orthography notes

Updated 22 June, 2023

This page brings together basic information about the Mandaic script and its use for the Neo-Mandaic language. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Mandaic using Unicode.


Select part of this sample text to show a list of characters, with links to more details. Source
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ࡊࡋ ࡁࡓ ࡀࡍࡀࡔࡀ ࡌࡉࡕࡋࡉࡓ ࡔࡀࡅࡉࡀ ࡁࡏࡒࡀࡓࡀ ࡅࡀࡂࡓࡉࡀ࡞ ࡁࡉࡍࡕࡀ ࡅࡕࡉࡓࡕࡀ ࡏࡕࡄࡉࡁࡋࡅࡍ ࡅࡋࡅࡀࡕ ࡄࡓࡀࡓࡉࡀ ࡈࡀࡁࡅࡕࡀ ࡀࡁࡓࡉࡍ ࡀࡊࡅࡀࡕ ࡖࡍࡉࡄࡅࡍ ࡀࡄࡉࡀ࡞

ࡈࡅࡁࡀࡊ ࡈࡅࡁࡀࡊ ࡍࡉࡔࡌࡀ ࡖࡍࡐࡀࡒࡕ ࡌࡉࡍࡇ ࡌࡍ ࡀࡋࡌࡀ ࡍࡐࡀࡒࡕࡇ ࡋࡒࡉࡋࡅࡌࡀ ࡅࡋࡐࡀࡂࡓࡀ ࡎࡀࡓࡉࡀ ࡖࡄࡅࡉࡕࡁࡇ ࡋࡃࡀࡅࡓࡀ ࡖࡃࡅࡓ ࡁࡉࡔ࡙ࡉࡀ ࡋࡀࡕࡓࡀ ࡖࡊࡅࡋࡇ ࡄࡀࡈࡉࡀ ࡋࡀࡋࡌࡀ ࡖࡄࡔࡅࡊࡀ ࡖࡎࡉࡍࡀ ࡒࡉࡍࡀ ࡅࡐࡋࡅࡂࡉࡀ

Usage & history

The Mandaic script is used for writing Mandaic, an Iraqi language spoken by about 5,500 people, and is also the script of Classical Mandaic, the liturgical language of the Mandaean religion. Persecution and war over a long period has reduced the language to a severely endangered level. There may be 200 or less first language speakers of Mandaic.

ࡀࡁࡀࡂࡀ ābāgā Mandaic alphabet

The origins of the script are not clear, but many scholars believe it to be descended from Aramaic via Parthian. Research has indicated that it has remained relatively unchanged since its initial development between the 2nd and 7th centuries CE.

Sources: Scriptsource, Wikipedia.

Basic features

The Mandaic script is an alphabet. This means that it is phonetic in nature, where each letter represents a basic sound. This is unusual among scripts of semitic origin. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for the modern Neo-Mandaic orthography.

Mandaic text runs right-to-left in horizontal lines, but numbers and embedded Latin text are read left-to-right.

Words are separated by spaces, and contain a mixture of consonants and vowels, with diacritics to indicate vowel quality, gemination, or foreign sounds.

There is no case distinction.

The script is cursive, but basic letter shapes don't change radically. In some letters, the joining edge of the glyph adapts to join with an adjacent character.

The standard Mandaic alphabet consists of 24 letters, since 24 is a significant number to Mandaeans, however this is only achieved by repeating the first letter of the alphabet, [U+0840 MANDAIC LETTER HALQA], at the end, and including a ligature, [U+0857 MANDAIC LETTER KAD].

Mandaic has 20 basic consonants. Repertoire extension for many additional sounds used in Arabic can be achieved using an affrication mark added to consonants and one extra character. ❯ consonants

Mandaic is an alphabet and vowels are written using 4 vowel letters, which are derived from what used to be consonants. ❯ vowels

Letters representing vowel sounds are somewhat ambiguous, but can be clarified for educational purposes by a combining mark.

Character index









Combining marks




Other unconfirmed




To be investigated

Items to show in lists


These sounds are for the Neo-Mandaic language.

Click on the sounds to reveal locations in this document where they are mentioned.

