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Arabic is read from right to left. The method of composing it is upside down, and after the points are placed at the top of the letters it is turned in the composing stick.

Mr. Astle says, “The old Arabic characters are said to be of very high antiquity; for Ebn Hashem relates, that an inscription in it was found in Yaman, as old as the time of Joseph. These traditions may have given occasion to some authors to suppose the Arabians to have been the inventors of letters; and Sir Isaac Newton supposes, that Moses learned the alphabet from the Midianites, who were Arabians.

“The Arabian alphabet consists of twenty-eight letters, which are somewhat similar to the ancient Kufic, in which characters the first copies of the Alcoran were written.

“The present Arabic characters were formed by Ebn Moklah, a learned Arabian, who lived about 300 years after Mahomet. We learn from the Arabian writers themselves, that their alphabet is not ancient.”

Seven different styles of writing are used by the Arabs in the present day. Herbin has given descriptions and specimens of them in an Essay on Oriental Caligraphy at the end of his “Développemens des Principes de la Langue Arabe Moderne.”

The alphabets are copied, and the following observations are translated, from Baron De Sacy's Arabic Grammar, 2 vol. 8vo. Paris, 1831.

It was long thought that the written character which the Arabs most generally use at the present day, and which is called Neskhi, was invented only about the commencement of the 4th century of the Hegira; and, indeed, it appears that the Arabs, before this epoch, used another character which we call Cufic, or Coufic, from the town of Coufa, where, doubtlessly, it first was brought into use. This character has so great a resemblance to the ancient Syriac character called Estranghelo, that it is extremely probable that the Arabs borrowed it from the people of Syria.

Nevertheless, even the name of Coufic, given to this character, proves that it is not that which the Arabs of the Hedjaz made use of in the time of Mohammed, the town from which it takes its name having been founded only in A.H. 17. Some papyri lately discovered in Egypt have apprised us that the character which the Arabs of the Hedjaz made use of in the 1st century of the Hegira, differed little from that which is called neskhi. Moreover, in the time of Mohammed, writing was, among these Arabs, if we may believe their historic traditions, an invention very recent, and its use was very circumscribed. But it was otherwise, according to all appearances, among the Arabs, whether nomadic or settled, of Yemen, of Irak, and perhaps of Central Arabia; for, although we do not know the characters which the Arabs made use of in very ancient times, and the few traditions which Mussulman writers have handed down to us on this subject throw but very little light on this point of antiquity, it is scarcely possible to imagine that all the people of Arabia should have remained without a written character until the 6th century of the Christian era.

The Jewish and the Christian religions were widely diffused in Arabia; the Ethiopians, who professed the latter faith, had even conquered Yemen, and retained its possession for a long while: another part of Arabia had frequent political relations with Persia, and it is found at many times in a state of dependence, more or less immediate, on the kings of the Sassanian dynasty. Under these circumstances, can it be reasonably supposed that the Arabs were ignorant of the use of writing? Is it not more likely that what history tells us of their ignorance in this respect is true only of some tribes, of those, for example, who were settled at Mecca or in the neighbourhood of that town; and that the character which these received from Mesopotamia, a short time previous to Mohammed, having been employed to write the Kurán, soon spread over all Arabia with the Mohammedan religion, and caused the other more ancient sorts of writing to fall into desuetude?

It is true, no vestige of these characters remains, but if one may be permitted to hazard a conjecture, they did not materially differ from that ancient alphabet, common to a great many nations of the East, and of which the Phoenician and Palmyrenian monuments, as well as the ruins of Nakschia-Roustam and of Kirmanschah, and the coins of the Sassanides, have perpetuated the knowledge even to our own days. Perhaps another sort of writing, peculiar to Southern Arabia, was only a variety of the Ethiopic.

The Arabs of Africa have a character differing slightly from that made use of by the Arabs of Asia. I do not comprehend, among the Africans, the inhabitants of Egypt, for they use the same character as the Asiatics. For the sake of comparison I have shown the manner in which the Jews and Syrians employ their peculiar character when they are writing in the Arabic language.

