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|Time period||400 to the present|
|ISO 15924||Arab, 160|
|Unicode range||U+1EE00 to U+1EEFF|
|Time period||400 to the present|
|ISO 15924||Arab, 160|
|Unicode range||U+1EE00 to U+1EEFF|
The Arabic alphabet (Arabic: أَبْجَدِيَّة عَرَبِيَّة abjadīyah ʻarabīyah) or Arabic abjad is the Arabic script as it is codified for writing the Arabic language. It is written from right to left, in a cursive style, and includes 28 letters. Because letters usually stand for consonants, it is classified as an abjad.
The basic Arabic alphabet contains 28 letters. Adaptations of the Arabic script for other languages added and removed some letters, as for Persian, Ottoman, Sindhi, Urdu, Malay, Pashto, and Arabi Malayalam, all of which have additional letters as shown below. There are no distinct upper and lower case letter forms.
Many letters look similar but are distinguished from one another by dots (i‘jām) above or below their central part (rasm). These dots are an integral part of a letter, since they distinguish between letters that represent different sounds. For example, the Arabic letters transliterated as b and t have the same basic shape, but b has one dot below, ب, and t has two dots above, ت.
Both printed and written Arabic are cursive, with most of the letters within a word directly connected to the adjacent letters.
There are two main collating sequences for the Arabic alphabet:
The abjadī order is not a simple historical continuation of the earlier north Semitic alphabetic order, since it has a position corresponding to the Aramaic letter samekh / semkat ס, yet no letter of the Arabic alphabet historically derives from that letter. Loss of sameḵ was compensated for by the split of shin ש into two independent Arabic letters, ش (shīn) and ﺱ (sīn) which moved up to take the place of sameḵ.
The most common abjadī sequence is:
Note: In this sequence, and all those that follow, the letters are presented in Arabic writing order, i.e., right to left. The Latin script transliterations are also in this order, with each placed under its corresponding letter. Thus, the first letter of the sequence is "أ"(’) at the right, and the last letter in the sequence is "غ"(gh), at the left.
This is commonly vocalized as follows:
Another vocalization is:
which can be vocalized as:
Modern dictionaries and other reference books do not use the abjadī order to sort alphabetically; instead, the newer hijā’ī order (with letters partially grouped together by similarity of shape) is used:
Unlike cursive writing based on the Latin alphabet, the standard Arabic style is to have a substantially different shape depending on whether it will be connecting with a preceding and/or a succeeding letter, thus all primary letters have conditional forms (allographs), depending on whether they are at the beginning, middle or end of a word, so they may exhibit four distinct forms (initial, medial, final or isolated). However, six letters (و ز ر ذ د ا) have only an isolated or final form, and so force the following letter (if any) to take an initial or isolated form, as if there were a word break. For example, أرارات (Ararat) has only isolated forms, because each letter cannot be connected to its adjacent one.
Some letters look almost the same in all four forms, while others show considerable variation. Generally, the initial and middle forms look similar except that in some letters the middle form starts with a short horizontal line on the right to ensure that it will connect with its preceding letter. The final and isolated forms are also similar in appearance but the final form will also have a horizontal stroke on the right and, for some letters, a loop or longer line on the left with which to finish the word with a subtle ornamental flourish. In addition, some letter combinations are written as ligatures (special shapes), including lām-alif.
|Name||Translit.||Value (IPA)||Contextual forms||Isolated|
|alif||ā / ’ (also ʾ )||various,|
including /aː/ [a]
(sometimes /p/ in loanwords)[b]
|thā’||th (also ṯ )||/θ/||ـث||ـثـ||ثـ||ث|
|jīm||j (also ǧ, g )||[d͡ʒ] ~ [ʒ] ~ [ɡ] [c]||ـج||ـجـ||جـ||ج|
|khā’||kh (also ḫ, ḵ )||/x/||ـخ||ـخـ||خـ||خ|
|dhāl||dh (also ḏ )||/ð/||ـذ||ـذ||ذ||ذ|
|zayn / zāy||z||/z/||ـز||ـز||ز||ز|
|shīn||sh (also š )||/ʃ/||ـش||ـشـ||شـ||ش|
|ẓā’||ẓ||[ðˤ] ~ [zˤ]||ـظ||ـظـ||ظـ||ظ|
|‘ayn||‘ (also ʿ )||/ʕ/||ـع||ـعـ||عـ||ع|
|ghayn||gh (also ġ, ḡ )||/ɣ/|
(sometimes /ɡ/ in loanwords)[c]
(sometimes /v/ in loanwords)[b]
(sometimes /ɡ/ in loanwords)[c]
(sometimes /ɡ/ in loanwords)[c]
|wāw||w / ū / aw||/w/, /uː/, /aw/,|
sometimes /u/, /o/, and /oː/ in loanwords
|yā’||y / ī / ay||/j/, /iː/, /aj/,|
sometimes /i/, /e/, and /eː/ in loanwords
See also Additional letters below.
