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Phoenician alphabet

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Phoenician alphabet 1

Phoenician alphabet
The Phoenician Alphabet

Type Abjad

Spoken Phoenician

Time period Began 1050 BC, and gradually died out during the Hellenistic period as its evolved forms replaced it

Parent systems Egyptian hieroglyphs

• Proto-Sinaitic
• Proto-Canaanite alphabet
• The Phoenician Alphabet

Child systems Paleo-Hebrew alphabet

Aramaic alphabet
Greek alphabet
Many hypothesized others

Sister systems South Arabian alphabet

Unicode range U+10900 to U+1091F

ISO 15924 Phnx

Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.

The Phoenician alphabet, called by convention the Proto-Canaanite alphabet for inscriptions older than around
1050 BC, was a non-pictographic consonantal alphabet, or abjad.[1] It was used for the writing of Phoenician, a
Northern Semitic language, used by the civilization of Phoenicia. It has been classified as an abjad because it records
only consonant sounds, with the addition of matres lectionis for some vowels. (One of its descendants, the Greek
alphabet, revamped some letters to more consistently represent vowels.)
Phoenician became one of the most widely used writing systems, spread by Phoenician merchants across the
Mediterranean world, where it was assimilated by many other cultures and evolved. Many modern writing systems
thought to have descended from Phoenician cover much of the world. The Aramaic alphabet, a modified form of
Phoenician, was the ancestor of the modern Arabic and Hebrew scripts. The Greek alphabet (and by extension its
descendants such as the Latin, the Cyrillic and the Coptic), was a direct successor of Phoenician, though certain letter
values were changed to represent vowels.

When the Phoenician alphabet was first uncovered in the 19th century, its origins were unknown. Scholars at first
believed that the script was a direct variation of Egyptian hieroglyphs.[2] This idea was especially popular due to the
recent decipherment of hieroglyphs. However, scholars could not find any link between the two writing systems.
Certain scholars hypothesized ties with Hieratic, Cuneiform, or even an independent creation, perhaps inspired by
some other writing system. The theories of independent creation ranged from the idea of a single man conceiving it
Phoenician alphabet 2

to the Hyksos people forming it from corrupt Egyptian.[3]

Parent scripts
With the discovery of the pictographic Proto-Sinaitic alphabet, scientists discovered the missing link between
Egyptian hieroglyphs and the Proto-Canaanite script. This discovery reinforced the earlier hypothesis of Phoenician's
Egyptian origin. The Proto-Sinaitic script was in use from ca. 1850 BC in the Sinai by Canaanite speakers. There are
sporadic attestations of very short Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions in Canaan in the late Middle and Late Bronze Age, but
the script was not widely used until the rise of new Semitic kingdoms in the 13th and 12th centuries BC. By
convention the new script of these kingdoms, which was abstracted and lost its pictographic character, is called
Proto-Canaanite until the mid 11th century, when it is first attested on inscribed bronze arrowheads, after which it is
called Phoenician.[4] The oldest known inscription that goes by the name of Phoenician is the Ahiram epitaph,
engraved on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram from circa 1200 BC.[5]