I do not speak here of the character called talik (تعلیق) or nestalik (ستعلیق) because it is peculiar to the Persians. I may say as much of the different kinds of writing proper to the Turks or to the people of India, among whom the Mussulmans of Persia have introduced their characters with their language and religion.

Arabic Alphabet - The Neskhi Character.

Order of the Letters Names of the Letters unconnected Joined to the preceding Letter only Joined to the preceding and following Letter Joined to the following Letter only Powers of the Letters Numerical Value
1 Élif ا ا ا ا A. 1
2 Ba ب ب ـبـ ب B. 2
3 Ta ت ت ـتـ ت T. 400
4 Tsa ث ث ـثـ ث Ts. 500
5 Djim ج ج ـجـ جـ Dj. 3
6 Ha ح ح ـحـ حـ H. 8
7 Kha خ خ ـخـ خـ Kh. 600
8 Dal د د د د D. 4
9 Dzal ذ ذ ذ ذ Dz. 700
10 Ra ر ر ر ر R. 200
11 Za ز ز ز ز Z 7
12 Sin س س ـسـ س S, Ç. 60
13 Schin ش ش ـشـ ش Sch. 300
14 Sad ص ص ـصـ صـ S, Ç. 90
15 Dhad ض ض ـضـ ضـ Dh. 800
16 Tha ط ط ـطـ ط Th. 9
17 Dha ظ ظ ـظـ ظ Dh. 900
18 Aïn ع ـع ـعـ ع 'A. 70
19 Ghaïn غ ـغ ـغـ غ Gh. 1,000
20 Fa ف ـف ـفـ ف F. 80
21 Kaf ق ـق ـقـ ق K. 100
22 Caf ك ـك ـكـ ك C. 20
23 Lam ل ـل ـلـ ل L. 30
24 Mim م ـم ـمـ م M. 40
25 Noun ن ـن ـنـ ن N. 50
26 ه ـه ـهـ ه Hé. 5
27 Waw و ـو ـو و W. 6
28 Ya ي ـي ـيـ ي Y. 10
Lam-élif لا La.

(View this table as image: Arabic Alphabet)

Harmonical Alphabet, Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac

Arabic Hebrew Syriac
Élif ا Hélif Hebrew Hélif Syriac
Ba ب Ba Hebrew Ba Syriac
Ta ت Ta Hebrew Ta Syriac
Tsa ث Tsa Hebrew Tsa Syriac
Djim ج Djim Hebrew Djim Syriac
Ha ح Ha Hebrew Ha Syriac
Kha خ Kha Hebrew 1 Kha Hebrew 2 Kha Syriac Kha Syriac
Dal د Dal Hebrew Dal Syriac
Dzal ذ Dzal Hebrew Dzal Syriac
Ra ر Ra Hebrew Ra Syriac
Za ز Za Hebrew Za Syriac
Sin س Sin Hebrew Sin Syriac
Schin ش Schin Hebrew Schin Syriac
Sad ص Sad Hebrew 1 Sad Hebrew 2 Sad Syriac
Dhad ض Dhad Hebrew Dhad Syriac
Tha ط Tha Hebrew Tha Syriac
Dha ظ Dha Hebrew Dha Syriac 1 Dha Syriac 2
Aïn ع Aïn Hebrew Aïn Syriac
Ghaïn غ Ghaïn Hebrew Ghaïn Syriac 1 Ghaïn Syriac 2
Fa ف Fa Hebrew 1 Fa Hebrew 1 Fa Syriac
Kaf ق Kaf Hebrew Kaf Syriac
Caf ك Caf Hebrew 1 Caf Hebrew 2 Caf Syriac 1 Caf Syriac 2
Lam ل Lam Hebrew Lam Syriac
Mim م Mim Hebrew 1 Mim Hebrew 2 Mim Syriac
Noun ن Noun Hebrew 1 Noun Hebrew 2 Noun Syriac
ه Hé Hebrew Hé Syriac
Waw و Waw Hebrew Waw Syriac
Ya ي Ya Hebrew Ya Syriac

(View this table as image: Harmonical Alphabet)

Observations on the Alphabet.

