The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Syriac alphabet

The Syriac alphabet is used for writing the Syriac language. It is clearly related to other alphabets used to write Semitic languages.


General remarks

Syriac is written from right to left. It is a cursive (joined-up) 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 fact, three letters act as matres lectionis: rather than being a consonant, they indicate a vowel. The first letter, 'âlaph, often represents a glottal stop, but it can also indicate a vowel at the beginning or the end of a word. The letter waw is technically a w, but can also represent the vowels ô and ű. Likewise, the letter yôdh represents the consonant y, but it also stands for the vowels î and ę.

Forms of the Syriac alphabet

There are three major variations of the Syriac alphabet. The oldest and classical form of the alphabet is estrangelâ (the name is derived from the Greek description στρογγυλη, strongylę, 'rounded'). Although estrangelâ is no longer used as the main script for writing Syriac, it has received a bit of a revival. It is often used in scholarly publications (for instance, the Leiden University version of the Peshitta), in titles and inscriptions.

The West Syriac dialect is usually written in the sertâ ('line') form of the alphabet. Most of the letters are obviously derived from estrangelâ, but are simplified, flowing lines. The western script is usually vowel-pointed with miniature Greek vowel letters above or below the letter which they follow: Α (capital alpha) represents a, α (lowercase alpha) represents â (pronounced as an o), ε (lowercase epsilon) represents e and ę, Ι (capital iota) represents î, and a combined symbol of Υ (capital upsilon) and ο (lowercase omicron) represents ű.

The East Syriac dialect is usually written in the madnhâyâ ('eastern') form of the alphabet. Unfortunately, it is often called 'nestorian', a term that was originally used to disparage Christians living in the Persian Empire. The eastern script resembles estrangelâ more closely than the western script. The eastern script uses a system of dots above or below letters to indicate vowels.

When Arabic began to be the dominant spoken language in Fertile Crescent, texts were often written in Arabic with the Syriac script. These writings are usually called Karshuni or Garshuni.

Syriac estrangelâ script

Letter Normal
Unicode character Transliteration
'âlaph image:aramaic_alap.png     ܐ ' : glottal stop
or silent
Bęth image:aramaic_beth.png image:aramaic_beth_c.png   ܒ hard: b
soft: v/bh/w
Gâmal image:aramaic_gamal.png image:aramaic_gamal_c.png   ܓ hard: g
soft: ğ/gh
Dâlath image:aramaic_daleth.png     ܕ hard: d
soft: ð/dh
image:aramaic_heh.png     ܗ h
Waw image:aramaic_waw.png     ܘ consonant: w
mater lectionis: ű or ô
Zain image:aramaic_zain.png     ܙ z
Chęth image:aramaic_kheth.png image:aramaic_kheth_c.png   ܚ ħ/h/ch: a pharyngeal h
Tęth image:aramaic_teth.png image:aramaic_teth_c.png   ܛ ţ/t: pharyngealized t
Yôdh image:aramaic_yodh.png image:aramaic_yodh_c.png   ܝ consonant: y
mater lectionis: î or ę
Kâph image:aramaic_kap.png image:aramaic_kap_c.png image:aramaic_kap_f.png ܟ hard: k
soft: χ/kh
Lâmadh image:aramaic_lamadh.png image:aramaic_lamadh_c.png   ܠ l
Mîm image:aramaic_meem.png image:aramaic_meem_c.png   ܡ m
Nűn image:aramaic_noon.png image:aramaic_noon_c.png image:aramaic_noon_f.png ܢ n
Semkath image:aramaic_simkath.png image:aramaic_simkath_c.png   ܣ / ܤ s
image:aramaic_ain.png image:aramaic_ain_c.png   ܥ `: a pharyngeal stop
image:aramaic_payin.png image:aramaic_payin_c.png   ܦ hard: p
soft: f/ph/w
Çâdhę image:aramaic_tsade.png     ܨ ş/ç: a pharyngealized s
Qôph image:aramaic_qoph.png image:aramaic_qoph_c.png   ܩ q: an uvular k
Ręš image:aramaic_resh.png     ܪ r
Šîn image:aramaic_sheen.png image:aramaic_sheen_c.png   ܫ š/š/sh
Taw image:aramaic_taw.png     ܬ hard: t
soft: θ/th
  image:aramaic_lamadh_alap.png       Lâmadh and 'âlaph combined
at end of word
  image:aramaic_taw_alap.png       Taw and 'âlaph combined
at end of word

Syriac in Unicode

The Syriac Unicode range is U+0700 ... U+074F.

    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
700   ܀ ܁ ܂ ܃ ܄ ܅ ܆ ܇ ܈ ܉ ܊ ܋ ܌ ܍ ܎ ܏
710   ܐ ܑ ܒ ܓ ܔ ܕ ܖ ܗ ܘ ܙ ܚ ܛ ܜ ܝ ܞ ܟ
720   ܠ ܡ ܢ ܣ ܤ ܥ ܦ ܧ ܨ ܩ ܪ ܫ ܬ ܭ ܮ ܯ
730   ܰ ܱ ܲ ܳ ܴ ܵ ܶ ܷ ܸ ܹ ܺ ܻ ܼ ܽ ܾ ܿ
740   ݀ ݁ ݂ ݃ ݄ ݅ ݆ ݇ ݈ ݉ ݊ ݋ ݌ ݍ ݎ ݏ

Last updated: 02-10-2005 18:05:39
Last updated: 05-02-2005 12:06:17