In academic work, the hamzah (ء) is transliterated with the modifier letter right half ring (ʾ), while the modifier letter left half ring (ʿ) transliterates the letter ‘ayn (ع), which represents a different sound, not found in English.
The following are not individual letters, but rather different contextual variants of some of the Arabic letters.
|Conditional forms||Name||Translit.||Phonemic Value (IPA)|
|ة||ـة||tā’ marbūṭah||h or|
t / h / ẗ
|ى||ـى||alif maqṣūrah||ā / ỳ||/aː/|
|ﻼ||ﻻ||lām + alif|
A more complex ligature that combines as many as seven distinct components is commonly used to represent the word Allāh.
The only ligature within the primary range of Arabic script in Unicode (U+06xx) is lām + alif. This is the only one compulsory for fonts and word-processing. Other ranges are for compatibility to older standards and contain other ligatures, which are optional.
Note: Unicode also has in its Presentation Form B FExx range a code for this ligature. If your browser and font are configured correctly for Arabic, the ligature displayed above should be identical to this one,
U+FEFB ARABIC LIGATURE LAM WITH ALEF ISOLATED FORM:
U+0640ARABIC TATWEEL + lām + alif
Note: Unicode also has in its Presentation Form B U+FExx range a code for this ligature. If your browser and font are configured correctly for Arabic, the ligature displayed above should be identical to this one:
U+FEFCARABIC LIGATURE LAM WITH ALEF FINAL FORM
Another ligature in the Unicode Presentation Form A range U+FB50 to U+FDxx is the special code for glyph for the ligature Allāh (“God”),
U+FDF2 ARABIC LIGATURE ALLAH ISOLATED FORM:
This is a work-around for the shortcomings of most text processors, which are incapable of displaying the correct vowel marks for the word Allāh in Koran. Because Arabic script is used to write other texts rather than Koran only, rendering lām + lām + hā’ as the previous ligature is considered faulty: If one of a number of fonts (mry_KacstQurn, KacstOne, DejaVu Sans, Scheherazade, Lateef, Iranian Sans) is installed on a computer (Iranian Sans is support by Wikimedia web-fonts), the word will appear without diacritics.
U+0651ARABIC SHADDA +
U+0670ARABIC LETTER SUPERSCRIPT ALEF + hā’
An attempt to show them on the faulty fonts without automatically adding the gemination mark and the superscript alif, although may not display as desired on all browsers, is by adding the
U+200d (Zero width joiner) after the first or second lām
U+200dZERO WIDTH JOINER + hā’
Gemination is the doubling of a consonant. Instead of writing the letter twice, Arabic places a W-shaped sign called shaddah, above it. Note that if a vowel occurs between the two consonants the letter will simply be written twice. The diacritic only appears where the consonant at the end of one syllable is identical to the initial consonant of the following syllable. (The generic term for such diacritical signs is ḥarakāt).
Nunation (Arabic: تنوين tanwīn) is the addition of a final -n to a noun or adjective. The vowel before it indicates grammatical case. In written Arabic nunation is indicated by doubling the vowel diacritic at the end of the word.
Users of Arabic usually write long vowels but omit short ones, so readers must utilize their knowledge of the language in order to supply the missing vowels. However, in the education system and particularly in classes on Arabic grammar these vowels are used since they are crucial to the grammar. An Arabic sentence can have a completely different meaning by a subtle change of the vowels. This is why in an important text such as the Qur’ān the three basic vowel signs (see below) are mandated, like the ḥarakāt and all the other diacritics or other types of marks, for example the cantillation signs.
In the Arabic handwriting of everyday use, in general publications, and on street signs, short vowels are typically not written. On the other hand, copies of the Qur’ān cannot be endorsed by the religious institutes that review them unless the diacritics are included. Children's books, elementary-school texts, and Arabic-language grammars in general will include diacritics to some degree. These are known as "vocalized" texts.
