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Syriac alphabet

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Syriac alphabet

Syriac alphabet
Estrangela alphabet
Type
Languages Aramaic (Classical Syriac, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, Turoyo, Christian Palestinian Aramaic), Arabic (Garshuni)
Time period
≈200 BC to the present
Parent systems
Child systems

Sogdian
  →Orkhon (Turkic)
    →Old Hungarian
  →Old Uyghur
    →Mongolian
Nabataean alphabet
  →Arabic alphabet

    →N'Ko alphabet
ISO 15924

Syrc, 135Syre (138, ʾEsṭrangēlā variant)
Syrj (137, Western variant)

Syrn (136, Eastern variant)
Direction Right-to-left
Unicode alias
Syriac
U+0700–U+074F

The Syriac alphabet is a writing system primarily used to write the Syriac language from the 1st century AD.[1] It is one of the Semitic abjads directly descending from the Aramaic alphabet through the Palmyrene alphabet,[2] and shares similarities with the Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic, and the traditional Mongolian alphabets.

Syriac is written from right to left. It is a cursive script where some, but not all, letters connect within a word. The alphabet consists of 22 letters, all of which are consonants. The vowel sounds are supplied by the reader's memory or by pointing (a system of diacritical marks to indicate the correct reading).

In addition to the sounds of the language, the letters of the Syriac alphabet can be used to represent numbers in a system similar to Hebrew and Greek numerals.

When Arabic began to be the dominant spoken language in the Fertile Crescent, texts were often written in Arabic with the Syriac script. Malayalam was also written with Syriac script and was called Suriyani Malayalam. These writings are usually called Karshuni or Garshuni (ܓܪܫܘܢܝ). Garshuni is often used today by Neo-Aramaic speakers in written communication such as letters and fliers.

Contents

  • Forms of the Syriac alphabet 1
    • Classical ʾEsṭrangēlā 1.1
    • East Syriac Maḏnḥāyā 1.2
    • West Syriac Serṭā 1.3
  • Summary table 2
  • Contextual forms of letters 3
    • Ligatures 3.1
  • Letter alterations 4
  • Unicode 5
    • Block 5.1
    • HTML code table 5.2
      • ʾĀlap̄ Bēṯ 5.2.1
      • Vowels and unique characters 5.2.2
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Footnotes 8
  • External links 9

Forms of the Syriac alphabet

11th century book in Syriac Serṭā.

There are three major variants of the Syriac alphabet.

Classical ʾEsṭrangēlā

Isho or Eesho, the Aramaic name of Jesus

The oldest and classical form of the alphabet is ʾEsṭrangēlā (ܐܣܛܪܢܓܠܐ; the name is thought to derive from the Greek adjective στρογγύλη (strongylē, 'rounded'),[3] though it has also been suggested to derive from ܣܪܛܐ ܐܘܢܓܠܝܐ (serṭā ’ewangēlāyā, 'gospel character')[4]). Although ʾEsṭrangēlā is no longer used as the main script for writing Syriac, it has received some revival since the 10th century. It is often used in scholarly publications (for instance, the Leiden University version of the Peshitta), in titles and inscriptions. In some older manuscripts and inscriptions it is possible for any letter to join to the left, and older Aramaic letter forms (especially of Ḥeth and the lunate Mem) are found. Vowel marks are usually not used with ʾEsṭrangēlā.

East Syriac Maḏnḥāyā

The East Syriac dialect is usually written in the Maḏnḥāyā (ܡܲܕ݂ܢܚܵܝܵܐ‎, 'Eastern') form of the alphabet. Other names for the script include Swāḏāyā (ܣܘܵܕ݂ܵܝܵܐ‎, "conversational", often translated as "contemporary", reflecting its use in writing modern Neo-Aramaic), "Assyrian" (not to be confused with the traditional name for the Hebrew alphabet), "Chaldean", and inaccurately, "Nestorian" (a term that was originally used to refer to the Church of the East in the Persian Empire). The Eastern script resembles ʾEsṭrangēlā more closely than the Western script, being somewhat a midway point between the two. The Eastern script uses a system of dots above or below letters, based on an older system, to indicate vowels:

