modern people. Linguists love that it enables them to reconstruct ancient pronunciations, of course.
It's not similar to English at all. Compare this translator's note from https://www.amazon.com/Xunzi-Complete-Text/dp/0691169314/ :
> The other feature of this translation that warrants comment is the handling of rhymed lines. The Xunzi contains numerous rhymed passages... Both Watson and Knoblock often overlook them, as do many translations of the Xunzi into modern Chinese and Japanese and Korean... I consider the presence of these rhymes a feature of the text that is sufficiently noteworth to deserve being reflected conspicuously in the translation. Since the rhyming sections can easily be overlooked... I have chosen to make them conspicuous by translating rhymed passages in Chinese with rhymed sections of English...
> The identification of the rhymes in the Chinese text requires detailed knowledge of ancient phonology that I lack, and so I have relied on published studies of rhymes in the Xunzi by other scholars. Since their analyses may have missed some of the rhyming passages, and since there is ongoing scholarly debate about how to reconstruct the sounds of ancient Chinese in the first place, I do not claim to have identified every instance of rhyme in the text...
- In Old Chinese, before the pronunciation divergence you mention, the form of a character is not a guide to its pronunciation. (Rather, the pronunciation of another character is often used as inspiration when inventing a new character. But the relationship of a new character to its component parts is not regular or predictable.)
- By inspection of text, it isn't possible even to tell the difference between text that rhymes and text that doesn't rhyme, much less to tell what the words sounded like.
- A scholar who is competent to translate text written in Old Chinese is completely incompetent to determine whether Old Chinese text rhymes or doesn't rhyme. That's an entirely different field of study.
- Even when a scholar has published a book devoted to identifying rhymes within a very famous text, it is considered likely that that book will have just plain overlooked a number of rhymed passages.
These are not symptoms of a writing system that reflects the sounds of the language. The information conveyed by the writing about the sound of Chinese is so close to zero that the difference is immaterial.
Go look at some English rhyming poetry, and ask yourself how easy it would be, if you didn't know English, to tell the difference between that and unrhymed prose.
Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation — think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough —
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!
A great illustration of this is alphabets. Look at the Latin Alphabet: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_alphabet Most ancient words are "foreign" (heh-heh), but most letters are quite recognizable.
Also quite a few of the ancient Greek letters are still in today's English alphabet (via Latin).
People have attempted to convey some portions of spoken tone with thing like the "<sarcasm>" tag, and commas/ellipses/etc all convey some level of pauses, but they are not substitutes for the full nuance of spoken english.
Asking "Why did their written language not convey the full range of spoken sounds by default" is like asking "Why doesn't written English contain volume cues to indicate when the speaking tone should be louder".
All written languages that are created to represent a spoken language are inherently lossy.
A good illustration of this can be found in live speeches or interviews. A transcript often seems confusing or disjointed. When you view the actual speech itself it's cohesive and easily understood.
I recommend reading this article. The problem he is solving is representing text in ASCII. For example an e with an accent can be replaced with a plain e. But what about languages not using the base Roman alphabet? You get a fascinating tour of Divehi and the final result - the unidecode module - works rather well.
This sounds like a challenge.
If you take existing, drawable words you implicitly get the vowels with the consonants, unless explicitly ruled out by convention. Maybe the answer is dialects, that there was much wider consensus over the spoken consonants than over the spoken vowels. Lacking audio recordings we will never find out (it's crazy enough that we can reconstruct those languages to the point where so many translations turn out somewhat plausible)
Hebrew still (mostly) lacks vowels (and Arabic has a few, but is missing some we'd expect as important to pronunciation), to this day. I wonder if we asked a contemporary Hebrew speaker if "you implicitly get the vowels with the consonants" when you combine phonetic representations, if they would agree.
In any event, it's usually a mistake to assume you know what was obvious or implicit or straightforward to people living thousands of years ago. Different things were.
Of course, over time weird things do happen and you might end up with a mess like english where the relationship between phonetic encoding and actual vocalization is incredibly weak and serves only as a hint for narrowing down the actual encoding+context to semantics to vocalization lookup chain.
The first written Semitic language, Akkadian, _does_ indicate vowels, because doing so is mandatory in the writing system Akkadian used, the cuneiform originally developed for Sumerian.
(Egyptian is closely related to the Semitic languages, but not quite closely enough that it's called Semitic. Instead both are grouped together in the larger category of "afroasiatic" languages, also including other south-Mediterranean languages.)
It may never have occurred to the Egyptians to include vowels in their writing, but omitting vowels from Phoenician can only have been a purposeful choice, as the existing systems (except Egyptian) did have them.
That's not true. The vast majority of Chinese characters (estimated at around 90% or more) are phono-semantic compounds, which were also devised based on the Rebus principle that the OP of the thread mentioned.
These compounds consist of an element that hints at a word’s pronunciation (the "phonetic"), together with an element that hints at its meaning (the "radical"). The phonetic and radical are respectively analogous to the rebus and determinative of Egyptian hieroglyphics that the OP also mentioned.
For example, the following characters all share the same phonetic 青, which is pronounced qīng in Mandarin Chinese:
請 - pronounced qǐng - with the 言 speech radical, means "to invite, please"
情 - pronounced qíng - with the 忄 heart radical, means "feeling, emotion"
清 - pronounced qīng - with the 氵 water radical, means "clear"
睛 - pronounced jīng - with the 目 eye radical, means "eye"
The character 青, which means "blue/green", lends its pronunciation qīng to the characters in these examples, not its meaning.
