Occultists and esotericists , such as the
Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn ,
have theorized that ancient Egyptian magic is a primary source for
western magic practice and ideas. Since we know that the Hermetica
and Neo-platonic theurgy have had a profound influence on later
European magical traditions ,
an inquiry into possible relationships between Egyptian and Greek
magical ideas would be useful in exploring the veracity of the
occultists' claim. This paper focuses on one set of ancient texts,
the Greek Magical Papyri, which offer considerable potential for
investigating this relationship.
The PGM (Papryi Graecae
] is the name given to a cache of papryi of magical spells collected
by Jean d'Anastaisi in early 1800's Egypt. Hans Deiter Betz, in his
introduction to the newest English translation, speculates that these
papyri may have been found in a tomb or temple library and the
largest papyri may have been the collection of one man in Thebes.[4
]However, the exact provenance for the PGM
is unknown. Betz states that through literary sources it is known
that quite a number of magical books of spells were collected in
ancient times, most of which were destroyed.
Thus, the PGM are a very important source for first-hand information
about magical practices in the ancient Mediterranean.
spells run the gamut of magical practices from initiatory rites for
immortality to love spells and healing rites. Most of the papyri are
in Greek and Demotic with glosses in Old Coptic and are dated between
the 2nd century BC and the 5th century AD. The spells call upon
Greek, Egyptian, Jewish, Gnostic and Christian deities.
of the most intriguing aspects of these texts are the practice of
self-identification with deity and the use of voces
magicae in performing magical
rituals. In many of the spells, the practitioner is told to use "I
am" with a specific deity name to empower or work the spell. PGM
I 247-62, a spell for invisibility, states `I am Anubis, I am
Osir-phre, I am OSOT SORONOUIIER, I am Osiris whom Seth destroyed.
The use of specific magical language in these texts, the voces
magicae, is abundant. Most of these
words are considered "untranslatable" by the scholars
working with the papyri .
Words of power in the incantations are composed of long strings of
vowels, A EE EEE IIII OOOOO, YYYYYY, OOOOOOO, alone or with special
names of deities or daimons which are often palindromes and
significantly lengthy as in
]The exact pronunciation of these voces
magicae was key to the success of
Since Egyptian funerary texts clearly identify
the deceased with deity and the power of words and language is a
predominant feature of Egyptian magic, these notions found in the PGM
appeared to provide a possible link between ancient Egyptian and
Throughout the funerary literature of ancient
Egypt, from the Pyramid Texts to the Book of the Dead, there is
abundant evidence that ancient Egyptians thought that human beings
could become deities. Deities were seen as possessing heku,
magic, an aspect of the original creative power that formed the
] Thus, magic was perceived to be an intrinsic part of reality and
the divine. [10
] The Coffin Texts provide a guide book for the deceased to help her
or him retain what magic they already possess and to gain more.
Naming is extremely important in this experience and it is the
ability to name all the gods and objects encountered that proves one
has acquired enough magic to sit with the gods. 
In these texts, the deceased is clearly identified with the god
Osiris. By using historaloe the deceased will successfully navigate
the journey to the afterlife as did Osiris. The use of historaloe in
magical practice was common, particularly in healing rites. 
By knowing the names of all encountered in the afterlife and
establishing a link with a deity that had already been successful in
this realm, the deceased was well prepared for the journey.
the Pyramid texts, the initial Utterances appear to be a script
directing the different Egyptian deities to recite specific formulas
on the deceased king's behalf. Utterance 1 begins "recitation by
Nut, the greatly beneficent", utterance 2, "recitation by
Geb" and so forth. [13
]Evidence that these utterances were spoken during funeral rites are
the notes after the recitations which give directions saying, for
example, "pour water"(ut 23) and "cold water and 2
pellets of natron"( ut 32). The priests and priestesses are
taking the role of the deities in preparing the deceased to join the
gods in the afterlife as well as the deceased being identified with
Osiris. Self-identification with deity is an "authentically
Egyptian trait". [14
Language, and particularly naming,
carries substantial magical power in Egyptian thought. The goddess
Isis, once she learns Ra's true name, is then able to cure him of
snake bite. 
One of the oldest cosmologies of the Egyptians from Memphis (approx.
2700 BC) describes the god Ptah creating by his mind (heart) and word
Thus, words contain a primal substance and the act of speaking
mirrors original creation. Speaking creates reality. Writing was
given to humans by the god Thoth and the Egyptians called their
langauge "words of the gods" and hieroglyphs "writing
of the sacred words." [17
The Pyramid Texts, Coffin Text and the Book of the Dead all
exhibit the Egyptian belief in the power of language to affect the
world. Words, spoken or written were not just symbols, but realities
in themselves. [18
] Hieroglyphs held particular resonance
with magical power and most of the funerary texts were written in
hieroglyphs. The Egyptians clearly believed that humans have
energetic doubles in the world beyond the physical and it seems
reasonable to suspect that the hieroglyphs were thought to have a
similar existence since they were written on the inside
of the pyramid tombs or coffins or on scrolls placed inside
the coffins for the deceased to use.
Further evidence of the reality of the images themselves comes from
the practice of cutting particular hieroglyphs in half to diminish
their potential effect. [19
Vowel chanting is also found in
Egyptian religious practice as reported by Demetrius in his Roman
treatise, De Eloutione:
"in Egypt the priests, when singing hymns in praise of
the gods, employ the 7 vowels which they utter in due succession and
the sound of these letters is so euphonious that men listen to it in
place of the flute and lyre" [20
The distinction between religion and magic in scholarly
discourse breaks down in the context of Egyptian religion and it is
reasonable to suspect that vowel chanting could be used for more than
hymns of praise by Egyptian priests.
self-identification with deity and use of a specific kind of magical
language found in the PGM places Egyptian magical notions within a
Greek magical context. The question then becomes, can evidence be
found that Greek magic, prior to the PGM, included these practices
and do they appear in later Greek magical material that we know to
have influenced the European tradition.
Betz states in the
Encyclopedia of Religion that "magic was an essential part of
Greco-Roman culture and religion." 
In classical Greece, Egypt and Thessaly were considered prime sources
of magical knowledge, but by 323 BC magical material in Greece had
increased considerably. Betz further states that it was "Hellenistic
syncretism that produced the abundance of material available today."
]Greek magical practitioners distinguished different types of magic;
goeteia - lower magic, mageia - general magic and theourgia - higher
magic. Theourgia, appears to be the most likely place to find
self-identification with deity and the use of voces
with deity in magical acts as part of ancient Greek magical practice
prior to the PGM is not evident. The Greeks speculated that humans
and gods "had the same mother", but a huge gap existed
between them. From ancient times to the latest date of the PGM, Greek
notions about the relationship between human existence and divine
existence took a variety of forms [23,]
but never followed the Egyptian pattern of the possibility of
declarative divine identity. The ancient Greeks believed that
communion with the gods was possible as in the Eleusian and Dionysian
and Empedocles declared he had the knowledge to make himself
the Greek idea of a divine spark within the human soul which can be
activated, contemplated and re-united with the gods still assumes an
other-ness of deity and validates the fundamental separateness of
human existence from the divine.
For the Egyptians, the
divine appears to be immanent in the world. The world of humans and
gods were not seen as being decidedly different. Human activity
continued after death and Gods, embodied as the Pharoah, lived in
human society. Magical practice was merely clarifying what already
exists. For the Greeks, magic was a conduit for communication and
communion with deity or a process whereby the soul could be purified
through direct contact with the Divine. Egyptians had only to affirm
a state of being through speech to create the sought reality.
"Repeated commands or assertions that a desired state of affairs
was already in being, are a common feature of Egyptian spells."
However, there are references to the voces
magicae in ancient Greek material
aside from the PGM. Early, are the Ephesia
grammata, ( ASKION, KATASKION, LIX,
TETRAX, DAMNAMENEUS, AISIA ) mystic letters that were supposedly
inscribed on the statue of Artemis at Ephesus used verbally and
written to avert evil. A lead tablet inscribed with the Ephesia
grammata dates to the 4th c BC and they were said to be used spoken
as an apotropiac charm while walking in a circle around newlyweds.
Peter Kingsley, writing of
Empedocles' magical worldview, states "there is nothing that is
not vibrantly and knowingly alive. For him [Empedocles] - everything
- even the words spoken by a man of understanding has an existence,
intelligence and consciousness of it's own." [28
]This notion appears close to the Egyptian ideas that words are not
symbols, but realities.
Orpheus healed human pathos with
poems and the lyre, while Pythagoras could chant his disciples to
sleep and heal body and soul through musical words. [29
]Fox argues that the PGM are carrying forward this "shamantic"
tradition of magical musical charms. For the actual author(s) of the
PGM, the notion of the magical potency of language could have been
very strong indeed coming out of both the Egyptian and Greek magical
The use of voces
magicae continues into later Coptic
texts. For a spell invoking a "thundering power to perform every
wish" the practitioner should say: "I invoke you. . .who is
addressed with the great secret name HAMOUZETH BETH ATHANABASSETONI
Vowel incantations are also found in these Coptic texts in figures
typical of the PGM: [31
magicae are also referred to in the
Chaldean Oracles which are contemporary with the PGM and they appear
to be an intrinsic part of the theurgist's ritual. What is
intriguing, for this study, about the Chaldean Oracles, is the
relationship between the voces
magicae and the process of
immortalization of the soul, which is the goal of theurgy. These
texts provide the closest approximation to self-identification with
deity in a non-Egyptian context. According to the Chaldeans, the
soul, in its descent to the body gathers impure substances. Through
theurgistic rites, the soul can re-ascend, encounter the Divine and
be purified of these impure substances and attain immortality. The
invoke the assistant spirits that will help the soul to ascend
without fear of being dragged down into Hades. [32
]However, even though immortalization is the goal,
self-identification with deity is not declared and only the soul can
attain such a state.
The idea that the Egyptian language
specifically held magical power is seen in the writings of people of
the time. In the Hermetica (CH xvi) there is a passage which states
that Greeks will not understand the Hermetica when translated into
their language as Greek does not contain the power of Egyptian. [33
]The Chaldean Oracles state "do not ever alter the foreign names
(of the gods)". Lewy elaborates further, "It is impossible
to translate the magical formula, because its power it not due to its
external sense." 
Iamblichus, describing the difficulty of translating the Hermetica
from Egyptian to Greek says ". . .for the very quality of the
sounds and the [intonation] of the Egyptian words contain in itself
the force of things said." [35
] Invocation of deities by their secret names is also characteristic
of Egyptian magic prior to the PGM according to Pinch, but
unfortunately she does not give examples. [36
Scholars have identified other
potential sources beside Egyptian for specific voces
magicae. The glossary in the Betz
edition of the PGM speculates on a few of the voces
magicae. Jewish and Greek origins
are offered as well as Egyptian for the eight names considered. Betz
finds a intricate syncretism of Greek, Egyptian and Jewish elements
in the texts. [37
]To tease out the various strands and definitively locate the origin
of specific voces magicae
is yet to be done and will be difficult. What we may be seeing in the
is a general and wide-spread ancient Mediterranean magical practice.
It could be that ABRACADABRA is a cousin to the voces
magicae in the PGM.
questions to be asked regarding the voces
magicae are: what were the potential
avenues of magical communication between Egypt and Greece in the 4th
century BCE where the earliest evidence of specific magical words is
found in the Ephesia grammata?
Is there evidence of specific voces
magicae, other than vowel chanting,
in Egyptian magical practice prior to the PGM? If the specific form
comes from Greek notions, why are the voces
magicae in the PGM glossed into Old
Coptic in many spells where the main body of the text is in Greek?
