This article contains Syriac text, written from right to left in a cursive style with some letters joined.
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Syriac is written from right to left in horizontal lines. It is a cursive
script where most—but not all—letters connect within a word. There is no letter case
distinction between upper and lower case letters, though some letters change their form depending on their position within a word. Spaces separate
All 22 letters are consonants, although there are optional diacritic marks to indicate vowels and other features
. In addition to the sounds of the language, the letters of the Syriac alphabet can be used to represent numbers in a system similar to Hebrew
and Greek numerals
Apart from Classical Syriac Aramaic, the alphabet has been used to write other dialects and languages. Several Christian Neo-Aramaic languages from Turoyo
to the Northeastern Neo-Aramaic
dialects of Assyrian
, once vernaculars
, primarily began to be written in the 19th century. The Serṭā
variant specifically has recently been adapted to write Western Neo-Aramaic
, traditionally written in a square Aramaic script closely related to the Hebrew alphabet. Besides Aramaic, when Arabic
began to be the dominant spoken language in the Fertile Crescent
after the Islamic conquest
, texts were often written in Arabic using the Syriac script as knowledge of the Arabic alphabet was not yet widespread; such writings are usually called Karshuni
). In addition to Semitic languages
was also written with Syriac script, as well as Malayalam
, which form was called Suriyani Malayalam
The opening words of the Gospel of John
written in Serṭā
(top to bottom) — brēšiṯ iṯaw[hy]-[h]wā melṯā
, 'in the beginning was the word'.
There are three major variants of the Syriac alphabet: ʾEsṭrangēlā, Maḏnḥāyā and Serṭā.
A 17th century Maḏnḥāyā
liturgical manuscript from the Vatican Library
. Note the title written in ʾEsṭrangēlā
, the Syriac name of Jesus
in the ʾEsṭrangēlā
The oldest and classical form of the alphabet is ʾEsṭrangēlā[b]
). The name of the script is thought to derive from the Greek
though it has also been suggested to derive from serṭā ʾewwangēlāyā
, 'gospel character').
Although ʾEsṭrangēlā is no longer used as the main script for writing Syriac, it has received some revival since the 10th century. It is often used in scholarly publications (such as the Leiden University
version of the Peshitta
), in titles, and in inscriptions
. In some older manuscripts
and inscriptions, it is possible for any letter to join to the left, and older Aramaic letter forms (especially of ḥeṯ
and the lunate mem
) are found. Vowel marks are usually not used with ʾEsṭrangēlā
, being the oldest form of the script and arising before the development of specialized diacritics.
The East Syriac dialect is usually written in the Maḏnḥāyā
, 'Eastern') form of the alphabet. Other names for the script include Swāḏāyā
, 'conversational' or 'vernacular', often translated as 'contemporary', reflecting its use in writing modern Neo-Aramaic), ʾĀṯōrāyā
, 'Assyrian', not to be confused with the traditional name for the Hebrew alphabet
, 'Chaldean'), and, inaccurately, "Nestorian
" (a term that was originally used to refer to the Church of the East
in the Sasanian Empire
). The Eastern script resembles ʾEsṭrangēlā somewhat more closely than the Western script.
