Updated 13 January, 2020
This page gathers together basic information about the Mandaic script and its use for the Neo-Mandaic language. It aims (generally) to provide an overview of the orthography and typographic features, and (specifically) to advise how to write Neo-Mandaic using Unicode; for greater details follow the footnote links (especially those with an arrow alongside them).
For character-specific details follow the links to the Mandaic character notes. See also the Mandaic character app, and the notes on Hausa.
For similar information related to this and other scripts, see the script links pages.
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. Colours and annotations on panels listing characters are relevant to their use for the Neo-Mandaic language.
Unless in parentheses, the transcriptions in italics that follow Neo-Mandaic text are a transliteration developed for these pages. Those in parentheses are usually more standard transcriptions. Transcriptions in ⌈ brackets ⌋ may be phonemic or phonetic.
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
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.
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.
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, ࡀ [U+0840 MANDAIC LETTER HALQA], at the end, and including a ligature, ࡗ [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.
Mandaic script is written right-to-left in horizontally stacked lines.
There are 4 vowel characters:
The first 3 represent the sounds a, u, o and i, e respectively. They represent long and short vowel sounds.
ࡏ [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:
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. ࡖ ḏ di, ࡗ kḏ, and ࡇ ẖ iː.
࡚ [U+085A MANDAIC VOCALIZATION MARK] is used in teaching materials to disambiguate the sound of a vowel:
The Mandaic block has 21 consonants:
17 of these are used in a straightforward way, but 4 require some explanation.
ࡇ [U+0847 MANDAIC LETTER IT] ẖ only appears at the end of personal names or at the end of words to indicate the third person singular suffix.
ࡖ [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 you and ࡖࡎࡉࡍࡀ ḏsinā disina of hatred.
ࡗ [U+0857 MANDAIC LETTER KAD] is used to write the word ࡗ kḏ when, as, like. It was derived from a digraph of ࡊ+ࡖ [U+084A MANDAIC LETTER AK + U+0856 MANDAIC LETTER DUSHENNA].
࡙ [U+0859 MANDAIC AFFRICATION MARK] extends the character set to cover foreign sounds. Extensions include the following:u
The character ࡘ [U+0858 MANDAIC LETTER AIN] is borrowed from ع [U+0639 ARABIC LETTER AIN] to represent the Arabic sound ʕ.
࡛ [U+085B MANDAIC GEMINATION MARK] indicates gemination of a consonant (referred to by native writers as 'hard' pronunciation), eg. ࡋࡉࡁ࡛ࡀ lib˖ā lebba heart.
The Mandaic block has 3 diacritics.
These are all described above.
The Mandaic block has only one punctuation character.
However, it appears that various western and arabic punctuation marks are also used in modern texts. See the section phrase.
The Unicode Mandaic block has no native digits. How numbers are represented in Mandaic text is TBD.
The script is unicameral and needs no transforms to convert between code points.
You can experiment with examples using the Mandaic character app.
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.
Other small adaptations may occur between certain adjacent characters, such as kl, wt and mn.d
Are special glyph forms needed, depending on the context in which a character is used? Do glyphs interact in some circumstances?
Are there requirements to position diacritics or other items specially, depending on context? Does the script have multiple diacritics competing for the same location relative to the base?
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:
Does the script have special requirements for baseline alignment between mixed scripts and in general?
Are italicisation, bolding, oblique, etc relevant? Do italic fonts lean in the right direction? Is synthesised italicisation problematic? Are there other problems relating to bolding or italicisation - perhaps relating to generalised assumptions of applicability?
Do Unicode grapheme clusters appropriately segment character units for the script? Are there special requirements when double-clicking on the text, or moving through the text with the cursor, or backspace, etc.?
Are words separated by spaces, or other characters? Are there special requirements when double-clicking on the text? Are words hyphenated?
Words are separated by spaces.
What characters are used to indicate the boundaries of phrases, sentences, and sections?
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.
What characters are used as parentheses, or to bracket information?
What characters are used to indicate quotations? Do quotations within quotations use different characters? What characters are used to indicate dialogue?
What characters are used to indicate abbreviation, ellipsis & repetition?
How are emphasis and highlighting achieved? If lines are drawn alongside, over or through the text, do they need to be a special distance from the text itself? Is it important to skip characters when underlining, etc? How do things change for vertically set text?
