Arabic script

The Arabic or Perso-Arabic script is a writing system used for writing Arabic and several other languages of Asia and Africa, such as Persian, Kurdish, Azerbaijani, Sindhi, Balochi, Pashto, Lurish, Urdu and Mandinka.[1] Until the 16th century, it was also used to write some texts in Spanish. Additionally, prior to the language reform in 1928, it was the writing system of Turkish.[2] It is the second-most widely used writing system in the world by the number of countries using it and the third by the number of users, after Latin and Chinese characters.[3]

Impure abjad (abugida or true alphabet in some adaptations)
LanguagesSee below
Time period
400 CE to the present
Parent systems
Child systems
Inspired the N'Ko alphabet and the Hanifi script
ISO 15924Arab, 160
Unicode alias

The Arabic script is written from right to left in a cursive style. In most cases, the letters transcribe consonants or consonants and a few vowels, so most Arabic alphabets are abjads.

The script was first used to write texts in Arabic, most notably the Qurʼān, the holy book of Islam. With the spread of Islam, it came to be used as the primary script for many language families, leading to the addition of new letters and other symbols, with some versions, such as Kurdish, Uyghur and old Bosnian being abugidas or true alphabets. It is also the basis for the tradition of Arabic calligraphy.


Languages written with the Arabic script

Arabic alphabet
ḫāʾ / khāʾḥāʾjīmṯāʾ / thaʾtāʾbāʾʾalif
ṣādšīn / shīnsīnzāy/zaynrāʾḏāl / dhāldāl
qāffāʾġayn / ghaynʿaynẓāʾṭāʾḍād
Worldwide use of the Arabic script
Countries where the Arabic script:
  is the only official script
  is the only official script, but other scripts are recognized for national or regional languages
  is official alongside other scripts
  is official at a sub-national level (China, India) or is a recognized alternative script (Malaysia)

The Arabic script has been adapted for use in a wide variety of languages besides Arabic, including Persian, Malay and Urdu, which are not Semitic. Such adaptations may feature altered or new characters to represent phonemes that do not appear in Arabic phonology. For example, the Arabic language lacks a voiceless bilabial plosive (the [p] sound), therefore many languages add their own letter to represent [p] in the script, though the specific letter used varies from language to language. These modifications tend to fall into groups: Indian and Turkic languages written in the Arabic script tend to use the Persian modified letters, whereas the languages of Indonesia tend to imitate those of Jawi. The modified version of the Arabic script originally devised for use with Persian is known as the Perso-Arabic script by scholars.

In the cases of Bosnian, Kurdish, Kashmiri and Uyghur writing systems, vowels are mandatory. The Arabic script can therefore be used in both abugida and abjad forms, although it is often strongly if erroneously connected to the latter.

Use of the Arabic script in West African languages, especially in the Sahel, developed with the spread of Islam. To a certain degree the style and usage tends to follow those of the Maghreb (for instance the position of the dots in the letters fāʼ and qāf). Additional diacritics have come into use to facilitate the writing of sounds not represented in the Arabic language. The term ʻAjamī, which comes from the Arabic root for "foreign," has been applied to Arabic-based orthographies of African languages.

Current use

Today Afghanistan, Iran, India, Pakistan and China are the main non-Arabic speaking states using the Arabic alphabet to write one or more official national languages, including Azerbaijani, Baluchi, Brahui, Persian, Pashto, Central Kurdish, Urdu, Sindhi, Kashmiri, Punjabi and Uyghur.

An Arabic alphabet is currently used for the following languages:

Middle East and Central Asia

East Asia

South Asia

Southeast Asia


Former use

Speakers of languages that were previously unwritten used Arabic script as a basis to design writing systems for their mother languages. This choice could be influenced by Arabic being their second language, the language of scripture of their faith, or the only written language they came in contact with. Additionally, since most education was once religious, choice of script was determined by the writer's religion; which meant that Muslims would use Arabic script to write whatever language they spoke. This led to Arabic script being the most widely used script during the Middle Ages.

In the 20th century, the Arabic script was generally replaced by the Latin alphabet in the Balkans, parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia, while in the Soviet Union, after a brief period of Latinisation,[32] use of Cyrillic was mandated. Turkey changed to the Latin alphabet in 1928 as part of an internal Westernizing revolution. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many of the Turkic languages of the ex-USSR attempted to follow Turkey's lead and convert to a Turkish-style Latin alphabet. However, renewed use of the Arabic alphabet has occurred to a limited extent in Tajikistan, whose language's close resemblance to Persian allows direct use of publications from Afghanistan and Iran.[33]

Most languages of the Iranian languages family continue to use Arabic script, as well as the Indo-Aryan languages of Pakistan and of Muslim populations in India. However, the Bengali language of India and Bangladesh was never written in Arabic script, which has been written in the Bengali alphabet since inception.[34]