The Eastern script uses a system of dots above and/or below letters, based on an older system, to indicate vowel sounds not found in the script:
- A dot above and a dot below a letter represent [a], transliterated as a or ă (called ܦܬ݂ܵܚܵܐ, pṯāḥā),
- Two diagonally-placed dots above a letter represent [ɑ], transliterated as ā or â or å (called ܙܩܵܦ݂ܵܐ, zqāp̄ā),
- Two horizontally-placed dots below a letter represent [ɛ], transliterated as e or ĕ (called ܪܒ݂ܵܨܵܐ ܐܲܪܝܼܟ݂ܵܐ, rḇāṣā ʾărīḵā or ܙܠܵܡܵܐ ܦܫܝܼܩܵܐ, zlāmā pšīqā; often pronounced [ɪ] and transliterated as i in the East Syriac dialect),
- Two diagonally-placed dots below a letter represent [e], transliterated as ē (called ܪܒ݂ܵܨܵܐ ܟܲܪܝܵܐ, rḇāṣā karyā or ܙܠܵܡܵܐ ܩܲܫܝܵܐ, zlāmā qašyā),
- The letter waw with a dot below it represents [u], transliterated as ū or u (called ܥܨܵܨܵܐ ܐܲܠܝܼܨܵܐ, ʿṣāṣā ʾălīṣā or ܪܒ݂ܵܨܵܐ, rḇāṣā),
- The letter waw with a dot above it represents [o], transliterated as ō or o (called ܥܨܵܨܵܐ ܪܘܝܼܚܵܐ, ʿṣāṣā rwīḥā or ܪܘܵܚܵܐ, rwāḥā),
- The letter yōḏ with a dot beneath it represents [i], transliterated as ī or i (called ܚܒ݂ܵܨܵܐ, ḥḇāṣā),
- A combination of rḇāṣā karyā (usually) followed by a letter yōḏ represents [e] (possibly *[e̝] in Proto-Syriac), transliterated as ē or ê (called ܐܲܣܵܩܵܐ, ʾăsāqā).
It is thought that the Eastern method for representing vowels influenced the development of the niqqud
markings used for writing Hebrew.
In addition to the above vowel marks, transliteration of Syriac sometimes includes ə
or superscript e
(or often nothing at all) to represent an original Aramaic schwa
that became lost later on at some point in the development of Syriac. Some transliteration schemes find its inclusion necessary for showing spirantization or for historical reasons. Whether because its distribution is mostly predictable (usually inside a syllable-initial two-consonant cluster) or because its pronunciation was lost, both the East and the West variants of the alphabet traditionally have no sign to represent the schwa.
An 11th century book in the Serṭā script.
An example of Garshuni: a 16th century Arabic-language manuscript written in the Syriac Serṭā script.
The West Syriac dialect is usually written in the Serṭā
, 'line') form of the alphabet, also known as the Pšīṭā
, 'simple'), 'Maronite' or the 'Jacobite' script (although the term Jacobite
is considered derogatory). Most of the letters are clearly derived from ʾEsṭrangēlā, but are simplified, flowing lines. A cursive chancery hand
is evidenced in the earliest Syriac manuscripts, but important works were written in ʾEsṭrangēlā. From the 8th century, the simpler Serṭā style came into fashion, perhaps because of its more economical use of parchment
The Western script is usually vowel-pointed, with miniature Greek vowel letters above or below the letter which they follow:
- (ـܱܰ) Capital alpha (Α) represents [a], transliterated as a or ă (ܦܬ݂ܳܚܳܐ, pṯāḥā),
- (ـܴܳ) Lowercase alpha (α) represents [ɑ], transliterated as ā or â or å (ܙܩܳܦ݂ܳܐ, Zqāp̄ā; pronounced as [o] and transliterated as o in the West Syriac dialect),
- (ـܷܶ) Lowercase epsilon (ε) represents both [ɛ], transliterated as e or ĕ, and [e], transliterated as ē (ܪܒ݂ܳܨܳܐ, Rḇāṣā),
- (ـܻܺ) Capital eta (H) represents [i], transliterated as ī (ܚܒ݂ܳܨܳܐ, Ḥḇāṣā),
- (ـܾܽ) A combined symbol of capital upsilon (Υ) and lowercase omicron (ο) represents [u], transliterated as ū or u (ܥܨܳܨܳܐ, ʿṣāṣā),
- Lowercase omega (ω), used only in the vocative interjection ʾō (ܐܘّ, 'O!').
