Consonant writing

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A consonant writing is a writing system in which only or primarily characters are used for consonants . The term Abdschad (or Abjad ) is also used in technical language .


Consonant scripts are mainly used in languages ​​whose basic structure can dispense with the designation of vowels without causing too great comprehension difficulties or ambiguities. This is especially the case in the Semitic languages , whose consonant-based morphology and lexicons led to the development of almost pure consonant scripts.


Since an essay by Peter T. Daniels from 1990, the term Abdschad (or Abjad ) has also become common for consonant alphabets or consonant scripts . The expression is formed analogously to the alphabet . It comes fromابجد abdschad , DMG abǧad , the Arabic pronunciation of the first four letters of the old Northwest Semitic alphabets ( Ugaritic , Phoenician , Aramaic etc.) and originally also of the Arabic alphabet .

Abjad also refers to the Abdschad number system , the use of the letters of the Arabic alphabet to write numbers. The additional use to designate a writing system has not remained without criticism. “Abdschad” as opposed to “alphabet” could also be misunderstood to the effect that consonant alphabets are deficient because they lack vowel symbols. However, taking into account the structure of the Semitic languages ​​and the reading traditions in the (northern) Semitic languages ​​of the 1st millennium BC, this is BC clearly not the case.


The so-called consonant scripts probably developed from those Egyptian hieroglyphs , which each denoted only one syllable that contained a single consonant . The beginnings of consonant writing go back to the first half of the second millennium BC. The Protosinaitic script and the Wadi-el-Hol script are the oldest surviving examples of consonant scripts.

All known consonant alphabets belong to the family of the Semitic writing systems. When these scripts were later adapted for writing non-Semitic scripts, the vowels were added, whereby - according to Daniels' terminology - the Abdschad became the alphabet. The best known example is the development of the Greek alphabet from the Phoenician alphabet . In fact, for example, the Arabic script is also used alphabetically for Urdu , so that consonantic can only be a property of a language-dependent writing system and should not be related to the script itself.


It is characteristic of consonant scripts that only consonants are represented. However, the tradition developed early on to denote long vowels, which had emerged from diphthongs (vowel double sounds), by the respective underlying so-called semi - consonants . So-called laryngals (from the larynx "throat"), which later disappeared, were used to designate long vowels; likewise the consonant H, especially at the end of a word.

Recognizing the correct pronunciation of words written in a consonant script can be difficult or even impossible when there are multiple ways to add the vowels. In order to resolve such ambiguities if necessary or to support learners, Hebrew and Arabic texts can be vocalized using diacritical marks (see Tashkil ).

This abbreviation is also used in shorthand - especially in the highest level, speech .


See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Consonant writing  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. Peter T. Daniels: Fundamentals of Grammatology . In: Journal of the American Oriental Society 110 (1990), pp. 727-731.
  2. See Peter T. Daniels, William Bright (Ed.): The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press, New York NY et al. 1996, ISBN 0-19-507993-0 .
  3. Florian Coulmas : Writing Systems. An Introduction to their Linguistic Analysis . Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2003.
  4. Reinhard G. Lehmann : 27-30-22-26. How Many Letters Needs an Alphabet? The Case of Semitic . In: Alex de Voogt, Joachim Friedrich Quack (Eds.): The idea of ​​writing: Writing across borders . Leiden: Brill 2012, pp. 11–52, especially pp. 22–27.