Arabic alphabet

Script used to write Arabic and a number of other languages whose speakers have been influenced by Arab and Islamic culture.

The 28-character Arabic alphabet developed from a script used to write Nabataean Aramaic. Because Arabic had different consonants than Aramaic, diacritical dots came to be used to eliminate ambiguous readings of some letters, and these remain a feature of the script. Arabic is written from right to left. The letters denote only consonants, though the symbols for w, y, and (historically) the glottal stop do double duty as vowel letters for long u, i, and a. Additional diacritics, representing short vowels (or the lack thereof), case endings, and geminate (duplicate) consonants, are normally employed only for the text of the Qurān, for primers, or in instances where the reading might otherwise be ambiguous. Because Arabic script is fundamentally cursive, most letters have slightly different forms depending on whether they occur in the beginning, middle, or end of a word. Non-Semitic languages for which some version of the Arabic alphabet has been or is used include Persian, Kurdish, Pashto, Urdu, some Turkic languages, Malay, Swahili, and Hausa. The Maltese language is the only form of Arabic to be written in the Latin alphabet.

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 second most widely used alphabetic writing system in the world (the Latin alphabet is the most widespread). Originally developed for writing the Arabic language and carried across much of the Eastern Hemisphere by the spread of Islam, the Arabic script has been adapted to such diverse languages as Persian, Turkish, Spanish, and Swahili. Although it probably developed in the 4th century AD as a direct descendant of the Nabataean alphabet, its origins and early history are vague. Some scholars believe that the earliest extant example of Arabic script is a royal funerary inscription of the Nabataeans dating from AD 328. Others believe that this epigraph shows characteristics of Arabic but is essentially Aramaic and that the earliest extant example of Arabic is a trilingual inscription in Greek, Syriac, and Arabic dating from AD 512.

      The Arabic alphabet has 28 letters, all representing consonants, and is written from right to left. Twenty-two of the letters are those of the Semitic alphabet from which it descended, modified only in letter form, and the remaining six letters represent sounds not used in the languages written in the earlier alphabet. The shape of each letter depends on its position in a word—initial, medial, and final. There is a fourth form of the letter when it is written alone. The letters alif, waw, and ya (standing for glottal stop, w, and y, respectively) are used to represent the long vowels a, u, and i. A set of diacritical marks developed in the 8th century AD are sometimes used to represent short vowels and certain grammatical endings otherwise left unmarked.

      Two major types of Arabic script exist. Kūfic (Kūfic script), a thick, bold monumental style, was developed in Kūfah, a city in Mesopotamia, toward the end of the 7th century AD. It was used chiefly for inscriptions in stone and metal but was also employed sometimes to write manuscripts of the Qurʾān. A very handsome monumental script, it has passed out of use, except in cases in which more cursive scripts cannot be used. Naskhī, (naskhī script) a cursive script well adapted to writing on papyrus or paper, is the direct ancestor of modern Arabic writing. It originated in Mecca and Medina at an early date and exists in many complex and decorative variant forms.

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Universalium. 2010.

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