Watch the video or read the post. Or both. Whichever you prefer.
Transliteration is a system of converting hieroglyphs into Roman script (the alphabet we use in languages such as English) before translating them.
Take for example the word 'house' ('pr', in Egyptian), we don't go straight from hieroglyph to 'house' - we go from the hieroglyph to the Roman letters p and r, and then to 'house'.
Transliteration isn't just something Egyptologists use; there are transliteration systems used for any language that uses a different script. Transliteration is a standard part of translating any ancient language, including Egyptian, Greek and cuneiform.
What does transliteration do?
Transliteration allows us to represent the characters in a word accurately, but in a more recognisable form (the alphabet we use on a daily basis).
Also, there are some sounds in Egyptian which we don't have in English. Where we don't have an exact match in our alphabet, Egyptologists don't confuse the issue by using approximations; instead, they use some special transliteration characters (see below).
It can also help us see the structure of a text more effectively, as Egyptian didn't have punctuation or put spaces between words.
When you're done, you end up with something like this:
Transliteration characters you won't find on your keyboard
Most transliteration characters are the same as our letters, such as p, s, t, g and r.
What you won't see are our standard vowels (a, e, i, o, u) because the Egyptians didn't write their vowels.
What you will see are some unfamiliar characters. These represent sounds that we either don't have in English (such as the aleph and ayin - sounds that are used in other Semitic languages, such as Arabic and Hebrew) or sounds that we make using more than one letter (such as t which makes a 'tch' sound, like in the word 'scratch').
Here's a list of all transliteration characters, and what we translate them into:
Manuel de Codage
Because of these non-standard characters, when on the Internet, Egyptologists often to use a system called 'Manuel de Codage' (MdC) instead of transliteration. It was developed in the 1980s and was originally designed to allow Egyptologists to faithfully represent entire Egyptian texts - including the exact positioning of each hieroglyph - without needing hieroglyphic and transliteration fonts (which were scarce back in those days).
These days, however, it's used at a much more basic level to compensate for these non-standard transliteration characters, which are replaced with standard, on-your-keyboard letters. It gets around the problem of not being able to use specialist fonts in emails, forums, social networking etc.
Using the example of the offering formula earlier in this post, here's some Manuel de Codage in action (underneath the transliteration). Of course, a problem you may notice here is that, because MdC uses capital letters in place of some of the specialist characters, you can't capitalise nouns (like the names Osiris and Djedu), which some Egyptologists prefer to do.
Coming next: 1-consonant, 2-consonant and 3-consonant signs