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The Arabic Abjad

Did you know the Arabic language has an “abjad” system and not an alphabet? The Arabic abjad is made up of 28 letters, written from right to left.

All of the letters are consonants, since the vowels in Arabic are denoted by diacritics.

Written Arabic uses an abjad instead of an alphabet. An abjad writing system is a form of writing in which each letter stands for a consonant and not a vowel. The vowels are indicated with vowel marks rather than a full letter.

The origins of Arabic letters can be traced to the writing of the semi-nomadic Nabataean tribes, who inhabited southern Syria and Jordan, Northern Arabia, and the Sinai Peninsula. Surviving stone inscriptions in the Nabataean script show strong similarities to the modern Arabic writing system.

At its core, Arabic developed through a predominantly oral and poetic tradition that flourished in the Arabian Peninsula before the emergence of Islam and a codified Arabic script.

The Arabic language is read and written from right to left! And the reason behind it is ancient: back to the time when people used to carve planks to write, they used the hammer with the right hand and the chisel with the left one, so it was way easier to carve from right to left.

Arabic is written entirely in the script, that is, a distinct connected format that English speakers might compare to cursive. This makes it one of the most visually distinctive written languages on the planet.

The Arabic script is widely used in art through calligraphy and it is now common to see more modern and contemporary Arabic art being produced; some of it uses a fusion of calligraphy and graffiti, known as 'calligraffiti'.

Artwork Majid Alyoussef


Arabic is considered as the highest form of Islamic art, and Arabic calligraphy is one of the most beautiful of all written languages and Arabic art forms.

Arabic is thought to be the language with the richest vocabulary. Just for us to get an idea of how rich Arabic lexicon is: the world lion has more than 300 synonyms and there are 50 ways to express the world love.

The Arabic alphabet consists of eighteen shapes that express twenty-eight phonetic sounds with the help of diacritical marks. The same letter shape can form a "b" sound when one dot is placed below (ب), a "t" sound when two dots are placed above (ت), or a "th" sound when three dots are added above (ث).

Arabic has sounds that don't exist in other languages There are many differences between Arabic and English, the most obvious one being that it is written from right to left. There are also a few sounds that don’t exist in other languages, such as 'ح' , which is a ‘h’ sound as in ‘hubb’ (love). To get an idea of how this is pronounced, imagine breathing on a window pane to create a mist.

Geometry holds significance in Arabic culture, reflecting in Arabic constructions and the language itself. Arabic letters are derived from geometric figures such as triangles, circles, or combinations of both.

The Arabic alphabet comprises 28 letters. However, only three of these are vowels. These three vowels have five different variations. This means the majority of the Arabic words just have consonants.

English has many words acquired either directly from Arabic or indirectly from Arabic words that have entered into Romance languages before passing into English. Examples include: racquet, alchemy, alcohol, algebra, algorithm, alkaline, (the article ‘al’ in Arabic denotes ‘the’), amber, arsenal, candy, coffee, cotton, ghoul, hazard, lemon, loofah, magazine, sherbet, sofa, tariff – and many more.

In case you’re wondering, “Does Arabic use capital letters?” the answer is no. Instead, quotation marks serve as a way to place emphasis on particular words.

In its written form, the Arabic language does not seem to use punctuation marks. Actually, punctuation marks are used. Albeit their position and orientation are different than what you are used to in English sentences. The Arabic comma, for example, faces the other direction (،). And it is placed on top of the line instead of below.

ʾalif, أَلِف Alif, being the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, is “the letter par excellence” from which all letters are derived. Its vertical, linear form is a perfect symbol of the unifying Principle of “as above, so below”.

Besides Arabic, more than 10 non-Arabic languages use the Arabic letters, including Persian, Urdu & Kurdish.

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