Aramaic alphabet

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Aramaic alphabet
LanguagesAramaic, Hebrew, Syriac, Mandaic, Edomite
Time period
800 BCE to 600 CE
Parent systems
Child systems

Hatran [1]
Brāhmī [a]
   →Old Uyghur
 →Nabataean alphabet
   →Arabic alphabet

     →N'Ko alphabet
ISO 15924Armi, 124 Imperial Aramaic
Unicode alias
Imperial Aramaic
[a] The Semitic origin of the Brahmic scripts is not universally agreed upon.

The ancient Aramaic alphabet is adapted from the Phoenician alphabet and became distinct from it by the 8th century BCE. It was used to write the Aramaic language and had displaced the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, itself a derivative of the Phoenician alphabet, for the writing of Hebrew. The letters all represent consonants, some of which are also used as matres lectionis to indicate long vowels.

The Aramaic alphabet is historically significant since virtually all modern Middle Eastern writing systems can be traced back to it as well as numerous non-Chinese writing systems of Central and East Asia. That is primarily from the widespread usage of the Aramaic language as both a lingua franca and the official language of the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Empires, and their successor, the Achaemenid Empire. Among the scripts in modern use, the Hebrew alphabet bears the closest relation to the Imperial Aramaic script of the 5th century BC, with an identical letter inventory and, for the most part, nearly identical letter shapes. The Aramaic alphabet was an ancestor to the Nabataean alphabet and the later Arabic alphabet.

Writing systems (like the Aramaic one) that indicate consonants but do not indicate most vowels other than by means of matres lectionis or added diacritical signs, have been called abjads by Peter T. Daniels to distinguish them from alphabets, such as the Greek alphabet, which represent vowels more systematically. The term was coined to avoid the notion that a writing system that represents sounds must be either a syllabary or an alphabet, which would imply that a system like Aramaic must be either a syllabary (as argued by Ignace Gelb) or an incomplete or deficient alphabet (as most other writers have said). Rather, it is a different type.


Bilingual Greek and Aramaic inscription by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka at Kandahar, Afghanistan, 3rd century BC.

The earliest inscriptions in the Aramaic language use the Phoenician alphabet.[2] Over time, the alphabet developed into the form shown below. Aramaic gradually became the lingua franca throughout the Middle East, with the script at first complementing and then displacing Assyrian cuneiform, as the predominant writing system.

Achaemenid Empire (The First Persian Empire)[edit]

Around 500 BC, following the Achaemenid conquest of Mesopotamia under Darius I, Old Aramaic was adopted by the Persians as the "vehicle for written communication between the different regions of the vast Persian empire with its different peoples and languages. The use of a single official language, which modern scholarship has dubbed as Official Aramaic, Imperial Aramaic or Achaemenid Aramaic, can be assumed to have greatly contributed to the astonishing success of the Achaemenid Persians in holding their far-flung empire together for as long as they did."[3]

Imperial Aramaic was highly standardised; its orthography was based more on historical roots than any spoken dialect and was inevitably influenced by Old Persian. The Aramaic glyph forms of the period are often divided into two main styles, the "lapidary" form, usually inscribed on hard surfaces like stone monuments, and a cursive form whose lapidary form tended to be more conservative by remaining more visually similar to Phoenician and early Aramaic. Both were in use through the Achaemenid Persian period, but the cursive form steadily gained ground over the lapidary, which had largely disappeared by the 3rd century BC.[4]

Stele with dedicatory lapidary Aramaic inscription to the god Salm. Sandstone, 5th century BC. Found in Tayma, Saudi Arabia by Charles Huber in 1884 and now in the Louvre.

For centuries after the fall of the Achaemenid Empire in 331 BC, Imperial Aramaic, or something near enough to it to be recognisable, would remain an influence on the various native Iranian languages. The Aramaic script would survive as the essential characteristics of the Iranian Pahlavi writing system.[5]

30 Aramaic documents from Bactria have been recently discovered, an analysis of which was published in November 2006. The texts, which were rendered on leather, reflect the use of Aramaic in the 4th century BC in the Persian Achaemenid administration of Bactria and Sogdiana.[6]

The widespread usage of Achaemenid Aramaic in the Middle East led to the gradual adoption of the Aramaic alphabet for writing Hebrew. Formerly, Hebrew had been written using an alphabet closer in form to that of Phoenician, the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet.

Aramaic-derived scripts[edit]

Since the evolution of the Aramaic alphabet out of the Phoenician one was a gradual process, the division of the world's alphabets into the ones derived from the Phoenician one directly and the ones derived from Phoenician via Aramaic is somewhat artificial. In general, the alphabets of the Mediterranean region (Anatolia, Greece, Italy) are classified as Phoenician-derived, adapted from around the 8th century BC, and those of the East (the Levant, Persia, Central Asia and India) are considered Aramaic-derived, adapted from around the 6th century BC from the Imperial Aramaic script of the Achaemenid Empire.

After the fall of the Achaemenid Empire, the unity of the Imperial Aramaic script was lost, diversifying into a number of descendant cursives.

The Hebrew and Nabataean alphabets, as they stood by the Roman era, were little changed in style from the Imperial Aramaic alphabet.

A cursive Hebrew variant developed from the early centuries AD, but it remained restricted to the status of a variant used alongside the noncursive. By contrast, the cursive developed out of the Nabataean alphabet in the same period soon became the standard for writing Arabic, evolving into the Arabic alphabet as it stood by the time of the early spread of Islam.

The development of cursive versions of Aramaic also led to the creation of the Syriac, Palmyrene and Mandaic alphabets, which formed the basis of the historical scripts of Central Asia, such as the Sogdian and Mongolian alphabets.[7]

The Old Turkic script is generally considered to have its ultimate origins in Aramaic,[8][9][7] in particular via the Pahlavi or Sogdian alphabets,[10][11] as suggested by V. Thomsen, or possibly via Karosthi (cf., Issyk inscription).

Aramaic is also considered to be the most likely source of the Brahmi script, ancestor of the Brahmic family of scripts, which includes Devanagari.

Languages using the alphabet[edit]

Today, Biblical Aramaic, Jewish Neo-Aramaic dialects and the Aramaic language of the Talmud are written in the Hebrew alphabet. Syriac and Christian Neo-Aramaic dialects are written in the Syriac alphabet. Mandaic is written in the Mandaic alphabet. The near-identity of the Aramaic and the classical Hebrew alphabets caused Aramaic text to be typeset mostly in the standard Hebrew script in scholarly literature.


In Maaloula, one of few surviving communities in which a Western Aramaic dialect is still spoken, an Aramaic institute was established in 2007 by Damascus University that teaches courses to keep the language alive. The institute's activities were suspended in 2010 amidst fears that the square Aramaic alphabet used in the program too closely resembled the square script of the Hebrew alphabet and all the signs with the square Aramaic script were taken down. The program stated that they would instead use the more distinct Syriac alphabet, although use of the Aramaic alphabet has continued to some degree.[12] Al Jazeera Arabic also broadcast a program about Western Neo-Aramaic and the villages in which it is spoken with the square script still in use.[13]


Aramaic written using IPA Equivalent letter in
Syriac script Imperial Aramaic Hebrew Phoenician Persian Brahmi Nabataean Kharosthi Maalouli Aramaic
Image Text Image Text
Ālap Syriac Estrangela alap.svg ܐ Aleph.svg 𐡀 /ʔ/; /aː/, /eː/ א 𐤀 ا Brahmi a.svg 01 aleph.svg Kharosthi a.svg Maaloula square alef.svg
Bēth Syriac Estrangela bet.svg ܒ Beth.svg 𐡁 /b/, /β/ ב 𐤁 ب Brahmi b.svg 02 bet.svg Kharosthi b.svg Maaloula square vet.svg
Gāmal Syriac Estrangela gamal.svg ܓ Gimel.svg 𐡂 /ɡ/, /ɣ/ ג 𐤂 ج Brahmi g.svg 03 gimel.svg Kharosthi g.svg Maaloula square ghemal.svg
Dālath Syriac Estrangela dalat.svg ܕ Daleth.svg 𐡃 /d/, /ð/ ד 𐤃 د ذ Brahmi dh.svg 04 dal.svg Kharosthi dh.svg Maaloula square dhalet.svg
Syriac Estrangela he.svg ܗ He0.svg 𐡄 /ɦ/ ה 𐤄 ه Brahmi h.svg 05 ha.svg Kharosthi h.svg Maaloula square hi.svg
Waw Syriac Estrangela waw.svg ܘ Waw.svg 𐡅 /w/; /oː/, /uː/ ו 𐤅 و Brahmi v.svg 06 waw.svg Kharosthi v.svg Maaloula square wawf.svg
Zain Syriac Estrangela zayn.svg ܙ Zayin.svg 𐡆 /z/ ז 𐤆 ز Brahmi j.svg 07 zayn.svg Kharosthi j.svg Maaloula square zayn.svg
Ḥēth Syriac Estrangela het.svg ܚ Heth.svg 𐡇 /ʜ/ /χ/ ח 𐤇 ح خ Brahmi gh.svg 08 ha.svg Kharosthi gh.svg Maaloula square het.svg
Ṭēth Syriac Estrangela tet.svg ܛ Teth.svg 𐡈 emphatic /tˤ/ ט 𐤈 ط ظ Brahmi th.svg 09 taa.svg Kharosthi th.svg Maaloula square tet.svg
Yodh Syriac Estrangela yod.svg ܝ Yod.svg 𐡉 /j/; /iː/, /eː/ י 𐤉 ي Brahmi y.svg 10 yaa.svg Kharosthi y.svg Maaloula square yod.svg
Kāp Syriac Estrangela kap.svg ܟ Kaph.svg 𐡊 /k/, /x/ כ ך 𐤊 ك Brahmi k.svg 11 kaf.svg Kharosthi k.svg Maaloula square khaf 2.svg Maaloula square khaf.svg
Lāmadh Syriac Estrangela lamad.svg ܠ Lamed.svg 𐡋 /l/ ל 𐤋 ل Brahmi l.svg 12 lam.svg Kharosthi l.svg Maaloula square lamed.svg
Mem Syriac Estrangela mim.svg ܡ Mem.svg 𐡌 /m/ מ ם 𐤌 م Brahmi m.svg 13 meem.svg Kharosthi m.svg Maaloula square mem 2.svg Maaloula square mem.svg
Nun Syriac Estrangela nun.svg ܢ Nun.svg 𐡍 /n/ נ ן 𐤍 ن Brahmi n.svg 14 noon.svg Kharosthi n.svg Maaloula square nun 2.svg Maaloula square nun.svg
Semkath Syriac Estrangela semkat.svg ܣ Samekh.svg 𐡎 /s/ ס 𐤎 س Brahmi sh.svg 15 sin.svg Kharosthi sh.svg Maaloula square sameh.svg
ʿĒ Syriac Estrangela 'e.svg ܥ Ayin.svg 𐡏 /ʢ/ /ʁ/ ע 𐤏 ع غ Brahmi e.svg 16 ein.svg Kharosthi e.svg Maaloula square ayn.svg
Syriac Estrangela pe.svg ܦ Pe0.svg 𐡐 /p/, /ɸ/ פ ף 𐤐 ف Brahmi p.svg 17 fa.svg Kharosthi p.svg Maaloula square fi 2.svg Maaloula square fi.svg
Ṣādhē Syriac Estrangela sade.svg ܨ Sade 1.svg, Sade 2.svg 𐡑 emphatic /sˤ/ צ ץ 𐤑 ص ض Brahmi s.svg 18 sad.svg Kharosthi s.svg Maaloula square sady 2.svg Maaloula square sady.svg
Qop Syriac Estrangela qop.svg ܩ Qoph.svg 𐡒 /qˁ/ ק 𐤒 ق Brahmi kh.svg 19 qaf.svg Kharosthi kh.svg Maaloula square qof.svg
Rēsh Syriac Estrangela res.svg ܪ Resh.svg 𐡓 /r/ ר 𐤓 ر Brahmi r.svg 20 ra.svg Kharosthi r.svg Maaloula square resh.svg
Shin Syriac Estrangela sin.svg ܫ Shin.svg 𐡔 /ʃ/ ש 𐤔 ش Brahmi ss.svg 21 shin.svg Kharosthi ss.svg Maaloula square shin.svg
Taw Syriac Estrangela taw.svg ܬ Taw.svg 𐡕 /t/, /θ/ ת 𐤕 ت ث Brahmi t.svg 22 ta.svg Kharosthi t.svg Maaloula square thaq.svg

Matres lectionis[edit]

In Aramaic writing, Waw and Yodh serve a double function. Originally, they represented only the consonants w and y, but they were later adopted to indicate the long vowels ū and ī respectively as well (often also ō and ē respectively). In the latter role, they are known as matres lectionis or "mothers of reading".

