Syriac alphabet
The Syriac alphabet (ܐܠܦ ܒܝܬ ܣܘܪܝܝܐʾālep̄ bêṯ Sūryāyā[a]) is a writing system primarily used to write the Syriac language since the 1st century AD.[1] It is one of the Semitic abjads descending from the Aramaic alphabet through the Palmyrene alphabet,[2] and shares similarities with the Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic and Sogdian, the precursor and a direct ancestor of the traditional Mongolian scripts.
Syriac alphabet

Estrangela-styled alphabet
Script type
Time period
c. 1 AD – present
Directionright-to-left script 
LanguagesAramaic (Classical Syriac, Western Neo-Aramaic, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, Turoyo, Christian Palestinian Aramaic), Arabic (Garshuni), Malayalam (Suriyani Malayalam), Sogdian
Related scripts
Parent systems
Syriac alphabet
Child systems
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Syrc, 135 , ​Syriac
  •  Syre, 138 (ʾEsṭrangēlā variant)
  •  Syrj, 137 (Western variant)
  •  Syrn, 136 (Eastern variant)
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.
This article contains Syriac text, written from right to left in a cursive style with some letters joined. Without proper rendering support, you may see unjoined Syriac letters or other symbols instead of Syriac script.
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 individual words.
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 and Chaldean, 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 or Garshuni (ܓܪܫܘܢܝ‎). In addition to Semitic languages, Sogdian was also written with Syriac script, as well as Malayalam, which form was called Suriyani Malayalam.
Alphabet forms
The opening words of the Gospel of John written in Serṭā, Maḏnḥāyā and ʾEsṭrangēlā (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.
Classical ʾEsṭrangēlā
A 9th century ʾEsṭrangēlā manuscript of John Chrysostom's Homily on the Gospel of John.
A 17th century Maḏnḥāyā liturgical manuscript from the Vatican Library. Note the title written in ʾEsṭrangēlā.
Yəšūʿ or ʾĪšōʿ, the Syriac name of Jesus in the ʾEsṭrangēlā script.
The oldest and classical form of the alphabet is ʾEsṭrangēlā[b] (ܐܣܛܪܢܓܠܐ). The name of the script is thought to derive from the Greek adjective strongýlē (στρογγύλη, 'rounded'),[3] though it has also been suggested to derive from serṭā ʾewwangēlāyā (ܣܪܛܐ ܐܘܢܓܠܝܐ, 'gospel character').[4] 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.
East Syriac Maḏnḥāyā
The East Syriac dialect is usually written in the Maḏnḥāyā (ܡܲܕ݂ܢܚܵܝܵܐ‎, 'Eastern') form of the alphabet. Other names for the script include Swāḏāyā (ܣܘܵܕ݂ܵܝܵܐ‎, 'conversational' or 'vernacular', often translated as 'contemporary', reflecting its use in writing modern Neo-Aramaic), ʾĀṯōrāyā (ܐܵܬ݂ܘܿܪܵܝܵܐ‎, 'Assyrian', not to be confused with the traditional name for the Hebrew alphabet), Kaldāyā (ܟܲܠܕܵܝܵܐ‎, '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:
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.
West Syriac Serṭā
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 or Serṭo (ܣܶܪܛܳܐ‎, 'line') form of the alphabet, also known as the Pšīṭā (ܦܫܺܝܛܳܐ‎, '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:
Summary table
The Syriac alphabet consists of the following letters, shown in their isolated (non-connected) forms. When isolated, the letters kāp̄, mīm, and mūn are usually shown with their initial form connected to their final form (see below). The letters ʾālep̄, dālaṯ, , waw, zayn, ṣāḏē, rēš and taw (and, in early ʾEsṭrangēlā manuscripts, the letter semkaṯ[5]) do not connect to a following letter within a word; these are marked with an asterisk (*).
LetterSound Value (Classical Syriac)Numerical
Imperial Aramaic
ܐʾ or null
mater lectionis: ā
[ʔ] or ∅
mater lectionis: [ɑ]
ܒhard: b
soft: (also bh, v or β)
hard: [b]
soft: [v] or [w]
ܓhard: g
soft: (also , gh, ġ or γ)
hard: [ɡ]
soft: [ɣ]
ܕhard: d
soft: (also dh, ð or δ)
hard: [d]
soft: [ð]
4𐤃𐡃דد / ذ
ܘconsonant: w
mater lectionis: ū or ō
(also u or o)
consonant: [w]
mater lectionis: [u] or [o]
ܚ (also H, kh, x or ħ)[ħ], [x] or [χ]8𐤇𐡇חح
ܛ (also T or ţ)[]9𐤈𐡈טط
ܝconsonant: y
mater lectionis: ī (also i)
consonant: [j]
mater lectionis: [i] or [e]
ܟܟhard: k
soft: (also kh or x)
hard: [k]
soft: [x]
20𐤊𐡊כ ךك
ܡܡm[m]40𐤌𐡌מ םم
ܢܢn[n]50𐤍𐡍נ ןن
ܦhard: p
soft: (also , , ph or f)
hard: [p]
soft: [f]
80𐤐𐡐פ ףف
ܨ (also S or ş)[]90𐤑𐡑צ ץص
ܩq (also )[q]100𐤒𐡒קق
ܫš (also sh)[ʃ]300𐤔𐡔שس / ش
ܬhard: t
soft: (also th or θ)
hard: [t]
soft: [θ]
400𐤕𐡕תت / ث
Contextual forms of letters
ʾEsṭrangēlā (classical)Maḏnḥāyā (eastern)
Initial or
Initial or
ʾEsṭrangēlā (classical)Maḏnḥāyā (eastern)Unicode
Initial or
Initial or
 ܠܐLāmaḏ and ʾĀlep̄ combined
at the end of a word
ܬܐTaw and ʾĀlep̄ combined
at the end of a word
 ܗܝ and Yōḏ combined
at the end of a word
 ܬܝTaw and Yōḏ combined
at the end of a word
Letter alterations
Matres lectionis
Three letters act as matres lectionis: rather than being a consonant, they indicate a vowel. ʾālep̄ (ܐ‎), 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 (ܘ‎) is the consonant w, but can also represent the vowels o and u. Likewise, the letter yōḏ (ܝ‎) represents the consonant y, but it also stands for the vowels i and e.
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 (ܡܲܓ̰ܠܝܼܵܢܵܐ‎), is placed above or below a letter in the Maḏnḥāyā variant of the alphabet to change its phonetic value (see also: Geresh):
Rūkkāḵā and qūššāyā
In addition to foreign sounds, a marking system is used to distinguish qūššāyā (ܩܘܫܝܐ‎, 'hard' letters) from rūkkāḵā (ܪܘܟܟܐ‎, 'soft' letters). The letters bēṯ, gāmal, dālaṯ, kāp̄, , 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):
Bēṯ (qšīṯā)ܒ݁b[b]Bēṯ rakkīḵtāܒ݂[v] or [w][v] has become [w] in most modern dialects.
Gāmal (qšīṯā)ܓ݁g[ɡ]Gāmal rakkīḵtāܓ݂[ɣ]
Dālaṯ (qšīṯā)ܕ݁d[d]Dālaṯ rakkīḵtāܕ݂[ð][d] is left unspirantized in some modern Eastern dialects.
Kāp̄ (qšīṯā)ܟ݁ܟ݁k[k]Kāp̄ rakkīḵtāܟ݂ܟ݂[x]
Pē (qšīṯā)ܦ݁p[p]Pē rakkīḵtāܦ݂‎ or ܦ̮[f] or [w][f] is not found in most modern Eastern dialects. Instead, it either is left unspirantized or sometimes appears as [w]. is the only letter in the Eastern variant of the alphabet that is spirantized by the addition of a semicircle instead of a single dot.