Short vowels may be written with diacritics placed above or below the consonant that precedes them in the syllable, called ḥarakāt. All Arabic vowels, long and short, follow a consonant; in Arabic, words like "Ali" or "alif", for example, start with a consonant: ‘Aliyy, alif.
(fully vocalized text)
In the fully vocalized Arabic text found in texts such as Koran, a long ā following a consonant other than a hamzah is written with a short a sign (fatḥah) on the consonant plus an alif after it; long ī is written as a sign for short i (kasrah) plus a yā’ ; and long ū as a sign for short u (ḍammah) plus a wāw. Briefly, ᵃa = ā, ⁱy = ī and ᵘw = ū. Long ā following a hamzah may be represented by an alif maddah or by a free hamzah followed by an alif.
The table below shows vowels placed above or below a dotted circle replacing a primary consonant letter or a shaddah sign. For clarity in the table, the primary letters on the left used to mark these long vowels are shown only in their isolated form. Please note that most consonants do connect to the left with alif, wāw and yā’ written then with their medial or final form. Additionally, the letter yā’ in the last row may connect to the letter on its left, and then will use a medial or initial form. Use the table of primary letters to look at their actual glyph and joining types.
(fully vocalised text)
|fatḥah alif maqṣūrah||ā / á||/aː/|
In unvocalized text (one in which the short vowels are not marked), the long vowels are represented by the vowel in question: alif, alif maqṣūrah (or ya’), wāw, or yā’. Long vowels written in the middle of a word of unvocalized text are treated like consonants with a sukūn (see below) in a text that has full diacritics. Here also, the table shows long vowel letters only in isolated form for clarity.
Combinations وا and يا are always pronounced wā and yā respectively. The exception is when وا is the verb ending, where alif is silent, resulting in ū.
|(implied fatḥah) alif||ā||/aː/|
|(implied fatḥah) alif maqṣūrah||ā / aỳ||/aː/|
|(implied ḍammah) wāw||ū / uw||/uː/|
|(implied kasrah) yā’||ī / iy||/iː/|
In addition, when transliterating names and loanwords, Arabic language speakers write out most or all the vowels as long (ā with ا alif, ē and ī with ي ya’, and ō and ū with و wāw), meaning it approaches a true alphabet.
The diphthongs /aj/ and /aw/ are represented in vocalized text as follows:
(fully vocalized text)
An Arabic syllable can be open (ending with a vowel) or closed (ending with a consonant):
A normal text is composed only of a series of consonants plus vowel-lengthening letters; thus, the word qalb, "heart", is written qlb, and the word qalab, "he turned around", is also written qlb.
To write qalab without this ambiguity, we could indicate that the l is followed by a short 'a' by writing a fatha above it.
To write qalb, we would instead indicate that the l is followed by no vowel by marking it with a diacritic called sukūn ( ْ ), like this: قلْبْ).
This is one step down from full vocalization, where the vowel after the q would also be indicated by afatḥah: قَلْبْ.
The Qur’ān is traditionally written in full vocalization.
The long i sound in some qurans is written with a kasra followed diacriticless yā’, and long u by a damma followed by a bare wāw. In other qurans, this ya and this waw carry a sukūn. Outside of the Qur’ān, the latter convention is extremely rare, to the point that yā’ with sukūn will be unambiguously read as the diphthong /aj/, and wāw with sukūn will be read /aw/.
For example, the letters m-y-l can be read like English meel or like English mail, or (theoretically) also some other ways, like 'mayyal' or 'mayil'. But if a sukuun is added on the ya' then the miim cannot have a sukuun (because two letters in a row cannot be sukunated), cannot have a damma (because there is never an 'uy' sound in Arabic unless there is another vowel after the ya), and cannot have a kasra (because kasra before sukunated ya' is never found outside qurans), so it MUST have a fatha and the only possible pronunciation is /mayl/ (meaning mile, or even e-mail). By the same token, m-y-t with a sukoon over the y can be mayt but not mayyit or meet, and m-w-t with a sukoon on the w can only be mawt, not moot (iw is impossible when the w closes the syllable).
Vowel marks are always written as if the i‘rāb vowels were in fact pronounced, even when they must be skipped in actual pronunciation. So, when writing the name Aḥmad, it is optional to place a sukoon on the ḥ, but a sukoon is forbidden on the d, because that d would carry a damma if any other word followed, as in Aḥmadu zawjī meaning "Ahmad is my husband".
