Classical Syriac
Estrangela Syriac

Updated 16 July, 2022

This page brings together basic information about the Estrangela form of the Syriac script and its use for the Classical dialects of the Syriac language, although the brief is a little vague and it also describes numerous diacritics that have been used for Syriac texts, and from time to time compares Estrangela with Eastern and Western forms of the orthography. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Syriac using Unicode. For use of modern vernacular forms of Syriac, Eastern and Western, see the separate orthography descriptions for Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and Turoyo, respectively.

Samples

Select part of this sample text to show a list of characters, with links to more details. Source
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Although this page is mainly about the Estrangela form of the Syriac script, we will provide here samples of the later Western and Eastern forms also, for comparison.

Estrangela

ܘܐܢܫ̈ܝܢ ܐܡܪܝܢ ܕܐܟܙܢܐ ܩܕ݂ܡܝܬ݂ ܪܟܒ ܐܬܘ̈ܬܐ ܥܒܪ̈ܝܬܐ ܘܒܗܝܢ ܣܡ ܢܡܘܣܐ ܆ ܗܟܢܐ ܘܫܝܠܡܘܢ ܪܟܒ ܐܬܘ̈ܬܐ ܕܣܦܪ̈ܐ ܐܚܪ̈ܢܐ ܘܝܗ݂ܒ ܠܥܡ̈ܡܐ ܕܐܬܝܩܪ ܡܢܗܘܢ ܂ ܘܩܕܡܝܬ ܕܣܘܪܝܝܐ ܗ̇ܘ ܕܝܗܒ ܠܚܝܪܡ ܕܨܘܪ

Western (Serto)

Only the first part of the Serto sample is pointed.

ܣܷܦ݂ܪ̈ܶܐ ܗܳܠܷܝܢ ܕܰܠܘܳܬܱܢ ܂ ܘܒ݂ܳܐܬ݂ܱܪ̈ܘܳܬ݂ܳܐ ܕܰܚܕ݂ܳܪ̈ܰܝܢ ܂ ܡܢܷܗܘܿܢ ܡܱ̇ܢ ܡܫܰܡܠܷܝܢ ܘܓܡܝܪܝܢ݂ ܡܢܗܘܢ ܕܝܢ݂ ܚ݁ܣܝܪܝܢ ܘܒܨܝܪܝܢ ܂ ܘܣܦܪ̈ܐ ܡܫ̈ܡܠܝܐ ܠܟܠ ܛܘܦܣܐ ܡܬܠܬܡܢܐ ܒܠܫܢܐ ܐܬܘܬܐ ܕܡܬܪܫܡܐ ܒܟܬܒܐ݂ ܠܗܘܢ ܡܫܬܟܚܐ ܂

Eastern (Modern Aramaic Koine)

ܩܘ݂ܝܵܡܵܐ ܕܟܠ ܚܕܵܐ ܐܘ݂ܡܬܵܐ ܬܸܠܝܵܐ ܝܠܹܗ ܒܠܸܫܵܢܘ݁ܗ، ܘܠܸܫܵܢܵܐ ܒܟܬܝ݂ܵܒ݂ܵܬܘ݂ܗܝ ܘܒܣܸܦܪܵܝܘ݂ܬܘ݂ܗܝ. ܚܲܕ ܠܸܫܵܢܵܐ ܕܠܐ ܟܬܝܼ̈ܒܹܬܵܐ، ܐܲܝܟ ܚܲܕ ܟܲܪܡܵܐ ܝܠܹܗ ܕܠܵܐ ܢܵܛܘܿܪܹ̈ܐ. ܐܵܗܵܐ ܒܸܬ ܦܵܐܹܣ ܐ݇ܟ݂ܝܼܠܵܐ ܒܓܸܠܹ̈ܐ ܫܹܐܕܵܢܹ̈ܐ، ܘܠܸܫܵܢܵܐ ܒܚܵܒܪܹ̈ܐ ܢܘ݂ܼܟܪ݂̈ܵܝܹܐ.

Usage & history

The Estrangela Syriac script is used to write Classical Syriac Aramaic, but it is not found much in modern times outside of liturgical use. It may however appear in titles or decorative text in modern content. In its history it has also been used for other dialects and languages. The modern languages Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and Turoyo use variant forms of the orthography which are described on separate pages.

We use the name 'Estrangela' here for the version of the orthography used for Classical Syriac, but Western Syriac refers to this as 'Estrangelo'.

ܐܠܦ ܒܝܬ ܣܘܪܝܝܐ ālep̄ bêṯ Sūryāyā Syriac alphabet 

Primarily used to write the Syriac language from the 1st century AD, Syriac is one of the Semitic abjads descending from the Aramaic alphabet through the Palmyrene alphabet, and it shares similarities with the Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic and the traditional Mongolian scripts.

The Syriac language has two dialects, which are very similar, with almost no differences in grammar or vocabulary, but there are differences in pronunciation.

The script, however, has three main forms: maḏnḥāyā (ܡܲܕ݂ܢܚܵܝܵܐ) (eastern), ʾesṭrangēlā (ܐܣܛܪܢܓܠܐ), and serṭā (ܣܶܪܛܳܐ) (western).

Garshuni (ܓܪܫܘܢܝ) texts are Arabic written in the Syriac script. When Arabic began to be the dominant spoken language in the Fertile Crescent after the Islamic conquest, texts were often written in Arabic using the Syriac script as knowledge of the Arabic alphabet was not yet widespread. It is currently used for writing Arabic liturgical texts amongst the Syriac-speaking Christians. A large corpus of manuscripts ranging from the 8th century till the modern day exists in Garshuni. Garshuni employs two additional letters and the Arabic set of vowels and combining marks.n,6

Syriac has also been used to write Persian, and Ottoman Turkish. In addition to Semitic languages, Sogdian was also written with Syriac script, as well as Malayalam, which form was called Suriyani Malayalam.

