For the traditional ordering of the letters of the Arabic alphabet, see Abjad numerals
is a type of writing system
in which (in contrast to true alphabets
) each symbol or glyph
stands for a consonant
, in effect leaving it to readers to infer or otherwise supply an appropriate vowel
. The term is a neologism
introduced in 1990 by Peter T. Daniels
Other terms for the same concept include: partial phonemic script
, segmentally linear defective phonographic script
, consonant writing
and consonantal alphabet
So-called impure abjads
represent vowels with either optional diacritics
, a limited number[specify]
of distinct vowel glyphs, or both. The name abjad
is based on the Arabic alphabet
's first (in its original order) four letters — corresponding to a, b, j, d — to replace the more common terms "consonantary" and "consonantal alphabet", in describing the family of scripts classified as "West Semitic
According to the formulations of Peter T. Daniels
abjads differ from alphabets
in that only consonants, not vowels, are represented among the basic graphemes
. Abjads differ from abugidas
, another category defined by Daniels, in that in abjads, the vowel sound is implied
, and where vowel marks
exist for the system, such as nikkud
, their use is optional and not the dominant (or literate) form. Abugidas mark all vowels (other than the "inherent" vowel
) with a diacritic
, a minor attachment to the letter, a standalone glyph
, or (in Canadian Aboriginal syllabics
) by rotation of the letter. Some abugidas use a special symbol to suppress
the inherent vowel so that the consonant alone can be properly represented. In a syllabary
, a grapheme denotes a complete syllable, that is, either a lone vowel sound or a combination of a vowel sound with one or more consonant sounds.
The antagonism of abjad versus alphabet, as it was formulated by Daniels, has been rejected by some other scholars because abjad is also used as a term not only for the Arabic numeral system but, which is most important in terms of historical grammatology, also as term for the alphabetic device (i.e. letter order) of ancient Northwest Semitic scripts in opposition to the 'south Arabian' order. This caused fatal effects on terminology in general and especially in (ancient) Semitic philology. Also, it suggests that consonantal alphabets, in opposition to, for instance, the Greek alphabet, were not yet true alphabets and not yet entirely complete, lacking something important to be a fully working script system. It has also been objected that, as a set of letters, an alphabet is not the mirror of what should be there in a language from a phonological point of view; rather, it is the data stock of what provides maximum efficiency with least effort from a semantic point of view.
A specimen of Proto-Sinaitic
script containing a phrase which may mean 'to Baalat
'. The line running from the upper left to lower right reads mt l bclt
The first abjad to gain widespread usage was the Phoenician abjad
. Unlike other contemporary scripts, such as cuneiform
and Egyptian hieroglyphs
, the Phoenician script consisted of only a few dozen symbols. This made the script easy to learn, and seafaring Phoenician merchants took the script throughout the then-known world.
The Phoenician abjad was a radical simplification of phonetic writing, since hieroglyphics required the writer to pick a hieroglyph starting with the same sound that the writer wanted to write in order to write phonetically, much as man'yōgana
used solely for phonetic use) was used to represent Japanese
phonetically before the invention of kana
Phoenician gave rise to a number of new writing systems, including the widely used Aramaic
abjad and the Greek alphabet
. The Greek alphabet evolved into the modern western alphabets, such as Latin
, while Aramaic became the ancestor of many modern abjads and abugidas of Asia.
Al-ʻArabiyya, meaning "Arabic": an example of the Arabic script, which is an impure abjad.
Impure abjads have characters for some vowels, optional vowel diacritics, or both. The term pure abjad refers to scripts entirely lacking in vowel indicators.
However, most modern abjads, such as Arabic
, and Pahlavi
, are "impure" abjads – that is, they also contain symbols for some of the vowel phonemes, although the said non-diacritic vowel letters are also used to write certain consonants, particularly approximants
that sound similar to long vowels. A "pure" abjad is exemplified (perhaps) by very early forms of ancient Phoenician
, though at some point (at least by the 9th century BC) it and most of the contemporary Semitic abjads had begun to overload a few of the consonant symbols with a secondary function as vowel markers, called matres lectionis
This practice was at first rare and limited in scope but became increasingly common and more developed in later times.
