This article is about the script. For the language, see Geʽez
"Hahu" redirects here. For the airport with the ICAO code "HAHU", see Humera Airport
The Geʽez script has been adapted to write other languages, mostly Ethiosemitic
, particularly Amharic in Ethiopia, and Tigrinya in both Eritrea and Ethiopia. It has also been used to write Sebat Bet
and other Gurage languages
and at least 20 other languages of Ethiopia. In Eritrea it has traditionally been used for Tigre
and it has also been used for Bilen
. The Ge'ez script was also used to write Anuak
, and used in limited extent to write some other Nilo-Saharan Nilotic
languages, including the Kunama
, and Majang
languages. Speakers of some Cushitic languages in the Horn of Africa
, such as Oromo
, and Somali
(where spoken in Ethiopia) used this script at some points in the past. It was also used in the past to write some Omotic languages
, including Wolaytta
. But now, most of these non-Semitic languages have adopted Latin
-based orthographies as their standard form of writing.
For the representation of sounds, this article uses a system that is common (though not universal) among linguists who work on Ethiopian Semitic languages
. This differs somewhat from the conventions of the International Phonetic Alphabet
. See the articles on the individual languages for information on the pronunciation.
History and origins
A painting of St. Sisinnios
on horseback spearing the demon Wǝrzalyā on a Geʻez prayer scroll meant to dispel evil spirits that were thought to cause various ailments, Wellcome Collection
After the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, variants of the South Arabian script arose, evolving in the direction of the later Geʻez abugida
or alphasyllabary. This evolution can be seen most clearly in evidence from inscriptions (mainly graffiti on rocks and caves) in the Tigray Region
in northern Ethiopia and in many parts of Eritrea
mainly in the former province of Akele Guzay
By the first centuries CE,[clarification needed]
what is called "Old Ethiopic" or the "Old Geʻez alphabet" arose, an abjad written right-to-left
(as opposed to boustrophedon
like ESA) with letters basically identical to the first-order forms of the modern vocalized alphabet (e.g. "k" in the form of "kä"). There were also minor differences, such as the letter "g" facing to the right instead of to the left as in vocalized Geʻez, and a shorter left leg of "l", as in ESA, instead of equally-long legs in vocalized Geʻez (somewhat resembling the Greek letter lambda
Vocalization of Geʻez occurred in the 4th century, and though the first completely vocalized texts known are inscriptions by Ezana, vocalized letters predate him by some years, as an individual vocalized letter exists in a coin
of his predecessor, Wazeba of Axum
Linguist Roger Schneider has also pointed out in an unpublished early 1990s paper anomalies in the known inscriptions of Ezana of Axum
that imply that he was consciously employing an archaic style during his reign, indicating that vocalization could have occurred much earlier.[better source needed]
As a result, some[who?]
believe that the vocalization may have been adopted to preserve the pronunciation of Geʻez texts due to the already moribund or extinct status of Geʻez, and that, by that time, the common language of the people were already later the Eritrean and Ethiopian Afro-Asiatic languages
. At least one of Wazeba's coins from the late 3rd or early 4th century contains a vocalized letter, some 30 or so years before Ezana.
Kobishchanov, Peter T. Daniels
, and others have suggested possible influence from the Brahmic scripts
in vocalization, as they are also abugidas
, and the Kingdom of Aksum
was an important part of major trade routes involving India and the Greco-Roman world
throughout classical antiquity
Geʻez script used to advertise injera
(እንጀራ) to the Eritrean and Ethiopian diaspora in the USA.
According to the beliefs of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church
and Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
, the original consonantal form of the Geʻez fidäl
was divinely revealed to Enos
"as an instrument for codifying the laws", and the present system of vocalisation is attributed to a team of Aksumite scholars led by Frumentius
), the same missionary said to have converted King Ezana to Christianity
in the 4th century.
It has been argued that the vowel marking pattern of the script reflects a South Asian system such as would have been known by Frumentius.
A separate tradition, recorded by Aleqa Taye, holds that the Geʻez consonantal alphabet was first adapted by Zegdur, a legendary king of the Agʻazyan Sabaean
dynasty held to have ruled in Ethiopia c. 1300 BCE.
