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{{For|the traditional ordering of the letters of the Arabic alphabet|Abjad numerals}}{{Use dmy dates|date=July 2013}}{{more citations needed|date=May 2010}}{{Writing systems sidebar}}An abjad (pronounced {{IPAc-en|'|æ|b|dÊ’|ɑː|d}}WEB,weblink abjad - Definition of abjad in English by Oxford Dictionaries, Oxford Dictionaries - English, or {{IPAc-en|'|æ|b|dÊ’|æ|d}}){{OED|abjad}} is a type of writing system where each symbol or glyph stands for a consonant, leaving the reader to supply the appropriate vowel. So-called impure abjads do represent vowels, either with optional diacritics, a limited number of distinct vowel glyphs, or both. The name abjad is based on the old Arabic alphabet's first four letters—a, b, j, d—to replace the common terms "consonantary" or "consonantal alphabet" to refer to the family of scripts called West Semitic.


The name "abjad" ({{transl|ar|abjad}} ) is derived from pronouncing the first letters of the Old alphabet order in Arabic. The ordering ({{transl|ar|abjadÄ«}}) of Arabic letters used to match that of the older Hebrew, Phoenician and Semitic alphabets: {{transl|sem|ʾ (aleph) - b - g - d}}.


According to the formulations of Peter T. Daniels,{{sfn|Daniels|Bright|1996}} abjads differ from alphabets in that only consonants, not vowels, are represented among the basic graphemes. Abjads differ from abugidas, another category defined by Daniels, in that in abjads, the vowel sound is implied by phonology, and where vowel marks exist for the system, such as nikkud for Hebrew and ḥarakāt for Arabic, their use is optional and not the dominant (or literate) form. Abugidas mark all vowels (other than the "inherent" vowel) with a diacritic, a minor attachment to the letter, or a standalone glyph. Some abugidas use a special symbol to suppress the inherent vowel so that the consonant alone can be properly represented. In a syllabary, a grapheme denotes a complete syllable, that is, either a lone vowel sound or a combination of a vowel sound with one or more consonant sounds.The antagonism of abjad versus alphabet, as it was formulated by Daniels, has been rejected by some other scholars because abjad is also used as a term not only for the Arabic numeral system but, which is most important in terms of historical grammatology, also as term for the alphabetic device (i.e. letter order) of ancient Northwest Semitic scripts in opposition to the 'south Arabian' order. This caused fatal effects on terminology in general and especially in (ancient) Semitic philology. Also, it suggests that consonantal alphabets, in opposition to, for instance, the Greek alphabet, were not yet true alphabets and not yet entirely complete, lacking something important to be a fully working script system. It has also been objected that, as a set of letters, an alphabet is not the mirror of what should be there in a language from a phonological point of view; rather, it is the data stock of what provides maximum efficiency with least effort from a semantic point of view.{{sfn|Lehmann|2011}}


missing image!
- Ba`alat.jpg -
upright=1.10|A specimen of Proto-Sinaitic script containing a phrase which may mean 'to Baalat'. The line running from the upper left to lower right reads mt l bclt.
{{See also|History of the alphabet#Descendants of the Aramaic abjad}}The first abjad to gain widespread usage was the Phoenician abjad. Unlike other contemporary scripts, such as cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Phoenician script consisted of only a few dozen symbols. This made the script easy to learn, and seafaring Phoenician merchants took the script throughout the then-known world.The Phoenician abjad was a radical simplification of phonetic writing, since hieroglyphics required the writer to pick a hieroglyph starting with the same sound that the writer wanted to write in order to write phonetically, much as man'yōgana (Chinese characters used solely for phonetic use) was used to represent Japanese phonetically before the invention of kana.Phoenician gave rise to a number of new writing systems, including the Greek alphabet and Aramaic, a widely used abjad. The Greek alphabet evolved into the modern western alphabets, such as Latin and Cyrillic, while Aramaic became the ancestor of many modern abjads and abugidas of Asia.

Impure abjads

thumb|Al-ʻArabiyya, meaning "Arabic": an example of the Arabic script, which is an impure abjad.Impure abjads have characters for some vowels, optional vowel diacritics, or both. The term pure abjad refers to scripts entirely lacking in vowel indicators.{{sfn|Daniels|2013}} However, most modern abjads, such as Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Pahlavi, are "impure" abjads{{snd}}that is, they also contain symbols for some of the vowel phonemes, although the said non-diacritic vowel letters are also used to write certain consonants, particularly approximants that sound similar to long vowels. A "pure" abjad is exemplified (perhaps) by very early forms of ancient Phoenician, though at some point (at least by the 9th century BC) it and most of the contemporary Semitic abjads had begun to overload a few of the consonant symbols with a secondary function as vowel markers, called matres lectionis.{{sfn|Lipiński|1994}} This practice was at first rare and limited in scope but became increasingly common and more developed in later times.