Basic features

Syriac is an abjad. The script relies mostly on consonant sounds to write words, although in Modern Aramaic written in Syriac vowel sounds tend to be written using diacritics, making it more like an alphabetic script. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for the Syriac Estrangela orthography as used for the Syriac language.

For use of modern vernacular forms of Syriac, see the separate orthography descriptions for Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and Turoyo.

Words in Syriac are separated by spaces.

Text runs from right to left in horizontal lines. If ASCII digits are used, the numbers run left to right within the right to left flow.

Estrangela Syriac has a basic set of 21 consonant letters, 6 of which represent both a plosive (hard) and a fricative (soft) sound. This page describes 19 more that are used for extensions of the script for other languages, and 4 others that are of archaic, symbolic, or word-final use.

Although modern vernacular derivatives, such as those for Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and Turoyo, are usually fully pointed, Estrangela doesn't normally have vowel diacritics. Its origins go back to a time before such additions were common. It does, however, use 3 matres lectionis.

A significant feature of Syriac is its large number of diacritics, encoded both in the Syriac block and the Combining Diacritical Marks block (plus the Arabic block for Garshuni text). For the 17 vowel-related diacritics, see the vowel sections in the orthography descriptions for Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and Turoyo (eastern and western styles, respectively). This page lists 19 additional diacritics used to annotate and disambiguate the text. Garshuni uses 12 more diacritics to represent vowels.

Note on transliteration: The transliterated text here conforms mostly to that of the sources used, but takes a departure for the vowels in order to ensure a one-to-one correspondence between Syriac and Latin characters.

Character index

Letters

Show

Consonants

ܦ␣ܒ␣ܬ␣ܛ␣ܕ␣ܟ␣ܓ␣ܩ␣ܥ␣ܣ␣ܤ␣ܨ␣ܫ␣ܙ␣ܚ␣ܗ␣ܡ␣ܢ␣ܘ␣ܪ␣ܠ␣ܝ
ܞ␣ܧ

Vowels

ܐ

Other

ـ

Not used

ܖ

Combining marks

Show

Vowels

ܼ␣ܸ␣ܹ␣ܿ␣ܲ␣ܵ␣ܺ␣ܻ␣ܽ␣ܾ␣ܶ␣ܷ␣ّ␣ܰ␣ܱ␣ܳ␣ܴ

Other

݁␣݂␣̊␣̥␣݀␣̇␣̣␣݃␣݄␣̈␣̤␣݇␣݈␣̄␣̱␣̭␣݉␣݊␣̮

Not used

ܑ␣݅␣݆

Punctuation

Show
،␣؛␣.␣؟␣܀␣܁␣܂␣܃␣܄␣܅␣܆␣܇␣܈␣܉␣܊␣܏␣܋␣܌␣܍

Symbols

Show
♰␣♱

Other

Show
܏
‌␣‍␣⁧␣‫␣⁦␣‪␣⁨␣⁩␣‬␣‏␣‎
Items to show in lists

Phonology

These are sounds for the Syriac language. There are several dialects, each of which have slight phonetic differences. For more detail, see Wikipedia.

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

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

Vowel sounds

Plain vowels.

ɪ i u e o ə ə ɛ ɔ a ɑ ɑ

Diphthongs

aj aw

Consonant sounds

labial dental alveolar post-
alveolar
palatal velar uvular pharyngeal glottal
stops & affricates p b t d   t͡ʃ d͡ʒ c ɟ k ɡ q   ʔ
ejective   t͡ʃˤ      
aspirated   t͡ʃʰ      
fricatives f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ
  x ɣ   ħ ʕ h
ejective                
nasals m   n     ŋ    
approximants,
trills, flaps
ʋ w   l r ɾ   j      
ejective        

Among most Assyrian Neo-Aramaic speakers, the pharyngeal ʕ is pronounced as ʔ or , or geminates a previous consonant.

Show notes on dialectal variations, taken directly from Wikipedia:
  • In Iraqi Koine Assyrian and many Urmian & Northern dialects, the palatals c, ɟ and aspirate are considered the predominate realisation of k, g and aspirate .
  • The phoneme ħ is only used by Assyrian-speakers under larger Arabic influence. In most dialects, it is realised as x. The one exception to this is the dialect of Hértevin, which merged the two historical phonemes into ħ, thus lacking x instead.
  • The pharyngeal ʕ, represented by the letter `e, is a marginal phoneme that is generally upheld in formal or religious speech. Among the majority of Assyrian speakers, `e would be realised as aɪ̯, eɪ̯, ɛ, j, deleted, or even geminating the previous consonant, depending on the dialect and phonological context.
  • f is a phoneme heard in the Tyari, Barwari and Chaldean dialects. In most of the other Assyrian varieties, it merges with p. though f is found in loanwords for these varieties of Assyrian.
  • The phonemes t and d have allophonic realisations of θ and ð (respectively) in most Lower Tyari, Barwari and Chaldean dialects, which is a carryover of begadkefat from the Ancient Aramaic period.
  • In the Upper Tyari dialects, θ is realised as ʃ or t; in the Marga dialect, the t may at times be replaced with s.
  • In the Urmian dialect, w has a widespread allophone ʋ (it may vacillate to v for some speakers).
  • In the Jilu dialect, q is uttered as a tense k. This can also occur in other dialects.
  • ɡ is affricated, thus pronounced as d͡ʒ in some Urmian, Tyari and Nochiya dialects. k would be affricated to t͡ʃ in the same process.
  • ɣ is a marginal phoneme that occurs across all dialects. Either a result of the historic splitting of g, through loanwords, or by contact of x with a voiced consonant.
  • ʒ is found predominately from loanwords, but, in some dialects, also from the voicing of ʃ (e.g. (ḥašbunā) xaʒbu:na:, counting, from the root ḥ-š-b, to count) as in the Jilu dialect or the fortition of j (e.g. Urmiynāyā > Urmižnāyā Uɾ:mɪ:ʒna:ja:, Urmian from mija water)
  • n can be pronounced ŋ before velar consonants x and q and as m before labial consonants.