Spread of the alphabet and its social effects

The Phoenician adaptation of the alphabet was extremely successful, and variants were adapted around the
Mediterranean from ca. the 9th century, notably giving rise to the Greek, Old Italic, Anatolian and Paleohispanic
scripts. Its success was due in part to its phonetic nature; Phoenician was the first widely used script in which one
sound was represented by one symbol. This simple system contrasted the other scripts in use at the time, such as
Cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphs, which employed many complex characters and were difficult to learn.[6] This
one-to-one configuration also made it possible for Phoenician to be employed in multiple languages.
Another reason of its success was the maritime trading culture of Phoenician merchants, which spread the use of the
alphabet into parts of North Africa and Europe.[7] Phoenician inscriptions have been found in archaeological sites at
a number of former Phoenician cities and colonies around the Mediterranean, such as Byblos (in present-day
Lebanon) and Carthage in North Africa. Later finds indicate earlier use in Egypt.[8]
Phoenician had long-term effects on the social structures of the civilizations which came in contact with it. As
mentioned above, the script was the first widespread phonetic script. Its simplicity not only allowed it to be used in
multiple languages, but it also allowed the common population to learn how to write. This upset the long-standing
status of writing systems only being learnt and employed by members of the royal and religious groups of society,
who used writing as an instrument of power to control the access of information by the larger population.[9] The
appearance of Phoenician disintegrated many of these class divisions, although many Middle Eastern kingdoms
would continue to use cuneiform for legal and liturgical matters well into the common era.
As the letters were originally incised with a stylus, most shapes are angular and straight, although more cursive
versions are increasingly attested in later times, culminating in the Neo-Punic alphabet of Roman-era North Africa.
Phoenician was usually written from right to left, although there are some texts written in boustrophedon
(consecutive lines in alternating directions).

Letter names
Phoenician uses a system of acrophony to name letters. The names of the letters are essentially the same as in its
parental scripts, which are in turn derived from the word values of the original hieroglyph for each letter.[10] The
original word was translated from Egyptian into its equivalent form in the Semitic language, and then the initial
sound of the translated word become the letter's value.[11] However, some of the letter names were changed in
Phoenician from the Proto-Canaanite script. This includes:
• gaml "throwing stick" to gimel "camel"
• digg "fish" to dalet "door"
• hll "jubilation" to he "window"
Phoenician alphabet 3

• ziqq "manacle" to zayin "weapon"

• naḥš "snake" to nun "fish"
• piʾt "corner" to pe "mouth"
• šimš "sun" to šin "tooth"
The meanings given are of the letter names in Phoenician. The Phoenician letter names are not directly attested and
were reconstructed by Theodor Nöldeke in 1904.
The Phoenician letterforms shown here are idealized — actual Phoenician writing was cruder and more variable in
appearance. There were also significant variations in Phoenician letterforms by era and region.
When alphabetic writing began in Greece, the letterforms used were similar but not identical to the Phoenician ones
and vowels were added, because the Phoenician Alphabet did not contain any vowels. There were also distinct
variations of the writing system in different parts of Greece, primarily in how the Phoenician characters which did
not have an exact match to Greek sounds were employed. One of these local Greek alphabets evolved into the
standard Greek alphabet, and another into the Latin alphabet, which accounts for many of the differences between
the two. Occasionally, Phoenician used a short stroke or dot symbol as a word separator.[12]
The chart shows the graphical evolution of Phoenician letterforms into other alphabets. The sound values often
changed significantly, both during the initial creation of new alphabets, and due to pronunciation changes of
languages using the alphabets over time.

Letter UCS Name Meaning Ph. Corresponding letter in

He. Sy. Ar. Greek Latin Cyr. IPA

႐ ʼāleph ox (Hebrew: ‫ףולא‬‎) ʼ ‫א‬ ‫ܐ‬ ‫ﺍ‬ Αα Aa Аа a

႐ bēth house (Arabic: ‫تيب‬‎) (Hebrew: ‫תיב‬‎) b ‫ב‬ ‫ܒ‬ ‫ﺏ‬ Ββ Bb Бб, Вв b

႐ gīmel camel (Arabic: ‫لمج‬/‫ريعب‬‎) (Hebrew: ‫למג‬‎) g ‫ג‬ ‫ܓ‬ ‫ﺝ‬ Γγ Cc, Gg Гг ɡ

႐ dāleth door (Hebrew: ‫תלד‬‎) d ‫ד‬ ‫ܕ‬ ‫د‬, ‫ذ‬ Δδ Dd Дд d, ð

႐ hē window h ‫ה‬ ‫ܗ‬ ‫ـه‬ Εε Ee Ее, Єє e

႐ wāw hook (Hebrew: ‫וו‬‎) w ‫ו‬ ‫ܘ‬ ‫ﻭ‬ Υυ, (Ϝϝ) Yy, Ff, Vv, (Ѵѵ), Уу u, y
Uu, Ww

