Syriac Latin alphabet
The Syriac Latin alphabet is the version of the Latin script that is used to write classical Syriac, Assyrian and other modern Aramaic languages. The romanization of Syriac was developed in the 1930s, following the state policy for minority languages of the Soviet Union, with some material published.
Romanization utilizes the Latin alphabet to transliterate Syriac words and to identify a Syriac word in a non-Syriac language. The Syriac Latin alphabet is a useful implement to present Syriac/Assyrian terminology to anyone who is not familiar with the Syriac script. The usage of the Latin script in the Assyrian community has become rather widespread due to the Assyrian diaspora's settlement mostly being in Europe and the anglophone.
A precise transcription may not be necessary for native Syriac speakers, as they would be able to pronounce words correctly, but it can be very helpful for those not quite familiar with Syriac and more informed with the Roman alphabet. A meticulous transliteration serves as a valuable stepping stone for learning, pronouncing correctly, and distinguishing phonemes. Today, the Latin alphabet is preferred by most Assyrians for practical reasons and its convenience, especially in social media.
| Syriac alphabet|
|ܐ ܒ ܓ ܕ ܗ ܘ|
|ܙ ܚ ܛ ܝ ܟܟ ܠ|
|ܡܡ ܢܢ ܣ ܥ ܦ|
|ܨ ܩ ܪ ܫ ܬ|
One underlying problem is that written Syriac is normally unvocalized. For instance, many of the vowels are not written out, and must be supplied by a reader acquainted with the language. Hence unvocalized Syriac writing does not give a reader unacquainted with the language adequate information for accurate pronunciation.
As a result, a pure transliteration where vowels are omitted is meaningless to an untrained reader, except for a subset of trained readers fluent in Syriac.Most uses of romanization opt for transcription rather than transliteration. Instead of transliterating each written letter, they re-create the sound of the words according to the orthography rules of the target language. As such, transcriptions are generally used that add vowels.
Furthermore, the Eastern Syriac script (the Maḏnḥāyā) has a system of dots (or diacritics) above or below letters to indicate vowels and consonants that are found in the Latin script, but not in the Syriac alphabet (see: Syriac vowels and consonants). It is thought that the Eastern method for representing vowels influenced the development of the niqqud markings used for writing Hebrew.
- 26 standard Latin letters (all the letters found in the English alphabet).
- 9 modified Latin letters: Ā, Ḏ, Ē, Ḥ, Ō, Š, Ṣ, Ṭ, Ū
The Latin Alphabet of Syriac A Ā B C D Ḏ E Ē F G H Ḥ I J K L M N O Ō P Q R S Š Ṣ T Ṭ U Ū V W X Y Z Lower case a ā b c d ḏ e ē f g h ḥ i j k l m n o ō p q r s š ṣ t ṭ u ū v w x y z
Some letters are altered and would feature diacritics and macrons to indicate long vowels, schwas and diphthongs. They are featured in the international standard transliteration system, ISO 233. The letters with diacritics and macrons, though, are mostly upheld in educational or formal writing. Most Assyrians rarely utilize the modified letters and would conveniently rely on the basic Latin alphabet. Here is the list of the altered letters and the sounds that they denote:
- Ā is used to denote a long A sound or [ɑː]
- Ḏ is used to represent the voiced "th" sound as heard in "that"
- Ē is used to denote an "ee" sound or [eː]
- Ḥ represents a voiceless pharyngeal fricative (/ħ/), which is only upheld by Turoyo and Chaldean speakers
- Ō represents a long O sound or /ɔː/
- Š is consanguineous to the digraph "Sh"
- Ṣ denotes an emphatic "S", or thick S as heard in "sunk" and "mars"
- Ṭ is an emphatic "T", as heard in Assyrian word "ṭla" (three)
- Ū is used to represent an "oo" sound or the Close back rounded vowel /uː/
- Č may be used to denote the "ch" sound, although the digraph is more common.
- Ḇ may be used in the transliteration of biblical Aramaic to show the fricative value of the letter beth (ܒ), representing [v].
- Ë can be used for a schwa, albeit rarely. *Ṯ is used to denote the "th" sound or the Voiceless dental fricative.
- Ḵ may be utilized for the Voiceless velar fricative ⟨x⟩, or the "kh" sound.
- Ī, like ē, may also be used to denote an "ee" sound or [eː]
- Ġ (or "gh") and Ž (or "zh") are marginal phonemes in Neo-Aramaic languages. Their representative letters can be used to represent a Voiced velar fricative ⟨ɣ⟩ and Voiced palato-alveolar sibilant ⟨ʒ⟩, respectfully, which are typically found in Arabic and Iranian loanwords.
- The Modifier letter right half ring (ʾ), a character of the Unicode Spacing Modifier Letters range, and an apostrophe (ʾ), are both used to denote the glottal stop (ʔ) of the letter aleph (as heard in English "uh-oh").
- The Modifier letter left half ring (ʿ) is used to indicate the pharyngeal sound of Ayn (ʕ).
- Because the pharyngeal sound (ʕ) in Ayn is dropped among most Assyrian Neo-Aramaic speakers, the letter would mostly make an /ei/, /ai/ or /e/ sound, depending on the speaker's dialect.
- Aleph acts as matres lectionis (a consonant indicating a vowel), where it is used to represent a vowel at the beginning or the end of a word. Yod and Waw are also used to indicate vowels. Furthermore, the letter V is be represented by an altered Beth (see: Syriac letter alterations).
As aforementioned, the majority of the Assyrians do not use diacritics and macrons, and would rely on the standard Latin alphabet to represent the letters, including the emphatic ones (i.e. T as instead of Ṭ). This is mainly done for the sake of convenience and the fact that computer keyboards don't incorporate altered letters. This table lists the 26 standard Latin letters used in Syriac writing with their phonetic sound, and their usage within English and Assyrian vocabulary.
|Syriac-Latin||IPA||Similar English sound and notes||Assyrian examples|
|1||Aa||æ, ɑ, ɐ|| A in "ant" and "ark" |
It is also used to denote the stressed "uh" sound in "umbrella" and "under"
|Short, fronted A in "Ānā" (myself) and long, back A in "rābā" (plenty)|
|2||Bb||b||B, as in "bat"||"Bāsēmā" (thanks)|
|3||Cc||t͡ʃ||C in "church" is used for words having the "ch" digraph, whereas the /k/ in "cat" is denoted by the letter K||"Chachmā" (toilet)|
|4||Dd||d||D in "doll"||"Dëmā" (blood)|
|5||Ee||ɛ, i, ɪ||E in "enter" and RP English "bear" |
Many speakers use the digraph "ee" or the letter I to denote an "ee" sound
This letter may also be used to indicate a schwa and the vowel in "sit"
|The "eh" sound in "ebā" (shame), "ee" sound in "ēkā" (where) and the schwa sound in "sëtwa" (winter)|
|6||Ff||f|| F, as in "fog" |
This letter is only used in the Turoyo, Chaldean and Tyari dialects
|7||Gg||ɡ|| G in "goat" |
"Gh" would be used for the marginal /ɣ/ sound.
|8||Hh||h, ħ||H in "hat"||"Hāwā" (air)|
|9||Ii||i, ɪ|| I in "pizza" and in "sit" |
The letters E and, usually at the end of the word, Y, and diphthong "ee" are also commonly used for /i/
This letter, alongside E, may also be used to represent a schwa
|As an /i/ sound in "Iwā (it was) and as a schwa in "itwā" (there was)|
|10||Jj||ʒ||J in "jury"||"Jāmētā (gathering)|
|11||Kk||k, x||K in "kick"||"Kālū" (bride) and, representing /x/, khātā (new)|
|12||Ll||l, k||L in "lord"||"Lēššānā" (tongue)|
|13||Mm||m||M in "monk"||"Māni" (who)|
|14||Nn||n||N in "nasty"||"Nūṭā (petroleum)|
|15||Oo||o, ɔ|| O in "origin" |
Depending on the dialect, it may also be used to represent a /uː/ sound
|16||Pp||p||P for "pink"||"Pātā" (face)|
|17||q, b||Guttural Q sound, pronounced at the back of the throat||"Qalāma (pen)|
|18||Rr||ɾ||R, a rolled R or an alveolar tap, as heard in American English "better" and "middle"||"Rēšā" (head)|
|19||Ss||s, sˤ, ʃ||S, as in "speak"||"Samā" (poison), "ṣārā" (moon) for the emphatic Ṣ (Sade), and "shëmsha" (sun) for Š or shin.|
|20||Tt||t, θ, ð, tˤ|| T, as heard in "tame" |
Can also be used for the emphatic Ṭ
|"Tënā" (smoke) and, for the emphatic T or teth, "ṭlā" (three)|
|21||Uu||u||U, as heard in in "put" or "oo" in "good"||"Gūrā" (big)|
|22||Vv||v or ʋ|| V, as "vain"|
This letter is only used by Urmian speakers or Iranian Assyrians (due to Farsi influence), where W is pronounced as V
|23||Ww||w||W in "walking"||"Wādā" (doing)|
|24||Xx||x||Guttural Kh, as heard in Scottish loch |
Only used by Urmians, whereas most Assyrians use the digraph "kh" instead
|25||Yy||ɪ||Y in "yellow"||"Yāmā" (ocean)|
|26||Zz||z|| Z in "zeal" ||"Zmartā" (song)|
- Arabic script
- Aramaic alphabet
- Aramaic language
- Berber Latin alphabet
- Romanization of Hebrew
- Romanization of Arabic
- List of loanwords in Assyrian Neo-Aramaic
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- Assyrian alphabet and its Latin equivalent
- Latin and Cyrillic transliteration of Syriac alphabet
- Comparative table of DIN 31635, ISO 233, ISO/R 233, UN, ALA-LC