Vowels

Although modern vernacular derivatives, such as those for Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and Turoyo, are usually fully pointed, ʾEsṭrangēlā doesn't normally have vowel diacritics. Its origins go back to a time before such additions were common. It does, however, use 3 matres lectionis.

Vowel sounds to characters

This section maps Syriac vowel sounds to common graphemes in the Estrangela 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.

Only sounds for which matres lectionis exist are described.

Plain vowels

Diphthongs and other combinations

Consonants representing vowels (matres lectionis)

Three consonants can also represent vowels. They are ܐ [U+0710 SYRIAC LETTER ALAPH], ܘ [U+0718 SYRIAC LETTER WAW] and ܝ [U+071D SYRIAC LETTER YUDH]. For details, click on the glyphs in this list.

ܐ␣ܝ␣ܘ

Standalone vowels

Standalone vowels at the beginning of a word, or word internally are generally all represented by ܐ [U+0710 SYRIAC LETTER ALAPH], however that may or may not indicate a vowel following a glottal stop. In word-initial position, Wiktionary transcriptions seem to consistently indicate that ALAPH represents a glottal stop, but not so in other locations.

ܐܒܓܕ

ܐܝܣܪܐܝܠ

Consonants

Estrangela Syriac has a basic set of 21 consonant letters, 6 of which represent both a plosive (hard) and a fricative (soft) sound. This page describes 19 more that are used for extensions of the script for other languages, and 4 others that are of archaic, symbolic, or word-final use.

Consonant sounds to characters

This section maps Syriac consonant sounds to common graphemes in the Estrangela 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, Sanskrit, etc.

Stops

Fricatives

Nasals

Other

Basic consonants

All the letters in the Syriac block are consonants. There are 22 basic consonant letters, but several may represent more than one consonant sound.

ܦ␣ܒ␣ܬ␣ܛ␣ܕ␣ܟ␣ܓ␣ܩ␣ܥ
ܣ␣ܤ␣ܨ␣ܫ␣ܙ␣ܚ␣ܗ
ܡ␣ܢ
ܘ␣ܪ␣ܠ␣ܝ

ܣ [U+0723 SYRIAC LETTER SEMKATH] has a separate code point for its final form, ܤ [U+0724 SYRIAC LETTER FINAL SEMKATH], like Greek sigma or several letters in the Hebrew block.

Hard and soft sounds

݂␣݁␣̮

The following consonant symbols represent two sounds, one 'hard' and one 'soft'. The hard sound is an unaspirated plosive, the soft sound is an aspirated fricative or w.

ܦ␣ܒ␣ܬ␣ܕ␣ܟ␣ܓ

The intended sound of the letter can be made explicit using diacritics, however they are optional (and none of the Wiktionary lemmas used here as examples employ them).

Hard form. A high dot indicates the hard form. The code point to use is   ݁  [U+0741 SYRIAC QUSHSHAYA].

ܦ݁␣ܒ݁␣ܬ݁␣ܕ݁␣ܟ݁␣ܓ݁

ܦ݁ܐ

Soft form. A low dot indicates the soft form. The code point to use is   ݂  [U+0742 SYRIAC RUKKAKHA].

ܦ݂␣ܒ݂␣ܬ݂␣ܕ݂␣ܟ݂␣ܓ݂

ܐܠܦ݂ ʾālap̄

An East Syriac addition. Late and modern East Syriac texts use   ̮ [U+032E COMBINING BREVE BELOW] to indicate a fricative form of ,w ie. ܦ̮

Alternative glyphs. Danielsd reports that the dots can also be written as small circles, and mixed freely with the above dot diacritics in West Syriac grammar books to indicate the hard/soft pronunciation of plosive letters.

These can be represented by the Unicode code points   ̊ [U+030A COMBINING RING ABOVE] and   ̥ [U+0325 COMBINING RING BELOW].

Repertoire extensions

Eastern Syriac additions

Eastern Syriac uses a couple of additional symbols, though they don't introduce new sounds:

ܞ␣ܧ

ܞ [U+071E SYRIAC LETTER YUDH HE] is an abbreviation for "God" used in some ceremonial contexts but not ordinary text. It used as a symbol, with no pronunciation.

ܧ [U+0727 SYRIAC LETTER REVERSED PE] is used in Christian Palestinian Aramaic.

Garshuni

Garshuni (ܓܪܫܘܢܝ) refers to the practise of writing Arabic in the syriac script. In addition to Arabic script diacritics, a couple of Syriac letter forms are used.

ܔ␣ܜ␣ً␣ٌ␣ٍ␣َ␣ُ␣ِ␣ّ␣ْ␣ٰ␣ٕ␣ٔ␣ٓ␣̈

To represent teh marbuta, Syriac uses ̈   [U+0308 COMBINING DIAERESIS]. Vowel sounds are written using the Arabic harakat marks.

Dalath Rish

ܖ

ܖ [U+0716 SYRIAC LETTER DOTLESS DALATH RISH] is an alternative shape that can be used to represent an ambiguous, dotless letter in ancient texts that would be represented in more recent texts by one of ܕ [U+0715 SYRIAC LETTER DALATH] or ܪ [U+072A SYRIAC LETTER RISH].

ܥܖܒܝܐ

Additional consonants

Several additional consonants are used for writing other languages in Syriac: 3 for Persian

ܭ␣ܮ␣ܯ

3 for Sogdian

ݍ␣ݎ␣ݏ

and 11 for Malayalam in the Syriac Supplement block.

Isolated forms

Isolated versions of 3 letters, such as may be found in counter styles, are usually presented as a doubled letter, using intial and final forms, ie. ܟܟ k ܡܡ m ܢܢ n

Comparison of shapes

The glyphs used to represent consonants in Estrangelo, Eastern, and Western Syriac can be significantly different. The following list compares them, top to bottom, in that order.