In conclusion, the claim that the roots of European magic can
be traced to Egyptian magic appears highly suspect in regard to the
notions discussed. Egyptian ideas and practices of
self-identification with deity do not seem to be compatible with
Greek notions of the relationship between the human and divine
worlds. Through the voces magicae
there is evidence of a generalized magical tradition in the ancient
Mediterranean from which the European tradition may draw, but not
specifically from Egypt.
Norse: rún) are the letters
in a set of related alphabets
known as runic alphabets, which were used to write various
languages before the adoption of the Latin
alphabet and for specialised purposes thereafter. The
Scandinavian variants are also known as futhark or fuþark
(derived from their first six letters of the alphabet: F,
R, and K);
variant is futhorc
or fuþorc (due to sound changes undergone in Old
English by the names of those six letters).
the study of the runic alphabets, runic
and their history. Runology forms a specialised branch of Germanic
The earliest runic inscriptions date from around 150 AD. The
characters were generally replaced by the Latin
alphabet as the cultures that had used runes underwent
by approximately 700 AD in central Europe and 1100 AD in northern
Europe. However, the use of runes persisted for specialized
purposes in northern Europe. Until the early 20th century, runes were
used in rural Sweden
for decorative purposes in Dalarna
and on Runic
The three best-known runic alphabets are the Elder
Futhark (around 150–800 AD), the Anglo-Saxon
Futhorc (400–1100 AD), and the Younger
Futhark (800–1100 AD). The Younger Futhark is divided
further into the long-branch runes (also called Danish,
although they were also used in Norway
short-branch or Rök
runes (also called Swedish-Norwegian, although they were
also used in Denmark);
and the stavlösa or Hälsinge runes (staveless
runes). The Younger Futhark developed further into the
runes, the Medieval
runes (1100–1500 AD), and the Dalecarlian
runes (around 1500–1800 AD).
Historically, the runic alphabet is a derivation of the Old
Italic alphabets of antiquity, with the addition of some
innovations. Which variant of the Old Italic family in particular
gave rise to the runes is uncertain. Suggestions include Raetic,
Latin as candidates. At the time, all of these scripts had the
same angular letter shapes suited for epigraphy,
which would become characteristic of the runes.
The process of transmission of the script is unknown. The oldest
inscriptions are found in Denmark and northern Germany, not near
Italy. A "West Germanic hypothesis" suggests transmission
via Elbe Germanic
groups, while a "Gothic
hypothesis" presumes transmission via East Germanic expansion.
or divinatory use
from approximately AD 400 that features the charm word alu
with a depiction of a stylized male head, a horse, and a swastika,
a common motif on bracteates
An illustration of the Gummarp
Runestone (500-700 AD) from Blekinge,
Closeup of the runic inscription found
on the 6th- or 7th-century Björketorp
Runestone located in Blekinge,
Main article: Runic
The stanza 157 of Hávamál
attribute to runes the power to bring that which is dead back to
life. In this stanza, Odin
recounts a spell:
ek it tolfta,
ef ek sé á tré
ek ríst ok í rúnum fák,
sá gengr gumi
ok mælir við mik.
I know a
twelfth one if I see,
up in a tree,
a dangling corpse in a
I can so carve and colour the runes,
that the man
And talks with me.
The earliest runic inscriptions found on artifacts give the name
of either the craftsman or the proprietor, or sometimes, remain a
linguistic mystery. Due to this, it is possible that the early runes
were not used so much as a simple writing system, but rather as
signs to be used for charms. Although some say the runes were used
there is no direct evidence to suggest they were ever used in this
way. The name rune itself, taken to mean "secret,
something hidden", seems to indicate that knowledge of the runes
was originally considered esoteric, or restricted to an elite. The
Runestone warns in Proto-Norse
using the word rune in both senses:
Haidzruno runu, falahak haidera, ginnarunaz. Arageu
haeramalausz uti az. Weladaude, sa'z þat barutz. Uþarba
I, master of the
runes(?) conceal here runes of power. Incessantly (plagued by)
maleficence, (doomed to) insidious death (is) he who breaks this
(monument). I prophesy destruction / prophecy of destruction.
The same curse and use of the word, rune, also is found on the
Runestone. There also are some inscriptions suggesting a medieval
belief in the magical significance of runes, such as the Franks
Casket (AD 700) panel.
Charm words, such as auja, laþu, laukaR,
and most commonly, alu,
appear on a number of Migration
period Elder Futhark inscriptions as well as variants and
abbreviations of them. Much speculation and study has been produced
on the potential meaning of these inscriptions. Rhyming groups appear
on some early bracteates that also may be magical in purpose, such as
salusalu and luwatuwa. Further, an inscription on the
Runestone (500-700 AD) gives a cryptic inscription describing the
use of three runic letters followed by the Elder Futhark f-rune
written three times in succession.
Nevertheless, it has proven difficult to find unambiguous traces
of runic "oracles": although Norse
literature is full of references to runes, it nowhere contains
specific instructions on divination. There are at least three sources
on divination with rather vague descriptions that may, or may not,
refer to runes: Tacitus's
Sturluson's 13th-century Ynglinga
saga, and Rimbert's
source, Tacitus's Germania, describes "signs" chosen
in groups of three and cut from "a nut-bearing tree,"
although the runes do not seem to have been in use at the time of
Tacitus' writings. A second source is the Ynglinga saga, where
Granmar, the king
goes to Uppsala
for the blót.
There, the "chips" fell in a way that said that he would
not live long (Féll honum þá svo spánn
sem hann mundi eigi lengi lifa). These "chips,"
however, are easily explainable as a blótspánn
(sacrificial chip), which was "marked, possibly with sacrificial
blood, shaken, and thrown down like dice, and their positive or
negative significance then decided."[page needed]
source is Rimbert's Vita Ansgari, where there are three
accounts of what some believe to be the use of runes for divination,
but Rimbert calls it "drawing lots". One of these accounts
is the description of how a renegade Swedish king, Anund
Uppsale, first brings a Danish fleet to Birka,
but then changes his mind and asks the Danes to "draw lots".
According to the story, this "drawing of lots" was quite
informative, telling them that attacking Birka
would bring bad luck and that they should attack a Slavic town
instead. The tool in the "drawing of lots," however, is
easily explainable as a hlautlein (lot-twig), which according
to Foote and Wilson
would be used in the same manner as a blótspánn.
The lack of extensive knowledge on historical use of the runes has
not stopped modern authors from extrapolating entire systems of
divination from what few specifics exist, usually loosely based on
the reconstructed names of the runes and additional outside
A recent study
of runic magic suggests that runes were used to create magical
objects such as amulets,[page needed]
but not in a way that would indicate that runic writing was any more
inherently magical, than were other writing systems such as Latin or
mythology, the runic alphabet is attested to a divine origin (Old
Norse: reginkunnr). This is attested as early as on the
Runestone from approximately 600 AD that reads Runo fahi
raginakundo toj[e'k]a..., meaning "I prepare the suitable
and in an attestation from the 9th century on the Sparlösa
Runestone, which reads Ok rað runaR
meaning "And interpret the runes of divine origin".
More notably, in the Poetic
Edda poem Hávamál,
Stanza 80, the runes also are described as reginkunnr:
er þú að rúnum
þeim er gerðu
ok fáði fimbulþulr,
hefir hann bazt, ef hann þegir.
what you asked of the runes,
of the potent
which the great gods made,
and the mighty sage
that it is best for him if he stays silent.
The poem Hávamál explains that the originator
of the runes was the major deity, Odin.
Stanza 138 describes how Odin received the runes through
Veit ek at ek hekk vindga meiði a
geiri vndaþr ok gefinn Oðni,
a þeim meiþi, er mangi veit,
hvers hann af rótom renn.
that I hung on a windy tree
wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
on that tree of which no man knows from where its
In stanza 139, Odin continues:
Við hleifi mik seldo ne viþ hornigi,
nam ek vp rvnar,
fell ek aptr þaðan.
did they give me nor a drink
from a horn,
downwards I peered;
I took up the
screaming I took them,
then I fell back from
This passage has been interpreted as a
mythical representation of shamanic initial rituals in which the
initiate must undergo a physical trial in order to receive mystic
In the Poetic Edda poem Rígsþula
another origin is related of how the runic alphabet became known to
humans. The poem relates how Ríg,
identified as Heimdall
in the introduction, sired three sons (Thrall
(freeman), and Jarl
(noble)) by human women. These sons became the ancestors of the three
classes of humans indicated by their names. When Jarl reached an age
when he began to handle weapons and show other signs of nobility, Rig
returned and, having claimed him as a son, taught him the runes. In
1555, the exiled Swedish archbishop Olaus
Magnus recorded a tradition that a man named Kettil
Runske had stolen three rune staffs from Odin and learned the
runes and their magic.
Germanic mysticism and Nazi symbolism
Further information: Runosophy,
Runic script on an 1886 gravestone in
From 1933, Schutzstaffel
unit insignia displayed two Sig
The pioneer of the Armanist
branch of Ariosophy
and one of the more important figures in esotericism
in Germany and Austria in the late 19th and early 20th century
was the Austrian
occultist, mysticist, and völkisch
von List. In 1908, he published in Das
Geheimnis der Runen ("The Secret of the Runes") a
set of eighteen so-called, "Armanen
runes", based on the Younger Futhark and runes of List's own
introduction, which allegedly were revealed to him in a state of
temporary blindness after cataract operations on both eyes in 1902.
The use of runes in Germanic
mysticism, notably List's "Armanen runes" and the
runes" by Karl
Maria Wiligut, played a certain role in Nazi
symbolism. The fascination with runic symbolism was mostly
limited to Heinrich
Himmler, and not shared by the other members of the Nazi top
echelon. Consequently, runes appear mostly in insignia associated
with the Schutzstaffel,
the paramilitary organization led by Himmler. Wiligut is credited
with designing the SS-Ehrenring,
which displays a number of "Wiligut runes".
neopaganism and esotericism
Runes are popular in Germanic
neopaganism, and to a lesser extent in other forms of Neopaganism
and New Age
esotericism. Various systems of Runic
divination have been published since the 1980s, notably by Ralph
Blum (1982), Stephen
Flowers (1984, onward), Stephan
Grundy (1990), and Nigel
theory originally was proposed as a scholarly hypothesis by
in 1932. In 2002, Swedish esotericist Thomas
Karlsson popularized this "Uthark" runic row, which he
refers to as, the "night side of the runes", in the context
of modern occultism.
J. R. R. Tolkien and contemporary fiction
In J. R.
R. Tolkien's novel The
Hobbit (1937), the Anglo-Saxon runes are used on a map to
emphasize its connection to the Dwarves.
They also were used in the initial drafts of The
Lord of the Rings, but later were replaced by the Cirth
rune-like alphabet invented by Tolkien. Following Tolkien, historical
and fictional runes appear commonly in modern popular culture,
particularly in fantasy
literature, but also in other forms of media such as video games
(for example Heimdall
video game used it in especially "magical symbols"
associated with unnatural forces).
4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons has a class called the
Runepriest, who utilizes the original believed use of runes to fight.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
redirects here. For other uses, see Hebrew
Not to be confused
sign, above in Hebrew
alphabet, below in Latin
letter transliteration. Aluf Batslut veAluf Shum(he)
("The Onion Champion and the Garlic Champion") is a play
or [ʕivˈɾit] (
is a West
Semitic language of the Afroasiatic
language family. Historically, it is regarded as the language
of the Hebrew
Israelites and their ancestors, although the language was not
referred to by the name Hebrew in the Tanakh.[note
2] The earliest examples of written Paleo-Hebrew
date from the 10th century BCE, in the form of primitive drawings,
although "the question of the language used in this inscription
remained unanswered, making it impossible to prove whether it was in
fact Hebrew or another local language".