The Syriac alphabet consists of the following letters, shown in their isolated (non-connected) forms. When isolated, the letters kāp̄
, and mūn
are usually shown with their initial form connected to their final form (see below
). The letters ʾālep̄
(and, in early ʾEsṭrangēlā manuscripts, the letter semkaṯ
) do not connect to a following letter within a word; these are marked with an asterisk (*).
Contextual forms of letters
Three letters act as matres lectionis
: rather than being a consonant, they indicate a vowel. ʾālep̄
), the first letter, represents a glottal stop
, but it can also indicate a vowel, especially at the beginning or the end of a word. The letter waw
) is the consonant w
, but can also represent the vowels o
. Likewise, the letter yōḏ
) represents the consonant y
, but it also stands for the vowels i
In modern usage, some alterations can be made to represent phonemes
not represented in classical phonology
. A mark similar in appearance to a tilde
(~), called majlīyānā
), is placed above or below a letter in the Maḏnḥāyā
variant of the alphabet to change its phonetic value (see also: Geresh
In addition to foreign sounds, a marking system is used to distinguish qūššāyā
, 'hard' letters) from rūkkāḵā
, 'soft' letters). The letters bēṯ
, and taw
, all stop consonants
('hard') are able to be 'spirantized' (lenited
) into fricative consonants
('soft'). The system involves placing a single dot underneath the letter to give its 'soft' variant and a dot above the letter to give its 'hard' variant (though, in modern usage, no mark at all is usually used to indicate the 'hard' value):
The mnemonic bḡaḏkp̄āṯ
) is often used to remember the six letters that are able to be spirantized (see also: Begadkepat
In the East Syriac variant of the alphabet, spirantization marks are usually omitted when they interfere with vowel marks. The degree to which letters can be spirantized varies from dialect to dialect as some dialects have lost the ability for certain letters to be spirantized. For native words, spirantization depends on the letter's position within a word or syllable, location relative to other consonants and vowels, gemination
, and other factors. Foreign words do not always follow the rules for spirantization.
Syriac uses two (usually) horizontal dots[f]
above a letter within a word, similar in appearance to diaeresis
, called syāmē
, literally 'placings', also known in some grammars by the Hebrew name ribbūi
], 'plural'), to indicate that the word is plural.
These dots, having no sound value in themselves, arose before both eastern and western vowel systems as it became necessary to mark plural forms of words, which are indistinguishable from their singular counterparts in regularly-inflected nouns. For instance, the word malkā
, 'king') is consonantally identical to its plural malkē
, 'kings'); the syāmē
above the word malkē
) clarifies its grammatical number and pronunciation. Irregular plurals also receive syāmē
even though their forms are clearly plural: e.g. baytā
, 'house') and its irregular plural bāttē
, 'houses'). Because of redundancy, some modern usage forgoes syāmē
points when vowel markings are present.
There are no firm rules for which letter receives syāmē; the writer has full discretion to place them over any letter. Typically, if a word has at least one rēš, then syāmē are placed over the rēš that is nearest the end of a word (and also replace the single dot above it: ܪ̈). Other letters that often receive syāmē are low-rising letters—such as yōḏ and nūn—or letters that appear near the middle or end of a word.
Besides plural nouns, syāmē are also placed on:
- plural adjectives, including participles (except masculine plural adjectives/participles in the absolute state);
- the cardinal numbers 'two' and the feminine forms of 11-19, though inconsistently;
- and certain feminine plural verbs: the 3rd person feminine plural perfect and the 2nd and 3rd person feminine plural imperfect.
Syriac uses a line, called mṭalqānā
, literally 'concealer', also known by the Latin
term linea occultans
in some grammars), to indicate a silent letter
that can occur at the beginning or middle of a word.
