South Arabian alphabet

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Epigraphic South Arabian
Type Abjad
Languages Ge'ez, Old South Arabian
Time period
c. 9th century BC to 7th century AD
Parent systems
Proto-Sinaitic
  • Epigraphic South Arabian
Child systems
Ge'ez
Sister systems
Phoenician alphabet
ISO 15924 Sarb, 105
Direction Right-to-left
Unicode alias
Old South Arabian
U+1BC0–U+10A7F

The ancient Yemeni alphabet (Old South Arabian m3nd; modern Arabic: المُسنَدmusnad) branched from the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet in about the 9th century BC. It was used for writing the Old South Arabian languages of the Sabaic, Qatabanic, Hadramautic, Minaic (or Madhabic), Himyaritic, and proto-Ge'ez (or proto-Ethiosemitic) in Dʿmt. The earliest inscriptions in the alphabet date to the 9th century BC in Akkele Guzay, Eritrea[1] and in the 10th century BC in Yemen. There are no vowels, instead using the mater lectionis to mark them.

Its mature form was reached around 500 BC, and its use continued until the 6th century AD, including Old North Arabian inscriptions in variants of the alphabet, when it was displaced by the Arabic alphabet. In Ethiopia and Eritrea it evolved later into the Ge'ez alphabet, which, with added symbols throughout the centuries, has been used to write Amharic, Tigrinya and Tigre, as well as other languages (including various Semitic, Cushitic, and Nilo-Saharan languages).

The Musnad or Monumental Script[edit]

Sign inventory[edit]

(epigraphic) Old Yemeni alphabet
Character
Transcription
IPA
Himjar ha.PNG
h
[h]
Himjar lam.PNG
l
[l]
Himjar ha2.PNG

[ħ]
Himjar mim.PNG
m
[m]
Himjar qaf.PNG
q
[q]
Himjar wa.PNG
w
[w]
Himjar shin.PNG
s2
[ɬ]
Himjar ra.PNG
r
[r]
Himjar ba.PNG
b
[b]
Himjar ta2.PNG
t
[t]
Himjar sin.PNG
s1
[ʃ]
Himjar kaf.PNG
k
[k]
Himjar nun.PNG
n
[n]
Himjar kha.PNG

[x]
Himjar za.PNG
s3
[s̪]
Himjar fa.PNG
f
[f]
Himjar alif.PNG
ʾ
[ʔ]
Himjar ajin.PNG
ʿ
[ʕ]
Himjar za2.PNG

[ɬˤ]
Himjar djim.PNG
g
[ɡ]
Himjar dal.PNG
d
[d]
Himjar ghajn.PNG
ġ
[ɣ]
Himjar ta1.PNG

[tˤ]
Himjar tha.PNG
z
[z]
Himjar dhal.PNG

[ð]
Himjar ja.PNG
y
[j]
Himjar th.PNG

[θ]
Himjar sad.PNG

[sˤ]
Himjar dad.PNG

[θˤ]
Other transcriptions ś š,s s,ś
By shape
Character
Transcription
IPA
Himjar ra.PNG
r
[r]
Himjar ajin.PNG
ʿ
[ʕ]
Himjar wa.PNG
w
[w]
Himjar qaf.PNG
q
[q]
Himjar ja.PNG
y
[j]
Himjar th.PNG

[θ]
Himjar sad.PNG

[tsˤ]
Himjar dad.PNG

[θˤ]
Himjar ha.PNG
h
[h]
Himjar ha2.PNG

[ħ]
Himjar kha.PNG

[x]
Himjar alif.PNG
ʾ
[ʔ]
Himjar sin.PNG
s1
[s]
Himjar kaf.PNG
k
[k]
Himjar ghajn.PNG
ġ
[ɣ]
Himjar ba.PNG
b
[b]
Himjar nun.PNG
n
[n]
Himjar djim.PNG
g
[ɡ]
Himjar lam.PNG
l
[l]
Himjar mim.PNG
m
[m]
Himjar shin.PNG
s2
[ɬ]
Himjar za.PNG
s3
[s̪]
Himjar ta2.PNG
t
[t]
Himjar fa.PNG
f
[f]
Himjar tha.PNG
z
[z]
Himjar dal.PNG
d
[d]
Himjar dhal.PNG

[ð]
Himjar za2.PNG

[ɬˤ]
Himjar ta1.PNG

[tˤ]
Circle Y Π Vertical Diagonal Box

Zabūr script[edit]

Zabūr is the name of the cursive form of the South Arabian script that was used by the ancient Yemenis (Sabaeans) in addition to their monumental script, or musnad (see, e.g., Ryckmans, J., Müller, W. W., and ‛Abdallah, Yu., Textes du Yémen Antique inscrits sur bois. Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, 1994 (Publications de l'Institut Orientaliste de Louvain, 43)).

The cursive zabūr script—also known as "South Arabian minuscules"[2]—was used by the ancient Yemenis to inscribe everyday documents on wooden sticks in addition to the rock-cut monumental musnad letters displayed above. As yet only about one thousand such texts have been discovered, of which perhaps some 26 have been published; this is partly due to the difficulty of reading the minuscule script.

South Arabian inscription addressed to the Sabaean "national" god Almaqah

Properties[edit]

  • It is usually written from right to left but can also be written from left to right. When written from left to right the characters are flipped horizontally (see the photo).
  • The spacing or separation between words is done with a vertical bar mark (|).
  • Letters in words are not connected together.
  • It does not implement any diacritical marks (dots, etc.), differing in this respect from the modern Arabic alphabet.

Unicode[edit]

Old South Arabian was added to the Unicode Standard in October, 2009 with the release of version 5.2.

The Unicode block for Old South Arabian is U+10A60–U+10A7F:

Old South Arabian[1]
Unicode.org chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+10A6x 𐩠 𐩡 𐩢 𐩣 𐩤 𐩥 𐩦 𐩧 𐩨 𐩩 𐩪 𐩫 𐩬 𐩭 𐩮 𐩯
U+10A7x 𐩰 𐩱 𐩲 𐩳 𐩴 𐩵 𐩶 𐩷 𐩸 𐩹 𐩺 𐩻 𐩼 𐩽 𐩾 𐩿
Notes
1.^ As of Unicode version 6.3

Gallery of some inscriptions[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Fattovich, Rodolfo, "Akkälä Guzay" in von Uhlig, Siegbert, ed. Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: A-C. Weissbaden: Otto Harrassowitz KG, 2003, p.169.
  2. ^ Stein 2005.

References[edit]

  • Stein, Peter (2005). "The Ancient South Arabian Minuscule Inscriptions on Wood: A New Genre of Pre-Islamic Epigraphy". Jaarbericht van het Vooraziatisch-Egyptisch Genootschap "Ex Oriente Lux" 39: 181–199. 
  • Stein, Peter (2010). Die altsüdarabischen Minuskelinschriften auf Holzstäbchen aus der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek in München. 
  • Beeston, A.F.L. (1962). "Arabian Sibilants". Journal of Semitic Studies 7 (2): 222–233. doi:10.1093/jss/7.2.222. 
  • Francaviglia Romeo, Vincenzo (2012). Il trono della regina di Saba, Artemide, Roma. pp. 149–155. .

External links[edit]