Addition of vowels

In the 9th century BC the Greeks adapted the Phoenician script for use in their own language. The phonetic structure of the Greek language created too many ambiguities when vowels went unrepresented, so the script was modified. They did not need letters for the guttural sounds represented by aleph, he, heth or ayin, so these symbols were assigned vocalic values. The letters waw and yod were also adapted into vowel signs; along with he, these were already used as matres lectionis in Phoenician. The major innovation of Greek was to dedicate these symbols exclusively and unambiguously to vowel sounds that could be combined arbitrarily with consonants (as opposed to syllabaries such as Linear B which usually have vowel symbols but cannot combine them with consonants to form arbitrary syllables).Abugidas developed along a slightly different route. The basic consonantal symbol was considered to have an inherent "a" vowel sound. Hooks or short lines attached to various parts of the basic letter modify the vowel. In this way, the South Arabian alphabet evolved into the Ge'ez alphabet between the 5th century BC and the 5th century AD. Similarly, around the 3rd century BC, the Brāhmī script developed (from the Aramaic abjad, it has been hypothesized).The other major family of abugidas, Canadian Aboriginal syllabics, was initially developed in the 1840s by missionary and linguist James Evans for the Cree and Ojibwe languages. Evans used features of Devanagari script and Pitman shorthand to create his initial abugida. Later in the 19th century, other missionaries adapted Evans' system to other Canadian aboriginal languages. Canadian syllabics differ from other abugidas in that the vowel is indicated by rotation of the consonantal symbol, with each vowel having a consistent orientation.

Abjads and the structure of Semitic languages

The abjad form of writing is well-adapted to the morphological structure of the Semitic languages it was developed to write. This is because words in Semitic languages are formed from a root consisting of (usually) three consonants, the vowels being used to indicate inflectional or derived forms. For instance, according to Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic, from the Arabic root Dh-B-Ḥ (to slaughter) can be derived the forms {{transl|ar|dhabaḥa}} (he slaughtered), {{transl|ar|dhabaḥta}} (you (masculine singular) slaughtered), {{transl|ar|yudhabbiḥu}} (he slaughters), and {{transl|ar|madhbaḥ}} (slaughterhouse). In most cases, the absence of full glyphs for vowels makes the common root clearer, allowing readers to guess the meaning of unfamiliar words from familiar roots (especially in conjunction with context clues) and improving word recognition{{citation needed|date=August 2011}}{{dubious|date=August 2011}} while reading for practiced readers.By contrast, the Arabic and Hebrew scripts sometimes perform the role of true alphabets rather than abjads when used to write certain Indo-European languages, including Kurdish, Bosnian, and Yiddish.