Another example: the sentence that in correct Arabic must be pronounced Aḥmadu zawjun sharrīr, meaning "Ahmed is a wicked husband", is usually mispronounced as Aḥmad zawj sharrīr. Yet, for the purposes of Arabic grammar and orthography, is treated as if it were not mispronounced and as if yet another word followed it, i.e., if adding any vowel marks, they must be added as if the pronunciation were Aḥmadu zawjun sharrīrun with a tanween 'un' at the very end. So, it is correct to add an 'un' tanween sign on the final r, but actually pronouncing it would be a hypercorrection. Also, it is never correct to write a sukoon on that r, even though in actual pronunciation that r is (and in correct Arabic MUST be) sukooned.
Of course, if the correct i`râb is a sukuun, it may be optionally written.
|Name||Translit.||Phonemic Value (IPA)|
|sukūn||(no vowel with this consonant letter or|
diphthong with this long vowel letter)
The sukūn is also used for transliterating words into the Arabic script. The Persian word ماسک (mâsk, from the English word "mask"), for example, might be written with a sukūn above the ﺱ to signify that there is no vowel sound between that letter and the ک.
Additional modified letters, used in non-Arabic languages, or in Arabic for transliterating names, loanwords, spoken dialects only, include:
There are two main kinds of numerals used along with Arabic text; Western Arabic numerals and Eastern Arabic numerals. In most of present-day North Africa, the usual Western Arabic numerals are used. Like Western Arabic numerals, in Eastern Arabic numerals, the units are always right-most, and the highest value left-most.
In addition, the Arabic alphabet can be used to represent numbers (Abjad numerals). This usage is based on the abjadī order of the alphabet. ا alif is 1, ب bā’ is 2, ج jīm is 3, and so on until ي yā’ = 10, ك kāf = 20, ل lām = 30, …, ر rā’ = 200, …, غ ghayn = 1000. This is sometimes used to produce chronograms.
The Arabic alphabet can be traced back to the Nabataean alphabet used to write the Nabataean dialect of Aramaic. The first known text in the Arabic alphabet is a late 4th-century inscription from Jabal Ramm (50 km east of ‘Aqabah) in Jordan, but the first dated one is a trilingual inscription at Zebed in Syria from 512. However, the epigraphic record is extremely sparse, with only five certainly pre-Islamic Arabic inscriptions surviving, though some others may be pre-Islamic. Later, dots were added above and below the letters to differentiate them. (The Aramaic language had fewer phonemes than the Arabic, and some originally distinct Aramaic letters had become indistinguishable in shape, so that in the early writings 15 distinct letter-shapes had to do duty for 28 sounds; cf. the similarly ambiguous Pahlavi alphabet.) The first surviving document that definitely uses these dots is also the first surviving Arabic papyrus (PERF 558), dated April 643, although they did not become obligatory until much later. Important texts were and still are frequently memorized, especially in Qur'an memorization, a practice which probably arose partially from a desire to avoid the great ambiguity of the script.
Later still, vowel marks and the hamzah were introduced, beginning some time in the latter half of the 7th century, preceding the first invention of Syriac and Hebrew vocalization. Initially, this was done by a system of red dots, said to have been commissioned by an Umayyad governor of Iraq, Ḥajjaj ibn Yūsuf: a dot above = a, a dot below = i, a dot on the line = u, and doubled dots indicated nunation. However, this was cumbersome and easily confusable with the letter-distinguishing dots, so about 100 years later, the modern system was adopted. The system was finalized around 786 by al-Farāhīdī.
Although Napoleon Bonaparte generally is given the credit with introducing the printing press to Egypt, upon invading it in 1798, and he did indeed bring printing presses and Arabic script presses, to print the French occupation's official newspaper Al-Tanbiyyah (The Courier), the process was started several centuries earlier.
Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1450 was followed up by Gregorio de Gregorii, a Venetian, who in 1514 published an entire prayer book in Arabic script entitled Kitab Salat al-Sawa'i intended for the eastern Christian communities. The script was said to be crude and almost unreadable.
Famed type designer Robert Granjon working for Cardinal Ferdinando de Medici succeeded in designing elegant Arabic typefaces and the Medici press published many Christian prayer and scholarly Arabic texts in the late 16th century.