ܦܦܦppp, p̄
ܒܒܒbbb ḇ
ܬܬܬttt ṯ
ܕܕܕddd ḏ
ܛܛܛ
ܟܟܟkkk ḵ č
ܓܓܓɡgg ḡ ǧ
ܩܩܩqqq
ܐܐܐʔʾʾ ȃ
ܣܣܣsss
ܙܙܙzzz ž
ܨܨܨ
ܫܫܫʃʃš ẑ
ܚܚܚħħ
ܥܥܥʕʿʿ
ܗܗܗhhh
ܡܡܡmmm
ܢܢܢnnn
ܘܘܘwww û ô
ܪܪܪrrr
ܠܠܠlll
ܝܝܝjyy î
ܖܖܖdd ḏ
ܞܞܞjh
ܤܤܤ-ss
ܧܧܧpp

Consonant clusters

There is no equivalent to the Arabic sukun to indicate clusters of consonant sounds. (Although the Arabic character can be used when transliterating Arabic text in Syriac script.)

However, the short a and ɪ vowels are only used in closed syllables, so if they are followed by an intervocalic consonant, it indicates that the consonant is doubled,d eg. compare ܣܲܡܵܐ sămaʾ samma poisonܣܵܡܵܐ samaʾ saːma portion

Baseline elongation

ـ

Syriac uses the Arabic character ـ [U+0640 ARABIC TATWEEL] to lengthen the baseline.

Diacritics

A significant feature of Syriac is its large number of diacritics, encoded both in the Syriac block and the Combining Diacritical Marks block (plus the Arabic block for Garshuni text). For the 17 vowel-related diacritics, see the vowel sections in the orthography descriptions for Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and Turoyo (eastern and western styles, respectively). This page lists 19 additional diacritics used to annotate and disambiguate the text. Garshuni uses 12 more diacritics to represent vowels.

The list below shows all the additional diacritics: click on the letter to see detailed description; click on the arrow to find an in-context description that groups together similar diacritics.

݇␣݈␣̄␣̱␣̭␣݉␣݊␣݁␣݂␣̮␣̊␣̥␣݀␣̇␣̣␣݃␣݄␣̈␣̤
ܒ݇␣ܒ݈␣ܒ̄␣ܒ̱␣ܒ̭␣ܒ݉␣ܒ݊␣ܒ݁␣ܒ݂␣ܒ̮␣ܒ̊␣ܒ̥␣ܒ݀␣ܒ̇␣ܒ̣␣ܒ݃␣ܒ݄␣ܒ̈␣ܒ̤

These diacritics are used in unpointed as well as pointed text.

Silent letters (talqana)

 ݇ [U+0747 SYRIAC OBLIQUE LINE ABOVE] is used in the Eastern style to indicate letters that are not pronounced. It is frequently used in the modern Aramaic koine to bridge difference in dialects. For example, the following is pronounced baθar in some modern dialects, harking back to the classical pronunciation, but bar in Urmi and the koine.

ܒܬ݇ܪ bt݇r after

The letters ܐ [U+0710 SYRIAC LETTER ALAPH], ܥ [U+0725 SYRIAC LETTER E], ܗ [U+0717 SYRIAC LETTER HE], and ܝ [U+071D SYRIAC LETTER YUDH], when included for etymological reasons, are often silent, though without using the talqana.n

The Unicode Standard says that  ݈  [U+0748 SYRIAC OBLIQUE LINE BELOW​] is used in a similar way.u

The Western style uses    ̱ [U+0331 COMBINING MACRON BELOW], eg. the above example would be written ܒܬ̱ܪ bṯr

ܑ   [U+0711 SYRIAC LETTER SUPERSCRIPT ALAPH] is used in East Syriac texts to indicate an etymological alaph, eg. ܩܲܖ݄ܡܵܝܑܼܬ̣ qaḋ‒݄māyˈit‒̜ It maps to nothing in West Syriac.

Plurals (syame)

̈   [U+0308 COMBINING DIAERESIS] is used to represent the Syriac syame (ܣܝ̈ܡܐ), which indicates plural nouns, adjectives and participles. It is needed because many plural words would otherwise look the same as the singular word, eg. the following could be read as either malkā king or as malkē kings.

ܡܠܟܐ mlkʾ malkā king

Instead, the plural form can be written

ܡܠܟ̈ܐ mlk̋ʾ malkē kings

Although it's not strictly needed for non-regular words, it is also used for them, eg. ܒܝܬܐ bytʾ (baytā) houseܒ̈ܬܐ b̋tʾ (bāttē) houses

Some modern usage, however, omits this diacritic when vowel marks are present, because it is redundant.

An author can place this mark above any letter in a word, but if the word contains one or more of ܪ [U+072A SYRIAC LETTER RISH] the mark is generally placed over the one which is nearest the word end, and replaces the single dot above it, eg. ܢܘܟ݂ܪ̈ܝܐ nwk‒̣r‒̈yʾ nuxrajɪ modern

Other likely locations include low rising letters, and letters near the middle or end of a word.w

Disambiguation marks

Diacritics can be used to disambiguate the pronunciation of otherwise identical-looking words. For example:

ܩ̇ܛܠܬ qᵵlt I killed ܩܛ̣ܠܬ qᵵlt you (m.) killed ܩܛܠܬ݀ qᵵlt she killed

Dots

̇   [U+0307 COMBINING DOT ABOVE​] and ̣   [U+0323 COMBINING DOT BELOW​] are used to disambiguate certain letters, morphemes or words, eg. compare ܡ̇ܢ ṁn man who ܡ̣ܢ ṃn mɪn from

The dot is also written over the 3rd person feminine suffix.

ܘܗ̇ -wḣ -o

And the masculine and feminine personal pronouns and their corresponding demonstratives.

