Ugaritic alphabet

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The Ugaritic writing system
Script type
Time period
from around 1400 BCE
Directionleft-to-right Edit this on Wikidata
LanguagesUgaritic, Hurrian, Akkadian
Related scripts
Parent systems
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Ugar (040), ​Ugaritic
Unicode alias
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and  , see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

The Ugaritic writing system is a Cuneiform Abjad (consonantal alphabet) with syllabic elements used from around either 1400 BCE[1] or 1300 BCE[2] for Ugaritic, an extinct Northwest Semitic language, and discovered in Ugarit (modern Ras Al Shamra), Syria, in 1928. It has 30 letters. Other languages (particularly Hurrian) were occasionally written in the Ugaritic script in the area around Ugarit, although not elsewhere.

Clay tablets written in Ugaritic provide the earliest evidence of both the North Semitic and South Semitic orders of the alphabet, which gave rise to the alphabetic orders of the reduced Phoenician writing system and its descendants (including the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, Hebrew, Syriac, Greek and Latin) on the one hand, and of the Ge'ez alphabet on the other which was also influenced by the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writing system,[3] and adapted for Amharic. The Arabic and Ancient South Arabian scripts are the only other Semitic alphabets which have letters for all or almost all of the 29 commonly reconstructed proto-Semitic consonant phonemes. (But note that several of these distinctions were only secondarily added to the Arabic alphabet by means of diacritic dots.) According to Manfried Dietrich and Oswald Loretz in Handbook of Ugaritic Studies (eds. Wilfred G. E. Watson and Nicholas Wyatt, 1999): "The language they [the 30 signs] represented could be described as an idiom which in terms of content seemed to be comparable to Canaanite texts, but from a phonological perspective, however, was more like Arabic" (82, 89, 614).

The script was written from left to right. Although cuneiform and pressed into clay, its symbols were unrelated to those of Akkadian cuneiform.[4]


Ugaritic was an augmented abjad. In most syllables only consonants were written, including the /w/ and /j/ of diphthongs. However, Ugaritic was unusual among early abjads in also writing vowels after the glottal stop. It is thought that the letter for the syllable /ʔa/ originally represented the consonant /ʔ/, as aleph does in other Semitic abjads, and that it was later restricted to /ʔa/ with the addition, at the end of the alphabet, of /ʔi/ and /ʔu/.[5][6]

The final consonantal letter of the alphabet, s2, has a disputed origin along with both "appended" glottals, but "The patent similarity of form between the Ugaritic symbol transliterated [s2], and the s-character of the later Northwest Semitic script makes a common origin likely, but the reason for the addition of this sign to the Ugaritic alphabet is unclear (compare Segert 1983:201–218; Dietrich and Loretz 1988). In function, [s2] is like Ugaritic s, but only in certain words – other s-words are never written with [s2]."[7] The words that show s2 are predominantly borrowings, and thus it is often thought to be a late addition to the alphabet representing a foreign sound that could be approximated by native /s/; Huehnergard and Pardee make it the affricate /ts/.[8] Segert instead theorizes that it may have been syllabic /su/, and for this reason grouped with the other syllabic signs /ʔi/ and /ʔu/.[9]

Probably the last three letters of the alphabet were originally developed for transcribing non-Ugaritic languages (texts in the Akkadian language and Hurrian language have been found written in the Ugaritic alphabet), and were then applied to write the Ugaritic language.[4] The three letters denoting glottal stop plus vowel combinations were used as simple vowel letters when writing other languages.

The only punctuation is a word divider.