The letters of the Arabic alphabet have not always been arranged in the order in which they are at the present day. The Arabs themselves have preserved the remembrance of a more ancient order, and the value which they give to the letters when they are employed as figures, confirms the existence of this order, which they term aboudjed, in like manner as we call the alphabet a be ce.

The twenty-two first letters of the Arabic alphabet, thus arranged, are the same, and follow the same order, as those of the Hebrews and Syrians. It is very probable that the Arabs, as well as the others, had only these twenty-two letters originally, and that the other six were added afterwards, though it is not possible to determine precisely the time at which this addition took place.

The lam-elif (لا) is not a character per se, but only a junction of the lam (ل) to the elif ( ا ).

The alphabet is divided into eight columns: the first contains the numbers which indicate the order of the letters; the second, the names of the letters; the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth show the different forms of which each letter is susceptible when it is, first, entirely isolated; second, joined only to that which precedes it; third, joined to that which precedes and also to that which follows it; and, fourth, joined only to that which follows it. There are several letters which are never joined to those which follow them: this causes the blanks in the fifth and sixth columns. It is as well, however, to observe, that when the د, the ذ, the ر, the ز, and the و, are found followed by ه, at the end of a word, they may be joined together.

Many letters differ from each other only by the absence or addition of one or more points. These points are called by the Arabs Name for diacritical marks; we call them diacritical points, a term derived from the Greek, signifying distinctive.

The elif ( ا ), when marked with the hamza (ء), is not a vowel. The sound may then be compared to the h not aspirated in the French words habit, histoire, homme, Hubert.
The elif, without the hamza, has no pronunciation of its own; it serves only to prolong the vowel a which precedes it; sometimes this vowel and the elif which follows, take a strong sound approaching to the French i.

The ب answers to B, and the ت to T. In Africa the pronunciation of ث is often given to the letter ت .

The ث answers to the English th, as in the word thing; and it cannot be rendered in French better than by the two letters TS,. The greater part of the Arabs make no distinction between the pronunciation of this letter and that of ت ; some indeed regard as vicious the pronunciation here indicated. The Persians and the Turks pronounce the ث as the French Ç I render it ordinarily by TH.

The ج represents a sound similar to that of the Italian g, when followed by an i, as in giardino, and may be expressed by the letters DJ. This pronunciation, which is most used, is that of the people of Arabia and Syria; but in Egypt, at Muscat, and perhaps in some other provinces, the ج is pronounced as g hard followed by an a or o, as in garrison, agony.

The ح indicates an aspiration stronger than that of the French h in the words heurter, héros, and similar to the manner in which the Florentines pronounce the c before a and o. At the end of words, this aspiration is still more difficult to imitate. For example, the word Louèh is pronounced as louèh.

The خ answers to the ch of the Germans when it is preceded by an a or an o, as in the words nacht, noch.

The د answers exactly to D.

The ذ represents a sound which is to that of د very nearly as the ث is to that of ت . It is expressed in French by the two letters DZ or DH. Most nations who speak the Arabic language make no difference between this letter and the preceding; they pronounce both as our D. Some others, as the Arabs of Muscat, pronounce the ذ as the French Z, and such is the usage of the Persians and Turks.

The ر answers exactly to R; and the ز to Z.

The س answers to the sound of S, when it is at the beginning of words. When this letter is found, in Arabic words, between two vowels, it may be rendered by Ç, that its pronunciation may not be confounded with that of Z, which takes the sound of S, in similar cases, in French words.

The sound of ش is exactly rendered by the French CH, (sj Dutch, sch German, sh English). Many French writers render it by the three letters SCH, in order that foreigners may not confound its pronunciation with that of خ, which is the custom I generally follow. From the manner in which the Arabs of Spain transcribed Spanish in Arabic characters, there is reason to believe that they pronounced the ش as an s strongly articulated, and the س as the Ç or z.