One major caveat is that because the Chinese writing system has been around for a very long time and both the meanings and pronunciations of characters can shift over time, the phonetic and semantic components of many characters are no longer as reliable in indicating their pronunciation or meaning. In many cases they are still good enough though. It’s interesting to note that because sound changes are often systematic, the phonetic components of phono-semantic compounds still generally work within any particular spoken variety of Chinese (i.e., the pronunciation of the phonetic evolves similarly to the pronunciation of the other characters that make use of the phonetic), even though the various Chinese varieties may have diverged differently.
[ This response was adapted from my original answer in Quora: https://qr.ae/TUhrP0 ]
See this very interesting article that constructs a writing system for English using the same principles: https://www.zompist.com/yingzi/yingzi.htm
This web page suggests that the earliest known written languages were all vowel-less, including the ancient Egyptian alphabet, Proto-Canaanite, Phoenician, and South Arabian. It doesn't mention Akkadian though.
Other googling suggests Phoenician developed from Proto-Canaanite. Even if other written languages with vowels were around at the time it developed, I don't know if that means it was a _purposeful choice_ exactly. Just based on how languages works, it seems plausible it just evolved from Proto-Canaanite by people who knew how to write Proto-Canaanite, which doesn't necessarily mean they thought "Gee, should we add in vowels like those Akkadians?" I don't know if we have any way of knowing?
But you may know more about it than me, or what I found on google.
A fun fact that I particularly like: the form "Ra" for the old Egyptian sun deity is a transcription convention which transcribes an Egyptian consonant as the vowel "a". The Egyptians generally did not include a vowel in their writings of the name. However, we actually do know the vowel used in the god's name, because he is mentioned in diplomatic correspondence, written in Akkadian. The vowel is [i] (as in the English word "bee"), occurring between the R and the "A" (which is actually one of those back-of-throat consonants that modern Egyptians are so proud of).
My understanding is the Semitic languages don't use vowels the same way that Indo-European languages do, and they can be typically inferred from context.
Also, they didn't "remove" vowels, but rather Indo-Europeans added them. Specifically when the Greeks adopted the Phonetician alphabet, they took a bunch of the letters that stood for consonants they didn't use and re-purposed them to represent the vowels that they needed to intelligibly write their language.
They can mean urinate, semen; man; husband.
Combined with other symbols, one can form the meanings: copulate, ass/donkey and coward. The last may be the egyptian equivalent of "dickhead".
the god min
animals belly showing teats and tail
possibly the placenta, though could be a sieve
It's just the Egyptian Hieroglyph Unicode block. Apparently the ancient Egyptians were not aware of the comedic value of this symbol to future generations.
The other one, D53 (phallus with liquid issuing), could be used to make the "bAh" sound. There are 200 words in my dictionary that use this sign. Some words include: boy, to know a woman sexually, Bull of Bulls, sperm, uncircumsized, virgin, to escape, lustful, poison, venom, in the presence of, masturbator, ejaculation, flood, virility, genitals, flaccid penis, to become erect, to sicken, seed, to pour forth, begotten one, male, son, profusion, discharge, sexually excite, homosexual, to commit adultery, repeated copulation, coward, unmanly, sissy, to sleep with, divine seed, to bear witness to the truth, sin, evil, to take a woman's virginity, etc.
I wouldn't be so sure about that...
Edit: found one https://archive.org/details/COLLIERMANLEY1999EgyptianHierogl... via @FakeUnicode on Twitter https://twitter.com/FakeUnicode/status/722139283381821440
Googling the symbol hasn't provided any leads.
folded cloth and intestines
folded cloth and horned viper
folded cloth and sickle
folded cloth and knife sharpener
folded cloth and butcher's knife sharpener
There are other signs that they also combined like this, for example,
cobra with mace
Both the cobra and the mace are also standalone signs, just as all the signs above are standalone signs in addition to being combined with the folded cloth. Why did the egyptians combine signs like this? I'm not sure. I've never read an explanation for it.
I guess they could say it falls under "Already representable" since we have eggplant emojis lmao. I would have guessed that they want to avoid emojis that are generally used in crude/offensive contexts, but there's a middle finger emoji so...
By that logic there's no need for the smiley emoji since we already have :).
I expect that the given reason would be that vendors would be unlikely to implement it. That's at least plausible, but if the UTC has ever given an actual reason I'd like to hear it.
> And for those of you on Windows with a censored font
Anyone know how to resolve this? I think Mark Twain would deem me capable of chewing steak...
There's probably a similar glyph in ancient Chinese oracle bone script, which might one day end up in Unicode as well.
Hey, no puns allowed on HN.
Anybody else experiencing this on mac os mojave or is it something wrong on my end?
edit: they don't show up in chrome and won't work in slack, they do work in iMessage.
edit2: safari happily displays them
Edit I mention this becaus the author speculates humans have been drawing dicks for ages. Society had been much more interested in the female form. See the Venus figurines: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_figurines
This all makes a bit of sense if you acknowledge the patriarchy: how much of your interest and indeed porn is dick focused after you’re 12?
𓂸 Unicode standards compliant
I've never heard about censored fonts, but I am on Windows and these indeed do not work. How do I fix that?
Yup. The singularity is near.