Structure of the Arabic alphabet
Structure of the Arabic alphabet
The Arabic alphabet is written from right to left and is composed of 28 basic letters. Adaptations of the script for other languages such as Persian and Urdu have additional letters. There is no difference between written and printed letters; the writing is unicase (i.e. the concept of upper and lower case letters does not exist). On the other hand, most of the letters are attached to one another, even when printed, and their appearance changes as a function of whether they connect to preceding or following letters. Some combinations of letters form special ligatures. For example, let us take the Arabic following words to examine the way the letters attach to one another: SabáH (Morning) صباح. The Arabic letters (‘l-Hurúf-’l-ârabiyia الحروف العربية) in this word are: S ص + b ب + á ا + H ح. In the word SabáH the letters ص + ب + ا + ح attach to one another forming the word صباح . When ص attaches to ب it loses the tail, and when ب attaches to ا it loses part of the letter, but ا does not attach to the following so that ح stands alone. There are six letters which are never tied to the following letter, even within a word: و ر ز د ذ ا.
The Arabic alphabet is an “impure” abjad – since short vowels are not written, though long ones are – so the reader must know the language in order to restore the vowels. However, in editions of the Qur’an or in didactic works a vocalization notation in the form of diacritic marks is used. Moreover, in vocalized texts, there is a series of other diacritics of which the most modern are an indication of vowel omission (sukūn) and the lengthening of consonants (shadda).
The names of Arabic letters can be thought of as abstractions of an older version where the names of the letters signified meaningful words in the Proto-Semitic language.
There are two orders for Arabic letters in the alphabet, the original Abjadī أبجدي order matches the ordering of letters in all alphabets derived from the Phoenician alphabet, including the English ABC. The other order featured in the table below is the Hejā’ī هجائي order where letters are grouped according to their shape proximity to each adjacent letters’ shapes.
أ ب ج د ﻫ و ز ح ط ي ك ل م ن س ع ف ص ق ر ش ت ث خ ذ ض ظ غ
The Abjadī order was used before the letters were rearranged and grouped according to their graphic shapes. The most common sequence and vocalization goes as follows:
abjad hawwaz HuTTi kalaman sa’faS qarashat thakhadh DaZagh.
Two other sequences are:
abujadin hawazin HuTiya kalman sa’faS qurishat thakhudh DaZugh
abujadin hawazin HuTiya kalman Sa’faD qurisat thakhudh Zaghush
(As used here, the capital letters represent the ‘guttural’ consonants, and the digraphs sh, th, kh, dh and gh represent single letters. The final ‘in’ represents tanwīn, a feature of Arabic grammar.) Differences emerge starting at the fifteenth letter. Any of these three ‘alphabetical orders’ can be used for purposes of numerals or the branch of numerology called isopsephy.
Presentation of the alphabet
The following table provides all of the Unicode characters for Arabic, and none of the supplementary letters used for other languages. Current browser technology still has not caught up, so some of forms may not display correctly. The table also shows some of the many Latin-alphabet characters that have been used. There are at least half a dozen standards for transliterating Arabic characters. Multiple methods have proliferated due to various conflicting goals.
To complicate the entire question still further, there are regional differences in the way Arabic speakers pronounce the various letters, even when speaking the standard, literary language (FuSHá). This chart only attempts to set forth the “standard” pronunciation as taught in universities.