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An abjad () is a type of
writing system A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communic ...
in which (in contrast to true
alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written symbols A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semanti ...

alphabet
s) each symbol or
glyph The term glyph is used in typography Typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language A language is a structured system o ...
stands for a
consonant In articulatory phonetics The field of articulatory phonetics is a subfield of phonetics that studies articulation and ways that humans produce speech. Articulatory phoneticians explain how humans produce speech sounds via the interaction of d ...
, in effect leaving it to readers to infer or otherwise supply an appropriate
vowel A vowel is a syllabicSyllabic may refer to: *Syllable, a unit of speech sound, considered the building block of words **Syllabic consonant, a consonant that forms the nucleus of a syllable *Syllabary, writing system using symbols for syllables ...

vowel
. The term is a
neologism A neologism (; from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is appro ...
introduced in 1990 by Peter T. Daniels. Other terms for the same concept include: partial phonemic script, segmentally linear defective phonographic script, consonantary, consonant writing and consonantal alphabet.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). " So-called impure abjads represent vowels with either optional
diacritic A diacritic (also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign, or accent) is a glyph The term glyph is used in typography File:metal movable type.jpg, 225px, Movable type being assembled on a composing stick using pieces that ...
s, a limited number of distinct vowel glyphs, or both. The name ''abjad'' is based on the
Arabic alphabet The Arabic alphabet ( ar, الْأَبْجَدِيَّة الْعَرَبِيَّة, ' or , ', ), or Arabic abjad, is the as it is codified for writing . It is written from right to left in a style and includes 28 letters. Most letters hav ...

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."


Etymology

The name "abjad" (' ) is derived from pronouncing the first letters of the
Arabic alphabet The Arabic alphabet ( ar, الْأَبْجَدِيَّة الْعَرَبِيَّة, ' or , ', ), or Arabic abjad, is the as it is codified for writing . It is written from right to left in a style and includes 28 letters. Most letters hav ...

Arabic alphabet
order, in its
original order Original order is a concept in archival theory that a group of records should be maintained in the same order as they were placed by the record's creator. Along with provenance, original order is a core tenet of the archival concept of ''respect des ...
. This ordering matches that of the older
Phoenician Phoenician may refer to: * Phoenicia, an ancient civilization * Phoenician alphabet * Phoenician language * List of Phoenician cities * Phoenix, Arizona See also

* Phoenix (mythology) * Phoenicia (disambiguation) {{disambiguation Language an ...

Phoenician
,
Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-survivi ...

Hebrew
and
Semitic Semitic most commonly refers to the Semitic languages, a name used since the 1770s to refer to the language family currently present in West Asia, North and East Africa, and Malta. Semitic may also refer to: Religions * Abrahamic religions ** ...
proto-alphabets: specifically,
aleph Aleph (or alef or alif, transliterated ʾ) is the first letter Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, sig ...

aleph
,
bet Black Entertainment Television (BET) is an American cable television Cable television is a system of delivering television programming to consumers via radio frequency (RF) signals transmitted through coaxial cables, or in more recent ...
,
gimel Gimel is the third Letter (alphabet), letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician language, Phoenician Gīml , Hebrew language, Hebrew ˈGimel , Aramaic language, Aramaic Gāmal , Syriac alphabet, Syriac Gāmal , and Arabic Alphabet, Arab ...

gimel
,
dalet Dalet (, also spelled Daleth or Daled) is the fourth letter Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifi ...

dalet
.


Terminology

According to the formulations of Peter T. Daniels, abjads differ from
alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written symbols A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semanti ...

alphabet
s in that only consonants, not vowels, are represented among the basic
grapheme In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most langu ...

grapheme
s. Abjads differ from
abugida An abugida (, from Ge'ez language, Ge'ez: አቡጊዳ), sometimes known as alphasyllabary, neosyllabary or pseudo-alphabet, is a segmental Writing systems#Segmental writing system, writing system in which consonant-vowel sequences are writt ...
s, another category defined by Daniels, in that in abjads, the vowel sound is ''implied'' by
phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of lan ...

phonology
, and where vowel marks exist for the system, such as
nikkud In Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their lon ...
for
Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-survivi ...
and ḥarakāt for
Arabic Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic language The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family originating in the Middle East The Middle East is a list of transcontinental countries, transcontinental region ...