The ص answers to our s, but it ought to be pronounced a little more strongly than the س, or with a sort of emphasis. It appears that the pronunciation of the two letters has often been confounded, as may be seen in the marginal notes of some copies of the Kurán, in the books of fhe Druses, and in modern Egyptian manuscripts.

The ض answers to D pronounced more strongly than the French d, or with a sort of emphasis. The Persians and Turks pronounce it as the French z, other nations, as DS. In rendering Arabic names into French, in order to express the ض, the two letters DH ought to be used.

The ط answers to the T articulated strongly and emphatically. If a person should wish, in writing in French, to distinguish it from ت it may be rendered by TH.

The ظ differs in no respect, in pronunciation, from ض, and they may be rendered in the same manner. These two letters are very often confounded in manuscripts. It ought to be observed, however, that in Egypt the ظ is often pronounced as a z, emphatically.

The peculiar pronunciation of ع cannot be expressed by any of the letters used among the nations of Europe. The manner in which the Piedmontese pronounce the ñ appears to me to approach something to the sound of ع . Examples: cañ chien, boñ bon, boña bonne.

The غ represents a sound which partakes of both r and g. Some writers have rendered this letter by rh, others by rg, and others by gh; but as the sound of the r ought to be almost imperceptible, I have thought it better to employ, in rendering the غ , the G alone or the two letters GH.

The ف answers exactly to F.

The ق indicates a sound very nearly like that of the French K, but it ought to be formed in the throat, and it is very difficult to imitate it well. Many Arabs, those of Muscat, for example, confound the pronunciation of this letter with that of غ,and this pronunciation is common in the states of Marocco. In a great part of Egypt, the ق is only a strong and quick aspiration, and it appears that this sound, very difficult to imitate, was the distinctive characteristic of the Arabs descended from Modhar.

The ك also answers to K, but it is not pronounced from the throat as the preceding letter. The Turks and many of the Arabs give it a softened pronunciation, analogous to that of q in the French words queue, qui; and it may be rendered by putting an i after k. Some Arabs pronounce the ك and the ق as an Italian c before i, as in the word cio, a sound expressed in French by the letters TCH.

The ل is perfectly rendered by L, and the م by M.

The ن is susceptible, according to the Arab grammarians, of many pronunciations. When it is followed by a vowel, it is pronounced always as N in the French word navire, but when it is followed immediately by another consonant the pronunciation varies.

The و is pronounced as OU in French, in the words oui, ouate. It can also be rendered by w pronounced in the manner of the English. The Turks and Persians pronounce it as the French v.

The ه represents only a very light and often insensible aspiration, as the h in the French words la Hollande, la Hongrie, or it indicates only a simple hiatus.

The ي ought to be pronounced as a Y consonant, as in the English word yacht. The Germans render it by j, as in the words bejahen, jagd.

The لا finds a place in the alphabet only because the two letters ل and ا of which it is composed, take, in their junction, a form which sometimes renders them unrecognizable.

The Vowels

The Arabs have only three signs to indicate all the sounds. The first, named fatha, is formed like an acute accent, and is placed above the consonant with which it forms an articulate sound, as, Cataba cataba. The sound expressed by the fatha answers sometimes to the French a more or less open, sometimes to è or ai, as in the words succès, faire.

The second is called kesra. It is formed similar to the preceding, but is placed beneath the consonant with which it forms an articulate sound, as in the word Nimri nimri. The sound of the kesra answers sometimes to the French i, sometimes to é.

The third, called dhamma, has very nearly the form of our figure 9, sometimes it resembles our (,), and is always placed above the consonant with which it forms an articulate sound, as, Coullou coullou. The sound of dhamma answers sometimes to the French o, sometimes to ou or eu.

The letters و , ا, and ي often serve only to prolong the sound of the vowel which precedes them.