What mechanisms, if any, are used to create inline notes and annotations? (For referent-type notes such as footnotes, see below.)
Are there special rules about the way text wraps when it hits the end of a line? Does line-breaking wrap whole 'words' at a time, or characters, or something else (such as syllables in Tibetan and Javanese)? What characters should not appear at the end or start of a line, and what should be done to prevent that?
Lines usually break between words.
Character properties. Characters used for the thisLanguage language have the following assignments related to line-break properties.
|AL||26||ࡉ ࡅ ࡏ ࡀ ࡐ ࡁ ࡕ ࡃ ࡖ ࡈ ࡊ ࡂ ࡗ ࡒ ࡘ ࡎ ࡆ ࡑ ࡔ ࡄ ࡇ ࡌ ࡍ ࡓ ࡋ ࡞|
|CM||3||࡙ ࡛ ࡚|
AL (ordinary alphabetic and symbol characters) requires other characters to provide break opportunities; otherwise, unless tailored rules are applied, no line breaks are allowed between pairs of them.
CL (close punctuation) should be kept with the preceding character. The class CL is closely related to the class CP (Close Parenthesis). They differ only in that CP will not introduce a break when followed by a letter or number, which prevents breaks within constructs like “(s)he”.
CM (combining mark) takes on the behaviour of its base character.
EX (exclamation mark/interrogation) behave like closing characters, except in relation to postfix (PO) and non-starter characters (NS).
IS (infix numeric separators) usually occurs inside a numerical expression and may not be separated from the numeric characters that follow, unless a space character intervenes. For example, there is no break in “100.00” or “10,000”, nor in “12:59”..
OP (open punctuation) should be kept with the character that follows. This is desirable, even if there are intervening space characters, as it prevents the appearance of a bare opening punctuation mark at the end of a line.
QU (quotation) characters can be opening or closing, or even both, depending on usage. The default is to treat them as both opening and closing.
Is hyphenation used, or something else?
Does text in a paragraph needs to have flush lines down both sides? Does the script need assistance to conform to a grid pattern? Does the script allow punctuation to hang outside the text box at the start or end of a line? Where adjustments are need to make a line flush, how is that done? Does the script shrink/stretch space between words and/or letters? Are word baselines stretched, as in Arabic? What about paragraph indents?
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 ࡇ [U+0847 MANDAIC LETTER IT] can sometimes be 'manipulated calligraphically in an otherwise pedestrian manuscript in order to fill out a line'.
Does the script create emphasis or other effects by spacing out the words, letters or syllables in a word? (For justification related spacing, see above.).
Are there list or other counter styles in use? If so, what is the format used? Do counters need to be upright in vertical text? Are there other aspects related to counters and lists that need to be addressed?
Does the script use special styling of the initial letter of a line or paragraph, such as for drop caps or similar? How about the size relationship between the large letter and the lines alongide? where does the large letter anchor relative to the lines alongside? is it normal to include initial quote marks in the large letter? is the large letter really a syllable? etc.
How are the main text area and ancilliary areas positioned and defined? Are there any special requirements here, such as dimensions in characters for the Japanese kihon hanmen? The book cover for scripts that are read right-to-left scripts is on the right of the spine, rather than the left. When content can flow vertically and to the left or right, how to specify the location of objects, text, etc. relative to the flow? Do tables and grid layouts work as expected? How do columns work in vertical text? Can you mix block of vertical and horizontal text? Does text scroll in a different direction?
Does the script have special requirements for character grids or tables?
Does the script have special requirements for notes, footnotes, endnotes or other necessary annotations of this kind? (There is a section above for purely inline annotations, such as ruby or warichu. This section is more about annotation systems that separate the reference marks and the content of the notes.)
Are vertical form controls needed? Are scroll bars in an unusual position? Other special requirements for user interaction?
Are there special conventions for page numbering, or the way that running headers and the like are handled?
Version 12.0 of the Unicode Standard has the following block dedicated to the Mandaic script:
Apart from ASCII characters, the Mandaic orthography described here uses @@ characters (and @@ more, used infrequently) from the following Unicode blocks:
Character Usage has information about the following orthographies associated with this script: Neo-Mandaic
For detailed character-specific information see the Mandaic character notes..
According to ScriptSource, the Mandaic script is used for the following languages: