Thursday, March 1, 2007

Arabic Alphabet

The Arabic alphabet is the script used for writing Arabic and various other languages, together with various closely related scripts that typically differ in the presence or absence of a few letters.

The Arabic alphabet is perhaps the oldest of all. The use of the Arabic alphabet was started around about 400AD and is used till date in many languages like urdu, arabic, persian, pashto etc. It's parent writing systems are proto-canaanite system, the phoenician system, the aramaic system and the syriac system.

Because the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, was written with this alphabet, its influence spread with the spread of Islam. As a result, the Arabic alphabet is used to write many other languages- even languages belonging to language families other than Semitic. For example languages like Urdu, Malay, Persian and Azerbaijani (in Iran).

The alphabet presents itself in different styles such as Nasta'līq, Thuluth, Kufic and others (see Arabic calligraphy), just like different handwriting styles and typefaces for the Roman alphabet. Superficially, these styles appear quite different, but the basic letter-forms remain the same.


The Arabic alphabet is written from right to left and is composed of 28 basic letters. Adaptations of the script for other languages such as Persian and Urdu have additional letters. There is no difference between upper and lower case nor between written and printed letters. Most of the letters are attached to one another, even when printed, and their appearance changes as a function of whether they connect to preceding or following letters. Some combinations of letters form ligatures.

The Arabic alphabet is an "impure" abjad—short vowels are not written, though long ones are—so the reader must know the language in order to restore the vowels. However, in editions of the Qur'an or in didactic works vocalization marks are used – including a sign for vowel omission (sukūn) and one for germination /doubling /lengthening of consonants (šadda).

The names of Arabic letters can be thought of as abstractions of an older version where the names of the letters signified meaningful words in the Proto-Semitic language.

There are two orders for Arabic letters in the alphabet. The original Abjadī أبجدي order matches the ordering of letters in all alphabets derived from the Phoenician alphabet, including the English ABC. The standard order used today, and shown in the table, is the Hejā'ī هجائي order, where letters are grouped according to their shape.


The special Abjadī order (or two slightly variant orders) was devised by matching an Arabic letter of the fully consonant-dotted 28-letter Arabic alphabet to each of the 22 letters of the Aramaic alphabet (in their old Phoenician alphabetic order) — leaving six remaining Arabic letters at the end. The most common Abjadi order is -

أ ب ج د ﻫ و ز ح ط ي ك ل م ن س ع ف ص ق ر ش ت ث خ ذ ض ظ غ
ʼ b ǧ d h w z ḥ ṭ y k l m n s ʻ f ṣ q r š t ṯ ḫ ḏ ḍ ẓ ġ

This is commonly vocalized as follows:
•ʼabǧad hawwaz ḥuṭṭī kalaman saʻfaṣ qarašat ṯaḫaḏ ḍaẓaġ.
Another vocalization is:
•ʼabuǧadin hawazin ḥuṭiya kalman saʻfaṣ qurišat ṯaḫuḏ ḍaẓuġ

The surprising thing is that while the letter are written from right to left, the numericals are written vice-versa i.e. left to right

۰ 0
۱ 1
۲ 2
۳ 3
۴ 4
۵ 5
۶ 6
۷ 7
۸ 8
۹ 9

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