The Arabic alphabet is the script used for writing several languages of Asia and Africa, such as Arabic, Persian, and Urdu. After the Latin alphabet, it is the second-most widely used alphabet around the world.
The alphabet was first used to write texts in Arabic, most notably the , the holy book of Islam. With the spread of Islam, it came to be used to write many other languages, even outside of the Semitic family to which Arabic belongs. Examples of non-Semitic languages written with the Arabic alphabet include Persian, Urdu, Pashto, Baloch, Malay, Balti, Brahui, Panjabi (in Pakistan), Kashmiri, Sindhi (in India and Pakistan), Uyghur (in China), Kazakh (in China), Kyrgyz (in China), Azerbaijani (in Iran), Kurdish (in Iraq and Iran) and the language of the former Ottoman Empire. In order to accommodate the needs of these other languages, new letters and other symbols were added to the original alphabet.
The Arabic script is written from right to left, in a cursive style, and includes 28 basic letters. Because some of the vowels are indicated with optional symbols, it can be classified as an abjad. Just as different handwriting styles and typefaces exist in the Roman alphabet, the Arabic script has a number of different styles of calligraphy, including Naskh, Nastaʿlīq, Shahmukhi, Ruq'ah, Thuluth, Kufic, and Hijazi.
Both printed and written Arabic are cursive, with most of the letters directly connected to the letter that immediately follows. Each individual letter can have up to four distinct forms, based on its position within in the word. These forms are:
Some letters look almost the same in all four forms, while others show considerable variety. In addition, some letter combinations are written as ligatures (special shapes), including . Many letters look similar but are distinguished from one another by dots above or below their central part, called iʿjam. The dots are an integral part of the letter, not diacritics, because they distinguish completely different letters (and sounds). For example, the Arabic letters transliterated as b and t have the same basic shape, but b has one dot below, , and t has two dots above, .
The Arabic alphabet is an "impure" abjad. Long vowels are written, but short ones are not, so the reader must be familiar with the language to understand the missing vowels. However, in editions of the and in didactic works, vocalization marks are used, including the sukūn for vowel omission and the šadda for consonant gemination (consonant doubling).
There are two collating orders for the Arabic alphabet. The original abjadī order (أبجدي) derives from the order of the Phoenician alphabet, and is therefore similar to the order of other Phoenician-derived alphabets, such as the Hebrew alphabet. The abjadī order is used for numbering. In the order (هجائي), similarly-shaped letters are grouped together (see the next section). The hijāʼī order is used wherever lists of names and words are sorted, as in phonebooks, classroom lists, and dictionaries.
Regarding pronunciation, the phonetic values given are those of the standard pronunciation of literary Arabic, the Dachsprache which is taught in universities. Actual pronunciation between the varieties of Arabic may vary widely. For more details concerning the pronunciation of Arabic, consult the article Arabic phonology.
For compatibility with previous standards, Unicode can encode all these forms separately; however, these forms can be inferred from their joining context, using the same encoding. The table below 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). There are 29 primary letters.
The names of the Arabic letters can be thought of as abstractions of an older version where they were meaningful words in the Proto-Semitic language.
|Contextual forms||Name||Translit.||Phonemic Value (IPA)|
|0627||FE8D||FE8E||—||/||various, including /aː/|
|062C||FE9D||FE9E||FEA0||FE9F||(also j, g)||[ʤ] / [ʒ] / [ɡ]|
|062E||FEA5||FEA6||FEA8||FEA7||(also kh, x)||/x/|
|0630||FEAB||FEAC||—||(also dh, ð)||/ð/|
|0638||FEC5||FEC6||FEC8||FEC7||/ðˁ/ / /zˁ/|
|0644||FEDD||FEDE||FEE0||FEDF||/l/, ([lˁ] in Allah only)|
|0648||FEED||FEEE||—||/||/w/ / /uː/|
|064A||FEF1||FEF2||FEF4||FEF3||/||/j/ / /iː/|
In academic work, the glottal stop [ʔ] is transliterated with the right half ring sign (ʾ), while the left half ring sign (ʿ) represents a different pharyngeal, pharyngealized glottal, or epiglottal sound.
|Conditional forms||Name||Translit.||Phonemic Value (IPA)|
|0629||FE93||FE94||—|| or |
/ h / ẗ
(Arabic; see note below)
see note below)
The broken alif commonly encoded as Unicode 0x0649 in Arabic, is sometimes replaced in Persian or Urdu, with Unicode 0x06CC (ی), called "Persian yeh", in accordance with its pronunciation in those languages. The glyphs are identical in isolated and final form (ﻯ ﻰ), but not in initial and medial position, where the Persian yeh gains two dots below (ﻳ ﻴ). The has neither an initial nor a medial form in very old unicode, though from Unicode 3.0 and later, an with all positions is provided.
