Tag Archives: Near East

The Hebrew alphabet

Phoenician trade routes

The Phoenician cities were located where Israel, Lebanon and Syria are now. Their alphabet was adopted by the Greeks to the west and, on the eastern side of the Mediterranean, by Canaanites, Moabites, Arameans, Amonites and Hebrews. Through them the Phoenician alphabet evolved into the Hebrew alphabet.

There are similarities between the Phoenician alphabet and the Hebrew alphabet. Both have 22 letters; neither have vowels; the names of many letters are similar; aleph (A) and ayin (O) are glottal stops; you read both alphabets from right to left.

Phoenician, the corresponding Latin, and Hebrew letters. The Latin column shows A and O as ‘ to indicate glottal stops—they hadn’t become vowels yet.

It’s fascinating to see how the alphabet developed in the Near East and Middle East compared to the West. I drew you a chart with Phoenician, Latin (our alphabet), and Hebrew letters. My Hebrew letterforms are less-than-spectacular. If only there were someone I could call who is good at Hebrew calligraphy, but who? Who?

https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/alphabet/history-of-the-hebrew-alphabet.htm
https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4069287/jewish/The-Hebrew-Alphabet.htm
https://www.deadseascrolls.org.il/learn-about-the-scrolls/introduction?locale=en_US
https://ramatracheldig.wordpress.com/2008/08/12/120808-the-phoenician-alphabet/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Abjad

I’m going to pull a ‘Well, akshually’ and tell you the Phoenician alphabet isn’t quite an alphabet. It’s an abjad. An abjad has consonants but no vowels—no A, E, I, O, U or sometimes Y. You were expected to know how words are pronounced and supply the vowels yourself when you read something written in the Phoenician system.

The word ‘abjad’ comes from smooshing together the first four letters of the Arabic alphabet: alif, bā’, jīm, and dāl.

Pointless rambling for today: There’s a tv show from the 1970s set in the 1950s called Laverne & Shirley. They’re 2 working-class girls from Brooklyn, New York City and speak like Brooklyners. I saw a bit (I can’t find a clip, sorry) where one of the girls is talking about her friend ‘Sheldn’—she pronounces it just that way. It fits with her accent; that’s the way they tawk in Brookln. The punchline: his name really is Sheldn; the ‘o’ was accidentally left out on his birth certificate.

https://linguisticator.com/blog/19729/the-arabic-alphabet-what-is-an-abjad
https://www.lexico.com/definition/abjad
https://www.metmuseum.org/learn/educators/curriculum-resources/art-of-the-islamic-world/unit-two/origins-and-characteristics-of-the-arabic-alphabet
Wikipedia says the Arabic alphabet is the result of the Phoenician alphabet evolving in the Near East, where it took a few different turns from ours in the West. Scroll down to look at the chart.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Arabic_alphabet

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.