Ancient South Arabian script
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The Ancient South Arabian script (Old South Arabian 𐩣𐩯𐩬𐩵 ms3nd; modern Arabic: الْمُسْنَد musnad) branched from the Proto-Sinaitic script in about the 9th century BCE. It was used for writing the Old South Arabian languages Sabaic, Qatabanic, Hadramautic, Minaean, and Hasaitic, and the Ethiopic language Ge'ez in Dʿmt. The earliest inscriptions in the script date to the 9th century BCE in the Northern Red Sea Region, Eritrea. There are no letters for vowels, which are marked by matres lectionis.
|Ancient South Arabian script|
|Languages||Ge'ez, Old South Arabian|
|c. 9th century BCE to 7th century CE|
|Old South Arabian|
Its mature form was reached around 500 BCE, and its use continued until the 6th century CE, including Ancient North Arabian inscriptions in variants of the alphabet, when it was displaced by the Arabic alphabet. In Ethiopia and Eritrea it evolved later into the Ge'ez script, which, with added symbols throughout the centuries, has been used to write Amharic, Tigrinya and Tigre, as well as other languages (including various Semitic, Cushitic, and Nilo-Saharan languages).
- It is usually written from right to left but can also be written from left to right. When written from left to right the characters are flipped horizontally (see the photo).
- The spacing or separation between words is done with a vertical bar mark (|).
- Letters in words are not connected together.
- It does not implement any diacritical marks (dots, etc.), differing in this respect from the modern Arabic alphabet.
|Transcription||IPA||Corresponding letter in|
|𐩦||shin||s² (ś, š)||/ɬ/||𐤔||ሠ||ש||ﺵ||ܫ|
|𐩪||sat||s¹ (š, s)||/s/||ሰ||ﺱ|
|𐩯||samekh||s³ (s, ś)||/s̪/||𐤎||ס||س||ܤ|
Six signs are used for numbers:
The sign for 50 was evidently created by removing the lower triangle from the sign for 100. The sign for 1 doubles as a word separator. The other four signs double as both letters and numbers. Each of these four signs is the first letter of the name of the corresponding numeral.
An additional sign (𐩿) is used to bracket numbers, setting them apart from surrounding text. For example, 𐩿𐩭𐩽𐩽𐩿
These signs are used in an additive system similar to Roman numerals to represent any number (excluding zero). Two examples:
- 17 is written as 1 + 1 + 5 + 10: 𐩲𐩭𐩽𐩽
- 99 is written as 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 5 + 10 + 10 + 10 + 10 + 50: 𐩾𐩲𐩲𐩲𐩲𐩭𐩽𐩽𐩽𐩽
Thousands are written two different ways:
- Smaller values are written using just the 1000 sign. For example, 8,000 is written as 1000 × 8: 𐩱𐩱𐩱𐩱𐩱𐩱𐩱𐩱
- Larger values are written by promoting the signs for 10, 50, and 100 to 10,000, 50,000, and 100,000 respectively:
- 31,000 is written as 1000 + 10,000 × 3: 𐩲𐩲𐩲𐩱 (easily confused with 1,030)
- 40,000 is written as 10,000 × 4: 𐩲𐩲𐩲𐩲 (easily confused with 40)
- 253,000 is written as 2 × 100.000 + 50.000 + 3 × 1000: 𐩣𐩣𐩾𐩱𐩱𐩱 (easily confused with 3,250)
Perhaps because of ambiguity, numerals, at least in monumental inscriptions, are always clarified with the numbers written out in words.
Zabūr, also known as "South Arabian minuscules", is the name of the cursive form of the South Arabian script that was used by the Sabaeans in addition to their monumental script, or Musnad (see, e.g., Ryckmans, J., Müller, W. W., and ‛Abdallah, Yu., Textes du Yémen Antique inscrits sur bois. Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, 1994 (Publications de l'Institut Orientaliste de Louvain, 43)).
Zabur was a writing system in ancient Yemen along with Musnad. The difference between the two is that Musnad documented historical events, meanwhile Zabur writings were used for religious scripts or to record daily transactions among ancient Yemenis. Zabur writings could be found in palimpsest form written on papyri or palm-leaf stalks.
The South Arabian alphabet was added to the Unicode Standard in October, 2009 with the release of version 5.2.
The Unicode block, called Old South Arabian, is U+10A60–U+10A7F.
Note that U+10A7D OLD SOUTH ARABIAN NUMBER ONE (𐩽) represents both the numeral one and a word divider.
|Old South Arabian|
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
- Photos from National Museum of Yemen:
- Photos from Yemen Military Museum:
- Daniels, Peter T.; Bright, William, eds. (1996). The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press, Inc. pp. 89, 98, 569–570. ISBN 978-0195079937.
- Gragg, Gene (2004). "Ge'ez (Aksum)". In Woodard, Roger D. (ed.). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages. Cambridge University Press. p. 431. ISBN 0-521-56256-2.
- Fattovich, Rodolfo, "Akkälä Guzay" in Uhlig, Siegbert, ed. Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: A-C. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz KG, 2003, p. 169.
- Ibn Durayd, Ta‘līq min amāli ibn durayd, ed. al-Sanūsī, Muṣṭafā, Kuwait 1984, p. 227 (Arabic). The author purports that a poet from the Kinda tribe in Yemen who settled in Dūmat al-Ǧandal during the advent of Islam told of how another member of the Yemenite Kinda tribe who lived in that town taught the Arabic script to the Banū Qurayš in Mecca and that their use of the Arabic script for writing eventually took the place of musnad, or what was then the Sabaean script of the kingdom of Ḥimyar: "You have exchanged the musnad of the sons of Ḥimyar / which the kings of Ḥimyar were wont to write down in books."
- "Unicode Character Database: UnicodeData.txt". The Unicode Standard. Retrieved 2017-09-11.
- Maktari, Sultan; Mansour, Kamal (2008-01-28). "L2/08-044: Proposal to encode Old South Arabian Script" (PDF).
- Stein 2005.
- Jacques Ryckmans, Inscribed Old South Arabian sticks and palm-leaf stalks: An introduction and a paleographical approach, p. 127
- S. Horovitz, Koranische Untersuchungen, p. 70
- Stein, Peter (2005). "The Ancient South Arabian Minuscule Inscriptions on Wood: A New Genre of Pre-Islamic Epigraphy". Jaarbericht van het Vooraziatisch-Egyptisch Genootschap "Ex Oriente Lux". 39: 181–199. Cite has empty unknown parameter:
- Stein, Peter (2010). Die altsüdarabischen Minuskelinschriften auf Holzstäbchen aus der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek in München. Cite has empty unknown parameter:
- Beeston, A.F.L. (1962). "Arabian Sibilants". Journal of Semitic Studies. 7 (2): 222–233. doi:10.1093/jss/7.2.222. Cite has empty unknown parameter:
- Francaviglia Romeo, Vincenzo (2012). Il trono della regina di Saba, Artemide, Roma. pp. 149–155..