Comparative chart of Abjads, extinct and extant

{|class="wikitable sortable"! scope="col" width="20" | Name! scope="col" width="20" | In use! scope="col" width="20" | Cursive! scope="col" width="20" | Direction! scope="col" width="20" | # of letters! scope="col" width="20" | Area of origin! scope="col" width="20" | Used by! scope="col" width="150" |Languages! scope="col" width="20" | Time period (age)! scope="col" width="20" |Influenced by! scope="col" width="150" |Writing systems influenced
Syriac abjad>Syriac yes yes right-left 22 consonants Middle East Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox Church>AgerAger|2015}}
Hebrew abjad>Hebrew yes only in modern use right-left 22 consonants + 5 final letters Middle East Israelis, Jewish diaspora communities today and historically, Ancient Israelites Hebrew, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Aramaic, Yiddish, Ladino, Karaim 10th century BCESCHNIEDEWIND >FIRST1=WILLIAM M. JOURNAL=THE JOURNAL OF HEBREW SCRIPTURES ISSUE=6 DATE=2005 ARCHIVE-DATE=4 FEBRUARY 2012 ISSN=1203-1542, Proto-Hebrew, Early Aramaic
Arabic abjad>Arabic yes yes right-left 28 Middle East and North Africa Over 400 million people Arabic, Bosnian language, Kashmiri language>Kashmiri, Malay language, Persian language>Persian, Pashto, Uyghur language, Kurdish language>Kurdish, Urdu, Arabic script#Languages written with the Arabic script{{sfn>AgerEkhtiarpg=21}}{{sfn2015}} Nabataean Aramaic
Aramaic alphabet>Aramaic (Imperial) no no right-left 22 Middle East Archaemenid, Persian, Babylonian, and Assyrian empires Imperial Aramaic, Hebrew ~ 500 BCE{{sfn2015}} Phoenician Late Hebrew, Nabataean, Syriac
Aramaic alphabet>Aramaic (Early) no no right-left 22 Middle East Various Semitic Peoples ~ 1000-900 BCE {{citation neededAger|2015}}
Nabataean alphabet>Nabataean no no right-left 22 Middle East Nabataean Kingdom{{sfn2012}} Nabataean 200 BCE{{sfn2012}} Aramaic Arabic
Sassanian Empire >Ager|2015}}
Mandaic alphabet>Mandaic no yes right-left 24 Iraq, Iran Ahvāz, Iran Mandaic ~200 CE Aramaic Neo-Mandaic
Psalter Pahlavi >AgerAgerWEBSITE=WWW.IRANICAONLINE.ORG, Syriac {{citation needed|
Phoenician alphabet>Phoenician no no right-left, boustrophedon 22 Byblos{{sfn2015}} Canaanites Phoenician, Punic ~ 1000-1500 BCE{{sfn2015}} Proto-Canaanite Alphabet{{sfn2015}} Punic (variant), Greek, Etruscan, Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew
Parthian language>Parthian no no right-left 22 Parthia (modern-day equivalent of Northeastern Iran, Southern Turkmenistan and Northwest Afghanistan){{sfn2015}} Parthian & Sassanian periods of Persian Empire{{sfn2015}} Parthian ~ 200 BCE{{sfn2015}} Aramaic
Sabaean language>Sabaean no no right-left, boustrophedon 29 Southern Arabia (Sheba) Southern Arabians Sabaean ~ 500 BCE{{sfn2015}} Byblos{{sfn2015}} Ethiopic (Eritrea & Ethiopia){{sfn2015}}
Punic language>Punic no no right-left 22 Carthage (Tunisia), North Africa, Mediterranean{{sfn2015}} Punic Culture Punic, Neo-Punic Phoenician {{citation needed|
Proto-Sinaitic script>Proto-Sinaitic, Proto-Canaanite no no left-right 24 Egypt, Sinai, Canaan Canaanites Canaanite ~ 1900-1700 BCE In conjunction with Egyptian Hieroglyphs {{citation needed| Phoenician, Hebrew
Ugaritic alphabet>Ugaritic no yes left-right 30 Ugarit (modern-day Northern Syria) Ugarites Ugaritic, Hurrian ~ 1400 BCE{{sfn2015}} Proto-Sinaitic
South Arabian Alphabet>South Arabian no yes (South Arabian alphabet#Zabūr script - cursive form of the South Arabian script) >Boustrophedon >date=December 2011}} 900 BCE {{citation needed| Ge'ez (Ethiopia and Eritrea)
Sogdian alphabet>Sogdian no no (yes in later versions) right-left, left-right (vertical) 20 parts of China (Xinjiang), Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan Buddhists, Manichaens Sogdian ~ 400 CE Syriac Old Uyghur alphabet, Yaqnabi (Tajikistan dialect) {{sfn2015}}
Samaritan alphabet>Samaritan yes (700 people) no right-left 22 Mesopotamia or Levant (Disputed) Samaritans (Nablus and Holon) Samaritan Aramaic, Samaritan Hebrew ~ 100-0 BCE Paleo-Hebrew Alphabet

See also




  • ENCYCLOPEDIA, Abjads / Consonant alphabets, Omniglot,weblink Simon, Ager, 2015, harv
  • BOOK, Daniels, Peter T., Owens, Jonathan, The Oxford Handbook of Arabic Linguistics, 2013, Oxford University Press, 415, The Arabic Writing system, harv,

, Daniels
, Peter T. Daniels
, William
, Bright
, The World's Writing Systems
, 1996
, 4
, 978-0195079937
, yes
, harv
, registration
  • BOOK, 9781588394347, Ekhtiar, Maryam, Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 21, 2011,weblink harv,
  • ENCYCLOPEDIA, Reinhard G., Lehmann, Ch 2 27-30-22-26. How Many Letters Needs an Alphabet? The Case of Semitic, The idea of writing: Writing across borders, Alex, de Voogt, Joachim Friedrich, Quack, Leiden, Brill, 2011, 11–52, 978-9004215450, yes, harv
  • BOOK, LipiÅ„ski, Edward, Studies in Aramaic Inscriptions and Onomastics II, 1994, Peeters Publishers, Leuven, Belgium, 9068316109, 29–30, harv,
  • WEB

, Berber
, Lawrence
, Lo
, 2012
, harv
, 15 December 2011
,weblink" title="">weblink
, 26 August 2017
, dead
, dmy-all
  • BOOK, Wright, W., A Grammar of the Arabic Language, transl. from the German of Caspari, 3rd, CUP, 1967, 978-0521094559, 1, 28, harv
, {{Writing systems |expanded=Abjads}}{{list of writing systems}}

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