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Arabic Alphabet

By origin and genetic classification, Arabic language belongs to the «Central Semitic group of languages» ​​along with Hebrew and Aramaic. The choice of the term «Semitic», was derived from Shem, one of the three sons of Noah in the genealogical accounts, of the biblical Book of Genesis.

The Arabic alphabet is written from right to left in a cursive style, and nowadays includes 28 letters. In the early Quranic manuscripts, only 15 distinct letter-shapes had to do duty for 28 sounds.

«Old Arabic» (a collection of related dialects that constitute the precursor of modern Arabic).

The first recorded text in the Arabic alphabet was written in year 512 (Muhammad was born in Mecca approximately the year 570). It is a trilingual dedication in Greek, Syriac and Arabic found at Zabad in Syria. The version of the Arabic alphabet used includes only 22 letters, of which only 15 are different, being used to note 28 phonemes.

The Arabic alphabet is first attested in its classical form only in the 7th century, about a century after the death of Muhammad. In those times, while writing down the Quran, scribes realized, that working out which of the ambiguous letters a particular letter was from context, was laborious, and not always possible, so a proper methodology was required. Only by the 2nd century AH, the language had been standardized by Arabic grammarians.

Arabic Diacritics

The first «Arabic diacritics system», or so-called "harakat" was developed by Abu al-Aswad, who devised a system of dots to signal the three short vowels (along with their respective allophones) of Arabic. This system uses red dots with each arrangement or position indicating a different short vowel. The early manuscripts of the Quran did not use the vowel signs for every letter requiring them, but only for letters where they were necessary for a correct reading.

The precursor to the system, we know today, is Al Farahidi's system. Al-Farāhīdī found that the task of writing using two different colours was tedious and impractical.

One of the earliest known dictionaries of any language - Kitab al-Ayn, and the first dictionary written for the Arabic language was compiled in the eighth century by Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi. Al-Farahidi introduced the dictionary with an outline of the phonetics of Arabic, where he tried to rationalize the empirical practice of lexicography, explicitly referring to the calculation of arrangements and combinations in order to exhaustively enumerate all words in Arabic. According to al-Farahidi's theory, what is known as the Arabic language, is merely the phonetically realized part of the entire possible language.

Hebrew Diacritics

«Hebrew diacritics system», or Niqqud - is a system of diacritical signs used to represent vowels or distinguish between alternative pronunciations of letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

See also: «Qere and Ketiv», «Pentateuch. Ketib va-Iqrā».


The Bedouin dialects of Najd region, were probably the most conservative, romanticizing the "purity" of the language of the desert-dwellers (as opposed to the "corrupted" dialects of the city-dwellers) expressed in many medieval Arabic works, especially those on grammar. Thus, exegetes, theologians, and grammarians who entertained the idea of the presence of "impurities" (for example, naturalized loanwords) in the Quran were severely criticized and their proposed etymologies denounced in most cases.


In 2007 journalist-publisher Frank Schirrmacher wrote an article for the Frankfurt Book Fair predicting that the Corpus Coranicum would spark similar outrage among Muslims, comparing it to the punishment of Prometheus for bringing fire to mankind. He was enthusiastic that the fruits of that research might even «overthrow rulers and topple kingdoms».