႐ zayin weapon (Hebrew: ‫ןיז ילכ‬‎) z ‫ז‬ ‫ܙ‬ ‫ﺯ‬ Ζζ Zz Зз z

႐ ḥēth wall (Arabic: ‫طيح‬‎) ḥ ‫ח‬ ‫ܚ‬ ‫ح‬, ‫خ‬ Ηη Hh Ии i

႐ ṭēth good ṭ ‫ט‬ ‫ܛ‬ ‫ط‬, ‫ ظ‬Θθ (Ѳѳ) f

႐ yōdh hand (Arabic: ‫دي‬‎) (Hebrew: ‫די‬‎) y ‫י‬ ‫ܝ‬ ‫ي‬ Ιι Ii, Jj Іі, Її, Јј i

႐ kaph palm (of a hand) (Arabic: ‫ّفك‬‎) (Hebrew: ‫ףכ‬‎) k ‫ךכ‬ ‫ܟ‬ ‫ﻙ‬ Κκ Kk Кк k

႐ lāmedh goad l ‫ל‬ ‫ܠ‬ ‫ﻝ‬ Λλ Ll Лл l

႐ mēm water (Arabic: ‫ءام‬‎ /maːʔ/) (Hebrew: ‫םימ‬‎ m ‫םמ‬ ‫ܡ‬ ‫ﻡ‬ Μμ Mm Мм m

႐ nun serpent n ‫ןנ‬ ‫ܢ‬ ‫ﻥ‬ Νν Nn Нн n

႐ sāmekh fish (Arabic: ‫ةكمس‬‎ /ˈsamaka/=fish) (Hebrew: s ‫ס‬ ‫ܣ‬/ ‫س‬ Ξξ, poss. poss. Xx (Ѯѯ), poss. ks, h
‫ךמש‬‎ /ˈʃemeχ/=Trout) ‫ܤ‬ Χχ Хх

႐ ʼayin eye (Arabic: ‫نيع‬‎) (Hebrew: ‫ןיע‬‎) ʼ ‫ע‬ ‫ܥ‬ ‫ع‬, ‫غ‬ Οο Oo Оо ɔ, o,

႑ pē mouth (Arabic: ‫مف‬‎) (Hebrew: ‫הפ‬‎) p ‫ףפ‬ ‫ܦ‬ ‫ﻑ‬ Ππ Pp Пп p

႑ ṣādē papyrus plant ṣ ‫ץצ‬ ‫ܨ‬ ‫ص‬, (Ϻϻ) Цц, Чч ts, ch

Phoenician alphabet 4

႑ qōph eye of a needle (Hebrew: ‫ףוק‬‎) q ‫ק‬ ‫ܩ‬ ‫ﻕ‬ (Ϙϙ) Qq (Ҁҁ) k, q

႑ rēš head (Arabic: ‫سْار‬‎) (Hebrew: ‫שאר‬‎) r ‫ר‬ ‫ܪ‬ ‫ﺭ‬ Ρρ Rr Рр r

႑ šin tooth (Arabic: ‫نس‬‎) (Hebrew: ‫ןש‬‎) š ‫ש‬ ‫ܫ‬ ‫ش‬ Σσς Ss Сс, Шш s, ʃ

႑ tāw mark (Hebrew: ‫ות‬‎) t ‫ת‬ ‫ܬ‬ ‫ت‬, ‫ ث‬Ττ Tt Тт t

The numerals
The Phoenician numeral system consisted of separate symbols for 1, 5, 10, 20, and 100. The sign for 1 was a simple
vertical stroke. Other numbers up to 9 were formed by adding the appropriate number of such strokes, arranged in
groups of three. The symbol for 10 was a horizontal line or tack. The sign for 20 could come in different glyph
variants, one of them being a combination of two 10-tacks, approximately Z-shaped. Larger multiples of ten were
formed by grouping the appropriate number of 20s and 10s. There existed several glyph variants for 100. The 100
symbol could be combined with a preceding numeral in a multiplicatory way, e.g. the combination of "4" and "100"
yielded 400.[13]