Although this is the common situation, the problem is not so simple, as computers recognize the "three yehs" (0x064A, 0x0649, 0x06CC) as different letters though may have identical shapes in some forms. No solution has been met yet as of May 2009. A version of an Arabic standard parallel from Unicode is proposed.
Unicode has a special glyph for the ligature (“God”), U+FDF2 ARABIC LIGATURE ALLAH ISOLATED FORM:
The latter is a work-around for the shortcomings of most text processors, which are incapable of displaying the correct vowel marks for the word , because it should compose a small sign above a gemination sign. Compare the display of the composed equivalents below (the exact outcome will depend on your browser and font configuration):
It's also used as Pa in the Jawi script.
It's also used in several other languages. Ca in the Jawi script
In everyday use handwriting, general publications, and street signs short vowels are generally not written in Arabic. Prints of Qurʼan cannot be adorned by the religious institutes that reviews them unless short vowels are properly marked, and it is generally preferred and customary to mark them whenever Qurʼan is cited in print. Children's books and school books for little children and Arabic language teaching in general have diacritics to varying degrees of observation. These are known as vocalized texts.
The Arabic writing system can not be considered complete without the diacritical marking of short vowels as they are an essential part of it in its developed state, conveying information not coded in any other way. Just like dotted letters, diacritical marking were a later addition to writing system.
Short vowels are occasionally marked where the word would otherwise be ambiguous and could not be resolved simply from context, or simply wherever they are aesthetically pleasing.
Short vowels may be written with diacritics placed above or below the consonant that precedes them in the syllable, called harakat. All Arabic vowels, long and short, follow a consonant; contrary to appearances, there is a consonant at the start of a name like Ali — in Arabic — or of a word like .
(fully vocalised text)
A long a following a consonant other than a hamza is written with a short a sign on the consonant plus an after it; long i is written as a sign for short i plus a yāʾ; and long u as a sign for short u plus a . Briefly, aʾ = ā, iy = ī and uw = ū. Long a following a hamza may be represented by an or by a free hamza followed by an ʾalif.
In the table below, vowels will be placed above or below a dotted circle replacing a primary consonant letter or a šadda sign. For clarity in the table below, the primary letter 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 , and written then with their medial or final form. Additionally, the letter 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)
In unvocalized text (one in which the short vowels are not marked), the long vowels are represented by the consonant in question: , (or ), , or . Long vowels written in the middle of a word of unvocalised 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.
The diphthongs [ai] and [au] are represented in vocalised text as follows:
(fully vocalised text)
When the syllable is closed, we can indicate that the consonant that closes it does not carry a vowel by marking it with a diacritic called ( ) to remove any ambiguity, especially when the text is not vocalized. A normal text is composed only of series of consonants; thus, the word , "heart", is written . The indicates where not to place a vowel: could, in effect, be read qalab (meaning "he turned around"), but written with a sukūn over the and the it can only have the form qVlb. This is one step down from full vocalization, where the vowel a would also be indicated by a : .
The is traditionally written in full vocalization. Outside of the , putting a above a — which represents [i:] —, or above a — which stands for [u:] — is extremely rare, to the point that with sukūn will be unambiguously read as the diphthong [ai], and with will be read [au].
For example, the letters (with an at the end of the word) will be read most naturally as the word (“music”). If one were to write a above the , the and the , one would get , which would be read as (note however that the final , because it is an , never takes a ). The word, entirely vocalized, would be written in the , or elsewhere. (The Quranic spelling would have no sign above the final , but instead a miniature above the preceding consonant, which is a valid Unicode character but most Arabic computer fonts cannot in fact display this miniature as of 2006.)