Phones in a lighter colour are non-native or allophones .

Vowel sounds

Plain vowels

i u ɪ ʊ e o ə ə ɛ ɔ æ a ɒ

The vowels i, u, and ɔ, are lengthened in open, accented syllables to , , and ɔː or ɒː. i and u are realized as ɪ and ʊ when they occur in closed syllables. The other three principle vowels, o, e, and a, appear only exceptionally in open, accented syllables. e is realized as e in open syllables and ɛ in closed syllables. a is realized as ɑ in closed accented syllables, and as a or æ elsewhere.h


ɛɪ ɔɪ ɔʊ

Consonant sounds

labial dental alveolar post-
palatal velar uvular pharyngeal glottal
stop p b t d       k ɡ q    
ejectives   ðˤ              
affricate       t͡ʃ d͡ʒ          
fricative f v θ ð s z
ʃ ʒ   ɣ χ ʁ ħ ʕ h
nasal m   n          
approximant w   l   j      
trill/flap     r    


Neo-Mandaic is not a tonal language.




Vowel summary

The right-hand column shows standalone vowels. The 'pointed' rows show where the vocalisation mark can be used in educational texts to disambiguate the vowel sound.

ࡉ␣ࡏ␣ࡉࡀ␣‍ࡇ␣ ␣ࡅ
ࡏࡉ␣ ␣ࡏࡅ
ࡉ␣ ␣ࡅ
ࡏ␣ ␣ࡏࡅ
ࡉ࡚␣ ␣ࡅ࡚

For additional details see vowel_mappings.

Vowel letters

The Mandaic Unicode block uses just 4 characters for vowels.

Click on the characters in the lists for detailed information. For a mapping of sounds to graphemes see vowel_mappings.


The letters used for vowels all have their origin in consonants.

[U+0849 MANDAIC LETTER AKSA] and [U+0845 MANDAIC LETTER USHENNA] are only rarely used for y and w.

[U+0840 MANDAIC LETTER HALQA] and [U+084F MANDAIC LETTER IN] are available because the language dropped the glottal and pharyngeal sounds.

Although the script is basically alphabetic, vowel sounds are not always shown. For example, the i is not shown in ࡌࡍ mn min from

Three characters in the Unicode block also have unwritten vowel sounds, ie.



Vowel disambiguation

 ࡚ [U+085A MANDAIC VOCALIZATION MARK] is used in teaching materials to disambiguate the sound of a vowel:w

Standalone vowels


Vowel length





Neo-Mandaic is not a tonal language.

Vowel sounds to characters

This section maps Mandaic vowel sounds to common graphemes in the Mandaic orthography, grouped by word-initial ( i ), medial ( m ), and final ( f ) types. Click on a grapheme to find other mentions on this page (links appear at the bottom of the page). Click on the character name to see examples and for detailed descriptions of the character(s) shown.

Sounds listed as 'infrequent' are allophones, or sounds used for foreign words, etc.



‍ࡏ [U+084F MANDAIC LETTER IN] for long .

‍ࡇ [U+0847 MANDAIC LETTER IT] exclusively as the 1st person singular marker .





‍ࡏࡉ‍ [U+084F MANDAIC LETTER IN + U+0849 MANDAIC LETTER AKSA] where it appears alongside i.

‍ࡏ‍ [U+084F MANDAIC LETTER IN] is preferred after a consonant with a point below the line, ie. ࡊࡏ‍ kʿ‍, ࡍࡏ‍ nʿ‍, ࡐࡏ‍ pʿ‍, and ࡑࡏ‍ ᵴʿ‍‍‍.






Consonant summary


For additional details see consonant_mappings.

Basic consonants

The Mandaic block has 17 basic, native consonants:


Special characters


[U+0847 MANDAIC LETTER IT] only appears at the end of personal names or at the end of words to indicate the third person singular suffix.