  • A dot above and a dot below a letter represent [a], transliterated as a or ă (ܦܬ݂ܵܚܵܐ‎, Pṯāḥā),
  • Two diagonally-placed dots above a letter represent [ɑ], transliterated as ā or â or å (ܙܩܵܦ݂ܵܐ‎, Zqāp̄ā),
  • Two horizontally-placed dots below a letter represent [ɛ], transliterated as e or ĕ (ܪܒ݂ܵܨܵܐ ܐܲܪܝܼܟ݂ܵܐ‎, Rḇāṣā ărīḵā or ܙܠܵܡܵܐ ܦܫܝܼܩܵܐ‎, Zlāmā pšīqā; often pronounced [ɪ] and transliterated as i in the East Syriac dialect),
  • Two diagonally-placed dots below a letter represent [e], transliterated as ē (ܪܒ݂ܵܨܵܐ ܟܲܪܝܵܐ‎, Rḇāṣā karyā or ܙܠܵܡܵܐ ܩܲܫܝܵܐ‎, Zlāmā qašyā),
  • A letter Yōḏ with a dot beneath it represents [i], transliterated as ī or i (ܚܒ݂ܵܨܵܐ‎, Ḥḇāṣā),
  • A letter Waw with a dot below it represents [u], transliterated as ū or u (ܥܨܵܨܵܐ ܐܲܠܝܼܨܵܐ‎, ʿṢāṣā ălīṣā or ܪܒ݂ܵܨܵܐ‎, Rḇāṣā),
  • A letter Waw with a dot above it represents [o], transliterated as ō or o (ܥܨܵܨܵܐ ܪܘܝܼܚܵܐ‎, ʿṢāṣā rwīḥā or ܪܘܵܚܵܐ‎, Rwāḥā).
  • A combination of Rḇāṣā karyā (usually) followed by a letter Yōḏ represents [e] (possibly *[e̝] in Proto-Syriac), transliterated as ē or ê (ܐܲܣܵܩܵܐ‎, ʾĂsāqā).

It is thought that the Eastern method for representing vowels influenced the development of the Niqqud markings used for writing Hebrew.

In addition to the above vowel marks, transliteration of Syriac sometimes includes ə, or superscript e (or often nothing at all) to represent an original Aramaic schwa that became lost later on at some point in the development of Syriac. Some transliteration schemes find its inclusion necessary for showing spirantization (see below) or for historical reasons. Whether because its distribution is mostly predictable (usually inside a syllable-initial two-consonant cluster) or because its pronunciation was lost, neither the East nor West variants of the alphabet have a sign to represent the schwa.

Many Assyrian Revivalists see the Maḏnḥāyā script as the future national script to be used in a future independent Assyria.

The opening words of the Gospel of John written in Serṭā, Maḏnḥāyā and ʾEsṭrangēlā (top to bottom) — brēšiṯ iṯaw[hy]-[h]wā melṯā, 'in the beginning was the word'.

West Syriac Serṭā

The West Syriac dialect is usually written in the Serṭā (ܣܶܪܛܳܐ‎, 'line') form of the alphabet, also known as the Pšīṭā (ܦܫܺܝܛܳܐ‎, 'simple'), 'Maronite', or the 'Jacobite' script (although the term Jacobite is considered derogatory). Most of the letters are clearly derived from ʾEsṭrangēlā, but are simplified, flowing lines. A cursive, chancery hand is evidenced in the earliest Syriac manuscripts, but important works were written in ʾEsṭrangēlā. From the 8th century, the simpler Serṭā style came into fashion, perhaps because of its more economical use of parchment. The Nabataean alphabet (which gave rise to the Arabic alphabet) was based on this form of Syriac handwriting. The Western script is usually vowel-pointed with miniature Greek vowel letters above or below the letter which they follow:

  • Capital Alpha (Α) represents [a], transliterated as a or ă (ܦܬ݂ܳܚܳܐ‎, Pṯāḥā),
  • Lowercase Alpha (α) represents [ɑ], transliterated as ā or â or å (ܙܩܳܦ݂ܳܐ‎, Zqāp̄ā; pronounced as [o] and transliterated as o in the West Syriac dialect),
  • Lowercase Epsilon (ε) represents both [ɛ], transliterated as e or ĕ, and [e], transliterated as ē (ܪܒ݂ܳܨܳܐ‎, Rḇāṣā),
  • Capital Eta (H) represents [i], transliterated as ī (ܚܒ݂ܳܨܳܐ‎, Ḥḇāṣā),
  • A combined symbol of capital Upsilon (Υ) and lowercase Omicron (ο) represents [u], transliterated as ū or u (ܥܨܳܨܳܐ‎, ʿṢāṣā).
  • Lowercase Omega (ω), used only in the vocative interjection ʾō (ܐܘّ‎, 'O!').