Hebrew had ceased to be an everyday spoken language somewhere between
200 and 400 CE, declining since the aftermath of the Bar
3] Aramaic and to a lesser extent Greek were already in use as
international languages, especially among elites and immigrants.
It survived into the medieval period as the language of Jewish
liturgy, rabbinic literature, intra-Jewish commerce, and poetry.
Then, in the 19th century, it was revived as a spoken and literary
language, and, according to Ethnologue,
is now the language of 9 million people worldwide,
of whom 7 million are from Israel.
States has the second largest Hebrew speaking population, with
about 221,593 fluent speakers,
mostly from Israel.
is one of the two official
languages of Israel (the other being Arabic),
while pre-modern Hebrew is used for prayer or study in Jewish
communities around the world today. Ancient Hebrew is also the
liturgical tongue of the Samaritans,
while modern Hebrew or Arabic is their vernacular. As a foreign
language, it is studied mostly by Jews and students of Judaism and
Israel, and by archaeologists and linguists specializing in the
and its civilizations, as well as by theologians in Christian
The Torah (the
first five books), and most of the rest of the Hebrew
Bible, is written in Biblical
Hebrew, with much of its present form specifically in the dialect
that scholars believe flourished around the 6th century BCE, around
the time of the Babylonian
exile. For this reason, Hebrew has been referred to by Jews
as Leshon HaKodesh
הקדש), "The Holy
Language", since ancient times.
The modern word "Hebrew" is
derived from the word "Ibri" (plural "Ibrim"),
one of several names for the Jewish people. It is traditionally
understood to be an adjective based on the name of Abraham's
ancestor, Eber ("Ebr"
Hebrew), mentioned in Genesis
10:21. This name is possibly based upon the root "ʕ-b-r"
meaning "to cross over". Interpretations of the term
"ʕibrim" link it to this verb; cross over and
the people who crossed over the river Euphrates.
In the Bible, the Hebrew language is called Yәhudit
the surviving kingdom at the time of the quotation (late 8th century
BCE (Is 36, 2 Kings 18)). In Isaiah 19:18, it is also called the
"Language of Canaan" (שפת
Hebrew belongs to the Canaanite
group of languages. In turn, the Canaanite languages are a branch of
Semitic family of languages.
According to Avraham ben-Yosef, Hebrew
flourished as a spoken language in the kingdoms
of Israel and Judah, during about 1200 to 586 BCE.[unreliable
source?] Scholars debate the degree to which Hebrew was a
spoken vernacular in ancient times following the Babylonian
exile, when the predominant international language in the region
was Old Aramaic.
Hebrew was nearly extinct as a spoken language by Late
Antiquity, but it continued to be used as a literary language and
as the liturgical language of Judaism, evolving various dialects of
Hebrew, until its revival
as a spoken language in the late 19th century.
In July 2008 Israeli archaeologist Yossi
Garfinkel discovered a ceramic shard at Khirbet
Qeiyafa which he claimed may be the earliest Hebrew writing yet
discovered, dating around 3000 years ago.
Hebrew University archaeologist Amihai Mazar said that the
inscription was “proto-Canaanite" but cautioned that, "The
differentiation between the scripts, and between the languages
themselves in that period, remains unclear,” and suggested that
calling the text Hebrew might be going too far.
calendar also dates back to the 10th century BCE at the beginning
of the Monarchic Period, the traditional time of the reign of David
Classified as Archaic Biblical Hebrew, the calendar presents a list
of seasons and related agricultural activities. The Gezer
calendar (named after the city in whose proximity it was found) is
written in an old Semitic script, akin to the Phoenician
one that through the Greeks
later became the Roman
script. The Gezer calendar is written without any vowels, and it
does not use consonants
to imply vowels even in the places where later Hebrew spelling
Inscription, from the tomb of a royal steward found in Siloam,
dates to the 7th century BCE.
Numerous older tablets have been found in the region with similar
scripts written in other Semitic languages, for example
It is believed that the original shapes of the script go back to
hieroglyphs, though the phonetic values are instead inspired by
principle. The common ancestor of Hebrew and Phoenician is called
and was the first to use a Semitic alphabet distinct from Egyptian.
One ancient document is the famous Moabite
Stone written in the Moabite dialect; the Siloam
Inscription, found near Jerusalem,
is an early example of Hebrew. Less ancient samples of Archaic Hebrew
include the ostraca
found near Lachish
which describe events preceding the final capture of Jerusalem by
and the Babylonian captivity of 586 BCE.
Main article: Biblical
In its widest sense, Biblical
Hebrew means the spoken language of ancient Israel flourishing
between the 10th century BCE and the turn of the 4th century CE.
It comprises several evolving and overlapping dialects. The phases of
Classical Hebrew are often named after important literary works
associated with them.
Biblical Hebrew from the 10th to the 6th century BCE,
corresponding to the Monarchic Period until the Babylonian Exile and
represented by certain texts in the Hebrew Bible (Tanach),
notably the Song of Moses (Exodus 15) and the Song of Deborah
(Judges 5). Also called Old Hebrew or Paleo-Hebrew. It was written
in a form of the Canaanite
script. (A script descended from this is still used by the
Hebrew script used in writing a Torah scroll. Note ornamental
"crowns" on tops of certain letters.
Biblical Hebrew around the 8th to 6th centuries BCE,
corresponding to the late Monarchic period and the Babylonian Exile.
It is represented by the bulk of the Hebrew Bible that attains much
of its present form around this time. Also called Biblical Hebrew,
Early Biblical Hebrew, Classical Biblical Hebrew (or Classical
Hebrew in the narrowest sense).
Biblical Hebrew, from the 5th to the 3rd centuries BCE, that
corresponds to the Persian Period and is represented by certain
texts in the Hebrew
Bible, notably the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Basically similar
to Classical Biblical Hebrew, apart from a few foreign words adopted
for mainly governmental terms, and some syntactical innovations such
as the use of the particle shel (of, belonging to). It
adopted the Imperial
Aramaic script (from which the modern Hebrew script descends).
Hebrew is a proposed northern dialect of biblical Hebrew,
attested in all eras of the language, in some cases competing with
late biblical Hebrew as an explanation for non-standard linguistic
features of biblical texts.
Sea Scroll Hebrew from the 3rd century BCE to the 1st
century CE, corresponding to the Hellenistic and Roman Periods
before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and represented by
the Qumran Scrolls that form most (but not all) of the Dead Sea
Scrolls. Commonly abbreviated as DSS Hebrew, also called Qumran
Hebrew. The Imperial Aramaic script of the earlier scrolls in the
3rd century BCE evolved into the Hebrew
square script of the later scrolls in the 1st century CE, also
known as ketav Ashuri (Assyrian script), still in use today.
Hebrew from the 1st to the 3rd or 4th century CE,
corresponding to the Roman Period after the destruction of the
Temple in Jerusalem and represented by the bulk of the Mishnah
within the Talmud
and by the Dead Sea Scrolls, notably the Bar Kokhba Letters and the
Also called Tannaitic Hebrew or Early Rabbinic Hebrew.
Sometimes the above phases of spoken Classical Hebrew are simplified
into "Biblical Hebrew" (including several dialects from the
10th century BCE to 2nd century BCE and extant in certain Dead Sea
Scrolls) and "Mishnaic Hebrew" (including several dialects
from the 3rd century BCE to the 3rd century CE and extant in certain
other Dead Sea Scrolls).
However, today, most Hebrew linguists classify Dead Sea Scroll Hebrew
as a set of dialects evolving out of Late Biblical Hebrew and into
Mishnaic Hebrew, thus including elements from both but remaining
distinct from either.
By the start of the Byzantine Period in the 4th century CE, Classical
Hebrew ceases as a regularly spoken language, roughly a century after
the publication of the Mishnah, apparently declining since the
aftermath of the catastrophic Bar
Kokhba War around 135 CE.
Around the 6th century BCE, the
Empire conquered the ancient Kingdom
of Judah, destroying much of Jerusalem
and exiling its population far to the East in Babylon.
During the Babylonian
captivity, many Israelites
were enslaved within the Babylonian
Empire and learned the closely related Semitic language of their
The Babylonians had taken mainly the governing classes of Israel
while leaving behind presumably more-compliant farmers and laborers
to work the land.[citation
needed] Thus for a significant period, the Jewish
elite became influenced by Aramaic.
(see below, Aramaic
spoken among Israelites).
the Great conquered Babylon, he released
the Jewish people from captivity. "The King of Kings"
or Great King of Persia,
later gave the Israelites permission to return. As a result, a local
version of Aramaic
came to be spoken in Israel alongside Hebrew, also the Assyrian
empire before that caused Israel to speak a variant of Aramaic for
trade, in Israel-Judea these languages co-mingled. The Greek Era saw
a brief ban on the Hebrew language until the period of the
the beginning of the Common
Era Aramaic was the primary colloquial language[dubious
and western and intellectual Jews spoke Greek,[citation
needed] but a form of so-called Rabbinic
Hebrew continued to be used as a vernacular in Judea until it was
displaced by Aramaic, probably in the 3rd century CE. Certain
Sadducee, Pharisee, Scribe, Hermit, Zealot and Priest classes
maintained an insistence on Hebrew, and all Jews maintained their
identity with Hebrew songs and simple quotations from Hebrew
Other opinions exist on the exact date range from the 4th century BCE
to the end of the Roman period.
A silver matchbox holder with inscription in Hebrew
While there is no doubt that at a certain point, Hebrew was displaced
as the everyday spoken language of most Jews, and that its chief
successor in the Middle East was the closely related Aramaic
language, then Greek,[note
4] scholarly opinions on the exact dating of that shift have
changed very much.
In the first half of the 20th century, most scholars followed Geiger
and Dalman in thinking that Aramaic became a spoken language in the
land of Israel as early as the beginning of Israel's Hellenistic
Period in the 4th century BCE, and that as a corollary Hebrew
ceased to function as a spoken language around the same time. Segal,
Klausner, and Ben Yehuda are notable exceptions to this view. During
the latter half of the 20th century, accumulating archaeological
evidence and especially linguistic analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls
has disproven that view. The Dead Sea Scrolls, uncovered in 1946-1948
revealed ancient Jewish texts overwhelmingly in Hebrew, not Aramaic.
The Qumran scrolls
indicate that Hebrew texts were readily understandable to the average
Israelite, and that the language had evolved since Biblical times as
spoken languages do.[note
5] Recent scholarship recognizes that reports of Jews speaking in
Aramaic indicates a multilingual society, not necessarily the primary
language spoken. Alongside Aramaic, Hebrew co-existed within Israel
as a spoken language.
Most scholars now date the demise of Hebrew as a spoken language to
the end of the Roman
Period, or about 200 CE.
It continued on as a literary language down through the Byzantine
Period from the 4th century CE.
Many Hebrew linguists[who?]
even postulate the survival of Hebrew as a spoken language until the
Byzantine Period, but some historians[who?]
do not accept this.[citation
The exact roles of Aramaic and Hebrew remain hotly debated. A
trilingual scenario has been proposed for the land of Israel. Hebrew
functioned as the local mother
tongue with powerful ties to Israel's history, origins, and
golden age and as the language of Israel's religion; Aramaic
functioned as the international language with the rest of the Middle
East; and eventually Greek functioned as another international
language with the eastern areas of the Roman Empire.[citation
needed] Communities of Jews (and non-Jews) are known, who
immigrated to Judea from these other lands and continued to speak
Aramaic or Greek. According to another summary, Greek was the
language of government, Hebrew the language of prayer, study and
religious texts, and Aramaic was the language of legal contracts and
There was also a geographic pattern: according to Spolsky, by the
beginning of the Common
was mainly used in Galilee
in the north, Greek was concentrated in the former colonies and
around governmental centers, and Hebrew monolingualism continued
mainly in the southern villages of Judea."