Arabic
, their use is optional and not the dominant (or literate) form. Abugidas mark all vowels (other than the "inherent" vowel) with a
diacritic A diacritic (also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign, or accent) is a glyph The term glyph is used in typography File:metal movable type.jpg, 225px, Movable type being assembled on a composing stick using pieces that ...
, a minor attachment to the letter, or a standalone
glyph The term glyph is used in typography Typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language A language is a structured system o ...
. Some abugidas use a special symbol to ''suppress'' the inherent vowel so that the consonant alone can be properly represented. In a
syllabary In the linguistic Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most langu ...
, 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.


Origins

The first abjad to gain widespread usage was the
Phoenician abjad
Phoenician abjad
. Unlike other contemporary scripts, such as
cuneiform Cuneiform is a Logogram, logo-Syllabary, syllabic writing system, script that was used to write several languages of the Ancient Near East. The script was in active use from the early Bronze Age until the beginning of the Common Era. It is nam ...

cuneiform
and
Egyptian hieroglyphs Egyptian hieroglyphs () were the formal writing system A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent ...
, 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 is an ancient writing system that employs Chinese characters to represent the Japanese language, and was the first known kana system to be developed as a means to represent the Japanese language phonetically. The date of the earliest usage of ...
'' (
Chinese characters Chinese characters, also called ''hanzi'' (), are logogram In a written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, ...
used solely for phonetic use) was used to represent
Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan Japan ( ja, 日本, or , and formally ) is an island country An island country or an island nation is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or ...

Japanese
phonetically before the invention of
kana The term may refer to a number of syllabaries In the linguistic Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. ...

kana
. Phoenician gave rise to a number of new writing systems, including the widely used
Aramaic Aramaic (Classical Syriac The Syriac language (; syc, / '), also known as Syriac Aramaic (''Syrian Aramaic'', ''Syro-Aramaic'') and Classical Syriac (in its literary and liturgical form), is an Aramaic Aramaic (Classical Syriac ...

Aramaic
abjad and the
Greek alphabet The Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since the late ninth or early eighth century BC. It is derived from the earlier Phoenician alphabet, and was the first alphabetic script in history to have distinct letters for vowels ...

Greek alphabet
. The Greek alphabet evolved into the modern western alphabets, such as
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became ...

Latin
and
Cyrillic , bg, кирилица , mk, кирилица , russian: кириллица , sr, ћирилица, uk, кирилиця , fam1 = Egyptian hieroglyphs Egyptian hieroglyphs () were the formal writing system A writing system is ...
, while Aramaic became the ancestor of many modern abjads and abugidas of Asia.


Impure abjads

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 Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic language The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family originating in the Middle East The Middle East is a list of transcontinental countries, transcontinental region ...

Arabic
,
Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-survivi ...

Hebrew
,
Aramaic Aramaic (Classical Syriac The Syriac language (; syc, / '), also known as Syriac Aramaic (''Syrian Aramaic'', ''Syro-Aramaic'') and Classical Syriac (in its literary and liturgical form), is an Aramaic Aramaic (Classical Syriac ...

Aramaic
, and Pahlavi, are "impure" abjadsthat 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 Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough nor with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives Fricatives are conso ...
that sound similar to long vowels. A "pure" abjad is exemplified (perhaps) by very early forms of ancient
Phoenician Phoenician may refer to: * Phoenicia, an ancient civilization * Phoenician alphabet * Phoenician language * List of Phoenician cities * Phoenix, Arizona See also

* Phoenix (mythology) * Phoenicia (disambiguation) {{disambiguation Language an ...

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 ''Matres lectionis'' (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power ...
''. 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 Guttural speech sound In phonetics and linguistics, a phone is any distinct speech sound or gesture, regardless of whether the exact sound is critical to the meanings of words. In contrast, a phoneme is a speech sound in a given language that, if s ...
sounds represented by ''
aleph Aleph (or alef or alif, transliterated ʾ) is the first letter Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, sig ...

aleph
'', '' he'', ''
heth Heth, sometimes written Chet, but more accurately Ḥet, is the eighth letter Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that ...
'' or ''
ayin ''Ayin'' (also ''ayn'' or ''ain''; transliterated ) is the sixteenth letter Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that ...