The Phoenician script was accepted for encoding in Unicode 5.0 in the range U+10900 to U+1091F. An alternative
proposal to handle it as a font variation of Hebrew was turned down. (See PDF [14] summary.) The letters are
encoded U+10900 ႐ aleph through to U+10915 ႑ taw, U+10916 ႑, U+10917 ႑, U+10918 ႑ and U+10919 ႑ encode
the numerals 1, 10, 20 and 100 respectively and U+1091F ႑ is the word separator.

Phoenician chart [15] (PDF)

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F

U+1090x ႐ ႐ ႐ ႐ ႐ ႐ ႐ ႐ ႐ ႐ ႐ ႐ ႐ ႐ ႐ ႐
U+1091x ႑ ႑ ႑ ႑ ႑ ႑ ႑ ႑ ႑ ႑ ႑
Phoenician alphabet 5

Derived alphabets

Middle Eastern descendents

The Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, used to write early Hebrew, was a regional offshoot of,
but was rooted in Phoenician; it is nearly identical to the Phoenician one. The
Samaritan alphabet, used by the Samaritans, is a direct descendant of the
Paleo-Hebrew alphabet.
The Aramaic alphabet, used to write Aramaic, is another descendant of Phoenician.
Aramaic being the lingua franca of the Middle East, it was widely adopted. It later
split off (due to power/political borders) into a number of related alphabets,
including the Hebrew alphabet, the Syriac alphabet, and the Nabataean alphabet.
Thus Phoenician was the origin of the Arabic alphabet which is the major alphabet
of the Arabic Middle East - from Iran, the Levant, and North Africa.

Derived European scripts

According to Herodotus,[16] Phoenician prince Cadmus was accredited with the
introduction of the Phoenician alphabet—phoinikeia grammata, "Phoenician
letters"—to the Greeks, who adapted it to form their Greek alphabet, which was
later introduced to the rest of Europe. Herodotus, who gives this account, estimates
that Cadmus lived sixteen hundred years before his time, or around 2000 BC.[17]
However, Herodotus' writings are not used as a standard source by contemporary
historians. The Greek alphabet is derived from the Phoenician alphabet.[18] The
phonology of Greek was very different from that of Phoenician: in particular it was
necessary to distinguish between different vowel sounds. For this reason the Greeks Each letter of Phoenician gave
adapted some of the signs of the Phoenician script that represented unused way to a new form in its daughter
consonants for vowels. For example ʼāleph, which designated a glottal stop in
Phoenician, was re-purposed to represent the vowel /a/.

The Cyrillic alphabet was derived from the Greek alphabet. Some Cyrillic letters are based on Glagolitic forms,
which were influenced by the Hebrew alphabet.
The Latin alphabet was derived from Old Italic (originally a form of the Greek alphabet), used for Etruscan and other
languages. The Runic alphabet also seems to have been derived from an early form of Old Italic alphabet, via the
Alpine scripts.[18]

Influence in India and Eastern Asia

Many historians believe that the Brahmi script and the subsequent Indic alphabets are derived from this script as
well, which would make it, and ultimately Egyptian, the ancestor of most writing systems in use today. This possibly
includes even hangul, which may have been influenced by Brahmic Phagspa. This would mean that of all the
national scripts in use in the world today, only the Chinese script and its derivatives have an independent origin.