In other words, "in terms of dialect geography, at the time of
Palestine could be divided into the Aramaic-speaking regions of
Samaria and a
smaller area, Judaea,
in which Rabbinic
Hebrew was used among the descendants of returning
In addition, it has been surmised that Koine
Greek was the primary vehicle of communication in coastal cities
and among the upper class of Jerusalem,
while Aramaic was prevalent in the lower class of Jerusalem, but not
in the surrounding countryside.
After the suppression of the Bar
Kokhba revolt in the 2nd century CE, Judaeans were forced to
disperse. Many relocated to Galilee, so most remaining native
speakers of Hebrew at that last stage would have been found in the
The Christian New
Testament contains some clearly Aramaic place names and
Although the language of such Semitic glosses (and in general the
language spoken by Jews in scenes from the New Testament) is usually
referred to as "Hebrew"/"Jewish" in the text,
this term often seems to refer to Aramaic instead[note
7] and is rendered accordingly in recent translations.
Nonetheless, many glosses can be interpreted as Hebrew as well; and
it has been argued that Hebrew, rather than Aramaic or Koine Greek,
lay behind the composition of the Gospel
(See the Hebrew
Gospel hypothesis or Aramaic
of Jesus for more details on Hebrew and Aramaic in the gospels.)
Main article: Mishnaic
The term "Mishnaic Hebrew" generally refers to the
Hebrew dialects found in the Talmud
excepting quotations from the Hebrew Bible. The dialects organize
Hebrew (also called Tannaitic
Hebrew, Early Rabbinic Hebrew, or Mishnaic
Hebrew I), which was a spoken
language, and Amoraic
Hebrew (also called Late Rabbinic Hebrew or Mishnaic Hebrew II),
which was a literary
language. The earlier section of the Talmud is the Mishnah
that was published around 200 CE, though many of the
stories take place much earlier, and was written in the earlier
Mishnaic dialect. The dialect is also found in certain Dead Sea
Scrolls. Mishnaic Hebrew is considered to be one of the dialects of
Classical Hebrew that functioned as a living language in the land of
Israel. A transitional form of the language occurs in the other works
of Tannaitic literature dating from the century beginning with the
completion of the Mishnah. These include the halachic
etc.) and the expanded collection of Mishnah-related material known
as the Tosefta
The Talmud contains excerpts from these works, as well as further
Tannaitic material not attested elsewhere; the generic term for these
passages is Baraitot.
The dialect of all these works is very similar to Mishnaic Hebrew.
About a century after the publication of the Mishnah, Mishnaic
Hebrew fell into disuse as a spoken language. The later section of
the Talmud, the Gemara
generally comments on the Mishnah and Baraitot in two forms of
Aramaic. Nevertheless, Hebrew survived as a liturgical and literary
language in the form of later Amoraic
Hebrew, which sometimes occurs in the text of the Gemara.
Because as early as the Torah's
transcription the Scribe has been the highest position in Judaism,
Hebrew was always regarded as the language of Israel's religion,
history and national pride, and after it faded as a spoken language,
it continued to be used as a lingua franca among scholars and
Jews traveling in foreign countries.
After the 2nd century CE when the Roman
Empire exiled most of the Jewish population of Jerusalem
following the Bar
Kokhba revolt, the Israelites adapted to the societies in which
they found themselves, yet letters, contracts, commerce, science,
philosophy, medicine, poetry, and laws continued to be written mostly
in Hebrew, which adapted by borrowing and inventing terms.
Main article: Medieval
10th century Hebrew
Bible with Masoretic
pointing (Joshua 1:1).
After the Talmud, various regional literary dialects of Medieval
Hebrew evolved. The most important is Tiberian
Hebrew or Masoretic Hebrew, a local dialect of Tiberias
in Galilee that
became the standard for vocalizing the Hebrew
Bible and thus still influences all other regional dialects of
Hebrew. This Tiberian Hebrew from the 7th to 10th century CE is
sometimes called "Biblical Hebrew" because it is used to
pronounce the Hebrew Bible; however properly it should be
distinguished from the historical Biblical Hebrew of the 6th century
BCE, whose original pronunciation must be reconstructed. Tiberian
Hebrew incorporates the remarkable scholarship of the Masoretes
(from masoret meaning "tradition"), who added vowel
points and grammar
points to the Hebrew letters to preserve much earlier features of
Hebrew, for use in chanting the Hebrew Bible. The Masoretes inherited
a biblical text whose letters were considered too sacred to be
altered, so their markings were in the form of pointing in and around
the letters. The Syriac
alphabet, precursor to the Arabic
alphabet, also developed vowel pointing systems around this time.
The Aleppo Codex,
a Hebrew Bible with the Masoretic pointing, was written in the 10th
century, likely in Tiberias,
and survives to this day. It is perhaps the most important Hebrew
manuscript in existence.
age of Jewish culture in Spain, important work was done by
grammarians in explaining the grammar and vocabulary of Biblical
Hebrew; much of this was based on the work of the grammarians
Arabic. Important Hebrew grammarians were Judah
ben David Hayyuj, Jonah
ibn Janah, Abraham
and later (in Provence) David
Kimhi. A great deal of poetry was written, by poets such as
ibn Gabirol, Judah
ha-Levi and the two Ibn
Ezras, in a "purified" Hebrew based on the work of
these grammarians, and in Arabic quantitative or strophic meters.
This literary Hebrew was later used by Italian Jewish poets.
The need to express scientific and philosophical concepts from
Greek and Medieval
Arabic motivated Medieval Hebrew to borrow terminology and
grammar from these other languages, or to coin equivalent terms from
existing Hebrew roots, giving rise to a distinct style of
philosophical Hebrew. This is used in the translations made by the
family. (Original Jewish philosophical works were usually written in
Arabic.) Another important influence was Maimonides,
who developed a simple style based on Mishnaic
Hebrew for use in his law code, the Mishneh
Torah. Subsequent rabbinic literature is written in a blend
between this style and the Aramaized Rabbinic
Hebrew of the Talmud.
Hebrew persevered through the ages as the main language for written
purposes by all Jewish communities around the world for a large range
of uses—not only liturgy, but also poetry, philosophy, science
and medicine, commerce, daily correspondence and contracts. There
have been, of course, many deviations from this generalization such
Kokhba's letters to his lieutenants, which were mostly in
writings, which were mostly in Arabic;
but overall, Hebrew did not cease to be used for such purposes. This
meant not only that well-educated Jews in all parts of the world
could correspond in a mutually intelligible language, and that books
and legal documents published or written in any part of the world
could be read by Jews in all other parts, but that an educated Jew
could travel and converse with Jews in distant places, just as
priests and other educated Christians could converse in Latin. For
example, Rabbi Avraham
Danzig wrote the Chayei
Adam in Hebrew, as opposed to Yiddish,
as a guide to Halacha
for the "average 17-year old" (Ibid. Introduction
1). Similarly, the Chofetz
Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael
Meir Kagan’s purpose in writing the Mishna
Berurah was to “produce a work that could be studied
daily so that Jews might know the proper procedures to follow minute
by minute”. The work was nevertheless written in Talmudic
Hebrew and Aramaic, since, “the ordinary Jew [of Eastern
Europe] of a century ago, was fluent enough in this idiom to be able
to follow the Mishna Berurah without any trouble.”
Main article: Revival
of the Hebrew language
Hebrew has been revived several times as
a literary language, most significantly by the Haskalah
(Enlightenment) movement of early and mid-19th-century Germany. Near
the end of that century the Jewish activist Eliezer
Ben-Yehuda, owing to the ideology of the national
revival (Shivat Tziyon [(שיבת
8] later Zionism),
began reviving Hebrew as a modern spoken language. Eventually, as a
result of the local movement he created, but more significantly as a
result of the new groups of immigrants known under the name of the
Aliyah, it replaced a score of languages spoken by Jews at
that time. Those languages were Jewish dialects such as the
language (also called Judezmo
or Ladino), Yiddish,
language, or local languages spoken in the Jewish
diaspora such as Russian,
The major result of the literary work of the Hebrew intellectuals
along the 19th century was a lexical modernization of Hebrew. New
words and expressions were adapted as neologisms
from the large corpus of Hebrew writings since the Hebrew Bible, or
borrowed from Arabic (mainly by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda) and older Aramaic
and Latin. Many new words were either borrowed from or coined after
European languages, especially English, Russian, German, and French.
Modern Hebrew became an official language in British-ruled Palestine
in 1921 (along with English and Arabic), and then in 1948 became an
official language of the newly declared State
of Israel. Hebrew is the most widely spoken language in Israel
In the Modern Period, from the 19th century onward, the literary
Hebrew tradition revived as the spoken language of modern Israel,
called variously Israeli Hebrew, Modern Israeli Hebrew,
Modern Hebrew, New Hebrew, Israeli Standard Hebrew,
Standard Hebrew, and so on. Israeli Hebrew exhibits some
features of Sephardic
Hebrew from its local Jerusalemite tradition but adapts it with
numerous neologisms, borrowed terms (often technical) from European
languages and adopted terms (often colloquial) from Arabic.
The literary and narrative use of Hebrew
was revived beginning with the Haskalah
(Enlightenment) movement. The first secular periodical in Hebrew,
Hameassef (The Gatherer), was published by Maskilim literati
from 1783 onwards.
In the mid-19th century, publications of several Eastern European
Hebrew-language newspapers (e.g. HaMagid, founded in Lyck,
Prussia, in 1856) multiplied. Prominent poets were Chaim
Nachman Bialik and Shaul
Tchernichovsky; there were also novels written in the language.
of the Hebrew language as a mother
tongue was initiated in the late 19th century by the efforts of
Ben-Yehuda. He joined the Jewish
national movement and in 1881 immigrated to Palestine,
then a part of the Ottoman
Empire. Motivated by the surrounding ideals of renovation and
rejection of the diaspora
lifestyle, Ben-Yehuda set out to develop tools for making the
language into everyday spoken
language. However, his brand of Hebrew followed norms that had
been replaced in Eastern
Europe by different grammar and style, in the writings of people
like Ahad Ha'am
and others. His organizational efforts and involvement with the
establishment of schools and the writing of textbooks pushed the
activity into a gradually accepted movement. It was not, however,
until the 1904-1914 Second
Aliyah that Hebrew had caught real momentum in Ottoman Palestine
with the more highly organized enterprises set forth by the new group
of immigrants. When the British
Mandate of Palestine recognized Hebrew as one of the country's
three official languages (English, Arabic, and Hebrew, in 1922), its
new formal status contributed to its diffusion. A constructed modern
language with a truly Semitic vocabulary and written appearance,
although often European in phonology,
was to take its place among the current languages of the nations.