Besides the three vowel signs before spoken of, the Arabs have three other signs to which they give the name of tenwin, which indicates that the vowel ought to be followed with the articulation of a ن . Our grammarians call them nunnations; I shall call them nasal vowels. These nasal vowels are only placed at the end of words, and they serve to form some grammatical inflexions. Their signs are nothing but the figure of the analogous vowel redoubled; as, for example Bâbon bâbon, Bâbin bâbin, Bâban bâban. These examples show at the same time the form of the three nasal vowels and their pronunciation. The nasal vowel an ought always to be followed by an ا, as Yauman yauman, except when it is found over a an, as in Hicmètan hicmètan, or followed by a ي mute, as Final mute ya or placed over a hamza, as An over hamza: in the last case the elif is often preserved after the tenwin, and it is written elif after a tenwin.

The ن contained in these nasal vowels, in pronunciation, is subject to the same variations as the ن consonant, and these variations are indicated in the same manner.

In a great number of Coufic manuscripts the three vowels are indicated by a very large point, painted ordinarily in red. Placed above the letter it indicates the fatha; placed below, it indicates the kesra, and placed in the body of the letter or at the end, or in a line with the writing, it indicates the dhamma. In order to indicate the nasal vowels, this point is doubled.

In African manuscripts the fatha and the kesra, instead of being inclined as our acute accent, are placed horizontally above or below the consonant to which they belong.

Of Orthographical Signs

The djesma is so called, because it separates the artificial syllable at the end of which it is found, from the syllable succeeding. Its name signifies separation. It is placed above the letter, and is formed thus (Djesma), as in the word ok-od ok-od.

The djesma may be considered as the sign of a very short vowel; it answers to the quiescent sheva of Hebrew grammarians, and also to their other short vowels, such as hatèf-patah, hatèf-ségol, &c., and to the sixth vowel of the Ethiopic alphabet.

When a consonant ought to be doubled in pronunciation, without the interposition of a written vowel, the Arabs do not double the figure of the letter, but they employ a sign named teschdid, formed thus (Teschdid). This mark is placed above the letter which ought to be doubled. Among the Arabs of Africa it is generally formed thus (v),or thus (^), and is placed above or below the letter, as the vowel which accompanies it. The figure of the teschdid is a little ش, abbreviated from the word Strong strong, or of the word strength strength, which is the name that the Africans give it.

Every ا which is moved by a vowel, or which is moveable by nature, although it may become djesmaed by certain grammatical rules, is marked by a sign named hamza. This sign is formed thus (ء). The hamza or elif hamzaed is a real articulation, of which the value has been indicated already, and differs essentially from the elif not hamzaed which IS never moved by any vowel, and only enters into words as a letter of prolongation or as a mute letter. If the elif is moved by a Usra, the hamza is placed below the letter, and the kesra below the hamza, as, //kesra// below the //hamza// .

A word which commences by a ا hamzaed ought often to be joined to the word which precedes it; and this union is indicated by a sign named wesla, that is, junction; it is formed thus (Wesla), and is placed above the elif. When this union takes place, the elif is always followed by a letter djesmaed, and then it is pronounced as a compound syllable, with the last one of the preceding word.

When the elif of prolongation is followed immediately by an ا mute, instead of the last of these two ا, the hamza only is written with its corresponding vowel, and over the ا of prolongation is placed a sign which is formed thus (Wedda), and which is called medda or matta, that is, prolongation.

The same sign is placed also over the letters, when they are employed as figures, or as abbreviations instead of entire words.

Of Punctuation and Abbreviations

The Arabs generally do not employ any mark to indicate the pauses, whether at the end of a period, or in the course of the sentence. They only indicate the end of a subject, either by a red point, or by one of these marks Djesma, end of subject mark, end of subject mark 2, or by writing in red the word which commences a new article, or by prolonging one of the letters of the first word, as Prolonged letter These difierent methods of indicating the commencement of a new article answer to our fresh paragraphs (alinéa).

