Hieroglyphics, a form of pictographic written language, began roughly 5000 years ago by the Egyptians. Also known as "sacred inscriptions", hieroglyphics would eventually be used to represent sounds along with the representation of words already being used in everyday life.
To understand the language let's take a look at the history of Egypt. Egypt was largely centered on agriculture. Wheat, fruits and vegetables were the principle crops for ancient Egypt. Along with the crops, however; there was some farming of cattle, sheep, and goats. The Nile was the lifeblood of Egypt. People were more dependent on the river than for their food. The flooding of the Nile usually lasted from July through November. When the Nile flooded, farming would be impossible. When the water receded, thick layers of silt (fine sand, clay carried by running water and deposited as a sediment) remained. This produced rich soil for the Egyptians to grow their crops and thick grass for them to graze their animals.
Ancient Egyptian religion was centered on the Egyptians interaction with deities (Gods and Goddesses) who they thought were present in and control of forces and elements of nature. The practice of Egyptian religion were efforts to provide for the gods. Pharaohs were considered not only as representatives of the gods, they were also considered as gods.
Hieroglyphics began as a written language for the Egyptians in which they continued to use more than 3500 years. As time went on the Egyptian language would be written in the Greek alphabet, after 400 AD. Several extra letters would be incorporated to represent Egyptian sounds that did not exist in Greek. Called "Coptic" this form of Egyptian would be replaced by the spoken language we here in Egypt today, Arabic. The only sign we have left of the Ancient Egyptian language lies within the hieroglyphs.
In 1799, Napoleon's army discovered , "The Rosetta Stone." The Rosetta Stone was discovered in a town called Rosetta, thus the name was given. The Rosetta Stone is a stone containing the writings on it in two languages, Egyptian and Greek. It also uses three scripts consisting of hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek. Hieroglyphic script was used for important or religious documents. Demotic script was the common script used in Ancient Egypt. Rulers of Ancient Egypt used the Greek language, the third language on the Rosetta Stone. So the priests, government officials and rulers of Egypt could read what the stone said it was written in all three scripts. The stone was written to honor the Egyptian pharaoh. It has a list of the good things pharaoh did for the people of Egypt and the priests.
In 1822 Jean-Francois Champollion, a French classical scholar, philologist and orientalist, was the first person to deciphered the hieroglyphs in thousands of years. He was able to read Greek and Coptic. Egyptian hieroglyphic script contained 24 symbols that represented single consonants. This was equal to letters in English. The Egyptian language was made up of sounds.Partly of vowels and consonants, however; hieroglyphs constantly ignored and left out vowels. How a word sounds in hieroglyphics is more important than how it is spelled. Words would be written the way they sounded. Words that sounded alike: "there" and "their" could be written using the same sign.
Hieroglyphs are also pictures. These signs had no order to how they were written. They could be written from left to right, right to left, or reading downwards, vertically. In viewing the pictures to decide which way it is read, look at the faces of men or animals. If the face is facing left, then the inscriptions is read from left to right. If the faces are facing right, then it is read right to left. The system of writing hieroglyphs was intensely complex and very labor intensive. The first hieroglyphics were often seen on building and on tombs. Tutankhamen's sarcophagus contained hieroglyphics. Ancient Egyptian language consisted over 700 symbols that represented real words and thousands of others for each sound.
Egyptian hieroglyphics are divided into categories that include "phonograms" and "ideograms". Ideograms were used by writing the word it represented. For example an ideogram that had a picture of a man that actually looked like a man, then that would represent the word, "man." In Phonograms, the words were spelled out the way they sounded, and usually had no connection to the word sounded out. This resulted in the use of both ideograms and phonograms together. The reader would have to decifer the sentence to figure out which word was intended. In Ancient Egypt a large majority of people could not read or write. This is why they depended on scribes and priests. If a boy was born into a affluent family, he would start school at 6 or 7 to learn to write hieroglyphics.
Hieroglyphics were eventually used as decoration on jewelry, to record events on papyrus and used as a kind of signature for royalty on stones that were oval in shape known as a "cartouche."