While many saw his work as fanciful or
(because Hebrew was the holy language of the Torah and therefore some
thought that it should not be used to discuss everyday matters), many
soon understood the need for a common language amongst Jews of the
British Mandate who at the turn of the 20th century were arriving in
large numbers from diverse countries and speaking different
languages. A Committee of the Hebrew Language was established. After
the establishment of Israel, it became the Academy
of the Hebrew Language. The results of Ben-Yehuda's
lexicographical work were published in a dictionary (The Complete
Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Hebrew). The seeds of
Ben-Yehuda's work fell on fertile ground, and by the beginning of the
20th century, Hebrew was well on its way to becoming the main
language of the Jewish population of both Ottoman and British
Palestine. At the time, members of the Old
Yishuv and a very few Hasidic
sects, most notably those under the auspices of Satmar,
refused to speak Hebrew and spoke only Yiddish. There remains a
sizable population in Jerusalem, particularly in the Meah Shearim
area, that prefers to speak Yiddish.[citation
In the Soviet
Union, the use of Hebrew, along with other Jewish cultural and
religious activities, was suppressed. Soviet authorities considered
the use of Hebrew "reactionary" since it was associated
with Zionism, and
the teaching of Hebrew at primary and secondary schools was
officially banned by the Narkompros
(Commissariat of Education) as early as 1919, as part of an overall
agenda aiming to secularize
education (the language itself did not cease to be studied at
universities for historical and linguistic purposes).
The official ordinance stated that Yiddish,
being the spoken language of the Russian Jews, should be treated as
their only national language, while Hebrew was to be treated as a
Hebrew books and periodicals ceased to be published and were seized
from the libraries, although liturgical texts were still published
until the 1930s. Despite numerous protests,
a policy of suppression of the teaching of Hebrew operated from the
1930s on. Later in the 1980s in the USSR,
Hebrew studies reappeared due to people struggling for permission to
go to Israel (refuseniks).
Several of the teachers were imprisoned, for example, Ephraim
Korostyshevsky and others responsible for a Hebrew learning
network connecting many cities of the USSR.
Main article: Modern
Hebrew, Arabic and English multilingual
signs on an Israeli highway
Dual language Hebrew
and English keyboard
Standard Hebrew, as developed by Eliezer
Ben-Yehuda, was based on Mishnaic
spelling and Sephardi
Hebrew pronunciation. However, the earliest speakers of Modern
Hebrew had Yiddish
as their native language and often brought into Hebrew idioms and
The pronunciation of modern Israeli Hebrew is based mostly on the
Sephardic Hebrew pronunciation. However, the language has adapted to
in some respects, mainly the following:
the elimination of
articulation in the letters chet (ח)
and ayin ( ע)
by many speakers.
the conversion of (ר)
/r/ from an alveolar
flap [ɾ] to a voiced
uvular fricative [ʁ] or uvular
trill [ʀ], by most of the speakers, like in most varieties
of standard German or Yiddish. see Guttural
the pronunciation (by
many speakers) of tzere
as [eɪ] in some contexts (sifrey and
teysha instead of Sephardic sifré and tésha)
the partial elimination of vocal Shva
(zman instead of Sephardic zĕman)
popular speech, penultimate stress in proper names (Dvóra
instead of Dĕvorá; Yehúda instead
of Yĕhudá) and some other words
similarly in popular speech,
penultimate stress in verb forms with a second person plural suffix
(katávtem "you wrote" instead of
The vocabulary used within
the Hebrew language has been altered from its original form due to
its reintroduction to various cultures of organic life throughout
time. The mouth to ear pedagogical method used in transmitting Hebrew
to generations of children has undergone Europeanization in each
attempt resulting in the radically unique and unpredictable course
that maintains its current form under the classification of Modern
Hebrew. This "course that Modern Hebrew has embarked upon is the
sure sign that Hebrew has been reborn."
In Israel, Modern Hebrew is currently taught in institutions
(singular: Ulpan). There are government owned as well as private
Ulpanim offering online courses and face-to-face programs.
Hebrew language school
Modern Hebrew is the primary official language of the State of
Israel. As of 2013, there are about 9 million Hebrew speakers
of whom 7 million speak it fluently.
of Israeli Jews are proficient in Hebrew, and 70% are highly
proficient. Some 60% of Israeli Arabs are also proficient in Hebrew,
and 30% prefer speaking Hebrew over Arabic. However, Hebrew is the
native language of only 49% of Israelis over the age of 20, with
French, English, and Yiddish
being the native tongues of most of the rest. Some 26% of Russian
immigrants and 12% of Arabs speak Hebrew poorly or not at
Due to the current climate of globalization
steps have been taken to keep Hebrew the primary language of use, and
to prevent large-scale incorporation of English words into Hebrew
vocabulary. The Academy
of the Hebrew Language of the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem currently invents about 2,000 new Hebrew
words each year for modern words by finding an original Hebrew word
that captures the meaning, as an alternative to incorporating more
English words into Hebrew vocabulary. The Haifa
municipality has banned officials from using English words in
official documents, and is fighting to stop businesses from using
only English signs to market their services.
In 2012, a Knesset
bill for the preservation of the Hebrew language was proposed, which
includes the stipulation that all signage in Israel must first and
foremost be in Hebrew, as with all speeches by Israeli officials
abroad. The bill's author, MK Akram
Hasson, stated that the bill was proposed as a response to Hebrew
"losing its prestige", and children incorporating more
English words into their vocabulary.
Hebrew is also an official national minority language in Poland,
since 6 January 2005.
Further information: Biblical
Hebrew phonology and Modern
Hebrew had a typical Semitic consonant inventory, with pharyngeal
/ʕ ħ/, a series of "emphatic" consonants
(possibly ejective, but this is debated), lateral fricative /ɬ/,
and in its older stages also uvular /χ ʁ/. /χ ʁ/
merged into /ħ ʕ/ in later Biblical Hebrew, and /b ɡ d
k p t/ underwent allophonic spirantization to [v ɣ ð x f θ]
(known as begadkefat
spirantization). The earliest Biblical Hebrew vowel system
contained the Proto-Semitic vowels /a aː i iː u uː/ as
well as /oː/, but this system changed dramatically over time.
By the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls, /ɬ/ had shifted to /s/
in the Jewish traditions, though for the Samaritans it merged with
/ʃ/ instead. (Elisha Qimron 1986. Hebrew of the Dead Sea
Scrolls, 29). The Tiberian reading tradition of the Middle Ages
had the vowel system /a ɛ e i ɔ o u ă ɔ̆
ɛ̆/, though other Medieval reading traditions had fewer
A number of reading traditions have been preserved in liturgical
use. In Oriental (Sephardi and Mizrahi) Jewish reading traditions,
the emphatic consonants are realized as pharyngealized, while the
Ashkenazi (eastern European) traditions have lost emphatics and
pharyngeals, and show the shift of /w/ to /v/. The Samaritan
tradition has a complex vowel system which does not correspond
closely to the Tiberian systems.
Modern Hebrew pronunciation developed from a mixture of the
different Jewish reading traditions, generally tending towards
simplification. Emphatic consonants have shifted to their ordinary
counterparts, /w/ to /v/, and [ɣ ð θ] are not present.
Many Israelis merge /ʕ ħ/ with /ʔ χ/, do not have
contrastive gemination, and pronounce /r/ as a uvular trill [ʀ]
rather than an alveolar trill, as in many varieties of Ashkenazi
Hebrew. The consonants /tʃ dʒ/ have become phonemic due to
loan words, and /w/ has similarly been re-introduced.
Main articles: Hebrew
grammar and Modern
Hebrew grammar is partly analytic,
expressing such forms as dative,
particles rather than grammatical
cases. However, inflection plays a decisive role in the formation
of the verbs and nouns. E.g. nouns have a construct
state, called "smikhut", to denote the relationship of
"belonging to": this is the converse of the genitive
case of more inflected languages. Words in smikhut are often
combined with hyphens.
In modern speech, the use of the construct is sometimes
interchangeable with the preposition "shel", meaning "of".
There are many cases, however, where older declined forms are
retained (especially in idiomatic expressions and the like), and
are widely used to "decline" prepositions.
Like all Semitic languages, the Hebrew language exhibits a pattern
of stems consisting typically of "triliteral",
or 3-consonant consonantal
roots (4-consonant roots also exist), from which nouns,
adjectives, and verbs are formed in various ways: e.g. by inserting
vowels, doubling consonants, lengthening vowels, and/or adding
prefixes, suffixes, or infixes.
Hebrew uses a number of one-letter
prefixes that are added to words for various purposes. These are
called inseparable prepositions or "Letters of Use"
Otiyot HaShimush). Such items include: the definite article
ha- (/ha/) (="the"); prepositions
be- (/bə/) (="in"), le- (/lə/)
(="to"; a shortened version of the preposition el),
mi- (/mi/) (="from"; a shortened version of the
preposition min); conjunctions
ve- (/və/) (="and"), she- (/ʃe/)
(="that"; a shortened version of the Biblical conjunction
asher), ke- (/kə/) (="as", "like";
a shortened version of the conjunction kmo).
The vowel accompanying each of these letters may differ from those
listed above, depending on the first letter or vowel following it.
The rules governing these changes, hardly observed in colloquial
speech as most speakers tend to employ the regular form, may be heard
in more formal circumstances. For example, if a preposition is put
before a word which begins with a moving Shva,
then the preposition takes the vowel /i/ (and the initial consonant
may be weakened): colloquial be-kfar (="in a village")
corresponds to the more formal bi-khfar.
The definite article may be inserted between a preposition or a
conjunction and the word it refers to, creating composite words like
mé-ha-kfar (="from the village"). The latter
also demonstrates the change in the vowel of mi-. With be
and le, the definite article is assimilated into the prefix,
which then becomes ba or la. Thus *be-ha-matos
becomes ba-matos (="in the plane"). Note that this
does not happen to mé (the form of "min" or
"mi-" used before the letter "he"), therefore
mé-ha-matos is a valid form, which means "from the
- * indicates that the given
example is grammatically non-standard.
Like most other languages, the vocabulary of the Hebrew language
is divided into verbs, nouns, adjectives, and so on, and its sentence
structure can be analyzed by terms like object, subject, and so on.
However, speakers of languages such as English, French, Urdu
may find the structure of Hebrew sentences quite surprising.
Many Hebrew sentences have several
correct orders of words. One can change the order of the words in
the sentence and keep the same meaning. For example, the sentence
"Dad went working", in Hebrew, includes a word for Dad
for went (הלך
and for working (to the working place = לעבודה
However, unlike in English, you can put those three words almost in
any combination (אבא הלך לעבודה/
לעבודה אבא הלך/
לעבודה הלך אבא/
הלך אבא לעבודה
and so on).
In Hebrew, there is no word that
is supposed to come before every singular noun (i.e. an article)
Hebrew sentences do not have to
include verbs; the verb To
Be in present
tense is omitted (although might be implied). For example, the
sentence "I am here" (אני פה
has only two words; one for I (אני)
and one for here (פה).
In the sentence "I am that person" (אני הוא אדם זה
ani hu adam ze),
the word for "am" corresponds to the word for "he"
However, this may also be omitted. Thus, the sentence (אני אדם זה)
is identical in meaning.
Unlike the verb "to have"
in English, none of the possession terms in Hebrew is a verb.
Hebrew had a verb-subject-object ordering, this gradually
transitioned to a subject-verb-object ordering.
All direct objects have to be marked with a preposition in
Hebrew, and there is a specific preposition (את
for direct objects that would not have a preposition marker in
English. The English phrase "he ate the cake" would in
Hebrew be הוא אכל את העוגה
hu akhal et ha'ugah
(literally, "He ate את
Main articles: Hebrew
alphabet and Hebrew
Modern Hebrew is written from right to left using the Hebrew
alphabet, which is an abjad,
or consonant-only script of 22 letters. The ancient paleo-Hebrew
alphabet is similar to those used for Canaanite
Modern scripts are based on the "square" letter form, known
as Ashurit (Assyrian), which was developed from the Aramaic
script. A cursive
Hebrew script is used in handwriting: the letters tend to be more
circular in form when written in cursive, and sometimes vary markedly
from their printed equivalents. The medieval version of the cursive
script forms the basis of another style, known as Rashi
script. When necessary, vowels are indicated by diacritic marks
above or below the letter representing the syllabic onset, or by use
lectionis, which are consonantal letters used as vowels.