If, in common manuscripts, no mark of punctuation is made use of, these signs, on the contrary, are multiplied in manuscripts of the Kurán, The end of each verse is there indicated by the figure end of subject mark; after each tenth verse, another sign is employed, which resembles the ن isolated, but entirely closed. These two signs mark rather the division of verses, founded in general upon the rhyme, than serve to distinguish the places where the reader ought to pause, in order to render more intelligible the sense of his discourse.

The true signs of punctuation are the little letters written in red ink in the superior interlineation. The Punctuation pause indicates a pause, necessary to avoid ambiguity: it is abridged from the word Necessary necessary. The ط, contracted from the word Universal, that is, universal, shows a pause universally received by the readers of the Kurán. The ج, contracted from the word Permitted permitted, shows a pause left to the will of the reader. The ز, contracted from the word Allowed allowed, indicates a pause permitted, but not becoming. The ص, contracted from the word Admissible admissible, marks a slight pause granted only from necessity, in order that the reader may draw breath.

When the sense requires that there should be no pause at the end of a verse, it is indicated by the word Not not, written above the last word of the verse, and of which the meaning is No pause there is no pause here. The ق, contracted from the word they say they say, marks a contested pause. Lastly the letters Slight pause, which represent the words Slight pause 2 are the sign of an extremely slight pause.

Among the great number of marks of punctuation peculiar to the Kurán, the most necessary and the most used are the ط, the ج, and the word Not.

Abbreviations are sometimes indicated by a figure similar to a medda, and often they are marked by no particular sign.

Of Figures or Signs of Numeration

The eighth column of the alphabet shows the value which the Arabs attach to their letters when they are employed as signs of numeration. Of these letters, which are twenty-eight in number, nine indicate the units, nine the tens, nine the hundreds, and one the number 1000. The order according to which these letters are placed, when considered as numerical signs, is that of the aboudjed.

The last six letters being, as there is every reason to believe, of, a much later invention than the rest of the alphabet, it is probable that the Arabs, before they made use of these letters, indicated the hundreds from 400 to 900 inclusive, in the same manner as the Hebrews, whose alphabet consists only of twenty-two letters. If they wished to express, for example, the number 600, they would join together the ت, which is equivalent to 400, and the ر, which is equivalent to 200. In order to express 900, they would join two ت equal together to 800, to ق equal to 100.
The letters employed as figures follow the same direction as the writing, from right to left, as, 132 132, 1053 1053.

174. It is unnecessary to observe that in this system of numeration there is no figure which answers to our cipher (0); it is absolutely useless, as the value of each figure does not depend on its position in relation to those which precede or follow it.

175. The aboudjed of the Africans differing in some degree from that of the Asiatics, there is also some difference in the value which they attach to certain letters as signs of numeration. This difference consists in that among them the ص is equal to 60, the ض to 90, the س to 300, the ظ to 800, the غ to 900, and the ش to 1000.

176. The Arabs have also another mode of numeration, from which is derived those figures which we call Arabic; they call it the Indian cipher Indian cipher. It is composed of the ten figures following:

۱ ۲ ۳ ۴ ٥ ٦ ٧ ٨ ٩ ۰
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0

The 5 is often formed thus B, and the 0 like our own. When the Arabs make use of this cipher, they follow a direction quite contrary to that of their writing, and proceed from left to right. This singularity is sufficient to prove that this cipher is not originally Arabic.

Arabic in the British Foundries

Great Primer. Thorowgood and Besley. Walton's Polyglot, 1657. This letter was in Grover's foundry, and afterwards in James's.

Thorowgood and Besley. Another Great Primer, cut from drawings made by Dr. Wilkins.

English. Caslon. These were the first punches cut by William Caslon for types. They were cut in 1720 for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Thorowgood and Besley. This character was cut by the late Dr. Fry, under the directions of Dr. Wilkins, librarian to the East India. Company, and is considered the most perfect fount at present in Europe.

Thorowgood and Besley. Another English from the punches cut for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Oxford University.
Watts. Cut under the immediate directions of Professor Lee.

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