Geʻez has 26 consonantal letters. Compared to the inventory of 29 consonants in the South Arabian alphabet, continuants are missing of ġ
, and South Arabian s3
(Geʻez Sawt ሠ being derived from South Arabian s2
), as well as z
, these last two absences reflecting the collapse of the interdental
with the alveolar fricatives
. On the other hand, emphatic P̣ait
ጰ, a Geʻez innovation, is a modification of Ṣädai
ጸ, while Pesa ፐ is based on Tawe ተ.
Sign in Amharic
using the Geʻez script at the Ethiopian millennium celebration
Thus, there are 24 correspondences of Geʻez and the South Arabian alphabet:
Two alphabets were used to write the Geʽez language, an abjad
and later an abugida
The abjad, used until the advent of Christianity (ca. AD 350), had 26 consonantal letters:
h, l, ḥ, m, ś, r, s, ḳ, b, t, ḫ, n, ʾ, k, w, ʿ, z, y, d, g, ṭ, p̣, ṣ, ṣ́, f, p
It was properly written right-to-left.
Vowels were not indicated.
Modern Geʽez is written from left to right.
With the introduction of Christianity
, the Geʽez abugida developed under the influence of Christian scripture by adding obligatory vocalic diacritics to the consonantal letters. The diacritics for the vowels, u, i, a, e, ə, o
, were fused with the consonants in a recognizable but slightly irregular way, so that the system is laid out as a syllabary. The original form of the consonant was used when the vowel was ä
/), the so-called inherent vowel
. The resulting forms are shown below in their traditional order. For some vowels, there is an eighth form for the diphthong -wa
; and for some of those, a ninth for -jä
To represent a consonant with no following vowel, for example at the end of a syllable or in a consonant cluster
, the ə
/) form is used (the letter in the sixth column).
The letters for the labialized velar
consonants are variants of the non-labialized velar consonants:
Unlike the other consonants, these labiovelar ones can be combined with only five different vowels:
Adaptations to other languages
The Geʽez abugida has been adapted to several modern languages of Eritrea and Ethiopia, frequently requiring additional letters.
Some letters were modified to create additional consonants for use in languages other than Geʽez. This is typically done by adding a horizontal line at the top of a similar-sounding consonant. The pattern is most commonly used to mark a palatalized version of the original consonant.
The vocalised forms are shown below. Like the other labiovelars, these labiovelars can only be combined with five vowels.
Letters used in modern alphabets
The Amharic alphabet
uses all the basic consonants plus the ones indicated below. Some of the Geʽez labiovelar variants are also used.
has all the basic consonants, the Geʽez labiovelar letter variants, except for ḫʷ
(ኈ), plus the ones indicated below. A few of the basic consonants are falling into disuse in Eritrea
. See Tigrinya language#Writing system
uses the basic consonants except for ś
(ኀ) and ḍ
(ፀ). It also uses the ones indicated below. It does not use the Geʽez labiovelar letter variants.
uses the basic consonants except for ś
(ኀ) and ḍ
(ፀ). It also uses the ones indicated below and the Geʽez labiovelar letter variants.
Note: "V" is used for words of foreign origin except for in some Gurage languages
, e.g. cravat
'tie' from French
. "X" is pronounced as "h" in Amharic.
For Geʽez, Amharic, Tigrinya and Tigre, the usual sort order
is called halähamä
(h–l–ħ–m). Where the labiovelar variants are used, these come immediately after the basic consonant and are followed by other variants. In Tigrinya, for example, the letters based on ከ come in this order: ከ, ኰ, ኸ, ዀ. In Bilen, the sorting order is slightly different.
The alphabetical order is similar to that found in other South Semitic scripts, as well as in the ancient Ugaritic alphabet
, which attests both the southern Semitic h-l-ħ-m order and the northern Semitic ʼ–b–g–d (abugida
) order over three thousand years ago.
The films 500 Years Later
(፭፻-ዓመታት በኋላ) and Motherland
(እናት ሀገር) are two mainstream Western
documentaries to use Geʽez characters in the titles. The script also appears in the trailer and promotional material of the films.
