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Name Translation of Atemu and the Ancient Egyptian

By Alecto

I came across a lot of trouble trying to reaffirm the translation of this name.

First, ancient Egyptians used more than 2000 characters for hieroglyphics.  In the end, it is really impossible to completely translate it one way or another, as with any language.  Most of all, hieroglyphics is not a symbolic system of pictures but a way of recording the sounds of the ancient Egyptian language.  Hieroglyphs record this language (which belongs to the AfroAsiatic family) with a mixed system of sound signs and picture signs. The sound signs record the consonants of the language, but not true vowels. Occasionally, the versions of Egyptian words that are recorded in the scripts of other cultures help us reconstruct the missing sounds, i.e. the Coptic language (http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk).

The cover of chapter 334 shows the hieroglyphics of the name as shown left on this page.  If Yami’s name, Atemu, is to be related to the god Atemu, this is not the proper hieroglyphics of the name.

In the Book of the Dead, the name Atemu is written as shown left of here.  The last symbol of the sitting man can be ignored for now because it is a symbol to indicate that this is the name of a god (Budge cx).  This name does share some common symbol with Takahashi-san’s translation.

There is little dispute that this symbol corresponds to the English “t.”

The flowering reed has been said to be equivalent to either and/or both “e” and “i.”  In ASCII, it must be written as “y” since an “i” with an apostrophe instead of the dot cannot be written.  All in all, it is a very weak vowel. It is barely even pronounced.

The owl is an “m.”

The quail chick is equated to either “o” or “u.” As a phonetic type, it is “w.”

The vulture, , shown in the manga represents the sound of a “glottal stop” (or “glottal plosive”), which is a brief closing of the wind pipe, like a little cough or the English Cockney pronunciation of “t” in “bottle.”  It is phonetic type is represented by a “3” (http://www.friesian.com/).

English has only 40 phonemes (the smallest unit of sound that language is comprised of, such as “a” in English) in total (http://en.wikipedia.org/).  We use only 26 letters to represent those 40 phonemes and even more morphonemes.  It is a lot harder for us to distinguish the difference.  Is the “a” stressed as in “man” or not like in “fat”?  Japanese, as an easy example, has only 25 phonemes.  That is one of the reason Japanese in romanji is easier to pronounce.  We know that an “e” as in “anime” is pronounced like the “a” in “may.”

I was not able to find the number of phonemes in the ancient Egyptian language.  It does appear that each character in hieroglyphics may represent its own individual phoneme.  If that is so, then there are nearly 2000 phonemes in the ancient Egyptian language.  If it is already so difficult to distinguish between our own 40 phonemes, our writing system is more than insufficient in differentiating the ancient Egyptian language.  Moreover, “a number of the sounds do not exist in languages like English but still do exist in Arabic, which is distantly related to Egyptian: So Egyptians today can still vocalize sounds from the ancient language that otherwise would be unpronounceable in other modern languages.  When I visited Egypt, Egyptian guides who could read hieroglyphics appeared to enjoy using the sounds that they could pronounce but that many European tourists had never heard before” (http://www.friesian.com/).

An interesting sidenote is that babies are able to vocalize any of thousands of phonemes when they are in the “babbling” stage of language development.  The ability to vocalize these phonemes disappear as babies grow older.  As we grow older and learn to speak one specific language like English, we lose the ability to vocalize phonemes not native to our language, like ones found in Chinese.  (This is also why I cannot roll the Spanish “r” for my life.)  This is why it is so much harder for someone older to learn a second language compared to someone younger.  Truly multilingual individuals have been exposed to more than one language as infants.

Thus, the best way to translate hieroglyphics is phonetically, as it is done in most scientific research papers.  If we were to do that, Yami’s name should be written as 3tymw as shown in the manga.  Of course, that is just too odd looking to most people and bound to confuse even more.

So what is Yami’s name?  It is Atemu as far and as best as I can discern.  At the same time, it could also be Etimu or Atimu.  It is a matter of pronunciation in the end.  Sound is the most important component of the ancient Egyptian language and the difference between sounds are differentiated to the extreme.  Besides, Atemu just makes it easier for those of us who are looking for references. XD  Although, I personally would rather use 3tymw since that is the closest we will get.

As to the point of this article/analysis?  I am just doing what every good otaku does: nitpick. Hopefully, you have learned something here like I have in researching for this article.

Work Cited

Budge, E.A. Wallis.  The Egyptian Book of the Dead (The Papyrus of Ani) : Egyptian Text

Transliteration and Translation.  New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1967.

The Pronunciation of Ancient Egyptian

British Museum: Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan

Wikipedia- Phoneme

My Psychology textbook, that will I fully cite later.