Mandaic script summary

Updated 23 February, 2018 • tags scriptnotes, mandaic

This page provides basic information about the Mandaic script. It is not authoritative, peer-reviewed information – these are just notes I have gathered or copied from various places as I learned. For character-specific details follow the links to the Mandaic character notes.

For similar information related to other scripts, see the Script comparison table.

Clicking on red text examples, or highlighting part of the sample text shows a list of characters, with links to more details. Click on the vertical blue bar (bottom right) to change font settings for the sample text.

Sample (Mandaic)

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

From Scriptsource:

The Mandaic script is used for writing Mandaic, an Iraqi language spoken by about 5,500 people. It is also the script of Classical Mandaic, the liturgical language of the Mandaean religion. The script has been difficult to date, and its exact derivation is controversial, but many scholars believe it to be closely related with a number of scripts descended from Parthian, itself descended from Aramaic writing. Early examples of Mandaic writing reveal that the script has remained relatively unchanged since it began to be used.

From Wikipedia:

Neo-Mandaic, sometimes called the "ratna" (Arabic: رطنة‎ raṭna "jargon"), is the modern reflex of Classical Mandaic, the liturgical language of the Mandaean religious community of Iraq and Iran. Although severely endangered, it survives today as the first language of a small number of Mandaeans (possibly as few as 100–200 speakers) in Iran and in the Mandaean diaspora. All Neo-Mandaic speakers are bi- or even tri-lingual in the languages of their neighbors, Arabic and Persian, and the influence of these languages upon the grammar of Neo-Mandaic is considerable, particularly in the lexicon and the morphology of the noun. Nevertheless, Neo-Mandaic is more conservative even in these regards than most other Neo-Aramaic dialects.

Key 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, taken from the Script Comparison Table.

Mandaic script is written right-to-left. Words are separated by spaces, and contain a mixture of consonants and vowels, with diacritics to indicate vowel quality, gemination, or foreign sounds.

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].

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.

Character lists

The Mandaic script characters in Unicode 10.0 are in a single block:

The following links give information about characters used for languages associated with this script. The numbers in parentheses are for non-ASCII characters.

For character-specific details see Character notes.

Consonants

The Mandaic block has 21 consonants:

list all
bb
gɡ
dd
hh
zz
iː, ħu
kk
ll
mm
nn
ss
pp
qq
rr
šʃ
tt
di
kḏkḏi
ʕʕ

17 of these are used in a straightforward way, but 4 require some explanation.

Special consonants

[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 ḏnpaqt dinpaqt who left you and ࡖࡎࡉࡍࡀ ḏsina disina of hatred.

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

phonetic extensions

 ࡙ [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.

Geminated consonants

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

Vowels

Vowel characters

There are 4 vowel characters:

list all
āaː, a
uu, uː, o
ii, iː, e
ʿ-, e, i, iː, u

The first 3 represent the sounds a, u, o and i, e respectively. They represent long and short vowel sounds.

[U+084F MANDAIC LETTER IN] is also used with vowel characters or on its own to form vowels, in ways that are similar to the use of AIN in other writing systems. On its own at the start of a word it represents e, but it is also used in the following situations:

  1. silently before and for word-initial i and u, respectively.
  2. to replace two adjacent letters in a word.
  3. as a preference instead of when it occurs after a letter with a downwards point, ie. ࡊ ࡍ ࡐ ࡑ.
  4. in place of ࡉࡀ at the end of a word when it represents rather than ja.

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. di, kḏ, and .

Vowel disambiguation

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

Diacritics

The Mandaic block has 3 diacritics.

list all
 ࡙
 ࡛
 ࡚

These are all described above.

Punctuation

The Mandaic block has only one punctuation character.

list all

However, it appears that various western and arabic punctuation marks are also used in modern texts. See the Text Layout section below.

Numbers

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

Context-based rendering

Cursive joining

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.

The cursive treatment doesn't produce significant variations of the essential part of the glyph for a character (unlike Arabic). In some letters, the joining edge of the glyph adapts to join with an adjacent character.

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

Glyph 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.

Text layout

Text direction

Mandaic script is written right-to-left in horizontally stacked lines.

Text delimiters

Words are separated by spaces.

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

The keyboard at MandeanNetwork.com 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.

list all
،
؛
«
»
؟
﴿

Line breaking

Lines usually break between words.

Justification

When text is fully justified the baseline may be stretched, as in Arabic. [Unicode] saysu that ـ [U+0640 ARABIC TATWEEL] may be used to achieve that effect, however this is not a good solution typographically.

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'.

Use the control below to see how your browser justifies the text sample here.

ࡊࡋ ࡁࡓ ࡀࡍࡀࡔࡀ ࡌࡉࡕࡋࡉࡓ ࡔࡀࡅࡉࡀ ࡁࡏࡒࡀࡓࡀ ࡅࡀࡂࡓࡉࡀ࡞ ࡁࡉࡍࡕࡀ ࡅࡕࡉࡓࡕࡀ ࡏࡕࡄࡉࡁࡋࡅࡍ ࡅࡋࡅࡀࡕ ࡄࡓࡀࡓࡉࡀ ࡈࡀࡁࡅࡕࡀ ࡀࡁࡓࡉࡍ ࡀࡊࡅࡀࡕ ࡖࡍࡉࡄࡅࡍ ࡀࡄࡉࡀ࡞

TBD

Other features to be investigated in this section include: text delimiters, emphasis & highlighting, text decoration, abbreviations & ellipsis, hyphens & dashes glyph controls quotations, line breaking, hyphenation, justification & alignment, first-letter styling, notes & footnotes, page layout

References

  1. [D] Peter T. Daniels and William Bright, The World's Writing Systems, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-507993-0, pp511-513
  2. [W] Mandaic alphabet
  3. [U] The Unicode Standard v10.0, pp405-407
  4. [E] Proposal for encoding the Mandaic script in the BMP of the UCS
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