A Hieroglyphic Digression: "Bast"/"Bastet", Spelling and Phonetic Complements

The normal spelling for "Bastet" presented in Faulkner's Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian is b3stt. (Due to font limitations, "3" in these web page transliterations represents the character 'aleph', which is pronounced as a glottal stop.) The characters are The final character is a determinative, which is not pronounced. Determinatives have no sound value, but provide further information about the noun or verb they follow. The determinative on b3stt indicates a lion-headed goddess, so it is very specific to Bastet. Most determinatives are more general in the information they provide.

The primary spelling for the city Bast is b3st. This spelling uses the same ointment jar b3s and bread loaf t characters as used for b3stt, plus the determinative indicating a place. Because of determinatives, there is no ambiguity of the city Bast and the goddess Bast when written in hieroglyphs, even if there is no second "t" used in "Bastet": for the place, for the goddess.

An alternate spelling for the city Bast is , which still spells b3st. The characters used are

Strictly speaking, those hieroglyphs spell out b-b3-st-t, but the extra characters are "phonetic complements" which repeat the sound of an adjacent character. Phonetic complements are guidelines to spelling and pronunciation but are not themselves voiced characters. In the initial b is a phonetic complement for b3, and the final t is a phonetic complement for st. Since the phonetic complements are not pronounced they are dropped from the transliteration so b-b3-st-t becomes b3st.

Phonetic complements are common in hieroglyphic spelling. Sometimes the phonetic complement disambiguates a character that can have more than one sound. The throne symbol can be js or st. Because of the phonetic complement t we know the throne character represents st in . The phonetic complement b in front of b3 is not so useful, but complements often appear even when they seem redundant (and are often absent when they might be really helpful).

A final "t" is the normal feminine ending for Egyptian, so the names of most goddesses end in "t": Sekhmet, Nekhbet, Wadjet, Selket, and many others. Scribes did not start writing an extra at the end of their names. There are other goddess names that can show a doubled final "t", such as Renenutet, whose name appears as rnnt, rnnwt or rnnwtt. So the doubled "t" is not a variation unique to Bast/Bastet, though it is unusual. I have not seen an explanation of why a phonetic complement might be applied when spelling b3st but not when spelling skhmt or nkhbt.

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