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History of the Arabic Letters

        The earliest-known alphabet to mankind was the North Semitic, which developed around 1700 B.C. in Palestine and Syria. It consisted of 22 consonant letters. The Arabic, Hebrew, and Phoenician alphabets were based on this model. Then, around 1000 B.C., the Phoenician alphabet was itself used as a model by the Greeks, who added letters for vowels. Greek in turn became the model for Etruscan (c. 800 B.C.), whence came the letters of the ancient Roman alphabet, and ultimately all Western alphabets.

    The North Arabic script, which eventually prevailed and became the Arabic script of the Quran, relates most substantially and directly to the Nabatian script, which was derived from the Aramaic script. Old Aramaic, the language of Jesus and the Apostles, dates from the 2nd millennium B.C., and some dialects of which are still spoken by tiny groups in the Middle East.
        Arabic script still shares with Aramaic the names of the alphabet letters (Alef, Jeem, Dal, Zai, Sheen, etc.); similar graphic representation for phonetically similar letters (Sad and Dad,   Ta and Tha, etc.); connections of letters in the same word and several forms of each letter depending on its location in the word, except for letters that cannot be connected to the letters which come after them (Alef, Dal, Raa, Waw). The Arabic alphabet contains 18 letter shapes, by adding one, two, or three dots to letters with similar phonetic characteristics a total of 28 letters is obtained. These contain three long vowels, while diacritics can be added to indicate short vowels.      

        With the spread of Islam, the Arabic alphabet was adapted by several non-Arab nations for writing their own languages. In Iran Arabic letters were used to write Farsi, with the addition of four letters to represent the phonetics that did not exist in Arabic: p, ch, zh, and g. The Ottoman Turks used the Arabic alphabet until 1929 and added still another letter. This alphabet was also used to write other Turkish languages and dialects, such as Kazakh, Uzbek, etc. Several other languages used the Arabic alphabet at one time or another, including Urdu, Malay, Swahili, Hausa, Algerian Tribal, and others1.
From its simple and primitive early examples of the 5th and 6th century A.D., the Arabic alphabet developed rapidly after the rise of Islam in the 7th century into a beautiful form of art. The main two families of calligraphic styles were the dry styles, called generally the Kufic, and the soft cursive styles, which include Naskhi, Thuluth, Nastaliq and many others.


The Arabic Letters
Learn how to write the Arabic scripts
Learn how to read the Arabic letters
History of the Arabic language
Learning Arabic on the Web

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