Summary table

The Syriac alphabet consists of the following letters, shown in their isolated (non-connected) forms. When isolated, the letters Kāp̄, Mīm, and Nūn are usually shown with their initial form connected to their final form (see below). The letters ʾĀlap̄, Dālaṯ, , Waw, Zayn, Ṣāḏē, Rēš, and Taw (and, in early ʾEsṭrangēlā manuscripts, the letter Semkaṯ[5]) do not connect to a following letter within a word when written. These are marked with an asterisk (*).

Name Letter Sound Value Numerical
Value
Phoenician
Equivalent
Hebrew
Equivalent
Arabic
Equivalent
ʾEsṭrangēlā Maḏnḥāyā Serṭā Transliteration IPA
ʾĀlap̄* (ܐܠܦ) ʾ or nothing [ʔ]
or silent
1 א ا
Bēṯ (ܒܝܬ) hard: b
soft: (also bh, v, β)
hard: [b]
soft: [v] or [w]
2 ב ب
Gāmal (ܓܡܠ) hard: g
soft: (also , gh, ġ, γ)
hard: [ɡ]
soft: [ɣ]
3 ג ج
Dālaṯ* (ܕܠܬ) hard: d
soft: (also dh, ð, δ)
hard: [d]
soft: [ð]
4 ד د, ذ
* (ܗܐ) h [h] 5 ה ه
Waw* (ܘܘ) consonant: w
mater lectionis: ū or ō
(also u or o)
consonant: [w]
mater lectionis: [u] or [o]
6 ו و
Zayn* (ܙܝܢ) z [z] 7 ז ز
Ḥēṯ (ܚܝܬ) [ħ], [x], or [χ] 8 ח ح, خ
Ṭēṯ (ܛܝܬ) [] 9 ט ط, ظ
Yōḏ (ܝܘܕ) consonant: y
mater lectionis: ī (also i)
consonant: [j]
mater lectionis: [i] or [e]
10 י ي
Kāp̄ (ܟܦ) hard: k
soft: (also kh, x)
hard: [k]
soft: [x]
20 כ ך ك
Lāmaḏ (ܠܡܕ) l [l] 30 ל ل
Mīm (ܡܝܡ) m [m] 40 מ ם م
Nūn (ܢܘܢ) n [n] 50 נ ן ن
Semkaṯ (ܣܡܟܬ) s [s] 60 ס
ʿĒ (ܥܐ) ʿ [ʕ] 70 ע ع, غ
(ܦܐ) hard: p
soft: (also , , ph, f)
hard: [p]
soft: [f]
80 פ ף ف
Ṣāḏē* (ܨܕܐ) [] 90 צ ץ ص, ض
Qōp̄ (ܩܘܦ) q [q] 100 ק ق
Rēš* (ܪܝܫ) r [r] 200 ר ر
Šīn (ܫܝܢ) š (also sh) [ʃ] 300 ש س, ش
Taw* (ܬܘ) hard: t
soft: (also th, θ)
hard: [t]
soft: [θ]
400 ת ت, ث

Contextual forms of letters

Letter ʾEsṭrangēlā (classical) Maḏnḥāyā (eastern)
Normal
form
Final
connected
Final
unconnected
Normal
form
Final
connected
Final
unconnected
ʾĀlap̄     1  
Bēṯ    
Gāmal    
Dālaṯ        
       
Waw        
Zayn        
Ḥēṯ    
Ṭēṯ    
Yōḏ    
Kāp̄
Lāmaḏ    
Mīm    
Nūn
Semkaṯ   /  
ʿĒ    
   
Ṣāḏē        
Qōp̄    
Rēš        
Šīn    
Taw        

1 In the final position following Dālaṯ or Rēš, ʾĀlap̄ takes the normal form rather than the final form.

Ligatures

Name ʾEsṭrangēlā (classical) Maḏnḥāyā (eastern) Unicode
character(s)
Description
Normal
form
Final
connected
Final
unconnected
Normal
form
Final
connected
Final
unconnected
Lāmaḏ-ʾĀlap̄         ܠܐ Lāmaḏ and ʾĀlap̄ combined
at the end of a word
Taw-ʾĀlap̄     / ܬܐ Taw and ʾĀlap̄ combined
at the end of a word
Hē-Yōḏ           ܗܝ and Yōḏ combined
at the end of a word
Taw-Yōḏ           ܬܝ Taw and Yōḏ combined
at the end of a word

Letter alterations

Three letters act as matres lectionis: rather than being a consonant, they indicate a vowel. ʾĀlap̄ (ܐ), the first letter, represents a glottal stop, but it can also indicate a vowel at the beginning or the end of a word. The letter Waw (ܘ) is the consonant w, but can also represent the vowels o and u. Likewise, the letter Yōḏ (ܝ) represents the consonant y, but it also stands for the vowels i and e.