Further diacritics are used to indicate variations in the
pronunciation of the consonants (e.g. bet/vet,
shin/sin); and, in some contexts, to indicate the
punctuation, accentuation, and musical rendition of Biblical texts
use in Judaism
Hebrew has always been used as the language of prayer and study,
and the following pronunciation systems are found.
Hebrew, originating in Central and Eastern Europe, is still
widely used in Ashkenazi Jewish religious services and studies in
Israel and abroad, particularly in the Haredi
and other Orthodox
communities. It was influenced by the Yiddish
Hebrew is the traditional pronunciation of the Spanish
and Portuguese Jews and Sephardi
Jews in the countries of the former Ottoman
Empire, with the exception of Yemenite
Hebrew. This pronunciation, in the form used by the Jerusalem
Sephardic community, is the basis of the Hebrew
phonology of Israeli native speakers. It was influenced by the
(Oriental) Hebrew is actually a collection of dialects spoken
liturgically by Jews in various parts of the Arab
and Islamic world.
It was possibly influenced by the Aramaic
languages, and in some cases by Sephardi
Hebrew, although some linguists maintain that it is the direct
heir of Biblical
Hebrew and thus represents the true dialect of Hebrew. The same
claim is sometimes made for Yemenite
Hebrew or Temanit, which differs from other Mizrahi
dialects by having a radically different vowel system, and
distinguishing between different diacritically marked consonants that
are pronounced identically in other dialects (for example gimel and
These pronunciations are still used in synagogue ritual and
religious study, in Israel and elsewhere, mostly by people who are
not native speakers of Hebrew, though some traditionalist Israelis
Many synagogues in the diaspora, even though Ashkenazi by rite and
by ethnic composition, have adopted the "Sephardic"
pronunciation in deference to Israeli Hebrew. However, in many
British and American schools and synagogues, this pronunciation
retains several elements of its Ashkenazi substrate, especially the
distinction between tsere
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For other uses, see
Latins and Latin
redirects here. It is not to be confused with Romance
language, or Romani
Latin: lingua latīna,
laˈtiːna]) is an ancient
originally spoken by the Italic
in Latium and
Along with most European
languages, it is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European
language. Influenced by the Etruscan
language and using the Greek
alphabet as a basis, it took form as what is recognizable as
Latin in the Italian
Peninsula. Modern Romance
languages are continuations of dialectal forms (vulgar
Latin) of the language. Additionally many students, scholars,
and some members of the Christian
clergy speak it fluently, and it is taught in primary, secondary
and post-secondary educational institutions around the world.
Latin is still used in the
creation of new words in modern languages of many different
families, including English, and largely in biological taxonomy.
Latin and its derivative Romance languages are the only surviving
languages of the Italic
language family. Other languages of the Italic branch were
attested in the inscriptions of early Italy, but were assimilated to
Latin during the Roman
The presence of elements
of vernacular speech from the time the earliest authors of the Roman
Republic make it clear that colloquial
language, the predecessor to Vulgar
Latin, existed apart from, and side by side with, the literary,
throughout the classical period of the Republic. By the arrival of
the late Roman Republic, a standard, literate form had arisen from
the speech of the educated, now referred to as Classical
Latin. Vulgar Latin, by contrast, was the more rapidly changing
colloquial language, which was spoken throughout the empire.
Because of the Roman
conquests, Latin spread to many Mediterranean
and some northern European regions, and the dialects spoken in these
areas, mixed to various degrees with the indigenous
languages, developed into the modern Romance
Classical Latin slowly changed with the decline
of the Roman Empire, as education and wealth became ever
scarcer. The consequent Medieval
Latin, influenced by various Germanic and proto-Romance
languages until expurgated
scholars, was used as the language of international communication,
scholarship, and science until well into the 18th century, when it
began to be supplanted by vernaculars.
Latin is a highly inflected
language, with three distinct genders,
five to seven noun
cases, four verb
conjugations, six tenses,
and two numbers.
The Latin language has been passed down through various forms.
Some inscriptions have been published in an internationally
agreed-upon, monumental, multivolume series termed the "Corpus
Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL)". Authors and publishers
vary, but the format is about the same: volumes detailing
inscriptions with a critical apparatus stating the provenance
and relevant information. The reading and interpretation of these
inscriptions is the subject matter of the field of epigraphy.
About 270,000 inscriptions are known.
de Bello Gallico is one of the most famous classical Latin texts
of the Golden Age of Latin. The unvarnished, journalistic style of
general has long been taught as a model of the urbane Latin
officially spoken and written in the floruit of the Roman
The works of several hundred ancient authors who wrote in Latin
have survived in whole or in part, in substantial works or in
fragments to be analyzed in philology.
They are in part the subject matter of the field of Classics.
Their works were published in manuscript
form before the invention of printing and now exist in carefully
annotated printed editions such as the Loeb
Classical Library, published by Harvard
University Press, or the Oxford
Classical Texts, published by Oxford
translations of modern literature such as The
the Pooh, The
Adventures of Tintin, Asterix,
the Farting Dog, Le
Petit Prince, Max
und Moritz, How
the Grinch Stole Christmas, The
Cat in the Hat, and a book of fairy tales, "fabulae
mirabiles," are intended to garner popular interest in the
language. Additional resources include phrasebooks and resources for
rendering everyday phrases and concepts into Latin, such as
influence in English has been significant at all stages of its
insular development. In the medieval period, much borrowing from
Latin occurred through ecclesiastical usage established by Saint
of Canterbury in the sixth century, or indirectly after the
Conquest through the Anglo-Norman
language. From the 16th to the 18th centuries, English writers
cobbled together huge numbers of new words from Latin and Greek
words. These were dubbed "inkhorn
terms", as if they had spilled from a pot of ink. Many of
these words were used once by the author and then forgotten. Some
useful ones, though, survived, such as 'imbibe' and 'extrapolate'.
Many of the most common polysyllabic
English words are of Latin origin, through the medium of Old
Due to the influence of Roman governance and Roman
technology on the less developed nations under Roman dominion,
those nations adopted Latin phraseology in some specialized areas,
such as science, technology, medicine, and law. For example, the
Linnaean system of plant and animal classification was heavily
influenced by Historia
Naturalis, an encyclopedia of people, places, plants,
animals, and things published by Pliny
the Elder. Roman medicine, recorded in the works of such
physicians as Galen,
established that today's medical
terminology would be primarily derived from Latin and Greek
words, the Greek being filtered through the Latin. Roman engineering
had the same effect on scientific
terminology as a whole. Latin law principles have survived partly
in a long list
of legal Latin terms.
auxiliary languages have been heavily influenced by Latin.
which lays claim to a sizable following, is sometimes considered a
simplified, modern version of the language. Latino
sine Flexione, popular in the early 20th century, is Latin with
its inflections stripped away, among other grammatical changes.
A multi-volume Latin dictionary in the University
Library of Graz
Throughout European history, an education
in the Classics
was considered crucial for those who wished to join literate circles.
in Latin is an essential aspect of Classics. In today's world, a
large number of Latin students in America learn from Wheelock's
Latin: The Classic Introductory Latin Course, Based on Ancient
Authors. This book, first published in 1956,
was written by Frederic
M. Wheelock, who received a PhD from Harvard University.
Wheelock's Latin has become the standard text for many
American introductory Latin courses.
Latin movement attempts to teach Latin in the same way that
living languages are taught, i.e., as a means of both spoken and
written communication. It is available at the Vatican, and at some
institutions in the U.S., such as the University
of Kentucky and Iowa
State University. The British Cambridge
University Press is a major supplier of Latin textbooks for all
levels, such as the Cambridge
Latin Course series. It has also published a subseries of
children's texts in Latin by Bell & Forte, which recounts the
adventures of a mouse called Minimus.
Latin and Ancient Greek Language - Culture - Linguistics at Duke
University in 2014.
In the United
Kingdom, the Classical
Association encourages the study of antiquity through various
means, such as publications and grants. The University
a number of prestigious independent schools, for example Eton
and Via Facilis,
a London based charity, do still run Latin courses. In the United
States and Canada,
Classical League supports every effort to further the study of
classics. Its subsidiaries include the National
Junior Classical League (with more than 50,000 members), which
encourages high school students to pursue the study of Latin, and the
Senior Classical League, which encourages students to continue
their study of the classics into college. The league also sponsors
Latin Exam. Classicist Mary
Beard wrote in The
Times Literary Supplement in 2006 that the reason for
learning Latin is because of what was written in it.
Latin has been and or is the official language of European states:
- Latin was the official language of Croatian Parliament (Sabor)
from the 13th until the 19th century (1847). The oldest preserved
records of the parliamentary sessions (Congregatio Regni totius
Sclavonie generalis)—held in Zagreb (Zagabria), Croatia—date
from 19 April 1273. An extensive Croatian
Latin literature exists.
- officially recognized and widely used
between the 9th and 18th centuries, commonly used in foreign
relations and popular as a second language among some of the
See - used in the diocese,
being the official language of Vatican
History of Latin
Main article: History
A number of historical phases of the language have been
recognized, each distinguished by subtle differences in vocabulary,
usage, spelling, morphology and syntax. There are no hard and fast
rules of classification; different scholars emphasize different
features. As a result, the list has variants, as well as alternative
names. In addition to the historical phases, Ecclesiastical
Latin refers to the styles used by the writers of the Roman
Catholic Church, as well as by Protestant scholars, from Late
After the Roman Empire in Western Europe fell, and Germanic
kingdoms took its place, the Germanic people adopted Latin as a
language more suitable to legal, and other more formal,
Main article: Old
known form of Latin is Old
Latin, which was spoken from the Roman
Kingdom to the middle Republican
period, and is attested both in inscriptions and in some of the
earliest extant Latin literary works, such as the comedies of Plautus
During this period, the Latin
alphabet was devised from the Etruscan
alphabet. The writing style later changed from an initial
right-to-left or boustrophedon
to a left-to-right script.
Main article: Classical
late republic and into the first years of the empire, a new Classical
Latin arose, a conscious creation of the orators, poets,
historians and other literate
men, who wrote the great works of classical
literature, which were taught in grammar
schools. Today's instructional grammars trace their roots to these
which served as a sort of informal language academy dedicated to
maintaining and perpetuating educated speech.
Main articles: Vulgar
Latin and Late
Philological analysis of Archaic Latin
works, such as those of Plautus,
which contain snippets of everyday speech, indicates that a spoken
Latin (sermo vulgi ("the speech of the masses")
by Cicero), existed
at the same time as the literate Classical Latin. This informal
language was rarely written, so philologists have been left with only
individual words and phrases cited by Classical authors, as well as
those found as graffiti.
As vernacular Latin was free to develop
on its own, there is no reason to suppose that the speech was uniform
either diachronically or geographically. On the contrary, Romanized
European populations developed their own dialects of the
of the Roman Empire meant a deterioration in educational
standards that brought about Late
Latin, a post-classical stage of the language seen in Christian
writings of the time. This language was more in line with the
everyday speech not only because of a decline in education, but also
because of a desire to spread the word to the masses.
Despite dialect variation (which is
found in any sufficiently widespread language) the languages of
Spain, France, Portugal and Italy retained a remarkable unity in
phonological forms and developments, bolstered by the stabilizing
influence of their common Christian (Roman Catholic) culture. It was
not until the Moorish
conquest of Spain in 711 cut off communications between the major
Romance regions that the languages began to diverge seriously.