Addition of vowels
In the 9th century BC the Greeks adapted the Phoenician script for use in their own language. The phonetic structure of the Greek language created too many ambiguities when vowels went unrepresented, so the script was modified. They did not need letters for the guttural
sounds represented by aleph
, so these symbols were assigned vocalic values. The letters waw
were also adapted into vowel signs; along with he
, these were already used as matres lectionis
in Phoenician. The major innovation of Greek was to dedicate these symbols exclusively and unambiguously to vowel sounds that could be combined arbitrarily with consonants (as opposed to syllabaries such as Linear B
which usually have vowel symbols but cannot combine them with consonants to form arbitrary syllables).
developed along a slightly different route. The basic consonantal symbol was considered to have an inherent "a" vowel sound. Hooks or short lines attached to various parts of the basic letter modify the vowel. In this way, the South Arabian abjad
evolved into the Ge'ez abugida
of Ethiopia between the 5th century BC and the 5th century AD. Similarly, the Brāhmī abugida
of the Indian subcontinent developed around the 3rd century BC (from the Aramaic abjad
, it has been hypothesized).
The other major family of abugidas, Canadian Aboriginal syllabics
, was initially developed in the 1840s by missionary and linguist James Evans
for the Cree and Ojibwe languages. Evans used features of Devanagari script
and Pitman shorthand
to create his initial abugida. Later in the 19th century, other missionaries adapted Evans' system to other Canadian aboriginal languages. Canadian syllabics differ from other abugidas in that the vowel is indicated by rotation of the consonantal symbol, with each vowel having a consistent orientation.
Abjads and the structure of Semitic languages
The abjad form of writing is well-adapted to the morphological
structure of the Semitic languages it was developed to write. This is because words in Semitic languages are formed from a root consisting of (usually) three consonants
, the vowels being used to indicate inflectional or derived forms. For instance, according to Classical Arabic
and Modern Standard Arabic
, from the Arabic root ذ ب ح
(to slaughter) can be derived the forms ذَبَحَ
(he slaughtered), ذَبَحْتَ
(you (masculine singular) slaughtered), يُذَبِّحُ
(he slaughters), and مَذْبَح
(slaughterhouse). In most cases, the absence of full glyphs for vowels makes the common root clearer, allowing readers to guess the meaning of unfamiliar words from familiar roots (especially in conjunction with context
clues) and improving word recognition[dubious – discuss]
while reading for practiced readers.
Comparative chart of Abjads, extinct and extant
- ^ "abjad". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
- ^ Daniels, P. (1990). Fundamentals of Grammatology. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 110(4), 727-731. doi:10.2307/602899: "We must recognize that the West Semitic scripts constitute a third fundamental type of script, the kind that denotes individual consonants only. It cannot be subsumed under either of the other terms. A suitable name for this type would be "alephbeth," in honor of its Levantine origin, but this term seems too similar to "alphabet" to be practical; so I propose to call this type an "abjad," [Footnote: I.e., the alif-ba-jim order familiar from earlier Semitic alphabets, from which the modern order alif-ba-ta-tha is derived by placing together the letters with similar shapes and differing numbers of dots. The abjad is the order in which numerical values are assigned to the letters (as in Hebrew).] from the Arabic word for the traditional order6 of its script, which (unvocalized) of course falls in this category... There is yet a fourth fundamental type of script, a type recognized over forty years ago by James- Germain Fevrier, called by him the "neosyllabary" (1948, 330), and again by Fred Householder thirty years ago, who called it "pseudo-alphabet" (1959, 382). These are the scripts of Ethiopia and "greater India" that use a basic form for the specific syllable consonant + a particular vowel (in practice always the unmarked a) and modify it to denote the syllables with other vowels or with no vowel. Were it not for this existing term, I would propose maintaining the pattern by calling this type an "abugida," from the Ethiopian word for the auxiliary order of consonants in the signary."
- ^ Amalia E. Gnanadesikan (2017) Towards a typology of phonemic scripts, Writing Systems Research, 9:1, 14-35, DOI: 10.1080/17586801.2017.1308239 "Daniels (1990, 1996a) proposes the name abjad for these scripts, and this term has gained considerable popularity. Other terms include partial phonemic script (Hill, 1967), segmentally linear defective phonographic script (Faber, 1992), consonantary (Trigger, 2004), consonant writing (Coulmas, 1989) and consonantal alphabet (Gnanadesikan, 2009; Healey, 1990). "
- ^ Lipiński 1994.
- ^ "PAHLAVI PSALTER – Encyclopaedia Iranica". www.iranicaonline.org.
- ^ Franklin, Natalie R.; Strecker, Matthias (5 August 2008). Rock Art Studies - News of the World Volume 3. Oxbow Books. p. 127. ISBN 9781782975885.
- Lipiński, Edward (1994). Studies in Aramaic Inscriptions and Onomastics II. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters Publishers. pp. 29–30. ISBN 9068316109.
- Lo, Lawrence (2012). "Berber". Archived from the original on 26 August 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
Wright, W. (1967). A Grammar of the Arabic Language
[transl. from the German of Caspari
(3rd ed.). CUP. p. 28. ISBN 978-0521094559
Last edited on 12 May 2021, at 22:23
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