How The One World Language [Egyptian] Became The Many [Letterforms and Sound Divergence]

How The One World Language [Egyptian] Became The Many [Letterforms and Sound Divergence]


There are basically two factors that have caused the variant dialects/languages of the world from its original one-world language—being the Ancient Egyptian:

i. Writing variations of the letter-forms and their orientations

ii. Systematic sound variations


i. The Apparent Variations Of Letter-forms In World Alphabets From Its Egyptian Origin

The most competent person to provide the best view on this matter is Petrie, who collected hundreds of alphabetical characters from different regions of the world over several millenniums. In his book Formation of Alphabets, Petrie wrote, on page 4:

“For the illiterate peoples [outside Egypt], they like small children don’t appreciate the form and/or direction of a sign. So, he would reverse both the forms of letters and the direction of writing, or later on only reverse the forms, while writing from left to right. He had never been shown reversed writing, every example that he saw was normal; yet the reversal seemed not only unintentional, but so entirely immaterial to his mind, that he could hardly see any purpose in writing direct rather than reversed, the two were all one in idea.

This same lack of sense of direction may often be seen in uneducated writing, where such letters as N, S, and Z are reversed.”

Petrie continues to sum it up:

“Much light is thus thrown on the treatment of [alphabetical letter-forms] signs in the early alphabets; they are turned up- side down, or tilted over one way or another, they are written reversed, and the direction of writing may be from either side, or each way alternately, as in the boustrophedon inscriptions. All of these variations were as nothing to the men who had not yet developed the sense of direction as’ significant, and who thought only of the form in whatever position or reversal it might appear.”

In conclusion, we should consider that different handwritings (with different orientation) may appear to represent different alphabets. By taking the potential causes of ‘apparent variations’ into account, we can trace numerous scripts throughout the world to their origins—namely, the Ancient Egyptian alphabetical writings.

In summary, different related shapes of letter-forms are due to:

a. Negligence in the orientation of letters.

b. The slight four variations in a letter-form and the unique Egyptian ligaturing rules in cursive writing.

c. Added vocalic markings on the fringe of a letter—sometimes separate other times touching the letter or embedded into the body of the letter-form itself.

d. Inability to recognize ‘modified’ letter-forms when they are used as numbers, musical notes, etc.

e. Quality of writing as affected by writing surfaces, devices and inks, the frequency of lifting the writing device to re-ink it, and carelessness in using inked instruments (e.g. too-thick and too-faint lines).

f. Level of ornamentation, varying in degree from plain simple to very calligraphic.

g. Confusing configuration/shape of closely shaped letter-forms—equivalent examples in English are confusing a and d, b and p, l and I, or E and F.

h. Writing confusion as a consequence of vocalic limitations/inability of some to pronounce certain letters as well as the phenomena of sound shifts — which will be discussed in a later chapter


ii. The Systematic Sound Variations [Sound Shifts]

From the earliest days of comparative philology, it was noticed that the sounds of re­lated languages corresponded in apparently systematic ways. The most famous of these “sound shifts” were worked out by Jacob Grimm in 1822, and have become known as “Grimm’s Law”.

The circular relationship between these correspondences is a major feature:

G → K → X → Gh → G

Kh → K → Kh

T → Th [as in ‘thin’] → Dh [as in ‘the’] → D → T

P → F (Ph) → Bh → B → P

Other examples are:

  • M is often exchanged for N.
  • M often becomes B.
  • B → V
  • D → T Such as we find the name Mohammed being pronounced Mehmet in Turk­ish.
  • K or C may be pronounced as ‘G’.
  • Z may be pronounced ‘Ts’ (using an emphatic ‘s’ like the English word ‘false’).
  • F → P
  • R and L are often confused.
  • GI is often exchanged with DI.
  • H may be added or dropped at the end of a word.
  • D may be dropped at the end of a word.
  • S may be used instead of Sh.
  • W may be G, Th may be F.
  • W may be V.
  • Th [as in ‘three’] may be F

As an example of this phenomenon of sound shift, a person’s name can still be recognized in vastly different sounds, such as Santiago/San Diego/San Jacob and Saint James. Jacob/Jack/Jaques/James are one and the same name, which exemplifies the phenomenon of sound shift.

Another simple example is: Michael, Mikhael, Miguel, Miqael, etc., which, despite being the same name, varies only in one sound in the middle of the name. One can imagine that a variation in two and even more sounds in the same word/name will make the changed name/word sound like a totally different name/word.

In addition to the numerous variations of sound shifts, many people have tendencies to reverse the letters (consonants and/or vowels) of a word. As a result, we end up with what appear to be totally different words.

Budge in his book, Egyptian Language, page 27, wrote:

“The transliteration to remove or modify the gut­turaux sounds which exist in the Ancient Egyptian language and miss in the Western languages. So the original gutturaux sounds which characterize the Ancient Egyptian language were sacrificed and disappeared in the current writing.”

Isaac Taylor in his book The History of the Alphabet states on page 81:

“In the Greek alphabet the Semitic semi-consonants (A, W, Y) and guttural breaths (H & A.) became vowels; aspirated mutes and additional vowels were evolved; and the sibilants underwent transformation.

Taylor continues:

“Five Primitive vowels were formed out of the breaths and semi- consonants, letters which even in Semitic languages tend to lapse into the cognate vowel sounds. The three breaths, aleph, he, and ‘ayin, lent themselves readily to this process, losing altogether their character of gut­turals, and sinking into the fundamental vowels, alpha, espsilon, and o-micron.”

Taylor continues:

“The semi-consonant yod, which had the sound of the English y or the German j, lapsed easily into the cognate vowel sound of iota. Analogy would lead us to expect that waw, the other semi-consonant, would similarly weaken into the vowel u. The Greek u-psilon does not, however, occupy the alphabetical position of the Waw, but comes among the new letters at the end of the alphabet.”

On page 280 of the same book, Isaac Taylor writes:

“The six Greek vowels, alpha, epsilon, eta, iota, omicron, and upsilon, were developed out of aleph, he, cheth, yod, ‘ayin, and vau. In Armenian, Georgian, and Mongolian, a similar result has been attained in very nearly the same way.”

Isaac Taylor, in his book The History of the Alphabet, states, on page 81:

“In the Greek alphabet … and the sibilants underwent transformation.”


[Excerpts from Ancient Egyptian: Universal Writing Modes by Moustafa Gadalla]