The Ethiopian alphabet. Ethiopian Abugid. Why is the Ethiopian alphabet similar to Armenian?

The Ethiopian alphabet is a writing system for recording the literary and ecclesiastical language of Geez, along with Amharic, tigris and tigrinya, used in Ethiopia (Abyssinia) and Eritrea. Apparently, it originated from the South Semitic Sabaean writing in the beginning of the IV. However, the opinions of researchers about when the Ethiopian alphabet was created differ. It is also unknown whether this writing is the result of a gradual evolution or it was invented by one person. Today it is considered that the letters developed gradually, and the vowels appeared as a result of the work of one author. The inscriptions of the IV c. In the language of Geez, written by the Sabbian and variants of Ethiopian writing.

Abugid consists of 26 letters, all of which are consonants. In this case, the base symbol can be converted to syllabic by adding appropriate voices. Twenty-four of the 28 letters of the Sabean alphabet were borrowed with the addition of graphemes to denote the "n" sound that was not in the source. The direction of the letter, in contrast to the Sabaean and other Semitic languages, is from left to right. This is probably the result of Greek influence.

Alternative view

The history of writing geez is not so easy to trace, as, for example, Latin. Historians refused to see in the inhabitants of Africa the creators of the original culture, which flourished and survived for centuries in its special. They could not understand this without giving up their prejudices and not reconsidering their approach. A widespread theme of the research of the system of geezes is the so-called. External paradigm. This is the notion that the syllabary should come from somewhere, mainly from the ancient Arabian Peninsula. This would have made the source not a "black" Africa, but Asia of the Middle East, thereby confirming racist beliefs that blacks were unable to have literature and culture at a time when the Phoenicians' successes were just beginning. Even today, this Eurocentric hypothesis positions geez in the category of Semitic, not African, languages. Racism, which pursues the study of the origin of Ethiopian writing, manifests itself even in the recent history of science. For example, Silvia Pankhurst in Ethiopia: The History of Culture argues that South Arab immigrants brought with them knowledge about the use of metals, the cultivation of soil, sheep, horses, camels, useful plants, better weapons, for example, a large pointed spearhead, and , Probably a round leather shield that local warriors wore until recently. They also contributed to the construction of houses of stone, bringing with them architectural styles and construction methods, the art of writing and the beautiful Ethiopian alphabet. For the progress of Ethiopian civilization, the most important of the arts that Arab immigrants brought with them was writing.

It is likely that the Geez system finds its origin exclusively in Egyptian hieroglyphs, as well as well-documented Latin, no matter how distant it seemed. The assumption that the writing in such geographical proximity to Ancient Egypt was first to go on a long journey eastward to South Arabia, and then return to Ethiopia to develop into its final form, in the opinion of opponents of the prevailing theory, seems too far-fetched. Therefore, as they believe, there is no reason to believe that the Egyptian merchants, scribes and, therefore, the system of hieroglyphs did not spread evenly in all directions.

The composition of abugid

Alphabet Geez consists of 182 characters. For the sake of fairness, it should be said that the main graphemes are only 26, all of which are consonants, and the rest are formed by additional strokes and modifications introduced into the main forms to denote a vowel sound or to correct the sound of the main consonant. In geezes, lowercase and capital letters do not differ, as happened in the Latin alphabet in the 7th century. There are no ligatures or other modifiers (as in G and g), and very few punctuation marks. Therefore, for a more accurate comparison, uppercase (a), lowercase (A), and letters with diacritical marks (à) in the Latin alphabet should be considered separate graphemes, like any letters that may have associated certain punctuation rules ('s). But even in this case the sillabari geez is much larger.

The versatility of Geeza

The Ethiopian alphabet not only serves as a means of visual representation of words and sounds. It has 5 basic properties: pictographic, ideographic, astrographic, numerological and syllabographic. Abugid is also useful for rethinking the letter as a whole. Its properties suggest that the modern notion of writing is very narrow and limits its philosophical, theological, linguistic and historical aspects.


The pictographic side of geeza suggests that the syllabary is derived from images drawn or copied from nature and human interaction with it. The basic model of the pictographic system and the source of the Latin and Ethiopian alphabet are Egyptian hieroglyphs. Geez is an abstract pictographic language. An example of a pictogram is the second letter በ (bä), as in Bèt (house), which is a stylized door. The pictographic element is also seen in the letter ሀ (hä), the first in the word "lion", in the alphabet and the whole universe.