See also
• Arabic alphabet
• Aramaic alphabet
• Hebrew alphabet
• Greek alphabet
Phoenician alphabet 6

• Paleo-Hebrew alphabet
• Tanakh at Qumran
• Tifinagh
• Old Turkic script

• Jean-Pierre Thiollet, Je m'appelle Byblos, H & D, Paris, 2005. ISBN 2 914 266 04 9
• Maria Eugenia Aubet, The Phoenicians and the West Second Edition, Cambridge University Press, London, 2001.
• Daniels, Peter T., et al. eds. The World's Writing Systems Oxford. (1996).
• Jensen, Hans, Sign, Symbol, and Script, G.P. Putman's Sons, New York, 1969.
• Coulmas, Florian, Writing Systems of the World, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford, 1989.
• Hock, Hans H. and Joseph, Brian D., Language History, Language Change, and Language Relationship, Mouton
de Gruyter, New York, 1996.
• Fischer, Steven R., A History of Writing, Reaktion Books, 2003.
• Markoe, Glenn E., Phoenicians. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22613-5 (2000) (hardback)

External links
• Ancient (Phoenician) [19]
• (Phoenician alphabet) [20]
• official Unicode standards document [15] for Phoenician (PDF file)

[1] Fischer, Steven Roger (2004). A history of writing. Reaktion Books. p. 90.
[2] Jensen (1969) p. 256.
[3] Jensen (1969) p. 256-258.
[4] Markoe (2000) p. 111
[5] Coulmas (1989) p. 141.
[6] Hock and Joseph (1996) p. 85.
[7] Daniels (1996) p. 94-95.
[8] Semitic script dated to 1800 BC (http:/ / www. nytimes. com/ library/ national/ science/ 111499sci-alphabet-origin. html)
[9] Fischer (2003) p. 68-69.
[10] Jensen (1969) p. 262.
[11] Jensen (1969) p. 262-263.
[12] http:/ / unicode. org/ charts/ PDF/ U10900. pdf
[13] Phoenician numerals in Unicode (http:/ / www. dkuug. dk/ jtc1/ sc2/ wg2/ docs/ n3284. pdf), Systèmes numéraux (http:/ / www. dma. ens.
fr/ culturemath/ histoire des maths/ htm/ Verdan/ Verdan. htm)
[14] http:/ / www. dkuug. dk/ jtc1/ sc2/ wg2/ docs/ n2746. pdf
[15] http:/ / www. unicode. org/ charts/ PDF/ U10900. pdf
[16] Herodotus, Histories, Book V, 58 (http:/ / www. perseus. tufts. edu/ cgi-bin/ ptext?doc=Perseus:text:1999. 01. 0126& layout=& loc=5. 58.
[17] Herodotus. Histories, Book II, 2.145 (http:/ / www. perseus. tufts. edu/ cgi-bin/ ptext?doc=Perseus:text:1999. 01.
0126;query=chapter=#367;layout=;loc=2. 144. 1)
[18] Humphrey, John William (2006). Ancient technology (http:/ / books. google. com/ books?id=b76EBrop0sEC& pg=PA86& dq=greek+
alphabet+ is+ derived+ from+ phoenician+ alphabet& as_brr=3& ei=ftXaSsH4LZGkzgTXr9GOBw#v=onepage& q=greek alphabet is derived
from phoenician alphabet& f=false) (illustrated ed.). Greenwood guides to historic events of the ancient world. Greenwood Publishing Group.
pp. 219. ISBN 0313327637, 9780313327636. . Retrieved 2009-10-18.
[19] http:/ / www. ancientscripts. com/ phoenician. html
[20] http:/ / www. omniglot. com/ writing/ phoenician. htm
Article Sources and Contributors 7