In modern usage, some alterations can be made to represent phonemes not represented in classical orthography. A mark similar in appearance to a tilde, called Majlīyānā (ܡܓ̰ܠܝܢܐ), is placed either above or below a letter in the Maḏnḥāyā variant of the alphabet to change its phonetic value (see also: Geresh):

In addition to foreign sounds, a marking system is used to distinguish qūššāyā (ܩܘܫܝܐ, 'hard' letters) from rūkkāḵā (ܪܘܟܟܐ, 'soft' letters). The letters Bēṯ, Gāmal, Dālaṯ, Kāp̄, , and Taw, all plosives ('hard'), are able to be spirantized into fricatives ('soft'). The system involves placing a single dot underneath the letter to give its 'soft' variant and a dot above the letter to give its 'hard' variant (though, in modern usage, no mark at all is usually used to indicate the 'hard' value):

Name Plosive Translit. IPA Name Spirant Translit. IPA Notes
Bēṯ (qšīṯā) ܒ݁ b [b] Bēṯ rakkīḵtā ܒ݂ [v] or [w] [v] has become [w] in most modern dialects.
Gāmal (qšīṯā) ܓ݁ g [ɡ] Gāmal rakkīḵtā ܓ݂ [ɣ]
Dālaṯ (qšīṯā) ܕ݁ d [d] Dālaṯ rakkīḵtā ܕ݂ [ð] [d] is left unspirantized in some modern Eastern dialects.
Kāp̄ (qšīṯā) ܟ݁ܟ݁ k [k] Kāp̄ rakkīḵtā ܟ݂ܟ݂ [x]
Pē (qšīṯā) ܦ݁ p [p] Pē rakkīḵtā ܦ݂ or ܦ̮ [f] or [w] [f] is not found in most modern Eastern dialects. Instead, it either is left unspirantized or sometimes appears as [w]. is the only letter in the Eastern variant of the alphabet that is spirantized by the addition of a semicircle instead of a single dot.
Taw (qšīṯā) ܬ݁ t [t] Taw rakkīḵtā ܬ݂ [θ] [t] is left unspirantized in some modern Eastern dialects.

The mnemonic bḡaḏkp̄āṯ (ܒܓܕܟܦܬ) is often used to remember the six letters that are able to be spirantized (see also: Begadkefat).

In the East Syriac variant of the alphabet, spirantization marks are usually omitted when they interfere with vowel marks. The degree to which letters can be spirantized varies from dialect to dialect as some dialects have lost the ability for certain letters to be spirantized. For native words, spirantization depends on the letter's position within a word or syllable, location relative to other consonants and vowels, gemination, etymology, and other factors. Foreign words are not always subject to the rules for spirantization.

Unicode

The Syriac alphabet was added to the Unicode Standard in September, 1999 with the release of version 3.0.

Block

The Unicode block for Syriac is U+0700–U+074F:

Syriac[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+070x ܀ ܁ ܂ ܃ ܄ ܅ ܆ ܇ ܈ ܉ ܊ ܋ ܌ ܍ ܏
 SAM 
U+071x ܐ ܑ ܒ ܓ ܔ ܕ ܖ ܗ ܘ ܙ ܚ ܛ ܜ ܝ ܞ ܟ
U+072x ܠ ܡ ܢ ܣ ܤ ܥ ܦ ܧ ܨ ܩ ܪ ܫ ܬ ܭ ܮ ܯ
U+073x ܰ ܱ ܲ ܳ ܴ ܵ ܶ ܷ ܸ ܹ ܺ ܻ ܼ ܽ ܾ ܿ
U+074x ݀ ݁ ݂ ݃ ݄ ݅ ݆ ݇ ݈ ݉ ݊ ݍ ݎ ݏ
Notes
1.^ As of Unicode version 8.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

The Syriac Abbreviation (a type of overline) can be represented with a special control character called the Syriac Abbreviation Mark (U+070F).