A is not placed on word-final consonants, even if no vowel is pronounced, because fully vocalised texts are always written as if the vowels were in fact pronounced. For example, , meaning “Ahmed is a bad husband”, for the purposes of Arabic grammar and orthography, is treated as if still pronounced with full , i.e. with the complete desinences.
The is also used for transliterating words into the Arabic script. The Persian word (mâsk, from the English word "mask"), for example, might be written with a sukūn above the to signify that there is no vowel sound between that letter and the .
|Name||Translit.||Phonemic Value (IPA)|
|(no vowel with this consonant letter or|
diphthong with this long vowel letter)
|Ø / /a͡-/|
|(no vowel with next final consonant letter or|
diphthong with next final long vowel letter)
|Ø / /a͡-/|
The , or shadda ( ّ ), marks the gemination (doubling) of a consonant. A ( ّ ) may be written between the consonant and the rather than under the consonant.
The w-shaped sign is derived from beginning of a small letter .
|used to write the grammatical endings -an, -in and -un, respectively, for desinences with nunation in indefinite state in Arabic. The sign is most commonly written in combination with ʼalif or (tāʼ marbūṭa).|
In addition, the Arabic alphabet can be used to represent numbers (Abjad numerals). This usage is based on the abjadī of the alphabet. is 1, ب is 2, ج is 3, and so on until ي = 10, ك = 20, ل = 30, …, ر = 200, …, غ = 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 fourth-century inscription from Jabal Ramm (50 km east of Aqaba), 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 like the were frequently memorized; this practice, which is still widespread among many Muslim communities today, probably arose partially from a desire to avoid the great ambiguity of the script. (see Arabic Unicode)
Later still, vowel marks and the hamza were introduced, beginning some time in the latter half of the seventh 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, Hajjaj ibn Yusuf: 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-Farahidi.
Although Napoleon Bonaparte generally is given the credit with introducing the printing press to the Arab world upon invading Egypt 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 sixteenth 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.
|Worldwide use of the Arabic alphabet|
|→ Countries where the Arabic script is the only official orthography|
|→ Countries where the Arabic script is used alongside other orthographies.|
The Arabic script has been adopted for use in a wide variety of languages besides Arabic, including Persian, Kurdish, Malay, and Urdu, which are not Semitic. Such adaptations may feature altered or new characters to represent phonemes that do not appear in Arabic phonology. For example, the Arabic language lacks a voiceless bilabial plosive (the [p] sound), so many languages add their own letter to represent [p] in the script, though the specific letter used varies from language to language. These modifications tend to fall into groups: all the Indian and Turkic languages written in Arabic script tend to use the Persian modified letters, whereas Indonesian languages tend to imitate those of Jawi. The modified version of the Arabic script originally devised for use with Persian is known as the Perso-Arabic script by scholars.
Use of the Arabic script in West African languages, especially in the Sahel, developed with the penetration of Islam. To a certain degree the style and usage tends to follow those of the Maghreb (for instance the position of the dots in the letters fāʼ and qāf). Additional diacritics have come into use to facilitate writing of sounds not represented in the Arabic language. The term Ajami, which comes from the Arabic root for "foreign", has been applied to Arabic-based orthographies of African languages.
The Arabic alphabet is currently used for:
In the 20th century, the Arabic script was generally replaced by the Latin alphabet in the Balkans, parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia, while in the Soviet Union, after a brief period of Latinization, use of the Cyrillic alphabet was mandated. Turkey changed to the Latin alphabet in 1928 as part of an internal Westernizing revolution. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many of the Turkic languages of the ex-USSR attempted to follow Turkey's lead and convert to a Turkish-style Latin alphabet. However, renewed use of the Arabic alphabet has occurred to a limited extent in Tajikistan, whose language's close resemblance to Persian allows direct use of publications from Iran.
Most languages of the Iranian languages family continue to use Arabic script, as well as the Indo-Aryan languages of Pakistan and of Muslim populations in India, but the Bengali language of Bangladesh is written in the Bengali alphabet.
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 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.
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 such as '<' as well as the location of vowel marks and possibly others.
All Arabic keyboards allow typing Roman characters, e.g. for 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.
When one wants 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.
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.