̇ܘ ḣw aw ܗ̇ܝ ḣy aj

Feminine marker

 ݀ [U+0740 SYRIAC FEMININE DOT​] is a feminine marker used with ܬ [U+072C SYRIAC LETTER TAW] to indicate a feminine suffix. East Syriac fonts should render as two dots below the base letter, whereas West Syriac fonts render as a single dot to the left of the base, eg. compare in the Eastern (top) and Western (bottom) orthographies in fig_feminine (click on the images to see the underlying code points):

ܕܲܫܘܵܬ݀
ܕܰܫܘܳܬ݀
The same word in Eastern (left) and Western (right) script styles, showing the different appearance of the feminine marker in each (coloured here, after or below the last character.)

Other diacritics

݃   [U+0743 SYRIAC TWO VERTICAL DOTS ABOVE] and   ݄   [U+0744 SYRIAC TWO VERTICAL DOTS BELOW] are accent marks.

Found in ancient manuscripts,   ̤   [U+0324 COMBINING DIAERESIS BELOW] has a grammatical and phonological function.

̄   [U+0304 COMBINING MACRON​] and    ̱ [U+0331 COMBINING MACRON BELOW] are used for various purposes, ranging from phonological to grammatical and orthographic markers.d Nelson et al. describe the following uses for the lower line: "the sublinear line can be used to: 1) indicate that the letter under which it lies is not to be pronounced, 2) disambiguate between the passive imperative verb from the passive past since they are homographs, and 3) to indicate that the letter under which it lies is to be pronounced with a shewa".n,8

̭   [U+032D COMBINING CIRCUMFLEX ACCENT BELOW​] is used as a digit marker.u

݉   [U+0749 SYRIAC MUSIC] is associated with music, and   ݊   [U+074A SYRIAC BARREKH] is a diacritic cross.

Diacritics for Assyrian/Turoyo

̃␣̰␣ܑ␣݅␣݆

Combining tildes are used in modern Syriac styles to modify the sound of a consonant, eg. to represent sounds not found in non-classical Syriac.

These marks are called ܡܓ̰ܠܝܢܐ maǧlīyānā, and they are combined with a base consonant to represent non-classical sounds in modern dialects or to change the sound for foreign words. It is applied to 4 consonants in Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, and 2 in Turoyo.

The maǧliyana is written using one of 2 code points from the Combining Diacritic Marks block:   ̃   [U+0303 COMBINING TILDE] or   ̰   [U+0330 COMBINING TILDE BELOW].

The superscript alaph indicates etymological information (see talqana), but is only used in the East Syriac style.

݅   [U+0745 SYRIAC THREE DOTS ABOVE] and   ݆   [U+0746 SYRIAC THREE DOTS BELOW] are used in Turoyo  for letters not found in Classical Syriac, eg. ܐ݅ ܦܪܥܓܬܐܔ݆ܰܥܓܰܗ̈

Symbols

♰␣♱

These characters are [U+2670 WEST SYRIAC CROSS] and [U+2671 EAST SYRIAC CROSS].

Numbers

Modern Syriac uses Western digits, like Hebrew.n,11

There is also, however, a letter-based number system. Wikipedia hints at the use of diacritics to create higher numbers (using various systems of dashes above or below, [bet] can stand for 2,000 and 20,000wb,#Syriac_Beth).

Nelson et al. go further with the following: "When letters are used to designate numbers, a circumflex under the letter Alaph represents the numerical value 10,000,000 according to Oddo (1897), but 100,000 according to Costaz (1955); Payne Smith’s monumental lexicon assigns the value 10,000,000 to an Alaph with two dots under it!".n,8

For more information see this Wikipedia page (in Syriac).

܏MVS [U+070F SYRIAC ABBREVIATION MARK] (SAM) is used to indicate letter-based numbers. Note how, in this example, the prefix ܒ, is not covered by the SAM, only the number itself.

ܒ܏ܝܗ
A prefixed number, with Syriac abbreviation mark only over the number part.

̭   [U+032D COMBINING CIRCUMFLEX ACCENT BELOW​] is also used as a digit marker.u

See also expressions.

Text direction

Syriac script is written horizontally, right-to-left. Like other RTL scripts, such as Arabic and Hebrew, modern numbers and text in LTR scripts are displayed left-to-right (producing 'bidirectional' text).

ܘܝܩܝܦܕܝܐ ܗܘ ܬܪܡܝܬܐ ܕܡܛܟܣܬܐ ܕܘܝܩܝܡܝܕܝܐ ܘܫܬܐܣ ܒ15 ܟܢܘܢ ܒ 2001 ܒܠܫܢܐ ܐܢܓܠܝܐ ܘܡܩܝܡܢܐ ܕܘܝܩܝܦܕܝܐ ܗܘ ܓܝܡܝ ܘܝܠܙ (Jimmy Wales).
Bidirectional Syriac text. Numbers and Latin text (highlighted) are read left-to-right, and the rest of the text flows right-to-left.

The Unicode Bidirectional Algorithm automatically takes care of the ordering for all the text in fig_bidi_text, as long as the 'base direction' is set to RTL. In HTML this can be set using the dir attribute, or in plain text using formatting controls.

If the base direction is not set appropriately, the directional runs will be ordered incorrectly as in fig_bidi_no_base_direction.

ܐܝ ܦܝ (IP) ܕܝܠܟ ܢܬܟܬܒ ܒܬܫܥܝܬܐ ܕܦܐܬܐ.
The exact same sequence of characters with the base direction set to RTL (top), and with no base direction set on this LTR page (bottom).

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

For other aspects of dealing with right-to-left writing systems see the following sections:

For more information about how directionality and base direction work, see Unicode Bidirectional Algorithm basics. For information about plain text formatting characters see How to use Unicode controls for bidi text. And for working with markup in HTML, see Creating HTML Pages in Arabic, Hebrew and Other Right-to-left Scripts.

Managing text direction

Unicode provides a set of 10 formatting characters that can be used to control the direction of text when displayed. These characters have no visual form in the rendered text, however text editing applications may have a way to show their location.

