There are three general methods to determine the meaning of any word: 1) contextual analysis, 2) morphological analysis, 3) classification. Two particular methods which relies upon those three are etymology which traces the historical meanings of words, and the comparative method which compares the word and its meaning with related words in other languages with respect to their meanings to aid in the reconstruction of an original meaning. This article does not focus on either etymology or the comparative method.
Contextual analysis may involve a particular sentence, in which case the problem is reduced to the problem of 'fill in the blank' where the word of uncertain meaning is the blank. Contextual analysis may include the respective chapter or book. In that case we must try to think of the most suitable meaning for each of various contexts at hand. Applied contextual analysis may, for example, include such things as the physical geography of the area or a consideration of the types of plants found in the area of the setting of the story.
Morphological analysis is based on the principle that the meaning of a word is defined by the meanings of the parts of the word. If we know the meanings of the parts of a word then we can determine the sense of the definition formed and relate that to a particular meaning which may be the meaning of the resulting word. Some examples are as follows: 'parachute' is defined as 'para' (against) plus 'chute' (downward falling place), 'breakfast' as "break fast"; and from Ancient Hebrew: 'GLL' "release" is defined from 'GL' (hold) plus 'L' (negate), 'MGDL' "tower" is defined as 'M' (contain) plus 'GDL' (great), or "tower" = "container" "great". That Ancient Hebrew morphology is unlike the Modern Hebrew morphology, which is more defined by the compounding of root words with a vowel vocalization. As far as I know Ancient Hebrew vocalization was dependent on the grammatical sense of words.
Ancient Hebrew morphology is like the structure of the symbolic (Ideographic) Chinese writing. There the compound of one idea symbol with another idea symbol corresponds to a third idea held in the resulting symbol; the difference is that in Chinese the pronunciation of the resulting word may not be related to the pronunciation of the elements, but in Ancient Hebrew they are. In Chinese we have [sun] 'yot' + [moon] 'yut' = [bright] 'ming', note the pronunciations; [mother] 'ma' + [child] 'gee' = [good] 'hao'. Ancient Hebrew: 'S' "opposite" + 'RS' "head" = 'SRS' "root", 'S' "opposite" + 'RC' "run" = 'SRC' "crawl", 'OT' "time" + 'W' "exist" = 'OTW' "now". The structure of the Chinese writing is a morphology which allows about 1000 graphic symbols to generate any word with any meaning. It is the primary function of a morphology of a language to be able to generate all the words of the language. In Ancient Hebrew there are 66 elements, as each of the 22 letters has 3 meanings. Those are used in compounding to form over 200 two letter words. Then those words and elements are used in compounding to generate all of the other words in the language. Eleven of the 22 letters are used in prefixes and suffixes while a few of those are used as infixes.
Classification may be used to determine the meaning of a word. We may be able to group words together because of a close relation in meaning, then by the process of elimination we can determine the meaning of a word in that group. Sometimes we have a list of items, if we can match the list with particular items then we may be able to discover which words denote which items, giving us the meaning of the words. There may be words used in such a way that we can classify them as being related in meaning, sharing a component of meaning, that in turn aids in discovering the meaning of a word as well.
All three methods of textual decipherment mentioned above can be used in conjunction to affirm the meaning of a word deciphered. The next topic I would like to raise is orthographic decipherment. In connection with Biblical Hebrew Greek transliterations the underlying principle of decipherment is that the Biblical Greek spellings of Hebrew names are accurate representations of the correct way to transliterate from Ancient Hebrew into Biblical Greek. So 'SLMUN' becomes 'solomohn' (where 'oh' stands for omega and 'o' for omikron), 'YSRAL' becomes 'israehl' ('eh' stands for eta). Then the problem becomes: when 'U' stands for 'oh', what is the underlying sound, or when 'A' stands for 'eh' what is the underlying sound? After the sounds are determined of all of the letters, then we look at the patterns of the vocalization of various Hebrew names which are words, while paying attention to the grammatical sense of those words to see if we can discover grammatical rules of pronunciation. A reconstruction of alphabets is an important component of work in orthographic decipherment involving the comparative method among related alphabets, epigraphy, and transliterations. Another example is as follows: 'DUYD' is transliterated 'dabid' and 'LUY' is transliterated 'leui' ('u' stands for upsilon, and Hebrew 'U' for the letter "vav"); Modern Greek 'b' sounds like /v/, and Biblical Greek 'udohr' ("water") has lead to words in European languages which begin with either 'v' or 'w' ('voda' Russian), and we can at least narrow down the phonetic vallue of Ancient Hebrew 'U' to /w/ or /v/ for its consonant (actually semivowel) quality.
In Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol decipherment there are four general methods and four particular methods. The four general methods involve: 1) transliterations, 2) acrophonic principle, 3) structural method, and 4) epigraphic evidence.
On the famous Rossetta stone inscription the name of 'Ptolemy' is written in a cartouch in hieroglyphic symbols and it is written in Greek as 'ptolemai-' with various suffixes. . By inspection it is understood that one spelling is a transliteration of the other. For the names of the Egyptian symbols I am going to use [net] for what is commonly thought of as [box] and [continual] for what is commonly thought of as [folded cloth], [m] shall designate a symbol that I do not know what it symbolizes. His name is written in hieroglyphic symbols as [net] [circle part] [rope] [lion] [m] [reed flower] [reed flower] [continual]. We know that [net] corresponds to /p/ during the Greco-Roman period, and that [circle part] corresponds to /t/, [rope] corresponds to /o/ and so on.
The acrophonic principle states that the phonetic value of a symbol is the first letter of the name of that symbol. In the case of the common word [throne] [circle part] [egg], which is sometimes spelled [throne] [circle part] [house], the word for "throne" or "seat" is 'KXA' ('kazhaa'), so [throne] corresponds to 'K'. [Circle part] corresponds to 'T' as we have seen in 'Ptolemy'. [Egg] ('BD') and [house] ('BT') both correspond to 'B'. So the word in question is 'KTB' which means "write", as it does in the Semitic languages.
When I refer to the structural method I am usually referring to a case where we can see a correspondence between forms from known language to Ancient Egyptian. I am going to give three different examples of the structural method. The [circle part] symbol, as mentioned above, was the first symbol deciphered. Hundreds of years ago the Arab Egyptians noticed that it was used in a grammatically similar way as the letter 't' in their language. In the mastaba section of the tomb of Pernebi in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, in the inner part of the hallway, near the end wall, to your right, near the lower corner, there is the phrase [water] [foot] [continual] [tree siloette] [bin] [circle part] [water] [foot] [continual] [tree siloette] [bin]. That is a particular word followed by the same word with the 't' prefix. I know that occurs in Ancient Hebrew. In Numbers 15:31 we find the phrase 'WKRT TKRT' (something like "the cut get cut") and in 1 Kings 22:28 we find 'AM SUB TSUB BSLUM' ("if return get return in peace").
There is a common peculiar compound symbol composed of a lion's head and a lion's arm. We always read toward the face, which is in the direction opposite the direction that hieroglyphs face. We read the arm first. In this case it is to be read [arm] [lion] [head]. Note the [face] symbol is different, it will be facing you, any of the [head] symbols will be shown in profile. [arm] [lion] [head] is equivalent to ancient Semitic [YD] [ARY] [RAS]. You can see by the acrophonic principle that leads to [Y] [A] [R]. The Israelites came from Egypt, so they would have had the same word for the "Nile" as the Egyptians. The Ancient Hebrew word for "Nile" is 'YAR'. [arm] [lion] [head] is 'YAR' and it refers to the "Nile". In fact on the Rossetta stone the Greek word 'ierois' is a reference to the language written at the top of the stone, and that appears to be a form of 'yar' affixed to the Greek suffix '-ois' meaning "Nilotic", the language spoken about the Nile.
For the third type of structural analytical method in Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol decipherment I am going to simplify so as to avoid lengthening this article by several pages, but the details will be covered in subsequent articles. I was able to decipher the [owl] symbol by isolating five words with the symbol. The five words had symbols the phonetic values of which I had deciphered except for the [owl] symbol. I was looking at the following: [owl] [L] [L], [owl] [L] [Y] [L], [owl] [D] [R], [owl] [W] [B] [U], [S] [owl] [L]. Comparing those to Ancient Semitic/ Hebrew I found the most reasonable solution to be the following words: 'ALL' "statue", 'ALYL' ~"statue", 'ADR' "mill", 'AWBU' "cherished" (past tense, note 'W' in Ancient Egyptian is 'H' in Modern Hebrew), 'SAL' "drop". Although I shall have to discuss the decipherment of prerequisite symbols, it was necessary for me to jump ahead to give this type of example.