HTML code table

Note: HTML numeric character references can be in decimal format (&#DDDD;) or hexadecimal format (&#xHHHH;). For example, ܕ and ܕ (1813 in decimal) both represent U+0715 SYRIAC LETTER DALATH.

ʾĀlap̄ Bēṯ

ܕ ܓ ܒ ܐ
ܕ ܓ ܒ ܐ
ܚ ܙ ܘ ܗ
ܚ ܙ ܘ ܗ
ܠ ܟܟ ܝ ܛ
ܠ ܟ ܝ ܛ
ܥ ܣ ܢܢ ܡܡ
ܥ ܤ ܢ ܡ
ܪ ܩ ܨ ܦ
ܪ ܩ ܨ ܦ
ܬ ܫ
ܬ ܫ

Vowels and unique characters

ܲ ܵ
ܲ ܵ
ܸ ܹ
ܸ ܹ
ܼ ܿ
ܼ ܿ
̈ ̰
̈ ̰
݁ ݂
݁ ݂
܀ ܂
܀ ܂
܄ ݇
܄ ݇

See also

References

  • Coakley, J. F. (2002). Robinson's Paradigms and Exercises in Syriac Grammar (5th ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-926129-1.
  • Hatch, William (1946). An Album of Dated Syriac Manuscripts. Boston: The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, reprinted in 2002 by Gorgias Press. ISBN 1-931956-53-7.
  • Michaelis, Ioannis Davidis (1784). Grammatica Syriaca.
  • Nestle, Eberhard (1888). Syrische Grammatik mit Litteratur, Chrestomathie und Glossar. Berlin: H. Reuther's Verlagsbuchhandlung. [translated to English as Syriac grammar with bibliography, chrestomathy and glossary, by R. S. Kennedy. London: Williams & Norgate 1889].
  • Nöldeke, Theodor and Julius Euting (1880). Kurzgefasste syrische Grammatik. Leipzig: T.O. Weigel. [translated to English as Compendious Syriac Grammar, by James A. Crichton. London: Williams & Norgate 1904. 2003 edition: ISBN 1-57506-050-7].
  • Phillips, George (1866). A Syriac Grammar. Cambridge: Deighton, Bell, & Co.; London: Bell & Daldy.
  • Robinson, Theodore Henry (1915). Paradigms and Exercises in Syriac Grammar. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-926129-6.
  • Rudder, Joshua. Learn to Write Aramaic: A Step-by-Step Approach to the Historical & Modern Scripts. n.p.: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011. 220 pp. ISBN 978-1461021421 Includes the Estrangela (pp. 59–113), Madnhaya (pp. 191–206), and the Western Serto (pp. 173–190) scripts.
  • Thackston, Wheeler M. (1999). Introduction to Syriac. Bethesda, MD: Ibex Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-936347-98-8.

Footnotes

  1. ^ "Syriac alphabet". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved June 16, 2012. 
  2. ^ P. R. Ackroyd,C. F. Evans (1975). The Cambridge History of the Bible: Volume 1, From the Beginnings to Jerome. p. 26. 
  3. ^ Hatch, William (1946). An album of dated Syriac manuscripts. Boston: The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, reprinted in 2002 by Gorgias Press. p. 24. ISBN 1-931956-53-7.
  4. ^ Nestle, Eberhard (1888). Syrische Grammatik mit Litteratur, Chrestomathie und Glossar. Berlin: H. Reuther's Verlagsbuchhandlung. [translated to English as Syriac grammar with bibliography, chrestomathy and glossary, by R. S. Kennedy. London: Williams & Norgate 1889. p. 5].
  5. ^ Coakley, J. F. (2002). Robinson's paradigms and exercises in Syriac grammar (5th ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-19-926129-1.

External links

  • The Syriac alphabet at Omniglot.com
  • The Syriac alphabet at Ancientscripts.com
  • Unicode Entity Codes for the Syriac Script
  • Download Syriac fonts
  • How to write Aramaic – learn the Syriac cursive scripts
  • Aramaic and Syriac handwriting ʾEsṭrangēlā (classical)
  • Learn Assyrian (Syriac-Aramaic) OnLine Maḏnḥāyā (eastern)
  • GNU FreeFont Unicode font family with Syriac range in its serif face.
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