Phoenician alphabet

From Academic Kids

Template:Alphabet The Phoenician alphabet dates from around 1000 BC and is derived from the Proto-Canaanite alphabet. It was used by the Phoenicians to write Phoenician, a Northern Semitic language. Modern alphabets thought to have descended from the Phoenician include Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, and Latin (the last via the Old Italic alphabet). Like Proto-Canaanite, Arabic and Hebrew, Phoenician is a consonantal alphabet (an abjad), and contains no symbols for vowel sounds, which had to be deduced from context.

Phoenician inscriptions have been found in archaeological sites at a number of former Phoenician cities and colonies around the Mediterranean, such as Byblos (in present-day Lebanon) and Carthage in North Africa.


The Alphabet

The original Proto-Sinatic letters had been pictograms, though some of the name meanings had changed by the time of Phoenician. For example, the character gimel may have originally been the image of a throwing stick. In the chart below:

  • The meanings given are of the letter names in Phoenician.
  • As the letters were originally carved into stone, most are square and straight, like characters from the runic alphabet, although more cursive versions are increasingly attested in later times, culminating in the Neo-Punic alphabet of Roman-era North Africa.
  • Phoenician was usually written from right to left, although there are some texts written in boustrophedon (consecutive lines in alternate directions – literally, as the ox turns, a reference to the way an ox turns at the end ploughing a furrow and carries on the next furrow in the opposite direction).
  • Various letters have alternative representations: e.g. the taw can be written more like a '+' than like a 'x', the heth can have two cross bars.
  • The Greek letters given in brackets are archaic and may not render in some fonts (see Greek alphabet for details).
  • The Latin letter X derives from a western Greek pronunciation of chi, and not directly from the samekh-inspired letter xi. However chi itself is probably a secondary derivation of Phoenician samekh.

Letter Name Meaning Transliteration Corresponding letter in
Hebrew Arabic Greek Latin
Missing image

[[Aleph (letter)|]] ox Template:Unicode א Αα Aa
Beth bēth house b ב Ββ Bb
Gimel gīmel camel g ג Γγ Cc, Gg
Daleth dāleth door d ד Δδ Dd
He window h ה Εε Ee
Missing image

wāw hook w ו (Ϝ ϝ), Υυ Ff, Uu, Vv, Ww, Yy
Zayin zayin weapon z ז Ζζ Zz
Heth [[Heth (letter)|]] fence Template:Unicode ח Ηη Hh
Teth [[Teth|]] wheel Template:Unicode ט Θθ
Yodh yōdh arm y י Ιι Ii, Jj
Kaph kaph palm k כ Κκ Kk
Lamedh lāmedh goad l ל Λλ Ll
Mem mēm water m מ Μμ Mm
Nun nun fish n נ Νν Nn
Missing image

sāmekh fish s ס Ξξ, Χχ Xx
Ayin [[Ayin|]] eye Template:Unicode ע Οο Oo
Pe mouth p פ Ππ Pp
Sade [[Tsade|]] papyrus plant Template:Unicode צ (Ϻϻ)
Missing image

qōph monkey q ק (Ϙϙ) Qq
Res head r ר Ρρ Rr
Sin in tooth ש Σσ Ss
Taw tāw mark t ת Ττ Tt


The Phoenician script has been accepted for encoding in Unicode in the range U+10900 to U+1091F. An alternative proposal to handle it as a font variation of Hebrew was turned down. (See PDF ( summary.)

Derived alphabets

The Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, used to write early Hebrew, is nearly identical to the Phoenician one. The Samaritan alphabet, used by the Samaritans, is a version of the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet.

The Aramaic alphabet, used to write Aramaic, is another descendant. Aramaic being the lingua franca of the Middle East, it was widely adopted. It later split off into a number of related alphabets, including the modern Hebrew alphabet, the Syriac alphabet, and the Nabatean alphabet, a highly cursive form that was the origin of the Arabic alphabet.

The Greek alphabet is thought to have developed either directly from the Phoenician alphabet, or to share a common parent in Proto-Canaanite. The Greeks kept most of the sounds of the symbols, but used some letters which represented sounds that did not exist in Greek to represent vowels. This was particularly important as Greek, an Indo-European language, is much less consonant-dominated than most Semitic languages.

From the Greek alphabet, the Latin and the Cyrillic alphabet have been derived. Also, the old runes were likely derived from an early form of the Latin alphabet.

Many historians believe that the Brahmi script and the subsequent Indic alphabets are derived from this script as well, which would make it the ancestor of almost all major writing systems in use today, with the exception of the Chinese script and its derivatives.

External links

da:Fnikisk alfabet de:Phnizisches Alphabet als:Phnizisches Alphabet fa:خط فنیقی fr:Alphabet phnicien gl:Alfabeto fenicio hr:Feničko pismo id:Huruf Fenisia he:אלפבית פיניקי nl:Fenicisch alfabet ja:フェニキア文字 ru:Финикийская письменность fi:Foinikialainen kirjaimisto sv:Feniciska alfabetet zh:腓尼基字母


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