[U+0856 MANDAIC LETTER DUSHENNA] has a morphemic function, being used to write the relative pronoun and genitive exponent ḏ-, eg. ࡖࡍࡐࡀࡒࡕ ḏnpāqt dinpaqt who left youࡖࡎࡉࡍࡀ ḏsinā disina of hatred

[U+0857 MANDAIC LETTER KAD] is used to write the word kḏ when, as, likeIt was derived from a digraph of ࡊࡖ [U+084A MANDAIC LETTER AK + U+0856 MANDAIC LETTER DUSHENNA].

Repertoire extension

 ࡙ [U+0859 MANDAIC AFFRICATION MARK ] extends the character set to cover foreign sounds. Extensions include the following:u

The character [U+0858 MANDAIC LETTER AIN] is borrowed from ع [U+0639 ARABIC LETTER AIN] to represent the Arabic sound ʕ.

Vowel absence


Onset consonants


Final consonants


Consonant clusters

Häberlh,729 provides some detailed information about rules for consonant clusters.

Consonant length

 ࡛ [U+085B MANDAIC GEMINATION MARK ] indicates gemination of a consonant (referred to by native writers as 'hard' pronunciation), eg. ࡋࡉࡁ࡛ࡀ lib˖ā lebba heart

Note that geminated ࡕ࡙ θ is pronounced χt.h,728

Consonant sounds to characters

This section maps Mandaic consonant sounds to common graphemes in the Mandaic orthography. Click on a grapheme to find other mentions on this page (links appear at the bottom of the page). Click on the character name to see examples and for detailed descriptions of the character(s) shown.

Sounds listed as 'infrequent' are allophones, or sounds used for foreign words, etc.







The Unicode Mandaic block has no native digits. How numbers are represented in Mandaic text is TBD.

Text direction

Mandaic text runs right to left in horizontal lines.

Show default bidi_class properties for characters in the Mandaic orthography described here.

Glyph shaping & positioning

This section brings together information about the following topics: writing styles; cursive text; context-based shaping; context-based positioning; baselines, line height, etc.; font styles; case & other character transforms.

You can experiment with examples using the Mandaic character app.

The script is unicameral and needs no transforms to convert between code points.

Cursive text

Mandaic is cursive, ie. letters in a word are joined up. Fonts need to produce the appropriate joining form for a code point, according to its visual context.

The cursive treatment doesn't produce significant variations of the essential part of a rendered character (unlike Arabic). In some letters, the joining edge of the glyph adapts to join with an adjacent character. Two examples show how strokes away from the baseline are typically shortened to create joining shapes.

ࡊ ࡊࡅ ࡕ ࡅࡕ
Two examples of small tweaks to glyphs when joining.

Other small adaptations may occur between certain adjacent characters, such as kl, wt and mn.d

Two letters don't join on either side: [U+0857 MANDAIC LETTER KAD] and [U+0858 MANDAIC LETTER AIN].

Cursive joining forms

The cursive treatment produces only minor changes to glyph shapes in most cases. fig_joining_forms and fig_right_joining_forms show all the basic shapes in Mandaic and what their joining forms look like.

isolatedright-joineddual-joinleft-joinedMandaic letters
ـࡐ ـࡐـ ࡐـ
ـࡁ ـࡁـ ࡁـ
ـࡕ ـࡕـ ࡕـ
ـࡃ ـࡃـ ࡃـ
ـࡈ ـࡈـ ࡈـ
ـࡊ ـࡊـ ࡊـ
ـࡂ ـࡂـ ࡂـ
ـࡒ ـࡒـ ࡒـ
ـࡎ ـࡎـ ࡎـ
ـࡑ ـࡑـ ࡑـ
ـࡄ ـࡄـ ࡄـ
ـࡌ ـࡌـ ࡌـ
ـࡍ ـࡍـ ࡍـ
ـࡓ ـࡓـ ࡓـ
ـࡋ ـࡋـ ࡋـ
ـࡅ ـࡅـ ࡅـ
ـࡏ ـࡏـ ࡏـ
Joining forms for shapes that join on both sides.
isolatedright-joined Mandaic letters
Joining forms for shapes that join on the right only.

