Arabic alphabet

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Use of the Arabic alphabet in the world
Arabic alphabet world distribution.
 →  Countries where the Arabic script is the only script used officially
 →  Countries where the Arabic script is used with other scripts.
Arabic abjad
Arabic Text.svg
Type Abjad
Spoken languages Arabic, Persian, Baloch, Urdu, Kurdish, Pashto, Sindhi, Malay and others.
Time period 400 CE to the present
Parent systems
Unicode range

U+0600 to U+06FF
U+0750 to U+077F
U+FB50 to U+FDFF

U+FE70 to U+FEFF
ISO 15924 Arab (#160)
Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.

The Arabic alphabet is an abjad that is used to write several languages of the Middle East; amongst others, the Arabic language. Persian, Pashto, and Urdu are examples of languages that use a writing system that is based on the Arabic one. They have changed it to better fit the needs of their own languages. The Arabic script is the third most widely used script in the world, after Latin and Chinese.

Overview[change | change source]

The script is written from right to left. When it is used to write the Arabic language, the script consists of 28 characters. In an abjad only consonants are written. Vowels are omitted most of the time. The Arabic script is a cursive script. This means that letters of a word are joined together, both in handwriting and in print. Each letter can have up to four different forms. Which of the forms is used depends on the letters before and after it. The form for uppercase letters and lowercase letters is the same.

There are two basic modern variants of the Arabic script. One is called Naskh, it is the one commonly used for printing. The most common script in everyday life is called Kufic, after the city Kufa, in Iraq, where it was developed. There are several variants of both scripts.

Writing numbers[change | change source]

The alphabet can also be used to write numbers. This was common in the Middle Ages. Today it can be found more rarely. Usually, Latin-alphabet (Arabic) numbers are used.

When the alphabet is used to write numbers, the letter ʼalif is 1, ب bāʼ is 2, ج ǧīm is 3, and so on until ي yāʼ = 10, ك kāf = 20, ل lām = 30, …, ر rāʼ = 200, …, غ ġayn = 1000. This is sometimes used to produce chronograms.

Sort order[change | change source]

For dictionaries, it is necessary to put the letters into a predefined sequence. This is usually called sort order, or collation. For the Arabic script, there are two sort orders: The one called abjid derives from the position of the letters in the Phoenician alphabet. The other, called hijā, sorts letters by similarity of shape.

History[change | change source]

As Islam spread throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia, the Arabic language spread along with it. Islam requires all its followers to learn Arabic because Islam states that Gabriel (Jibril) spoke the words of Allah to Muhammad in Arabic. The language is used for Muslim rituals such as prayer and the reciting of Quranic verses. As the language of Islam spread, the script the Quran is written in also spread. The Arabic alphabet replaced the Pahlavi writing systems as it conquered Persia.

Another alphabet, the Uighur alphabet,was based on the shapes of Arabic letters. However, the Uighur alphabet has vowel letters, unlike the abjad's optional vowel markings.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in WWI, use of the Arabic language, and especially the Arabic alphabet, became less acommon in the Muslim world. The Turkic states and other Muslim-majority states controlled by the Soviet Union did not favour Arabic script. In 1928, Turkey passed a law that banned the use of the Arabic alphabet for writing Turkish. Turkish is now written in the Latin alphabet.

Around the same time, the USSR created a Latin alphabet for the Central Asian states it occupied, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, to replace the Arabic alphabet. This decision was made to remove religious influence in Central Asia, and to modernize it. For a time, Soviet leaders believed the Latin alphabet was the "world alphabet" because it was the writing system of most developed countries. However, the USSR then required the Central Asian states to write only in Cyrillic, as Russian is. This was to influence local cultures to become more like that of Russia.[1]

Although the USSR fell, none of the Central Asian nations returned to using the Arabic alphabet. They either kept using Cyrillic, like Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, or adopted a new Latin alphabet, like Azerbaijan. Only Tajikistan is considering switching back to using the Arabic alphabet. Tajik was once a dialect of Persian.

In Southeast Asia, the nations of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Brunei, have adopted the Latin alphabet for Malay (which is called Rumi in Malay). The British and Dutch colonizations introduced the Latin alphabet. The Arabic alphabet (Jawi in Malay) is still used in Malaysia on a much smaller scale than Rumi. Brunei is the only Southeast Asian country where both the Latin and Arabic alphabets are co-official.

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]