ayin
'', so these symbols were assigned vocalic values. The letters '' waw'' and '' yod'' were also adapted into vowel signs; along with ''he'', these were already used as ''
matres lectionis ''Matres lectionis'' (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power ...
'' 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 Linear B is a syllabic script In the linguistic Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The tradition ...
which usually have vowel symbols but cannot combine them with consonants to form arbitrary syllables).
Abugida An abugida (, from Ge'ez language, Ge'ez: አቡጊዳ), sometimes known as alphasyllabary, neosyllabary or pseudo-alphabet, is a segmental Writing systems#Segmental writing system, writing system in which consonant-vowel sequences are writt ...
s 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 alphabet The Ancient South Arabian script (Old South Arabian 𐩣𐩯𐩬𐩵 ''ms3nd''; modern ar, الْمُسْنَد ''musnad'') branched from the Proto-Sinaitic script in about the 9th century BCE. It was used for writing the Old South Arabian ...
evolved into the Ge'ez alphabet between the 5th century BC and the 5th century AD. Similarly, the
Brāhmī script Brahmi (; ISO 15919: Brāhmī ) is the modern name Quote: " Until the late nineteenth century, the script of the Aśokan (non-Kharosthi) inscriptions and its immediate derivatives was referred to by various names such as “lath” or “Lat, ...
developed around the 3rd century BC (from the
Aramaic abjad
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 Devanagari ( ; , , Sanskrit pronunciation: ), also called Nagari (''Nāgarī'', ),Kathleen Kuiper (2010), The Culture of India, New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, , page 83 is a left-to-right abugida (alphasyllabary), based on the ancient B ...

Devanagari script
and
Pitman shorthand Pitman shorthand is a system of shorthand for the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventually become the World ...
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 Classical Arabic ( ar, links=no, ٱلْعَرَبِيَّةُ ٱلْفُصْحَىٰ, al-ʿarabīyah al-fuṣḥā) or Quranic Arabic is the standardized literary form of the Arabic language Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic languages, ...
and
Modern Standard Arabic Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) or Modern Written Arabic (shortened to MWA), terms used mostly by Western linguists, is the variety of standardized Standardization or standardisation is the process of implementing and developing technical stand ...
, from the Arabic root ''Dh-B-Ḥ'' (to slaughter) can be derived the forms ' (he slaughtered), ' (you (masculine singular) slaughtered), ' (he slaughters), and ' (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 Context may refer to: * Context (language use) In semiotics, linguistics, sociology and anthropology, context refers to those objects or entities which surround a ''focal event'', in these disciplines typically a communication, communicative event ...
clues) and improving word recognition while reading for practiced readers. By contrast, the Arabic and Hebrew scripts sometimes perform the role of
true alphabets
true alphabets
rather than abjads when used to write certain
Indo-European languages The Indo-European languages are a language family A language family is a group of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, based on speech and gesture (spoken language), Signed language, sign, or o ...
, including
Kurdish
Kurdish
,
Bosnian Bosnian may refer to: *Anything related to the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina or its inhabitants *Anything related to Bosnia (region) or its inhabitants * Bosniaks, an ethnic group mainly inhabiting Bosnia and Herzegovina and one of three Ethnic gr ...
, and
Yiddish Yiddish (, or , ''yidish'' or ''idish'', , ; , ''Yidish-Taytsh'', ) is a West Germanic The West Germanic languages constitute the largest of the three branches of the Germanic languages, Germanic family of languages (the others being the ...
.


Comparative chart of Abjads, extinct and extant


See also

*
Abjad numerals The Abjad numerals, also called Hisab al-Jummal ( ar, حِسَاب ٱلْجُمَّل, ), are a decimal alphabetic numeral system An alphabetic numeral system is a type of numeral system. Developed in classical antiquity, it flourished during th ...
(Arabic alphanumeric code) *
Abugida An abugida (, from Ge'ez language, Ge'ez: አቡጊዳ), sometimes known as alphasyllabary, neosyllabary or pseudo-alphabet, is a segmental Writing systems#Segmental writing system, writing system in which consonant-vowel sequences are writt ...
*
Gematria Gematria (; he, גמטריא or gimatria , plural or , ''gimatriot'') is the practice of assigning a number, numerical value to a name, word or phrase according to an alphanumerical cipher. A single word can yield several values depending on the c ...
(Hebrew & English system of alphanumeric code) *
Numerology Numerology is the pseudoscientific belief in a divine or mysticism, mystical relationship between a number and one or more Coincidence#Interpretation, coinciding events. It is also the study of the numerical value of the letters in words, names, ...
*
Shorthand Shorthand is an abbreviated symbolic writing method that increases speed and brevity of writing as compared to longhand{{Short pages monitor