There are four particular methods of Egyptian hieroglyphic decipherment which I have discovered. The first principle is related to the use of Semitic 'U' and 'Y'. Those are primarily the two letters which can be infixed. When we see three consecutive identical symbols in Egyptian the second is actually either 'U' or 'Y'. In the case of [water] [water] [water] it is read as [M] [M] [M] which is [M] [Y] [M] which is 'MYM' and that is identical to the Hebrew word for "water". For a further note on the [water] symbol, epigraphically our 'M' and the Early Semitic form of 'M' have come from this Egyptian symbol; also the Coptic word for "water" begins with 'm' (lending acrophonic evidence). Unfortunately that symbol took on the value of /n/ during the Greco-Roman period due to influence by the Latin 'nauticus'.
The next principle is that a symbol with a line drawn through it takes on the phonetic value of the letter which follows it in the alphabet. I saw in a sample of ancient Semitic writing I believe inscribed on black basalt stone, of the Semitic 't' which typically looks like the 'x' grapheme, and it had the form of the Egyptian [long snake] with a line drawn through it. The [long snake] as the value of /s/. It can be seen in the word [long snake] [nail] [reed flower] [water] which is 'SULM' /sulum/ (as in 'solomon'): it is related to 'SLUM' "peace" (shalom). And note 'T' follows 'S' in the Semitic alphabet, as well as in the Greek alphabet. Also notice Omikron is followed by Phi consecutively, and Phi is 'o' with a line drawn through it. A line drawn through symbols is somewhat common in Ancient Egyptian writing.
A third principle involves the acrophonic principle and it is what I would refer to as the principle of a general concept. An Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol may be called by the general concept that it represents and then the acrophonic principle is used to determine its phonetic value. That principle only goes so far. So for example the symbols which symbolize a container have the phonetic value of /m/, but we must be cautious before concluding that a particular symbol fits into that class. Some agricultural tools correspond to 'A', but the [sickle] corresponds to 'L'. The blades correspond to 'L', note 'LWB' means "blade". This general principle holds for some symbols. The bird symbols are called by the name of their particular type.
The fourth principle can not be used to establish a certain decipherment unless the decipherment is verified in another way, but it may be used to help support or provide evidence of a phonetic value. This is the principle of similar forms. An examination of the [hill] symbol and the [walk] symbol will show that sometimes the [walk] symbol is in the same form as the [hill] symbol. Note that the Egyptian words corresponding to such begin with the same letter 'WR' "mountain", 'WLK' "walk". In the Old Testament 'WLK' and 'LK' are commonly translated "walk", notice 'LK', it means "procead". There is another form of the [walk] symbol which has its legs straight. It is the origin of the letter Lamda /l/, so the straight leg [walk] symbol is actually a different symbol than the curved [walk] symbol; and the two which seem to be different but have the same outline shape also have the same phonetic value. Besides that principle there is another interesting symbol which has it's phonetic value defined due to the common phonetic value of two different words. It is one of the squatting person symbols. It is the feminine form with a beard; the word for "son" and the word for "daughter" both begin with 'B'. So this symbol which has both long hair and a beard has the phonetic value of 'B'. I have seen that symbol in [eye] [throne] [son-daughter] which is [R] [K] [B], 'RKB' "carriage".
The methods discussed in this article are the basic methods of decipherment for both textual material of a somewhat known language, and the four methods of hieroglyphic decipherment are suitable for a general approach to undeciphered pictographic writing of any language. The four particular methods described are, at first sight, particular to Egyptian writing and do not necessarily have to do with other writing, though it may in some cases by Egyptian influence or coincidence. This article was only meant to focus on methods and not on justifying one kind of approach or another toward Ancient Near Eastern language decipherment. My philosophy of an approach toward Ancient Near Eastern language decipherment shall be dealt with in a subsequent article and it will be a general outline treatment like this article. The reason why this article was presented first is because it is more concrete, less abstract, not suggestive, and while this article is suitable for the general reader or general linguist, the other article is more specialized in its focus on Ancient Near Eastern language. For the general reader of this article who lacks an interest in deciphering any particular old or ancient language, there is always the field of the philosophy of classification which I began to describe in textual decipherment as 'classification'. It is a somewhat neglected field of study, and some work in that field can lend support to decipherers. The morphology of a language is ultimately the way a language classifies meanings and defines the relationships between those meanings.
As far as the apparent relationships between Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Hebrew suggested in this article they can be explained by either a substantial number of shared basic vocabulary, or a common morphology. Either way the suggestion would be that the two languages share a common origin, and that would concur with the Biblical teaching of languages being dispersed from a common protolanguage.