The Vulgar Latin dialect that would later become Romanian
diverged somewhat more from the other varieties due to its being
largely cut off from the unifying influences in the western part of
One way to determine whether a Romance
language feature was in Vulgar Latin is to compare it with its
parallel in Classical Latin. If it was not preferred in classical
Latin, then it most likely came from the invisible contemporaneous
vulgar Latin. For example, Romance "horse"
(cavallo/cheval/caballo/cavalo) came from Latin caballus.
However, classical Latin used equus. Caballus therefore
was most likely the spoken form (slang).
Vulgar Latin began to diverge into distinct
languages by the 9th century at the latest, when the earliest
extant Romance writings begin to appear. They were, throughout this
period, confined to everyday speech, as, subsequent to Late Latin,
Medieval Latin was used for writing.
Main article: Medieval
Latin Bible from
Latin is the written Latin in use during that portion of the
post-classical period when no corresponding Latin vernacular existed.
The spoken language had developed into the various incipient Romance
languages; however, in the educated and official world Latin
continued without its natural spoken base. Moreover, this Latin
spread into lands that had never spoken Latin, such as the Germanic
and Slavic nations. It became useful for international communication
between the member states of the Holy
Roman Empire and its allies.
Without the institutions of the Roman empire that had supported its
uniformity, medieval Latin lost its linguistic cohesion: for example,
in classical Latin sum and eram are used as auxiliary
verbs in the perfect and pluperfect passive, which are compound
tenses. Medieval Latin might use fui and fueram
Furthermore the meanings of many words have been changed and new
vocabularies have been introduced from the vernacular. Identifiable
individual styles of classically incorrect Latin prevail.
Main article: Renaissance
Most 15th century printed books
were in Latin, with the vernacular
languages playing only a secondary role.
briefly reinforced the position of Latin as a spoken language,
through its adoption by the Renaissance Humanists.
Often led by members of the clergy, they were shocked by the
accelerated dismantling of the vestiges of the classical world and
the rapid loss of its literature. They strove to preserve what they
could. It was they who introduced the practice of producing revised
editions of the literary works that remained by comparing surviving
manuscripts, and they who attempted to restore Latin to what it had
been. They corrected medieval Latin out of existence no later than
the 15th century and replaced it with more formally correct versions
supported by the scholars of the rising universities, who attempted,
through scholarship, to discover what the classical language had
Main article: New
During the Early Modern Age, Latin still was the most important
language of culture in Europe. Therefore, until the end of the 17th
century the majority of books and almost all diplomatic documents
were written in Latin. Afterwards, most diplomatic documents were
written in French
and later just native or agreed-upon languages.
Main article: Contemporary
The signs at Wallsend
Metro station are in English
and Latin as a tribute to Wallsend's role as one of the outposts of
the Roman Empire.
The largest organization that retains
Latin in official and quasi-official contexts is the Catholic
Church. Latin remains the language of the Roman
Rite; the Tridentine
Mass is celebrated in Latin, and although the Mass
of Paul VI is usually celebrated in the local vernacular
language, it can be and often is said in Latin, in part or whole,
especially at multilingual gatherings. Latin is the official language
of the Holy See,
the primary language of its public
journal, the Acta
Apostolicae Sedis, and the working language of the Roman
Rota. The Vatican
City is also home to the world's only ATM
that gives instructions in Latin.
Church, after the publication of the Anglican Book of Common
Prayer of 1559, a 1560 Latin edition was published for use at
universities such as Oxford and the leading public schools, where the
liturgy was still permitted to be conducted in Latin
and there have been several Latin translations since. Most recently a
Latin edition of the 1979 USA Anglican Book of Common Prayer has
Some films of ancient settings, such as Sebastiane
Passion of the Christ, have been made with dialogue in Latin
for the sake of realism. Occasionally, Latin dialogue is used because
of its association with religion or philosophy, in such film/TV
series as The
Exorcist and Lost
Subtitles are usually shown for the benefit of those who do not
understand Latin. There are also songs
written with Latin lyrics. The libretto for the opera-oratorio
rex (opera) by Igor
Stravinsky is in Latin.
adopts the country's Latin short name "Helvetia" on
coins and stamps, since there is no room to use all of the nation's
four official languages. For a similar reason it adopted the
international vehicle and internet code CH, which stands for
Confoederatio Helvetica, the country's full Latin name.
The polyglot European
Union has adopted Latin names in the logos of some of its
institutions for the sake of linguistic compromise and as a sign of
the continent's heritage (e.g. the EU
Many organizations today have Latin mottos, such as "Semper
paratus" (always ready), the motto of the United
States Coast Guard, and "Semper
fidelis" (always faithful), the motto of the United
States Marine Corps. Several of the states of the United States
also have Latin mottos, such as "Montani
semper liberi" (Mountaineers are always free), the state
motto of West
semper tyrannis" (Thus always for tyrants), that of
transtulit sustinet" ("He who transplanted still
sustains"), that of Connecticut;
quam videri" (To be rather than to seem), that of North
Carolina; "Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam, circumspice"
("If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you") that
Another Latin motto is "Per
ardua ad astra" (Through adversity/struggle to the stars),
the motto of the RAF.
Some schools adopt Latin mottos such as "Disce
aut discede" of the Royal
College, Colombo. Harvard
University's motto is "Veritas"
meaning (truth). Veritas was the goddess of truth, a daughter of
Saturn, and the mother of Virtue.
Similarly Canada's motto "A mari usque ad mare" (from
sea to sea) and most provincial mottos are also in Latin (for
example, British Columbia's is Splendor Sine Occasu (splendor without
Occasionally, some media outlets
broadcast in Latin, which is targeted at enthusiasts. Notable
examples include Radio
Bremen in Germany,
YLE radio in Finland
and Vatican Radio & Television, all of which broadcast news
segments and other material in Latin.
There are many websites and forums maintained in Latin by
enthusiasts. The Latin
Wikipedia has more than 100,000 articles written in Latin.
Latin is taught in many high schools, especially in Europe and the
Americas. It is most common in British Public
Schools and Grammar
Schools, the Italian Liceo
classico and Liceo
scientifico, the German Humanistisches Gymnasium,
the Dutch gymnasium,
Latin School and Boston Latin Academy. In the pontifical
universities postgraduate courses of Canon
law are taught in Latin and papers should be written in the same
Main article: Latin
spelling and pronunciation
No inherited verbal knowledge of the
ancient pronunciation of Latin exists. It must be reconstructed.
Among the data used for reconstruction are explicit statements about
pronunciation by ancient authors, misspellings, puns, ancient
etymologies, and the spelling of Latin loanwords in other
The consonant phonemes
of Classical Latin are shown in the following table.
During the time of Old
Latin, the Latin alphabet had no distinction between uppercase
and lowercase, and the letters ⟨J U W⟩ did not
exist. In place of ⟨J U⟩, the letters ⟨I V⟩
were used. ⟨I V⟩ represented both vowels and
consonants. Most of the letterforms were similar to modern uppercase,
as can be seen in the inscription from the Colosseum shown at the top
of the article.
The spelling systems used in Latin dictionaries and modern
editions of Latin texts, however, normally use ⟨i u⟩ in
place of Classical-era ⟨I V⟩. Some systems use ⟨j
v⟩ for the consonant sounds /j w/, except in the combinations
⟨gu su qu⟩, where ⟨v⟩ is never used.
Some notes concerning the mapping of Latin phonemes to English
graphemes are given below.
Always hard as k in sky, never soft
as in Caesar, cello, or social
As t in stay, never as t in nation
As s in say, never as s in rise or
Always hard as g in good, never soft
as g in gem
Before ⟨n⟩, as ng in sing
As n in man
Before ⟨c⟩, ⟨x⟩, and ⟨g⟩,
as ng in sing
doubled ⟨ll⟩ and before ⟨i⟩, as clear
l in link (l exilis)
In all other positions, as dark l in bowl (l
Similar to qu in quick, never as qu in
Sometimes at the beginning of a syllable, or after ⟨g⟩
and ⟨s⟩, as w in wine, never as v
Sometimes at the beginning of a syllable, as y in yard,
never as j in just
Doubled between vowels, as y y in toy yacht
A letter representing ⟨c⟩ + ⟨s⟩: as
x in English axe, never as x in example
consonants in Latin are pronounced long. In English, consonants are
only pronounced double between two words or morphemes,
as in unnamed, which has a doubled /nn/ like the nn in
In the Classical period, the letter ⟨U⟩ was written
as ⟨V⟩, even when used as a vowel. ⟨Y⟩
was adopted to represent upsilon
in loanwords from Greek, but it was pronounced like ⟨u⟩
and ⟨i⟩ by some speakers.
Classical Latin distinguished between long
and short vowels. During the Classical period, long vowels,
except for ⟨I⟩, were frequently marked using the apex,
which was sometimes similar to an acute
accent ⟨Á É Ó V́ Ý⟩.
Long /iː/ was written using a taller version of ⟨I⟩,
called i longa "long I": ⟨ꟾ⟩.
In modern texts, long vowels are often indicated by a macron
⟨ā ē ī ō ū⟩, and short vowels
are usually unmarked, except when necessary to distinguish between
words, in which case they are marked with a breve:
⟨ă ĕ ĭ ŏ ŭ⟩.
Long vowels in the Classical period were pronounced with a
different quality from short vowels, as well as being longer. The
difference is described in table below.
Pronunciation of Latin
similar to u in cut when short
similar to a in father when long
as e in pet when short
similar to ey in they when long
as i in sit when short
similar to i in machine when long
as o in sort when short
similar to o in holy when long
similar to u in put when short
similar to u in true when long
similar to ü in German Stück when short
(or as short u or i)
as in French
lune when long (or as long u or i)
A vowel and ⟨m⟩ at the end of a word, or a vowel and
⟨n⟩ before ⟨s⟩ or ⟨f⟩, is
long and nasal,
as in monstrum /mõːstrũː/.
had several diphthongs.
The two most common were ⟨ae au⟩. ⟨oe⟩
was fairly rare, and ⟨ui eu ei ou⟩ were very rare, at
least in native Latin words.
These sequences sometimes did not represent diphthongs. ⟨ae⟩
and ⟨oe⟩ also represented a sequence of two vowels in
different syllables in aēnus [aˈeː.nʊs]
"of bronze" and coēpit [kɔˈeː.pɪt]
"began", and ⟨au ui eu ei ou⟩ represented
sequences of two vowels, or of a vowel and one of the semivowels /j
w/, in cauē [ˈka.weː] "beware!",
cuius [ˈkʊj.jʊs] "whose", monuī
[ˈmɔn.ʊ.iː] "I warned", soluī
[ˈsɔɫ.wiː] "I released", dēlēuī
[deːˈleː.wiː] "I destroyed", eius
[ˈɛj.jʊs] "his", and nouus [ˈnɔ.wʊs]
Old Latin had more diphthongs, but most of them changed into long
vowels in Classical Latin. The Old Latin diphthong ⟨ai⟩
and the sequence ⟨āī⟩ became Classical ⟨ae⟩.
Old Latin ⟨oi⟩ and ⟨ou⟩ changed to
Classical ⟨ū⟩, except in a few words, where ⟨oi⟩
became Classical ⟨oe⟩. These two developments sometimes
occurred in different words from the same root: for instance,
Classical poena "punishment" and pūnīre
Early Old Latin ⟨ei⟩ usually changed to Classical
In Vulgar Latin
and the Romance languages, ⟨ae au oe⟩ merged with ⟨e
ō ē⟩. A similar pronunciation also existed during
the Classical Latin period among less educated speakers.