RLE [U+202B RIGHT-TO-LEFT EMBEDDING] (RLE), LRE [U+202A LEFT-TO-RIGHT EMBEDDING] (LRE), and PDF [U+202C POP DIRECTIONAL FORMATTING] (PDF) are in widespread use to set the base direction of a range of characters. RLE/LRE comes at the start, and PDF at the end of a range of characters for which the base direction is to be set.

In Unicode 6.1, the Unicode Standard added a set of characters which do the same thing but also isolate the content from surrounding characters, in order to avoid spillover effects. They are RLI [U+2067 RIGHT-TO-LEFT ISOLATE] (RLI), LRI [U+2066 LEFT-TO-RIGHT ISOLATE] (LRI), and PDI [U+2069 POP DIRECTIONAL ISOLATE] (PDI). The Unicode Standard recommends that these be used instead.

There is also PDI [U+2068 FIRST STRONG ISOLATE] (FSI), used initially to set the base direction according to the first recognised strongly-directional character.

؜ALM [U+061C ARABIC LETTER MARK] (ALM) is used to produce correct sequencing of numeric data. Follow the link and see expressions for details. 

RLM [U+200F RIGHT-TO-LEFT MARK] (RLM) and LRM [U+200E LEFT-TO-RIGHT MARK] (LRM) are invisible characters with strong directional properties that are also sometimes used to produce the correct ordering of text.

For more information about how to use these formatting characters see How to use Unicode controls for bidi text. Note, however, that when writing HTML you should generally use markup rather than these control codes. For information about that, see Creating HTML Pages in Arabic, Hebrew and Other Right-to-left Scripts.

Expressions & sequences

A sequence of European numbers, for example a range separated by hyphens, runs from right to left in the Syriac script (and Arabic or Thaana scripts), whereas for Persian, Hebrew, N’Ko or Adlam scripts it runs left to right.

fig_range shows some Syriac text, which is right-to-left overall, containing a numeric range that is ordered RTL, ie. it starts with 240 and ends with 250.

ܛܪܦܐ 240-250 ܩܘܼܛܢ
A numeric range in Syriac language text.

The Unicode Bidirectional Algorithm automatically produces the expected ordering when a sequence or expression follows Syriac characters. However, a sequence that appears alone on a line doesn't benefit from this, so to make the text appear correctly for Syriac you should add ؜ALM [U+061C ARABIC LETTER MARK] (ALM) at the start of the line (see fig_ALM). This is an invisible formatting character.

A numeric date alone on a line of RTL text, with ALM before it (top), and without (bottom). (Click on each line to see the code points.)

Similar special ordering is applied to numbers in equations, such as 1 + 2 = 3, for Syriac language text.

For additional details on how direction of ranges interacts with surrounding characters and separators used, see the section Expressions & sequences in the Modern Standard Arabic orthography description.

Glyph shaping & positioning

You can experiment with examples using the Syriac character app.

Writing styles

There are 3 main writing styles: maḏnḥāyā (ܡܲܕ݂ܢܚܵܝܵܐ) (eastern), ʾesṭrangēlā (ܐܣܛܪܢܓܠܐ), and serṭā (ܣܶܪܛܳܐ) (western).

The phonetic repertoire is largely the same, as are the code points for the consonant letters, but the shapes of the letters and code points and shapes of vowel diacritics can vary significantly. fig_writing_styles shows the differences using typical fonts for each style.

ܒܪܫܝܬ ܐܝܬܘܗܝ ܗܘܐ ܡܠܬܐ. ܒ݁ܪܹܫܝܼܬ݂ ܐܝܼܬ݂ܵܘܗ݇ܝ ܗ݇ܘܵܐ ܡܸܠܬ݂ܵܐ. ܒ݁ܪܶܫܺܝܬ݂ ܐܻܝܬ݂ܰܘܗ̠ܝ ܗ̠ܘܳܐ ܡܶܠܬ݂ܳܐ.
The opening words of the Gospel of St John in (top to bottom) Estrangelo, Eastern Syriac and Western Syriac. Source w,#Alphabet_forms

fig_writing_styles_noto shows the same text, but this time using Noto fonts, which tend to show up better the essential differences in the shapes of the letters (since the font design is harmonised), at the cost of neutralising much of the distinctive flavour that each of these writing styles carry.

ܒܪܫܝܬ ܐܝܬܘܗܝ ܗܘܐ ܡܠܬܐ.

ܒ݁ܪܹܫܝܼܬ݂ ܐܝܼܬ݂ܵܘܗ݇ܝ ܗ݇ܘܵܐ ܡܸܠܬ݂ܵܐ.

ܒ݁ܪܶܫܺܝܬ݂ ܐܻܝܬ݂ܰܘܗ̠ܝ ܗ̠ܘܳܐ ܡܶܠܬ݂ܳܐ.

The opening words of the Gospel of St John in (top to bottom) Estrangelo, Eastern Syriac and Western Syriac, using Noto fonts. Source Wikipedia

See the list of letter shapes compared side-by-side for Estrangelo, Eastern Syriac and Western Syriac.

Another difference between the 3 writing styles is that Estrangelo is rarely pointed, whereas modern texts in Turoyo or Assyrian are typically fully-vowelled (to the point that they can be regarded as alphabetic, rather than abjads).

Font styles different from the main text are often used for headings.

east syriac with estrangelo headings
An East Syriac text with Estrangelo styles in the headings.n,40
west syriac with estrangelo headings
A West Syriac text with Estrangelo and East Syriac styles in the headings.n,37

Cursive text

Syriac 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, but the code point used for a given letter doesn't change.

ܦܘܠܝܛܝܩܝܬܐ

Letters join on the right or both sides in Syriac.

Seven letter shapes join only to the right. All other shapes join on both sides.

