Syriac Latin alphabet

The opening words of the Gospel of John transliterated in the Syriac-Latin script.

The Syriac Latin alphabet is the version of the Latin script that is used to write classical Syriac, Assyrian and other modern Aramaic languages.[1] The romanization of Syriac was developed in the 1930s, following the state policy for minority languages of the Soviet Union, with some material published.[2][3]

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.[4]

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.[5][6] Today, the Latin alphabet is preferred by most Assyrians for practical reasons and its convenience, especially in social media.[7]


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.[8]

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.[9]

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.[10]

Latin alphabet

The classical Syriac Latin alphabet usually consists of 35 letters:[11]

The Latin Alphabet of Syriac
Lower case


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.[12] Here is the list of the altered letters and the sounds that they denote:[13]

Additional letters

Sometimes additional letters may be used.[14] The letters tend to be:

Orthography comparison

The table below displays the Syriac letters and their commonly associated Latin letters:[15]

Syriac letter





















Latin letter A B G D H W Z Y K L M N S ʿ P Q R Š T

English equivalent

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 ). 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.[18]

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
"Farōjeh" (watching)
7 Gg ɡ G in "goat"
"Gh" would be used for the marginal /ɣ/ sound.
"Gūdā" (wall)
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
"Nōrā" (mirror)
16 Pp p P for "pink" "Pātā" (face)
17 Qq 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, , ʃ S, as in "speak" "Samā" (poison), "ārā" (moon) for the emphatic Ṣ (Sade), and "shëmsha" (sun) for Š or shin.
20 Tt t, θ, ð, T, as heard in "tame"
Can also be used for the emphatic
"Tënā" (smoke) and, for the emphatic T or teth, "lā" (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
"Vardā" (flower)
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
"Xmārā" (donkey)
25 Yy ɪ Y in "yellow" "Yāmā" (ocean)
26 Zz z Z in "zeal"
"Zmartā" (song)

See also


  1. Phillips, George (1866). A Syriac Grammar. Cambridge: Deighton, Bell, & Co.; London: Bell & Daldy
  2. S.P. Brock, "Three Thousand Years of Aramaic literature", in Aram,1:1 (1989)
  3. Brockelmann, Carl (1895). Lexicon Syriacum. Berlin: Reuther & Reichard; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
  4. Moscati, Sabatino, et al. The Comparative Grammar of Semitic Languages. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, Germany, 1980.
  5. Brock, Sebastian (2006). An Introduction to Syriac Studies. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press. ISBN 1-59333-349-8.
  6. Nöldeke, Theodor and Julius Euting (1880) Kurzgefasste syrische Grammatik. Leipzig: T.O. Weigel. [translated to English as Compendious Syriac Grammar, by James A. Crichton. London: Williams & Norgate 1904. 2003 edition: ISBN 1-57506-050-7].
  7. Hatch, William (1946). An album of dated Syriac manuscripts. Boston: The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, reprinted in 2002 by Gorgias Press. p. 24. ISBN 1-931956-53-7.
  8. Healey, John F (1980). First studies in Syriac. University of Birmingham/Sheffield Academic Press. ISBN 0-7044-0390-0.
  9. Payne Smith, Jessie (Ed.) (1903). A compendious Syriac dictionary founded upon the Thesaurus Syriacus of Robert Payne Smith. Oxford University Press, reprinted in 1998 by Eisenbrauns. ISBN 1-57506-032-9.
  10. P. R. Ackroyd,C. F. Evans (1975). The Cambridge History of the Bible: Volume 1, From the Beginnings to Jerome. p. 26.
  11. S.P. Brock, "An Introduction to Syriac Studies", in J.H. Eaton (Ed.,), Horizons in Semitic Studies (1980)
  12. Maclean, Arthur John (2003). Grammar of the dialects of vernacular Syriac: as spoken by the Eastern Syrians of Kurdistan, north-west Persia, and the Plain of Mosul: with notices of the vernacular of the Jews of Azerbaijan and of Zakhu near Mosul. Gorgias Press. ISBN 1-59333-018-9.
  13. Nestle, Eberhard (1888). Syrische Grammatik mit Litteratur, Chrestomathie und Glossar. Berlin: H. Reuther's Verlagsbuchhandlung. [translated to English as Syriac grammar with bibliography, chrestomathy and glossary, by R. S. Kennedy. London: Williams & Norgate 1889. p. 5].
  14. Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies. Vol. XII, No. 2. Chicago, Illinois, 1998.
  15. "Syriac alphabet". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
  16. Thackston, Wheeler M. (1999). Introduction to Syriac. Bethesda, MD: Ibex Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-936347-98-8.
  17. Rudder, Joshua. Learn to Write Aramaic: A Step-by-Step Approach to the Historical & Modern Scripts. n.p.: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011. 220 pp. ISBN 978-1461021421 Includes the Estrangela (pp. 59–113), Madnhaya (pp. 191–206), and the Western Serto (pp. 173–190) scripts.
  18. Coakley, J. F. (2002). Robinson's paradigms and exercises in Syriac grammar (5th ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-19-926129-1.
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