The first Arabic books published using movable type in the Middle East were by the Maronite monks at the Maar Quzhayy Monastery in Mount Lebanon. They transliterated the Arabic language using Syriac script. It took a fellow goldsmith like Gutenberg to design and implement the first true Arabic script movable type printing press in the Middle East. The Greek Orthodox monk Abd Allah Zakhir set up an Arabic language printing press using movable type at the monastery of Saint John at the town of Dhour El Shuwayr in Mount Lebanon, the first homemade press in Lebanon using true Arabic script. He personally cut the type molds and did the founding of the elegant typeface. He created the first true Arabic script type in the Middle East. The first book off the press was in 1734; this press continued to be used until 1899.
The Arabic alphabet can be encoded using several character sets, including ISO-8859-6, Windows-1256 and Unicode (see links in Infobox, above), in the latter thanks to the "Arabic segment", entries U+0600 to U+06FF. However, neither of these sets indicate the form each character should take in context. It is left to the rendering engine to select the proper glyph to display for each character.
For compatibility with previous standards, initial, medial, final and isolated forms can be encoded separately in Unicode; however, they can also be inferred from their joining context, using the same encoding. The following table shows this common encoding, in addition to the compatibility encodings for their normally contextual forms (Arabic texts should be encoded today using only the common encoding, but the rendering must then infer the joining types to determine the correct glyph forms, with or without ligation).
As of Unicode 6.1, the following ranges encode Arabic characters:
The basic Arabic range encodes the standard letters and diacritics, but does not encode contextual forms (U+0621-U+0652 being directly based on ISO 8859-6); and also includes the most common diacritics and Arabic-Indic digits. U+06D6 to U+06ED encode Qur'anic annotation signs such as "end of ayah" ۖ and "start of rub el hizb" ۞. The Arabic Supplement range encodes letter variants mostly used for writing African (non-Arabic) languages. The Arabic Extended-A range encodes additional Qur'anic annotations and letter variants used for various non-Arabic languages. The Arabic Presentation Forms-A range encodes contextual forms and ligatures of letter variants needed for Persian, Urdu, Sindhi and Central Asian languages. The Arabic Presentation Forms-B range encodes spacing forms of Arabic diacritics, and more contextual letter forms. The Arabic Mathematical Alphabetical Symbols block encodes characters used in Arabic mathematical expressions.
See also the notes of the section on modified letters.
Keyboards designed for different nations have different layouts, so that proficiency in one style of keyboard such as Iraq's does not transfer to proficiency in another keyboard such as Saudi Arabia's. Differences can include the location of non-alphabetic characters.
All Arabic keyboards allow typing Roman characters, e.g., for the URL in a web browser. Thus, each Arabic keyboard has both Arabic and Roman characters marked on the keys. Usually the Roman characters of an Arabic keyboard conform to the QWERTY layout, but in North Africa, where French is the most common language typed using the Roman characters, the Arabic keyboards are AZERTY.
To encode a particular written form of a character, there are extra code points provided in Unicode which can be used to express the exact written form desired. The range Arabic presentation forms A (U+FB50 to U+FDFF) contain ligatures while the range Arabic presentation forms B (U+FE70 to U+FEFF) contains the positional variants. These effects are better achieved in Unicode by using the zero-width joiner and non-joiner, as these presentation forms are deprecated in Unicode, and should generally only be used within the internals of text-rendering software, when using Unicode as an intermediate form for conversion between character encodings, or for backwards compatibility with implementations that rely on the hard-coding of glyph forms.
Finally, the Unicode encoding of Arabic is in logical order, that is, the characters are entered, and stored in computer memory, in the order that they are written and pronounced without worrying about the direction in which they will be displayed on paper or on the screen. Again, it is left to the rendering engine to present the characters in the correct direction, using Unicode's bi-directional text features. In this regard, if the Arabic words on this page are written left to right, it is an indication that the Unicode rendering engine used to display them is out of date.
There are competing on-line tools, e.g. Yamli editor, allowing to enter Arabic letters without having Arabic support installed on a PC and without the knowledge of the layout of the Arabic keyboard.
The first software program of its kind in the world that identifies Arabic handwriting in real time has been developed by researchers at Ben-Gurion University (BGU).
The prototype enables the user to write Arabic words by hand on an electronic screen, which then analyzes the text and translates it into printed Arabic letters in a thousandth of a second. The error rate is less than three percent, according to Dr. Jihad El-Sana, from BGU's department of computer sciences, who developed the system along with master's degree student Fadi Biadsy.
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This article contains major sections of text from the very detailed article Arabic alphabet from the French Wikipedia, which has been partially translated into English. Further translation of that page, and its incorporation into the text here, are welcomed.