Ge'ez alphabet

Infobox Writing system
name=Ge'ez abugida
languages=Ethiopian Semitic languages (e.g. Ge'ez, Amharic, Tigrinya, Tigre, Harari, etc.), Blin, Me'en, formerly Oromo
time=5th-6th c. BC to the present (abjad until ca. 330 AD)
fam2=South Arabian

Ge'ez ( _ge. ግዕዝ "transl|sem|Gəʿəz"), also called "Ethiopic", is an abugida script that was originally developed to write Ge'ez, a Semitic language. In communities that use it, such as the Amharic and Tigrinya, the script is called "transl|sem|fidäl" ( _ge. ፊደል), which means "script" or "alphabet".

The Ge'ez script has been adapted to write other languages, mostly Semitic, such as Amharic in Ethiopia and Tigrinya in Eritrea and Ethiopia. It is also used for Sebatbeit, Me'en, and most other languages of Ethiopia. In Eritrea it is used for Tigre, and it has traditionally been used for Blin, a Cushitic language. Some other languages in the Horn of Africa, such as Oromo, used to be written using Ge'ez but have migrated to Latin-based orthographies.

* For the representation of sounds, this article uses a system that is common (though not universal) among linguists who work on Ethiopian Semitic languages. This differs somewhat from the conventions of the International Phonetic Alphabet. See the articles on the individual languages for information on the pronuncation.

History and origins

The earliest inscriptions of Ethio-Semitic in Ethiopia and Eritrea date to the 9th century BC in Epigraphic South Arabian (ESA), an alphabet shared with contemporary kingdoms in South Arabia. After the 7th and 6th centuries BC, however, variants of the script arose, evolving in the direction of the Ge'ez alphabet. This evolution can be seen most clearly in evidence from inscriptions (mainly graffiti on rocks and caves) in Agame district in northern Ethiopia and the former province of Akkele Guzay in Eritrea. [Rodolfo Fattovich, "Akkälä Guzay" in von Uhlig, Siegbert, ed. "Encylopaedia Aethiopica: A-C". Weissbaden: Otto Harrassowitz KG, 2003, p.169.] By the first centuries AD, what is called "Old Ethiopic" or the "Old Ge'ez alphabet" arose, an abjad written left-to-right (as opposed to boustrophedon like ESA) with letters basically identical to the first-order forms of the modern vocalized alphabet (e.g. "k" in the form of "kä"). There were also minor differences such as the letter "g" facing to the right, instead of to the left as in vocalized Ge'ez, and a shorter left leg of "l," as in ESA, instead of equally-long legs in vocalized Ge'ez (resembling the Greek letter lambda, somewhat). [Etienne Bernand, A.J. Drewes, and Roger Schneider, "Recueil des inscriptions de l'Ethiopie des périodes pré-axoumite et axoumite, tome I". Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. Paris: Boccard, 1991.] Vocalization of Ge'ez occurred in the fourth century, and though the first completely vocalized texts known are inscriptions by Ezana, vocalized letters predate him by some years, as an individual vocalized letter exists in a coin of his predecessor Wazeba.Grover Hudson, "Aspects of the history of Ethiopic writing" in "Bulletin of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies 25," pp. 1-12.] Stuart Munro-Hay. "Aksum: A Civilization of Late Antiquity." Edinburgh: University Press. 1991. ISBN 0-7486-0106-6] Roger Schneider has also pointed out (in an early '90s unpublished paper) anomalies in the known inscriptions of Ezana that imply that he was consciously employing an archaic style during his reign, indicating that vocalization could have occurred much earlier. As a result, some believe that the vocalization may have been adopted to preserve the pronunciation of Ge'ez texts due to the already moribund or extinct status of Ge'ez, and that, by that time, the common language of the people were already later Ethio-Semitic languages. At least one of Wazeba's coins from the late 3rd/early 4th century contains a vocalized letter, some 30 or so years before Ezana. [Stuart Munro-Hay, "PDFlink [ Aksum: An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity] ", p. 207 (pdf).] . Kobishchanov, Daniels, and others have suggested possible influence from the Brahmic family of alphabets in vocalization, as they are also abugidas (also known as "alphasyllabaries"), and Aksum was an important part of major trade routes involving India and the Greco-Roman world throughout the common era of antiquity. [Yuri M. Kobishchanov. "Axum" (Joseph W. Michels, editor; Lorraine T. Kapitanoff, translator). University Park, Pennsylvania: Penn State University Press, 1979. ISBN 0-271-00531-9] [Peter T. Daniels, William Bright, "The World's Writing Systems," Oxford University Press. Oxford: 1996.] .

According to the beliefs of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the original (consonantal) form of the Ge'ez "fidel" was divinely revealed to Henos "as an instrument for codifying the laws", and the present system of vocalisation is attributed to a team of Aksumite scholars led by none other than Frumentius ("Abba Selama"), the same missionary said to have converted King Ezana to Christianity in the 4th century AD [ [ Official Website of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church] ] .

Ge'ez has 26 basic consonant signs. Compared to the inventory of 29 consonants in the South Arabian alphabet, continuants of "ġ", "Unicode|ẓ" and the interdental fricatives (transl|sem|ḏ, ṯ) are missing, as well as South Arabian "s3" ). On the other hand, emphatic transl|sem|P̣ait ጰ, a Ge'ez innovation, is a modification of transl|sem|Ṣädai ጸ, while Pesa ፐ is based on Tawe ተ.

Thus, there are 24 correspondences of Ge'ez and the South Arabian alphabet:

Labiovelar letter variants

The symbols for the labialized velar consonants are variants of the non-labialized velar consonants:

Modifications for other languages

Additional letters

Some letters have variants for use in languages other than Ge'ez.


Ethiopic has been assigned Unicode 3.0 codepoints between U+1200 and U+137F (decimal 4608–4991), containing the basic syllable signs for Ge'ez, Amharic, and Tigrinya, punctuation and numerals. Additionally, in Unicode 4.1, there is the "Supplement" range from U+1380 to U+139F (decimal 4992–5023) containing syllables for Sebatbeit and tonal marks, and the "Extended" range between U+2D80 and U+2DDF (decimal 11648–11743) containing syllable signs needed for writing Sebatbeit, Me'en and Blin.

ee also



* Marcel Cohen, [ "La prononciation traditionnelle du Guèze (éthiopien classique)"] , in: "Journal asiatique" (1921) Sér. 11 / T. 18.
* Gabriella F. Scelta, [ "The Comparative Origin and Usage of the Ge’ez writing system of Ethiopia"] (2001)


External links

* []
* []
* [ Chart] correlating IPA values for Amharic to the Ge’ez syllabary symbols.
* Unicode specification
** [ Ethiopic]
** [ Ethiopic Supplement]
** [ Ethiopic Extended]
* [ Unicode assignments for Ethiopic characters]
** [ Ge'ez typewriting machine]

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