Taw (qšīṯā)ܬ݁t[t]Taw rakkīḵtāܬ݂[θ][t] is left unspirantized in some modern Eastern dialects.
The mnemonic bḡaḏkp̄āṯ (ܒܓܕܟܦܬ‎) 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, etymology, 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 (ܣܝ̈ܡܐ‎, literally 'placings', also known in some grammars by the Hebrew name ribbūi [רִבּוּי‎], 'plural'), to indicate that the word is plural.[6] 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 (ܡܠܟܐ‎, 'king') is consonantally identical to its plural malkē (ܡܠܟ̈ܐ‎, 'kings'); the syāmē above the word malkē (ܡܠܟ̈ܐ‎) clarifies its grammatical number and pronunciation. Irregular plurals also receive syāmē even though their forms are clearly plural: e.g. baytā (ܒܝܬܐ‎, 'house') and its irregular plural bāttē (ܒ̈ܬܐ‎, '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:
Syriac uses a line, called mṭalqānā (ܡܛܠܩܢܐ‎, 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.[7] 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, assimilating with the taw). The line can only occur above a letter ʾālep̄, , waw, yōḏ, lāmaḏ, mīm, nūn, ʿē or rēš (which comprise the mnemonic ܥܡ̈ܠܝ ܢܘܗܪܐʿamlay nūhrā, '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).
Classically, mṭalqānā was not used for silent letters that occurred at the end of a word (e.g. ܡܪܝmār[ī], '[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.[8] 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.[9]
Soviet Latin alphabet[10][11]
The Latin letters below are commonly used when it comes to transliteration from the Syriac script to Latin:[12]
Transliterated Syriac-Latin alphabet[13]
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.
Main articles: Syriac (Unicode block) and Syriac Supplement (Unicode block)
The Unicode block for Syriac is U+0700–U+074F:
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)

1.^ As of Unicode version 13.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
The Syriac Abbreviation (a type of overline) can be represented with a special control character called the Syriac Abbreviation Mark (U+070F).
The Unicode block for Suriyani Malayalam specific letters is called the Syriac Supplement block and is U+0860–U+086F:
Syriac Supplement[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
1.^As of Unicode version 13.0
2.^Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
HTML code table
Note: 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.
Ālep̄ bēṯ
Vowels and unique characters
See also
  1. ^ Also ܐܒܓܕ ܣܘܪܝܝܐʾabgad Sūryāyā.
  2. ^ Also pronounced/transliterated Estrangelo in Western Syriac.
  3. ^ Also pronounced ʾĀlap̄ or ʾOlaf (ܐܳܠܰܦ‎) in Western Syriac.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ In some Serṭā usages, the syāmē dots are placed diagonally when they appear above the letter Lāmaḏ.
  1. ^ "Syriac alphabet". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
  2. ^ P. R. Ackroyd,C. F. Evans (1975). The Cambridge History of the Bible: Volume 1, From the Beginnings to Jerome. p. 26. ISBN 9780521099738.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ 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].
  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.
  6. ^ 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]
  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]
  8. ^ Moscati, Sabatino, et al. The Comparative Grammar of Semitic Languages. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, Germany, 1980.
  9. ^ S. P. Brock, "Three Thousand Years of Aramaic literature", in Aram,1:1 (1989)
  10. ^ Friedrich, Johannes (1959). "Neusyrisches in Lateinschrift aus der Sowjetunion". Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft (in German) (109): 50–81.
  11. ^ Polotsky, Hans Jakob (1961). "Studies in Modern Syriac". Journal of Semitic Studies. 6 (1): 1–32. doi:10.1093/jss/6.1.1.
  12. ^ Syriac Romanization Table
  13. ^ 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.
External links
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Last edited on 5 May 2021, at 16:37
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