In Eastern Syriac, this line is diagonal and only occurs above the silent letter (e.g. ܡܕ݂ܝܼܢ݇ܬܵܐ
, 'city', pronounced mḏīttā
, not *mḏīntā
, with the mṭalqānā
over the nūn
with the taw
). The line can only occur above a letter ʾālep̄
(which comprise the mnemonic ܥܡ̈ܠܝ ܢܘܗܪܐ
, 'the works of light'). In Western Syriac, this line is horizontal and can be placed above or below the letter (e.g. ܡܕ݂ܺܝܢ̄ܬܳܐ
, 'city', pronounced mḏīto
, not *mḏīnto
was not used for silent letters that occurred at the end of a word (e.g. ܡܪܝ
, '[my] lord'). In modern Turoyo
, however, this is not always the case (e.g. ܡܳܪܝ̱mor[ī]
, '[my] lord').
Latin alphabet and romanization
In the 1930s, following the state policy for minority languages of the Soviet Union
, a Latin alphabet
for Syriac was developed
with some material promulgated.
Although it did not supplant the Syriac script, the usage of the Latin script in the Syriac community has still become widespread because most of the Assyrian diaspora
is in Europe
and the Anglosphere
, where the Latin alphabet is predominant.
In Syriac romanization, some letters are altered and would feature diacritics
and macrons to indicate long vowels, schwas and diphthongs
. The letters with diacritics and macrons are mostly upheld in educational or formal writing.
Transliterated Syriac-Latin alphabet
- Ā is used to denote a long "a" sound or [ɑː] as heard in "car".
- Ḏ is used to represent a voiced dental fricative, the "th" sound as heard in "that".
- Ē is used to denote an "ee" sound or [eː].
- Ĕ is to represent an "eh" sound or [ɛ], as heard in Ninwĕ or "mare".
- Ḥ represents a voiceless pharyngeal fricative ([ħ]), only upheld by Turoyo and Chaldean speakers.
- Ō represents a long "o" sound or [ɔː].
- Š is a voiceless postalveolar fricative, the English digraph "sh".
- Ṣ denotes an emphatic "s" or "thick s".
- Ṭ is an emphatic "t", as heard in the word ṭla ("three").
- Ū is used to represent an "oo" sound or the close back rounded vowel [uː].
Sometimes additional letters may be used and they tend to be:
The Syriac alphabet was added to the Unicode
Standard in September, 1999 with the release of version 3.0. Additional letters for Suriyani Malayalam were added in June, 2017 with the release of version 10.0.
The Unicode block for Syriac is U+0700–U+074F:
The Unicode block for Suriyani Malayalam specific letters is called the Syriac Supplement block and is U+0860–U+086F:
HTML code table
: HTML numeric character references
can be in decimal format (&#DDDD
;) or hexadecimal format (&#xHHHH
;). For example, ܕ and ܕ (1813 in decimal) both represent U+0715 SYRIAC LETTER DALATH.
Vowels and unique characters
- ^ Also ܐܒܓܕ ܣܘܪܝܝܐ ʾabgad Sūryāyā.
- ^ Also pronounced/transliterated Estrangelo in Western Syriac.
- ^ Also pronounced ʾĀlap̄ or ʾOlaf (ܐܳܠܰܦ) in Western Syriac.
- ^ Among most Assyrian Neo-Aramaic speakers, the pharyngeal sound of ʿĒ (/ʕ/) is not pronounced as such; rather, it typically merges into the plain sound of ʾĀlep̄ ([ʔ] or ∅) or geminates a previous consonant.
- ^ In the final position following Dālaṯ or Rēš, ʾĀlep̄ takes the normal form rather than the final form in the Maḏnḥāyā variant of the alphabet.
- ^ In some Serṭā usages, the syāmē dots are placed diagonally when they appear above the letter Lāmaḏ.
- ^ "Syriac alphabet". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
- ^ P. R. Ackroyd,C. F. Evans (1975). The Cambridge History of the Bible: Volume 1, From the Beginnings to Jerome. p. 26. ISBN 9780521099738.
- ^ Hatch, William (1946). An Album of Dated Syriac Manuscripts. Boston: The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, reprinted in 2002 by Gorgias Press. p. 24. ISBN 1-931956-53-7.