Geʽez uses an additional alphabetic numeral system
comparable to the Hebrew
, Arabic abjad
and Greek numerals
. It differs from these systems, however, in that it lacks individual characters for the multiples of 100, thus making it function similarly to, but not exactly like, Chinese numerals. (Unlike the Chinese script, Ge'ez has individual characters for multiples of 10.) For example, 475 is written ፬፻፸፭, that is "4-100-75", and 83,692 is ፰፼፴፮፻፺፪ "8-10,000-36-100-92". Numbers are over- and underlined with a vinculum
; in proper typesetting these combine to make a single bar, but some less sophisticated fonts cannot render this and show separate bars above and below each character.
Punctuation, much of it modern, includes
preface colon. Uses:
In transcribed interviews, after the name of the speaker whose transcribed speech immediately follows; compare the colon in western text
In ordered lists, after the ordinal symbol (such as a letter or number), separating it from the text of the item; compare the colon, period, or right parenthesis in western text
Many other functions of the colon in western text
Ethiopic has been assigned Unicode
3.0 codepoints between U+1200 and U+137F (decimal 4608–4991), containing the consonantal letters for Geʽez, Amharic and Tigrinya, punctuation and numerals. Additionally, in Unicode
4.1, there is the supplement range from U+1380 to U+139F (decimal 4992–5023) containing letters for Sebat Bet
and tonal marks, and the extended range between U+2D80 and U+2DDF (decimal 11648–11743) containing letters needed for writing Sebat Bet, Meʼen
. Finally in Unicode 6.0, there is the extended-A range from U+AB00 to U+AB2F (decimal 43776–43823) containing letters for Gamo-Gofa-Dawro
- ^ Himelfarb, Elizabeth J. "First Alphabet Found in Egypt", Archaeology 53, Issue 1 (Jan./Feb. 2000): 21.
- ^ Daniels, Peter T.; Bright, William, eds. (1996). The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press, Inc. pp. 89, 98, 569–570. ISBN 978-0-19-507993-7.
- ^ Gragg, Gene (2004). "Geʽez (Aksum)". In Woodard, Roger D. (ed.). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages. Cambridge University Press. p. 431. ISBN 978-0-521-56256-0.
- ^ Rodolfo Fattovich, "Akkälä Guzay" in Uhlig, Siegbert, ed. Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: A-C. Wiesbaden, Otto Harrassowitz, 2003, p. 169.
- ^ a b "Ethiopic". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 10 April 2021. Since the 4th cent. AD, when Ethiopia was Christianized, the Ethiopic script has been written from left to right, though previously the direction of writing was from right to left.
- ^ Etienne Bernand, A. J. Drewes, and Roger Schneider, "Recueil des inscriptions de l'Ethiopie des périodes pré-axoumite et axoumite, tome I". Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. Paris, Boccard, 1991.
- ^ Grover Hudson, Aspects of the history of Ethiopic writing in "Bulletin of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies 25", pp. 1-12.
- ^ Stuart Munro-Hay. Aksum: A Civilization of Late Antiquity. Edinburgh, University Press. 1991. ISBN 978-0-7486-0106-6.
- ^ "Geʻez translations". Ethiopic Translation and Localization Services. Retrieved August 17, 2013.
- ^ Stuart Munro-Hay, Aksum: An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity, p. 207.
- ^ Yuri M. Kobishchanov. Axum (Joseph W. Michels, editor; Lorraine T. Kapitanoff, translator). University Park, Pennsylvania, Penn State University Press, 1979. ISBN 978-0-271-00531-7.
- ^ Peter T. Daniels, William Bright, "The World's Writing Systems", Oxford University Press. Oxford, 1996.
- ^ Official website of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church
- ^ Peter Unseth. Missiology and Orthography: The Unique Contribution of Christian Missionaries in Devising New Scripts. Missiology 36.3: 357-371.
- ^ Aleqa Taye, History of the Ethiopian People, 1914
- ^ "Ethiopian numerals Coptic" at Google Books
- ^ "Notes on Ethiopic Localization". The Abyssinia Gateway. 2013-07-22. Archived from the original on 2014-09-10. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
Last edited on 13 May 2021, at 09:20
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