Cursive joining forms

The cursive treatment produces only minor changes to glyph shapes in most cases. A small number of letters, however, exhibit noteworthy changes, especially in word final positions. fig_joining_forms and fig_right_joining_forms show all the basic shapes in Assyrian and what their joining forms look like. Noteworthy variations are highlighted.

isolatedright-joineddual-joinleft-joined Syraic letters
ܒ ـܒ ـܒـ ܒـ
ܒ
ܦ ـܦ ـܦـ ܦـ
ܦ
ܣ ـܣ ـܣـ ܣـ
ܣ␣ܤ
ܩ ـܩ ـܩـ ܩـ
ܩ
ܡ ـܡ ـܡـ ܡـ
ܡ
ܫ ـܫ ـܫـ ܫـ
ܫ
ܛ ـܛ ـܛـ ܛـ
ܛ
ܠ ـܠ ـܠـ ܠـ
ܠ
ܟ ـܟ ـܟـ ܟـ
ܟ
ܚ ـܚ ـܚـ ܚـ
ܚ
ܝ ـܝ ـܝـ ܝـ
ܝ
ܓ ـܓ ـܓـ ܓـ
ܓ
ܥ ـܥ ـܥـ ܥـ
ܥ
ܢ ـܢ ـܢـ ܢـ
ܢ
Joining forms for shapes that join on both sides.
isolatedright-joined Syriac letters
ܐ ـܐ
ܐ
ܬ ـܬ
ܬ
ܙ ـܙ
ܙ
ܨ ـܨ
ܨ
ܘ ـܘ
ܘ
ܗ ـܗ
ܗ
ܕ ـܕ
ܕ␣ܪ
Joining forms for shapes that join on the right only.

In modern Syriac ܣ [U+0723 SYRIAC LETTER SEMKATH] joins on both sides, but in the earliest Estrangelo texts it only joined to the right.

Managing glyph shaping

ZWJ [U+200D ZERO WIDTH JOINER] (ZWJ) and ZWNJ [U+200C ZERO WIDTH NON-JOINER] (ZWNJ) are used to control the joining behaviour of cursive glyphs. They are particularly useful in educational contexts, but also have real world applications.

ZWJ permits a letter to form a cursive connection without a visible neighbour.

ZWNJ prevents two adjacent letters forming a cursive connection with each other when rendered.

Context-based shaping & positioning

Context-based shaping

See just above for shaping related to cursive joining.

Ligatures. Apart from the shaping required to support cursive behaviour, there are also optional and font-dependent word-final ligatures.

The vowel diacritics have been omitted from the examples below, but their presence doesn't affect the ligation process.

fig_serto_lig shows a selection of ligated forms for the Serto writing style.

ܐܠܗܐ alaph + lamadhܐܠܗܐ
ܓܠܦ gamal + lamadh ܓܠܦ
ܐܓܥܠ gamal + e ܐܓܥܠ
ܘܕܠـܝܠܐܝܬ yudh + taw ܘܕܠـܝܠܐܝܬ
ܕܬܬܠ ܐܢܬܬܐ lamadh + space + alaph ܕܬܬܠ ܐܢܬܬܐ
ܡܠܐܟ݂ܗ lamadh + alaph ܡܠܐܟ݂ܗ
ܚܠܠܝܢܝ lamadh + lamadh ܚܠܠܝܢܝ
ܐ̱ܢܐ nun + alaph ܐ̱ܢܐ
ܥܠ ܐܘܟܝܣܛܝܐ nun + alaph ܥܠ ܐܘܟܝܣܛܝܐ
ܕܘܨܢ sadhe + nun ܕܘܨܢ
Ligatures in West Syriac style orthography.

fig_east_lig shows a similar list for the East Syriac writing style.

ܐܠܗܝ he + yudhܐܠܗܝ
ܬܫܟܘܚܬܐ taw + alaphܬܫܟܘܚܬܐ
ܟܚܬܝ taw + yudh ܟܚܬܝ
ܨܕܐ dalath + final alaph ܨܕܐ
Ligatures in East Syriac style orthography.

One ligated pair, representing , has its own code point: ܞ [U+071E SYRIAC LETTER YUDH HE].

Context-based positioning

There are sometimes clashes between diacritic marks which have to be resolved by repositioning one of the diacritics, or sometimes producing a different solution.

For example, marks are usually centred vertically over or under a base character. If, however,   ݂   [U+0742 SYRIAC RUKKAKHA] appears below ܕ [U+0715 SYRIAC LETTER DALATH] when the glyph for that has a dot below, the mark is moved slightly to the right, as shown here.

ܕ݂

Rukkakha moves to the right to accommodate the dot under dalath.

If   ̈   [U+0308 COMBINING DIAERESIS] appears above ܪ [U+072A SYRIAC LETTER RISH] the mark replaces the single dot above the base letter.

ܪ̈

Combining diaeresis replaces the dot over rish.

In this example, the RISH character carries not only a combining diaeresis, but also a vowel mark, which is moved upwards to ride above the former.

ܪ̈ܵ   vs   ܝܵ

Rish + diaeresis + vowel mark causes stacking diacritics.

Baselines, line height, etc.

Syriac uses the alphabetic baseline.

To include the long ascenders and descenders in Syriac, plus the (sometimes stacked) diacritics, line heights need to be slightly larger than for English text.

Font styles

tbd

Character transforms

Syriac is monocameral.

Typographic units

Grapheme boundaries

tbd

Punctuation & inline features

Word boundaries

Syriac uses spaces between words.

There are no one-letter words. One letter conjunctions and prepositions such as ܘ w are continguous with the word they precede.

Phrase & section boundaries

،␣؛␣܆␣܇␣.␣؟

Modern Syriac uses ASCII punctuation and punctuation borrowed from Arabic. For separators at the sentence level and below, the following are used.

phrase ، [U+060C ARABIC COMMA]
؛ [U+061B ARABIC SEMICOLON]
܆ [U+0706 SYRIAC COLON SKEWED LEFT]
܇ [U+0707 SYRIAC COLON SKEWED RIGHT]
sentence

. [U+002E FULL STOP]

؟ [U+061F ARABIC QUESTION MARK]

For other punctuation marks, see otherPunctuation.