Ālap, likewise, has some of the characteristics of a mater lectionis because in initial positions, it indicates a glottal stop (followed by a vowel), but otherwise, it often also stands for the long vowels ā or ē. Among Jews, the influence of Hebrew often led to the use of Hē instead, at the end of a word.

The practice of using certain letters to hold vowel values spread to Aramaic-derived writing systems, such as in Arabic and Hebrew, which still follow the practice.


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

The Syriac Abbreviation (a type of overline) can be represented with a special control character called the Syriac Abbreviation Mark (U+070F). The Unicode block for Syriac Aramaic is U+0700–U+074F:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+070x ܀ ܁ ܂ ܃ ܄ ܅ ܆ ܇ ܈ ܉ ܊ ܋ ܌ ܍ ܏
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
1.^ As of Unicode version 11.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

The Imperial Aramaic alphabet was added to the Unicode Standard in October 2009, with the release of version 5.2.

The Unicode block for Imperial Aramaic is U+10840–U+1085F:

Imperial Aramaic[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+1084x 𐡀 𐡁 𐡂 𐡃 𐡄 𐡅 𐡆 𐡇 𐡈 𐡉 𐡊 𐡋 𐡌 𐡍 𐡎 𐡏
U+1085x 𐡐 𐡑 𐡒 𐡓 𐡔 𐡕 𐡗 𐡘 𐡙 𐡚 𐡛 𐡜 𐡝 𐡞 𐡟
1.^ As of Unicode version 11.0
2.^ Grey area indicates non-assigned code point

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Daniels, Peter T.; Bright, William, eds. (1996). The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press, Inc. p. 89. ISBN 978-0195079937.
  2. ^ Inland Syria and the East-of-Jordan Region in the First Millennium BCE before the Assyrian Intrusions, Mark W. Chavalas, The Age of Solomon: Scholarship at the Turn of the Millennium, ed. Lowell K. Handy, (Brill, 1997), 169.
  3. ^ Shaked, Saul (1987). "Aramaic". Encyclopædia Iranica. 2. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 250–261. p. 251
  4. ^ Greenfield, J.C. (1985). "Aramaic in the Achaemenid Empire". In Gershevitch, I. The Cambridge History of Iran: Volume 2. Cambridge University Press. pp. 709–710.
  5. ^ Geiger, Wilhelm; Kuhn, Ernst (2002). "Grundriss der iranischen Philologie: Band I. Abteilung 1". Boston: Adamant: 249ff.
  6. ^ Naveh, Joseph; Shaked, Shaul (2006). Ancient Aramaic Documents from Bactria. Studies in the Khalili Collection. Oxford: Khalili Collections. ISBN 978-1-874780-74-8.
  7. ^ a b Kara, György (1996). "Aramaic Scripts for Altaic Languages". In Daniels, Peter T.; Bright, William. The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press. pp. 535–558. ISBN 978-0-19-507993-7.
  8. ^ Babylonian beginnings: The origin of the cuneiform writing system in comparative perspective, Jerold S. Cooper, The First Writing: Script Invention as History and Process, ed. Stephen D. Houston, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 58-59.
  9. ^ Tristan James Mabry, Nationalism, Language, and Muslim Exceptionalism, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 109.
  10. ^ Turks, A. Samoylovitch, First Encyclopaedia of Islam: 1913-1936, Vol. VI, (Brill, 1993), 911.
  11. ^ George L. Campbell and Christopher Moseley, The Routledge Handbook of Scripts and Alphabets, (Routledge, 2012), 40.
  12. ^ Beach, Alastair (2010-04-02). "Easter Sunday: A Syrian bid to resurrect Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2010-04-02.
  13. ^ Al Jazeera Documentary الجزيرة الوثائقية (11 February 2016). "أرض تحكي لغة المسيح". Retrieved 27 March 2018 – via YouTube.


  • Byrne, Ryan. “Middle Aramaic Scripts.” Encyclopaedia of Language and Linguistics. Elsevier. (2006)
  • Daniels, Peter T., et al. eds. The World's Writing Systems. Oxford. (1996)
  • Coulmas, Florian. The Writing Systems of the World. Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford. (1989)
  • 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 a wide variety of Aramaic scripts.
  • Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic on Coins, reading and transliterating Proto-Hebrew, online edition (Judaea Coin Archive).

External links[edit]