Ugaritic alphabet

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22 alphabet.jpg
The Ugaritic Alphabet
Type abjad
Languages Ugaritic, Hurrian
Time period
from around 1400 BCE
ISO 15924 Ugar, 040
Direction Left-to-right
Unicode alias

The Ugaritic script is a cuneiform (wedge-shaped) abjad used from around either the fifteenth century BCE1 or 1300 BCE2 for Ugaritic, an extinct Northwest Semitic language, and discovered in Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra), Syria, in 1928. It has 30 letters. Other languages (particularly Hurrian) were occasionally written in the Ugaritic script in the area around Ugarit, although not elsewhere.

Clay tablets written in Ugaritic provide the earliest evidence of both the North Semitic and South Semitic orders of the alphabet, which gave rise to the alphabetic orders of Arabic (starting with the earliest order of its abjad), the reduced Hebrew, and more distantly the Greek and Latin alphabets on the one hand, and of the Ge'ez alphabet on the other. Arabic and Old South Arabian are the only other Semitic alphabets which have letters for all or almost all of the 29 commonly reconstructed proto-Semitic consonant phonemes. According to Dietrich and Loretz in Handbook of Ugaritic Studies (ed. Watson and Wyatt, 1999): "The language they [the 30 signs] represented could be described as an idiom which in terms of content seemed to be comparable to Canaanite texts, but from a phonological perspective, however, was more like Arabic."

The script was written from left to right. Although cuneiform and pressed into clay, its symbols were unrelated to those of the Akkadian cuneiform.


Ugaritic was an augmented abjad. In most syllables only consonants were written, including the /w/ and /j/ of diphthongs. However, Ugaritic was unusual among early abjads in also writing vowels after the glottal stop. It is thought that the letter for the syllable /ʔa/ originally represented the consonant /ʔ/, as aleph does in other Semitic abjads, and that it was later restricted to /ʔa/ with the addition, at the end of the alphabet, of /ʔi/ and /ʔu/.34

The final consonantal letter of the alphabet, s2, has a disputed origin along with both "appended" glottals, but "The patent similarity of form between the Ugaritic symbol transliterated [s2, and the s-character of the later Northwest Semitic script makes a common origin likely, but the reason for the addition of this sign to the Ugaritic alphabet is unclear (compare Segert 1983:201-218; Dietrich and Loretz 1988). In function, [s2 is like Ugaritic s, but only in certain words – other s-words are never written with [s2."5 Segert theorizes that is may have been syllabic /su/, which would explain why it is listed after /ʔi/ and /ʔu/.6

The only punctuation is a word divider.


dark green shows approximate spread of writing by 1300 BCE

At the time the Ugaritic script was in use (ca. 1300–1190 BCE),7 Ugarit was at the centre of the literate world, among Egypt, Anatolia, Cyprus, Crete, and Mesopotamia. Ugaritic combined the system of the Semitic abjad with cuneiform writing methods (pressing a stylus into clay). However, scholars have searched in vain for graphic prototypes of the Ugaritic letters in Mesopotamian cuneiform. Recently, some have suggested that Ugaritic represents some form of the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet,8 the letter forms distorted as an adaptation to writing on clay with a stylus. (There may also have been a degree of influence from the poorly understood Byblos syllabary.9) It has been proposed in this regard that the two basic shapes in cuneiform, a linear wedge, as in 𐎂, and a corner wedge, as in 𐎓, may correspond to lines and circles in the linear Semitic alphabets: the three Semitic letters with circles, preserved in the Greek Θ, O and Latin Q, are all made with corner wedges in Ugaritic: 𐎉 Tet, 𐎓 Ain, and 𐎖 Qopa. Other letters look similar as well: 𐎅 Ho resembles its assumed Greek cognate E, while 𐎆 Wo, 𐎔 Pu, and 𐎘 Thanna are similar to Greek Y, Π, and Σ turned on their sides.8 Jared Diamond10 believes the alphabet was consciously designed, citing as evidence the possibility that the letters with the fewest strokes may have been the most frequent.


Lists of Ugaritic letters (abecedaria, singular abecedarium) have been found in two alphabetic orders: the "Northern Semitic order" more similar to the one found in Arabic (earlier order), Hebrew and Phoenician, and more distantly, the Greek and Latin alphabets; and the "Southern Semitic order" more similar to the one found in the South Arabian, and the Ge'ez alphabets. The letters are given in transcription and in their Arabic and Hebrew cognates; letters missing from Hebrew are left blank.

North Semitic

ʾa b g d h w z y k š l m n s ʿ p q r ġ t ʾi ʾu s2
א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ש ת

South Semitic

h l m q w š r t s k n b ś p ʾ ʿ g d ġ z y
ה ל ח מ ק ו ר ת ס כ נ ב פ א ע ג ד ט ז י ש צ


Ugaritic alphabet
Ugaritic Letters11
Sign Trans. IPA Hebrew Arabic
𐎀 ʾa ʔa א أ
𐎁 b b ב ب
𐎂 g ɡ ג ج
𐎃 x خ
𐎄 d d ד د
𐎅 h h ה ه
𐎆 w w ו و
𐎇 z z ז ز
𐎈 ħ ח ح
𐎉 ט ط
𐎊 y j י ي
𐎋 k k כ ك
𐎌 š ʃ ش
𐎍 l l ל ل
𐎎 m m מ م
𐎏 ð ذ
𐎐 n n נ ن
𐎑 ð̴ ظ
𐎒 s s ס س
𐎓 ʿ  ʕ ע ع
𐎔 p p פ ف
𐎕 צ ص
𐎖 q q ק ق
𐎗 r r ר ر
𐎘 θ ש ث
𐎙 ġ ɣ غ
𐎚 t t ת ت
𐎛 ʾi ʔi ئ
𐎜 ʾu ʔu ؤ
𐎝 s2
𐎟 word divider


Ugaritic script was added to the Unicode Standard in April, 2003 with the release of version 4.0.

The Unicode block for Ugaritic is U+10380–U+1039F:

Ugaritic[1] chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1038x 𐎀 𐎁 𐎂 𐎃 𐎄 𐎅 𐎆 𐎇 𐎈 𐎉 𐎊 𐎋 𐎌 𐎍 𐎎 𐎏
U+1039x 𐎐 𐎑 𐎒 𐎓 𐎔 𐎕 𐎖 𐎗 𐎘 𐎙 𐎚 𐎛 𐎜 𐎝 𐎟
1.^ As of Unicode version 6.3

See also


  1. ^ A Primer on Ugaritic, William M. Schniedewind (pg 32)
  2. ^ Ugaritic, in The Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia
  3. ^ Florian Coulmas, 1991, The writing systems of the world
  4. ^ William Schniedewind, Joel Hunt, 2007. A primer on Ugaritic
  5. ^ Ugaritic, in The Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia
  6. ^ Stanislave Segert, "The Last Sign of the Ugaritic Alphabet" in Ugaritic-Forschugen 15 (1983): 201-218
  7. ^ Ugaritic, in The Ancient-Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia
  8. ^ a b Brian Colless, Cuneiform alphabet and picto-proto-alphabet
  9. ^ A Basic Grammar of the Ugaritic Language: With Selected Texts and Glossary, p. 19 by Stanislav Segert, 1985.
  10. ^ Writing Right | Senses | DISCOVER Magazine
  11. ^ Daniels, Peter T.; Bright, William, eds. (1996). "Epigraphic Semitic Scripts". The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press, Inc. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-19-507993-7. 

External links

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