Ideography, the second property of geez, means that the letters of the alphabet symbolize different ideas, value systems, philosophical and social orders. Each main character has 7 variants, denoting the vowel sound that follows it. Each class is associated with different ideological elements. For example, the sixth class ረ (rä) has the Re'es nomenclature (leader, leader or boss). The words associated with the sixth class, as a rule, belong to the secular leadership, as in the case of Re'esa Mange'st (head of state).

The calendar

Astrography, or the display of stars and, therefore, of the calendar, is the third aspect of geeza. A system consisting of 26 classes and 7 variants of them, as a whole, amounts to 182 syllabic signs. This is half the number 364, which represents the half-year or the number of days between equinoxes. In the Ethiopian calendar, all months consist of 30 days with the exception of an additional month lasting only five or six days. The half-year begins on April 1 and October 1. Each of the 182 characters represents one day. The extra day in the western calendar can be attributed to inaccuracies between solar and equinoctial calculus. 7 variations of each class represent 7 days of the week, starting with geeza (Sunday) and ending with Sabbath (Saturday).


Each letter of the alphabet corresponds to a numerical value ranging from 1 to 5600. They are the codes of the Ethiopic mystical isoteric system. Numerical meanings of graphemes and Old Testament words help in its interpretation and provide mnemonic markers for oral retelling. For example, the name Abraham corresponds to a numerical value of 60 (40 + 9 + 6 + 1 + 4), which when divided by the number of characters (5) results in the number 12 corresponding to the number of houses in Israel.

Why is the Ethiopian alphabet similar to Armenian?

Although these scripts are linguistically far away, they have obvious external similarities and even several identical letters. Countries and their languages developed independently of each other, separated by a distance of about 3.5 thousand km of land and sea. Many believe that the writing of the geeza, called the fidel, appeared much earlier than the current Armenian, and there are many theories concerning the connection between them. One of the most popular theories is based on the long Christian history of these countries: Armenia became officially the first Christian country in 301 AD. E., And Abyssinia - the second in 316.

Around 406, before the holy Mesrop Mashtots, the task was set to create a new alphabet for Great Armenia. Residents of the country sought to distance themselves from the surrounding states and religions, which tried to conquer them. It is believed that Mesrop could meet Ethiopian Christians during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and received from them one of the religious texts. If he had a Bible in the language of Geez, then it is likely that he borrowed some characters to complete his unfinished alphabet. Armenia and Abyssinia were states that faced the same problem - for many years they were the only Christian people in their regions and needed the same religious literature.

The library of the University of California holds a collection of Armenian manuscripts of the 14th century, including the Gladzor Gospel. They contain full-page miniatures, richly decorated calendars, elaborate ornaments and portraits of saints included in the main text. Many Ethiopian manuscripts are written and decorated with much stronger, thick lines and show the hand of the artist and scribe who created them. The text is traditionally divided into areas written in red and black ink, ornaments are most often performed in natural tones. Their charm lies in a certain level of tactility and informality.

Contacts of two cultures

The Armenian and Ethiopian peoples are united by a long history of friendship, although it began much later than their writings were created. There are two examples. At the beginning of the XVI century. The Armenian merchant entered the service at the court of the Ethiopian queen. He became the first Ambassador of Abyssinia in Portugal. The situation was complicated by the fact that the Portuguese did not believe that he, an Armenian, really is who he claims to be, and even more complicated during his return. Another case occurred recently, in the early 1920s. After the Armenian Genocide, the Crown Prince of Ethiopia, Ras Tafari, met in Jerusalem 40 orphans from Armenia. He was so fascinated by them that he adopted all and took them back to his homeland. He gave them the best musical education, and 40 Armenian children formed the first official state orchestra of this country. Together they created the Ethiopian imperial national anthem, which remained unchanged until 1974.

Symbol of Africa

The Ethiopian abugid is opposed to the alphabetic system in its interaction with the spoken language. Although it is necessary to learn a lot of characters, in a sense they make it easier to spell. Those who use syllabic letters tolerate fewer errors, since the sounding of a word, like a phonetic letter, dictates its specific spelling and vice versa. In fact, abugid allows you to write any word of any language. African geez is one of the oldest written language in the world. It remains unchanged for 2000 years, which indicates its adaptability and innovative method of organizing sounds. Writing is not only an element of grammar, but also a way to plunge into the ancient world of Africa, its philosophy, belief system and exceptionally developed early societies.

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