Dark green shows approximate spread of writing by 1300 BCE

At the time the Ugaritic script was in use (c. 1300–1190 BCE),[10] Ugarit, although not a great cultural or imperial centre, was located at the geographic centre of the literate world, among Egypt, Anatolia, Cyprus, Crete, and Mesopotamia. Ugaritic combined the system of the Semitic abjad with cuneiform writing methods (pressing a stylus into clay). However, scholars have searched in vain for graphic prototypes of the Ugaritic letters in Mesopotamian cuneiform. Recently, some have suggested that Ugaritic represents some form of the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet,[11] the letter forms distorted as an adaptation to writing on clay with a stylus. (There may also have been a degree of influence from the poorly understood Byblos syllabary.[12]) It has been proposed in this regard that the two basic shapes in cuneiform, a linear wedge, as in 𐎂, and a corner wedge, as in 𐎓, may correspond to lines and circles in the linear Semitic alphabets: the three Semitic letters with circles, preserved in the Greek Θ, O and Latin Q, are all made with corner wedges in Ugaritic: 𐎉 ṭ, 𐎓 ʕ, and 𐎖 q. Other letters look similar as well: 𐎅 h resembles its assumed Greek cognate E, while 𐎆 w, 𐎔 p, and 𐎘 θ are similar to Greek Y, Π, and Σ turned on their sides.[11] Jared Diamond[13] believes the alphabet was consciously designed, citing as evidence the possibility that the letters with the fewest strokes may have been the most frequent.


Lists of Ugaritic letters (abecedaria, singular abecedarium) have been found in two alphabetic orders: the "Northern Semitic order" more similar to the one found in Phoenician, Hebrew and Arabic (the earlier, so-called ʾabjadī order), and more distantly, the Greek and Latin alphabets; and the "Southern Semitic order" more similar to the one found in the South Arabian, and the Ge'ez alphabets. The Ugaritic (U) letters are given in cuneiform and transcription, as well as in their Arabic (A), Hebrew (H), and Syriac (S) cognates;[14] letters missing from Hebrew are left blank.

North Semitic

U: 𐎀 𐎁 𐎂 𐎃 𐎄 𐎅 𐎆 𐎇 𐎈 𐎉 𐎊 𐎋 𐎌 𐎍 𐎎 𐎏 𐎐 𐎑 𐎒 𐎓 𐎔 𐎕 𐎖 𐎗 𐎘 𐎙 𐎚 𐎛 𐎜 𐎝
U: ʾa b g d h w z y k š l m n s ʿ p q r ġ t ʾi ʾu s2
A: أ ب ج خ د ه و ز ح ط ي ك س ل م ذ ن ظ ع ف ص ق ر ث غ ت ئ ؤ
H: א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ שׁ ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ת
S: ܐ ܒ ܓ ܕ ܗ ܘ ܙ ܚ ܛ ܝ ܟ ܫ ܠ ܡ ܢ ܣ ܥ ܦ ܨ ܩ ܪ ܬ

South Semitic

U: 𐎅 𐎍 𐎈 𐎎 𐎖 𐎆 𐎌 𐎗 𐎚 𐎒 𐎋 𐎐 𐎃 𐎁 𐎔 𐎀 𐎓 𐎑 𐎂 𐎄 𐎙 𐎉 𐎇 𐎏 𐎊 𐎘 𐎕 [ 𐎛 𐎜 𐎝 ]
U: h l m q w š r t s k n b ś p ʾa ʿ g d ġ z y [ ʾi ʾu s2 ]
A: ه ل ح م ق و س ر ت ك ن خ ب ش ف أ ع ظ ج د غ ط ز ذ ي ث ص [ ئ ؤ ]
H: ה ל ח מ ק ו שׁ ר ת ס כ נ ב שׂ פ א ע ג ד ט ז י צ [ ]
S: ܗ ܠ ܚ ܡ ܩ ܘ ܫ ܪ ܬ ܣ ܟ ܢ ܒ ܦ ܐ ܥ ܓ ܕ ܛ ܙ ܝ ܨ [ ]