Context-based shaping & positioning


The position of diacritics may vary according to whether or not the glyph of the base character extends below the baseline. The diacritic also needs to be positioned horizontally underneath the character in the appropriate place. Several such variations are shown here:

ࡕ࡙ࡌ࡙ࡋ࡙ࡍ࡙ ࡐ࡛ࡑ࡛ࡒ࡛ࡆ࡛
Diacritic placement varying horizontally and vertically.

Font styling & weight



Grapheme clusters


Punctuation & inline features

Word boundaries

Words are separated by spaces.

Phrase & section boundaries

Mandaic uses sentence punctuation sparselye. [U+085E MANDAIC PUNCTUATION] is used to start and end text sections. Everson describes a smaller version of this symbol that is used like a comma.e There is no Unicode character for the smaller version.

The smaller size is also used in colophons (historical lay text added to religious text).d

Observation: The keyboard at suggests that writers of Mandaic use Arabic punctuation, such as the following, in addition to western punctuation such as colon, full stop, etc. This is TBC.


Bracketed text

Observation: The keyboard at suggests that writers of Mandaic use Arabic parentheses, such as the following (the shape may vary). This is TBC.


Quotations & citations

Observation: The keyboard at suggests that writers of Mandaic use the following. This is TBC.




Abbreviation, ellipsis & repetition


Inline notes & annotations


Other punctuation


Other inline text decoration


Line & paragraph layout

Line breaking

Lines usually break between words.

Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the modern Mandaic orthography.

Text alignment & justification

When text is fully justified the baseline may be stretched, as in Arabic. The Unicode Standard saysu that ـ [U+0640 ARABIC TATWEEL] may be used to achieve that effect, however this is not a good solution in text where the line width varies, eg. in a web browser whose window can be stretched. (The reason being that as the paragraphs reflow words will wrap into different positions on the line.)

The following reflect justification practices observed in the (handwritten) text Das Johannesbuch der Mandäer.

The whole document is justified on both sides of the text. In many cases the final word is stretched internally to make the line fit the width of the available space. Only rarely are words earlier in the line stretched.

Lines where justification is achieved by stretching the last word internally.

A difference from Arabic is that many lines are stretched to the end of the available space by a trailing baseline extension. The choice of internal vs trailing extension appears to be related to the character at the end of the word.

Lines where justification is achieved by extending the baseline from the last character in a word to the end of the line.

On a good number of lines, final letters in a word appear to be squeezed onto the line by writing them above the preceding part of the line. A short example can be seen in fig_justification_hr.

Another notable feature is the use of a 'rule' such as ࡎـــــࡀ U+084E MANDAIC LETTER AS + baseline extension + U+0840 MANDAIC LETTER HALQA, where the baseline extension can cause the combination to span all or a large part of the line. In some cases, the letter or may appear at the midpoint of the rule. If this combination doesn't fill a whole line, it appears at the end of a line and is long enough to fill the remaining space.

A rule drawn across a whole line.
A rule drawn from the end of the text to the end of the line.

Further research is needed to ascertain whether these justification techniques are generally applicable to Mandaic text, rather than unique to this document.

Daniels saysd that [U+0847 MANDAIC LETTER IT] can sometimes be 'manipulated calligraphically in an otherwise pedestrian manuscript in order to fill out a line'.

Text spacing


This section looks at ways in which spacing is applied between characters over and above that which is introduced during justification.

Baselines, line height, etc.

Mandaic uses the so-called 'alphabetic' baseline, which is the same as for Latin and many other scripts.

A few Mandaic characters have glyphs that rise above the main height, and a few more that descend below the baseline. Diacritics are attached below the letters.

To give an approximate idea, fig_baselines compares Latin and Mandaic glyphs from the Noto font. Many Mandaic letters are less high than the Latin x-height, however some extend well below the Latin descenders, especially when they have combining marks attached. A few character glyphs reach the Latin cap-height.

Font metrics for Latin text compared with Mandaic glyphs in the Noto Serif Mandaic font.

Counters, lists, etc.


Styling initials


Page & book layout

This section is for any features that are specific to thisScript and that relate to the following topics: general page layout & progression; grids & tables; notes, footnotes, etc; forms & user interaction; page numbering, running headers, etc.