- ^ Nestle, Eberhard (1888). Syrische Grammatik mit Litteratur, Chrestomathie und Glossar. Berlin: H. Reuther's Verlagsbuchhandlung. [translated to English as Syriac grammar with bibliography, chrestomathy and glossary, by R. S. Kennedy. London: Williams & Norgate 1889. p. 5].
- ^ Coakley, J. F. (2002). Robinson's Paradigms and Exercises in Syriac Grammar (5th ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-19-926129-1.
- ^ Nöldeke, Theodor and Julius Euting (1880). Kurzgefasste syrische Grammatik. Leipzig: T.O. Weigel. [translated to English as Compendious Syriac Grammar, by James A. Crichton. London: Williams & Norgate 1904. 2003 edition. pp. 10–11. ISBN 1-57506-050-7]
- ^ Nöldeke, Theodor and Julius Euting (1880). Kurzgefasste syrische Grammatik. Leipzig: T.O. Weigel. [translated to English as Compendious Syriac Grammar, by James A. Crichton. London: Williams & Norgate 1904. 2003 edition. pp. 11–12. ISBN 1-57506-050-7]
- ^ Moscati, Sabatino, et al. The Comparative Grammar of Semitic Languages. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, Germany, 1980.
- ^ S. P. Brock, "Three Thousand Years of Aramaic literature", in Aram,1:1 (1989)
- ^ Friedrich, Johannes (1959). "Neusyrisches in Lateinschrift aus der Sowjetunion". Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft (in German) (109): 50–81.
- ^ Polotsky, Hans Jakob (1961). "Studies in Modern Syriac". Journal of Semitic Studies. 6 (1): 1–32. doi:10.1093/jss/6.1.1.
- ^ Syriac Romanization Table
- ^ Nicholas Awde; Nineb Lamassu; Nicholas Al-Jeloo (2007). Aramaic (Assyrian/Syriac) Dictionary & Phrasebook: Swadaya-English, Turoyo-English, English-Swadaya-Turoyo. Hippocrene Books. ISBN 978-0-7818-1087-6.
- Coakley, J. F. (2002). Robinson's Paradigms and Exercises in Syriac Grammar (5th ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-926129-1.
- Hatch, William (1946). An Album of Dated Syriac Manuscripts. Boston: The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, reprinted in 2002 by Gorgias Press. ISBN 1-931956-53-7.
- Kiraz, George (2015). The Syriac Dot: a Short History. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press. ISBN 978-1-4632-0425-9.
- Michaelis, Ioannis Davidis (1784). Grammatica Syriaca.
- Nestle, Eberhard (1888). Syrische Grammatik mit Litteratur, Chrestomathie und Glossar. Berlin: H. Reuther's Verlagsbuchhandlung. [translated to English as Syriac grammar with bibliography, chrestomathy and glossary, by R. S. Kennedy. London: Williams & Norgate 1889].
- Nöldeke, Theodor and Julius Euting (1880). Kurzgefasste syrische Grammatik. Leipzig: T.O. Weigel. [translated to English as Compendious Syriac Grammar, by James A. Crichton. London: Williams & Norgate 1904. 2003 edition: ISBN 1-57506-050-7].
- Phillips, George (1866). A Syriac Grammar. Cambridge: Deighton, Bell, & Co.; London: Bell & Daldy.
- Robinson, Theodore Henry (1915). Paradigms and Exercises in Syriac Grammar. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-926129-6.
- 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 the Estrangela (pp. 59–113), Madnhaya (pp. 191–206), and the Western Serto (pp. 173–190) scripts.
- Segal, J. B. (1953). The Diacritical Point and the Accents in Syriac. Oxford University Press, reprinted in 2003 by Gorgias Press. ISBN 1-59333-032-4.
- Thackston, Wheeler M. (1999). Introduction to Syriac. Bethesda, MD: Ibex Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-936347-98-8.
Last edited on 5 May 2021, at 16:37
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