Ugaritic alphabet
Ugaritic Letters[15]
Sign Trans. IPA Phoenician Syriac Hebrew Arabic
𐎀 ʾa ʔa 𐤀 ܐ אַ أ
𐎁 b b 𐤁 ܒ ב ب
𐎂 g ɡ 𐤂 ܓ ג ج
𐎃 x 𐤄* ܚ* ח* خ
𐎄 d d 𐤃 ܕ ד د
𐎅 h h 𐤄 ܗ ה ه
𐎆 w w 𐤅 ܘ ו و
𐎇 z z 𐤆 ܙ ז ز
𐎈 ħ 𐤇 ܚ ח ح
𐎉 𐤈 ܛ ט ط
𐎊 y j 𐤉 ܝ י ي
𐎋 k k 𐤊 ܟ כ ك
𐎌 š ʃ 𐤔 ܣ* ש* ش
𐎍 l l 𐤋 ܠ ל ل
𐎎 m m 𐤌 ܡ מ م
𐎏 ð 𐤃* ד* ذ
𐎐 n n 𐤍 ܢ נ ن
𐎑 θˤ ܛ* ظ
𐎒 s s 𐤎 ܣ ס س
𐎓 ʿ  ʕ 𐤏 ܥ ע ع
𐎔 p p 𐤐 ܦ פ ف
𐎕 𐤑 ܨ צ ص
𐎖 q q 𐤒 ܩ ק ق
𐎗 r r 𐤓 ܪ ר ر
𐎘 θ 𐤔 ܬ ש ث
𐎙 ġ ɣ 𐤏* ܥ* ע* غ
𐎚 t t 𐤕 ܬ ת ت
𐎛 ʾi ʔi ܝ אִ ئ
𐎜 ʾu ʔu ܘ אֻ ؤ
𐎝 s2 su
𐎟 word divider 𐤟


Ugaritic script was added to the Unicode Standard in April, 2003 with the release of version 4.0.

The Unicode block for Ugaritic is U+10380–U+1039F:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1038x 𐎀 𐎁 𐎂 𐎃 𐎄 𐎅 𐎆 𐎇 𐎈 𐎉 𐎊 𐎋 𐎌 𐎍 𐎎 𐎏
U+1039x 𐎐 𐎑 𐎒 𐎓 𐎔 𐎕 𐎖 𐎗 𐎘 𐎙 𐎚 𐎛 𐎜 𐎝 𐎟
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.1
2.^ Grey area indicates non-assigned code point

Six letters for transliteration were added to the Latin Extended-D block in March 2019 with the release of Unicode 12.0:[16]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ A Primer on Ugaritic, William M. Schniedewind (pg 32)
  2. ^ Ugaritic, in The Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia
  3. ^ Ullendorf, Edward (July 1951). "Studies in the Ethiopic Syllabary". Africa: Journal of the International African Institute. Cambridge University Press. 21 (3): 207–217.
  4. ^ a b Healey, John F. (1990). "The Early Alphabet". Reading the Past: Ancient Writing from Cuneiform to the Alphabet. p. 216. ISBN 0-520-07431-9.
  5. ^ Florian Coulmas, 1991, The writing systems of the world
  6. ^ William Schniedewind, Joel Hunt, 2007. A primer on Ugaritic
  7. ^ Ugaritic, in The Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia
  8. ^ Huehnergard, An Introduction to Ugaritic (2012), p. 21; Pardee, Ugaritic alphabetic cuneiform in the context of other alphabetic systems in Studies in ancient Oriental civilization (2007), p. 183.
  9. ^ Stanislave Segert, "The Last Sign of the Ugaritic Alphabet" in Ugaritic-Forschugen 15 (1983): 201–218
  10. ^ Ugaritic, in The Ancient-Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia
  11. ^ a b Brian Colless, Cuneiform alphabet and picto-proto-alphabet
  12. ^ A Basic Grammar of the Ugaritic Language: With Selected Texts and Glossary, p. 19 by Stanislav Segert, 1985.
  13. ^ Writing Right | Senses | DISCOVER Magazine
  14. ^ Kogan, Leonid (2011). "Tab. 6.2: Regular correspondences of the Proto-Semitic consonants". In Weninger, Stefan (ed.). The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook. Walter de Gruyter. p. 55. ISBN 978-3-11-025158-6.
  15. ^ Daniels, Peter T.; Bright, William, eds. (1996). "Epigraphic Semitic Scripts". The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press, Inc. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-19-507993-7.
  16. ^ Suignard, Michel (2017-05-09). "L2/17-076R2: Revised proposal for the encoding of an Egyptological YOD and Ugaritic characters" (PDF).

External links[edit]