Article Sources and Contributors

Phoenician alphabet  Source:  Contributors: .:Ajvol:., 3rdAlcove, 4pq1injbok, Abdnr, Ace ETP, Aeonimitz, Alastair Haines, AltaredOne,
Angr, Anupam, Arab League, Ascribe, Atavi, Atelaes, Az1568, Basawala, Beit Or, Benbest, Blanchardb, BlingBling10, Bnwwf91, Bobertfishbone, Briangotts, CBMIBM, Cassowary,
Cedrus-Libani, ChazYork, Chimaeridae, Chinasaur, Chris, DOG41, DaGizza, Dan Pelleg, Dbachmann, Dejvid, Denelson83, DigammaS, Dinosaur puppy, Discospinster, Dmharvey, Dominus,
DopefishJustin, Dougweller, DrBob, Dreadstar, Drini, Drork, E. Underwood, EDG161, EamonnPKeane, Edgar181, Elie plus, Embryomystic, Epson291, Evertype, Everyking, Exerda, Ezra Wax,
F l a n k e r, F. Delpierre, Fabullus, FilipeS, Firebat08, Flamarande, Flyingbird, Fpga, Freakofnurture, Future Perfect at Sunrise, Gaia5074Q, Gaiacarra, Gary King, Garzo, George, Gigemag76,
Gilgamesh, Glenn, Gnomon, Grover cleveland, Guocuozuoduo, H92, Hadal, Haham hanuka, Hamaryns, Haza-w, Heirpixel, Heron, Hetar, Hippietrail, Humus sapiens, Hurt, I dream of horses,
Igorwindsor, Ikiroid, Indexheavy, Inge-Lyubov, It Is Me Here, Izzedine, Jevansen, Joey80, JonThackray, Josh Cherry, K.C. Tang, Karl Palmen, Karlbrezner, Kbh3rd, Ketiltrout, Khukri, Koavf,
Kwamikagami, Kyle Barbour, Latebird, LjL, Lockesdonkey, Lucky number 49, Macdonald-ross, Mahmudmasri, Mani1, Marhawkman, Mast3rlinkx, Max Naylor, Melchiord, Meursault2004,
Michael Hardy, Monsieur Voltaire, Mr.Slade, Mtyrone, Mustafaa, Mzajac, Naohiro19, Narge, Natalie Erin, Notpietru, Odysses, PaperTowns, Phil Boswell, Picus viridis, Piotrus, Pjacobi, Prari,
PuckSmith, PuzzletChung, Qwanqwa, Radon210, Raven in Orbit, Ridgwell 2002, Rob Hooft, Robertg9, Rocastelo, Rodak1, Ross Burgess, RoyBoy, Roylee, Runlaugr, Rursus, Saintp, Saperaud,
Sardanaphalus, Sarwicked, SaveThePoint, Shizhao, Sl, Smjg, Stevertigo, Storm Rider, StradivariusTV, Sumerophile, Svntnth, TEB728, TShilo12, Tautintanes, Thefamouseccles, Thryduulf,
Thumperward, Tobias Conradi, Tomaxer, Tyomitch, Udzu, Vanessa, Vincent Ramos, VirtualDelight, Wachowich, Wakantanka, Wakuran, Wandalstouring, Wedge3rd, Whoda, Wikinger,
XKV8R, Xumm1du, Yekrats, YoYoXehcimalYoWikiWikiWikiWhat, Yossarian, ZanderSchubert, Zhen Lin, ОйЛ, ‫دمحأ‬, 에멜무지로, 317 anonymous edits

Image Sources, Licenses and Contributors

Image:Phoenician alphabet.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Luca
Image:Phoenician aleph.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician beth.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician gimel.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician daleth.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician he.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician waw.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician zayin.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician heth.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician teth.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician yodh.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician kaph.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician lamedh.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician mem.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Bryan Derksen
Image:Phoenician nun.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician samekh.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician ayin.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician pe.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician sade.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician qoph.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician res.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician sin.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phoenician taw.svg  Source:  License: Public Domain  Contributors: User:Ch1902
Image:Phönizisch-5Sprachen.svg  Source:önizisch-5Sprachen.svg  License: Public Domain  Contributors: Zander Schubert. Original uploader
was ZanderSchubert at en.wikipedia

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