Observation: Articles in Syriac Wikipedia tend to show ܀ [U+0700 SYRIAC END OF PARAGRAPH] at the end of each paragraph.

Parentheses & brackets

(␣)
  start end
standard

( [U+0028 LEFT PARENTHESIS]

) [U+0029 RIGHT PARENTHESIS]

Mirrored characters

The words 'left' and 'right' in the Unicode names for parentheses, brackets, and other paired characters should be ignored. LEFT should be read as if it said START, and RIGHT as END. The direction in which the glyphs point will be automatically determined according to the base direction of the text.

a > b > c
ܐ > ܒ > ܓ
Both of these lines use > [U+003E GREATER-THAN SIGN], but the direction it faces depends on the base direction at the point of display.

The number of characters that are mirrored in this way is around 550, most of which are mathematical symbols. Some are single characters, rather than pairs. The following are some of the more common ones.

(␣)␣<␣>␣[␣]␣{␣}␣«␣»␣‹␣›

Quotations

tbd

Emphasis

tbd

Other inline ranges

Numbers

The Syriac abbreviation mark is used in older texts to identify letters used as numbers by drawing a line above them. See numbers for more information.

̭   [U+032D COMBINING CIRCUMFLEX ACCENT BELOW​] is also used as a digit marker.u

Text spacing

tbd

Abbreviation, ellipsis & repetition

܏␣܊

Syriac abbreviation mark

܏MVS [U+070F SYRIAC ABBREVIATION MARK] (SAM) is a formatting character which is used to indicate that a sequence of letters is an abbreviation, as shown in fig_sam_abbrev.

ܬ܏ܫܒܘ
An abbreviation of the word ܬܫܒܘܚܬܐ using the Syriac abbreviation marker.

The line would ideally have a small circle at the start, middle and end, but it has become common for computers to apply just the line, without the dots. With dots, however, is preferable for liturgical texts.n,9

The line normally starts to the left of the nearest tall letter and runs to the end of the abbreviation. To apply this using Unicode, add the SAM formatting control immediately before the character where the line begins. The application should then continue the line automatically to the end of the word.

The sequence of characters used (top to bottom) for the abbreviation in fig_sam_abbrev.

Eastern Syriac abbreviation

In Modern East Syriac texts a punctuation mark is placed at the end of an incomplete word to mark a contractionn,10 n,44, eg.

ܩܫ܊ qʃ.

Inline notes & annotations

܌␣܋␣܍

܍ [U+070D SYRIAC HARKLEAN ASTERISCUS] or ܋ [U+070B SYRIAC HARKLEAN OBELUS] marks the beginning of a phrase, word, or morpheme that has a marginal note in the Herklean translation of the New Testament. The section is ended using ܌ [U+070C SYRIAC HARKLEAN METOBELUS]n,44. For example:

܍ܥܙܢܐ܌ ܍ʿznʾ܌

Other punctuation

The Syriac block includes a range of punctuation, which are not much used in modern, non-liturgical contexts, whose usage ranges from punctuating texts to guiding the reading of biblical texts in terms of accents, tone, etc.n,44

܀␣܁␣܂␣܃␣܄␣܅␣܆␣܇␣܈␣܉

Syriac punctuation.

Example of estrangelo script as used by Western scholarsn, which includes some additional punctuation.

Line & paragraph layout

Line breaking & hyphenation

Basic line-break opportunities occur between the space-separated words.

They are not broken at the small gaps that appear where a character doesn't join on the left.

Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the Syriac orthography described here.

Breaking between Latin words

When a line break occurs in the middle of an embedded left-to-right sequence, the items in that sequence are rearranged visually so that the reading direction remains top-to-bottom. latin-line-breaks shows how two Latin words are apparently reordered in the flow of text to accommodate this rule.

Text with no line break in Latin text.

Text with line break in Latin text.

Syriac (estrangelo) with embedded Latin text. The lower of these two images shows the result of decreasing the line width, so that text wraps between a sequence of Latin words.

In digital text the rearrangement is automatic. Only the positions of the font glyphs are changed: nothing affects the order of the characters in memory.

Text alignment & justification

tbd

Observation. The sources used say that ـ [U+0640 ARABIC TATWEEL] can be used, as in Arabic, to lengthen the baseline inside Syriac words. It's not clear, however, whether the use of that is for justification, or simply for word stretching. A couple of examples seem to show it in use for support of diacritics (music and barrekh), eg. ܘܰܩـ݉ـܨܳܐ

Counters, lists, etc.

tbd

Styling initials

tbd

Page & book layout

General page layout & progression

Syriac books, magazines, etc., are bound on the right-hand side, and pages progress from right to left.

ܟܛܒ݂ܐ

Binding configuration for Syriac books, magazines, etc.

Columns are vertical but run right-to-left across the page.

Tables, grids, and other 2-dimensional arrangements progress from right to left across a page.

Headings

Table headings are often distinguished from the main text by using a different writing style, in addition to size differences (see fontstyle).

Notes, footnotes, etc

Marginal notes

Three marks are used for marginal notes in the Harklean translation of the New Testament. ܋ [U+070B SYRIAC HARKLEAN OBELUS] and ܍ [U+070D SYRIAC HARKLEAN ASTERISCUS] mark the beginning of a phrase, word or morpheme that has a marginal note. ܌ [U+070C SYRIAC HARKLEAN METOBELUS] marks the end of such sections.d 

Online resources

  1. Syriac Wikipedia – This is Classical (Edessan) Syriac, aka Lishana Atiqa/Sipraya or Kthobonoyo. The title page says it's Classical Syriac. No font is assigned for the page. The style guide advises against use of vowel and other diacritics apart from syame. Note that each paragraph ends with ܀ [U+0700 SYRIAC END OF PARAGRAPH].

References