Central Asia and Caucasus

Southeast Asia


Middle East

Special letters

Most Common Non-Classical Arabic Consonant Phonemes/Graphemes
Language Family Austron. Dravid Turkic Indic (Indo-European) Iranian (Indo-European) Arabic (Semitic)
Language/Script Jawi Pegon Arwi Uyghur Sindhi Punjabi Urdu Persian Balochi Kurdish Pashto Moroccan Tunisian Algerian Hejazi Najdi Egyptian Palestinian Iraqi Gulf
/p/ ڤ ڣ پ پ / ب
/g/ ݢ گ ګ ڭ / گ ڨ / ڧـ ـڧـ ـٯ / ق ق ج چ / ج گ / ك ق / گ
/t͡ʃ/ چ Ø چ ڜ تش چ
/v/ ۏ ف و ۋ و Ø ڤ Ø ڥ / ڢ / ف ڤ / ف
/ʒ/ Ø ژ Ø ژ its usage depends on the dialect
/ŋ/ ڠ ڭ ڱ ں ن Ø Ø
/ɳ/ Ø Ø ڹ Ø ڻ Ø ڼ Ø
/ɲ/ ڽ ۑ ݧ Ø Ø Ø
Writing systems
Alphabet #Chars Languages Region Derived from Comment
Arabic alphabet 28 Arabic North Africa, West Asia Aramaic alphabet, Syriac alphabet, Nabataean alphabet
Ajami script 33 Hausa language, Swahili West Africa Arabic Abjad
Arebica 30 Bosnian Southeastern Europe Perso-Arabic latest stage with full vowel marking
Arwi alphabet 41 Tamil Southern India, Sri Lanka Perso-Arabic
Belarusian Arabic alphabet 32 Belarusian Eastern Europe Perso-Arabic 15th/16th century
Berber Arabic alphabet(s) various Berber languages North Africa Arabic
Chagatai alphabet(s) 32 Chagatai Central Asia Perso-Arabic
Galal alphabet 32 Somali Horn of Africa Arabic
Jawi script 36 Malay Peninsular Malay Perso-Arabic Since 1303 AD (Trengganu Stone)
Kashmiri alphabet 44 Kashmiri South Asia Perso-Arabic
Kazakh Arabic alphabet 35 Kazakh Central Asia, China Perso-Arabic/Chagatai since 11th century, now official only in China
Khowar alphabet 60 Khowar South Asia Perso-Arabic
Kyrgyz Arabic alphabet 33 Kyrgyz Perso-Arabic now official only in China
Kuryan alphabet 44 Korean language East Asia, South Korea Perso-Arabic invented by Korean Muslim in the 2000s
Nasta'liq script Urdu and others Perso-Arabic
Pashto alphabet 45 Pashto Afghanistan and Pakistan Perso-Arabic
Pegon alphabet 35 Javanese, Sundanese Indonesia Perso-Arabic
Persian alphabet 32 Persian Iran Arabic
Saraiki alphabet 45 Saraiki Pakistan Perso-Arabic
Shahmukhi script 37 Punjabi Pakistan Perso-Arabic
Sindhi alphabet 64 Sindhi Pakistan Perso-Arabic
Sorabe alphabet 33 Malagasy Madagascar Arabic
Soranî alphabet 33 Central Kurdish Perso-Arabic Vowels are mandatory, i.e. abugida
İske imlâ alphabet 35 Tatar Perso-Arabic/Chagatai before 1920
Ottoman Turkish alphabet 32 Ottoman Turkish Ottoman Empire Perso-Arabic Official until 1928
Urdu alphabet 58 Urdu South Asia Perso-Arabic
Uyghur Arabic alphabet 32 Uyghur China, Central Asia Perso-Arabic/Chagatai Vowels are mandatory, i.e. abugida
Wolofal script 28 Wolof West Africa Arabic
Xiao'erjing 36 Sinitic languages China, Central Asia Perso-Arabic
Yaña imlâ alphabet 29 Tatar Perso-Arabic/Chagatai 1920–1927


As of Unicode 12.0, the following ranges encode Arabic characters:

See also


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  21. "The Coptic Studies' Corner". Archived from the original on 2012-04-19. Retrieved 2012-04-17.
  22. "--The Cradle of Nubian Civilisation--".
  23. "2 » AlNuba egypt". 19 July 2012. Archived from the original on 19 July 2012.
  24. "Zarma".
  25. "Tadaksahak".
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  27. "Dyula".
  28. "Jola-Fonyi".
  29. "Ibn Sayyid manuscript". Archived from the original on 2015-09-08. Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  30. "Muhammad Arabic letter". Archived from the original on 2015-09-08. Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  31. "Charno Letter". Muslims In America. Archived from the original on May 20, 2013. Retrieved August 5, 2013.
  32. Alphabet Transitions – The Latin Script: A New Chronology – Symbol of a New Azerbaijan, by Tamam Bayatly
  33. Sukhail Siddikzoda. "Tajik Language: Farsi or Not Farsi?" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on June 13, 2006.
  34. Escudero Pascual Alberto (23 October 2005). "Writing Systems/ Scripts" (PDF). Primer to Localization of Software. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 March 2009. Retrieved 20 November 2006.
  35. "Brief history of writing in Chechen". Archived from the original on December 23, 2008.
  36. p. 20, Samuel Noel Kramer. 1986. In the World of Sumer: An Autobiography. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
  37. J. Blau. 2000. Hebrew written in Arabic characters: An instance of radical change in tradition. (In Hebrew, with English summary). In Heritage and Innovation in Judaeo-Arabic Culture: Proceedings of the Sixth Conference of the Society For Judaeo-Arabic Studies, p. 27-31. Ramat Gan.

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