Diphthongs classified by
Main article: Latin
Inscription, from the 6th century BC, is one of the earliest
known Old Latin
Latin was written in the Latin alphabet,
derived from the Old
Italic alphabet, which was in turn drawn from the Greek
and ultimately the Phoenician
This alphabet has continued to be used over the centuries as the
script for the Romance, Celtic, Germanic, Baltic, Finnic, and many
Slavic languages (Polish, Slovak, Slovene, Croatian and Czech), and
has been adopted by many languages around the world, including
languages, many Turkic
languages, and most languages in sub-Saharan
Africa, the Americas,
making it by far the world's single most widely used writing system.
The number of letters in the Latin alphabet has varied. When it was
first derived from the Etruscan alphabet, it contained only 21.
Later, G was added to represent /ɡ/, which had previously
been spelled C; while Z ceased to be included in the
alphabet due to non-use, as the language had no voiced
alveolar fricative at the time.
The letters Y and Z were later added to represent the
Greek letters upsilon
and zeta respectively
in Greek loanwords.
W was created in the 11th century from VV. It
represented /w/ in Germanic languages, not in Latin, which still uses
V for the purpose. J was distinguished from the
original I only during the late Middle Ages, as was the letter
U from V.
Although some Latin dictionaries use J, it is for the most
part not used for Latin text as it was not used in classical times,
although many other languages use it.
Classical Latin did not contain sentence
spacing, though apices
were sometimes used to distinguish length in vowels and the
used at times to separate words. So, the first line of Catullus 3,
originally written as
("Mourn, O Venuses
or with interpunct as
would be rendered in a modern edition as
- Lugete, O Veneres Cupidinesque
or with macrons
- Lūgēte, Ō Venerēs
A replica of the Old Roman Cursive inspired by the Vindolanda
cursive script is commonly found on the many wax
tablets excavated at sites such as forts, an especially extensive
set having been discovered at Vindolanda on Hadrian's
Wall in Britain.
Curiously enough, most of the Vindolanda
tablets show spaces between words, though spaces were avoided in
monumental inscriptions from that era.
Occasionally Latin has been written in other scripts:
The disputed Praeneste
fibula is a 7th-century BC pin with an Old Latin inscription
written using the Etruscan script.
The rear panel of the early eighth-century Franks
Casket has an inscription that switches from Old
English in Anglo-Saxon
runes to Latin in Latin script and to Latin in runes.
Main article: Latin
Latin is a synthetic,
language, in the terminology of linguistic typology. In more
traditional terminology, it is an inflected language, although the
typologists are apt to say "inflecting". Thus words include
an objective semantic element, and also markers specifying the
grammatical use of the word. This fusion of root meaning and markers
produces very compact sentence elements. For example, amō,
"I love," is produced from a semantic element, ama-,
"love," to which -ō, a first person singular
marker, is suffixed.
The grammatical function can be changed by changing the markers:
the word is "inflected" to express different grammatical
functions. The semantic element does not change. Inflection uses
affixing and infixing. Affixing is prefixing and suffixing. Latin
inflections are never prefixed. For example, amābit, "he
or she will love", is formed from the same stem, amā-,
to which a future tense marker, -bi-, is suffixed, and a third
person singular marker, -t, is suffixed. There is an inherent
ambiguity: -t may denote more than one grammatical category,
in this case either masculine, feminine, or neuter gender. A major
task in understanding Latin phrases and clauses is to clarify such
ambiguities by an analysis of context. All natural languages contain
ambiguities of one sort or another.
The inflections express gender,
nouns, and pronouns—a
process called declension.
Markers are also attached to fixed stems of verbs, to denote person,
process called conjugation.
Some words are uninflected, not undergoing either process, such as
adverbs, prepositions, and interjections.
Main article: Latin
A regular Latin noun belongs to one of five main declensions, a
group of nouns with similar inflected forms. The declensions are
identified by the genitive singular form of the noun. The first
declension, with a predominant ending letter of a, is signified by
the genitive singular ending of -ae. The second declension,
with a predominant ending letter of o, is signified by the genitive
singular ending of -i. The third declension, with a
predominant ending letter of i, is signified by the genitive singular
ending of -is. The fourth declension, with a predominant
ending letter of u, is signified by the genitive singular ending of
-ūs. And the fifth declension, with a predominant ending
letter of e, is signified by the genitive singular ending of -ei.
There are seven Latin noun cases, which also apply to adjectives
and pronouns. These mark a noun's syntactic role in the sentence by
means of inflections, so word
order is not as important in Latin as it is in other less
inflected languages, such as English. The general structure and word
order of a Latin sentence can therefore vary. The cases are as
– used when the noun is the subject
or a predicate
nominative. The thing or person acting; e.g., the girl
ran: puella cucurrit, or cucurrit puella
– used when the noun is the possessor of or connected with an
object (e.g., "the horse of the man", or "the man's
horse"—in both of these instances, the word man
would be in the genitive
case when translated into Latin). Also indicates the partitive,
in which the material is quantified (e.g., "a group of people";
"a number of gifts"—people and gifts
would be in the genitive case). Some nouns are genitive with special
verbs and adjectives too (e.g., The cup is full of wine.
Poculum plēnum vīnī est.
The master of the slave had beaten him. Dominus servī
used when the noun is the indirect object of the sentence, with
special verbs, with certain prepositions, and if used as agent,
reference, or even possessor. (e.g., The merchant hands the stola
to the woman. Mercātor fēminae
– used when the noun is the direct object of the subject, and
as object of a preposition demonstrating place to which. (e.g., The
man killed the boy. Homō necāvit puerum.)
– used when the noun demonstrates separation or movement from
a source, cause, agent,
or when the noun is used as the object of certain prepositions;
adverbial. (e.g., You walked with the boy. cum puerō
– used when the noun is used in a direct address. The vocative
form of a noun is the same as the nominative except for
second-declension nouns ending in -us. The -us becomes
an -e in the vocative singular. If it ends in -ius
(such as fīlius) then the ending is just -ī
(filī) (as distinct from the nominative plural (filiī))
in the vocative singular. (e.g., "Master!" shouted
the slave. "Domine!" clāmāvit
– used to indicate a location (corresponding to the English
"in" or "at"). This is far less common than the
other six cases of Latin nouns and usually applies to cities, small
towns, and islands smaller than the island of Rhodes,
along with a few common nouns, such as the word domus, house.
In the first and second declension singular, its form coincides with
the genitive (Roma becomes Romae, "in Rome").
In the plural, and in the other declensions, it coincides with the
ablative (Athēnae becomes Athēnīs, "at
Athens"). In the case of the fourth declension word domus,
the locative form, domī ("at home") differs
from the standard form of all the other cases.
Latin lacks both definite and indefinite articles;
thus puer currit can mean either "the boy is running"
or "a boy is running".
Main article: Latin
There are two types of regular Latin adjectives: first and second
declension and third declension, so called because their forms are
similar, if not identical to, first and second declension and third
declension nouns, respectively. Latin adjectives also have
comparative (more --, -er) and superlative (most --, est)
forms. There are also a number of Latin participles.
Latin numbers are sometimes declined, but more often than not
aren't. See Numbers below.
First and second declension adjectives
First and second declension adjectives are declined like first
declension nouns for the feminine forms and like second declension
nouns for the masculine and neuter forms. For example, for mortuus,
mortua, mortuum(dead)', mortua is declined like a regular
first declension noun (such as puella (girl)), mortuus
is declined like a regular second declension masculine noun (such as
dominus (lord, master)), and mortuum is declined like a
regular second declension neuter noun ( such as auxilium
First and second declension -er adjectives
Some first and second declension adjectives have an -er as
the masculine nominative singular form. These are declined like
regular first and second declension adjectives. Some adjectives keep
the e for all of the forms while some adjectives do not.
Third declension adjectives are mostly declined like normal third
declension nouns, with a few exceptions. In the plural nominative
neuter, for example, the stem is -ia (ex. omnia(all,
everything)); while for third declension nouns, the plural nominative
neuter ending is -a (ex. capita (head)) They can either
have one, two, or three forms for the masculine, feminine, and neuter
Latin participles, like English participles, are formed from a
verb. There are a few main types of participles, including:
Latin sometimes uses prepositions, and sometimes does not,
depending on the type of prepositional phrase being used.
Prepositions can take two cases for their object: the accusative (ex.
"apud puerum" (with the boy), with "puerum" being
the accusative form of "puer", boy) and the ablative (ex.
"sine puero" (without the boy), with "puero"
being the ablative form of "puer", boy).
Main article: Latin
A regular verb
in Latin belongs to one of four main conjugations.
A conjugation is "a class of verbs with similar inflected
The conjugations are identified by the last letter of the verb's
present stem. The present stem can be found by taking the -re (or
-ri, in the case of a deponent verb) ending off of the present
infinitive. The infinitive of the first conjugation ends in -ā-re
or -ā-ri (active and passive respectively); e.g., amāre,
"to love," hortārī, "to exhort";
of the second conjugation by -ē-re or -ē-rī;
e.g., monēre, "to warn", verērī,
"to fear;" of the third conjugation by -ere, -ī;
e.g., dūcere, "to lead," ūtī,
"to use"; of the fourth by -ī-re, -ī-rī;
e.g., audīre, "to hear," experīrī,
"to attempt". Irregular verbs may not follow these types,
or may be marked in a different way. The "endings"
presented above are not the suffixed infinitive markers. The first
letter in each case is the last of the stem, because of which the
conjugations are also called the a-conjugation, e-conjugation and
i-conjugation. The fused infinitive ending is -re or -rī.
Third-conjugation stems end in a consonant: the consonant
conjugation. Further, there is a subset of the 3rd conjugation, the
i-stems, which behave somewhat like the 4th conjugation, as they are
both i-stems, one short and the other long.
These stem categories descend from Indo-European,
and can therefore be compared to similar conjugations in other
There are six general tenses
in Latin (present, imperfect, future, perfect, pluperfect, and future
perfect), three moods
(indicative, imperative and subjunctive, in addition to the
and supine), three
(first, second, and third), two numbers (singular and plural), two
(active and passive), and three aspects
imperfective, and stative).
Verbs are described by four principal parts:
The first principal part is the
first person singular, present tense, indicative mood, active voice
form of the verb. If the verb is impersonal, the first principal
part will be in the third person singular.
The second principal part is the
present infinitive active.
The third principal part is the
first person singular, perfect indicative active form. Like the
first principal part, if the verb is impersonal, the third principal
part will be in the third person singular.
The fourth principal part is the supine form, or
alternatively, the nominative singular, perfect passive participle
form of the verb. The fourth principal part can show either one
gender of the participle, or all three genders (-us for
masculine, -a for feminine, and -um for neuter), in
the nominative singular. The fourth principal part will be the
future participle if the verb cannot be made passive. Most modern
Latin dictionaries, if only showing one gender, tend to show the
masculine; however, many older dictionaries will instead show the
neuter, as this coincides with the supine. The fourth principal part
is sometimes omitted for intransitive verbs, although strictly in
Latin these can be made passive if used impersonally, and the supine
exists for these verbs.
There are six tenses in the Latin language. These are divided into
two tense systems: the present system, which is made up of the
present, imperfect, and future tenses, and the perfect system, which
is made up of the perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect tenses.
Each tense has a set of endings corresponding to the person and
number referred to. This means that subject (nominative) pronouns are
generally unnecessary for the first (I, we) and second (you)
persons, unless emphasis on the subject is needed.
The table below displays the common inflected endings for the
indicative mood in the active voice in all six tenses. For the future
tense, the first listed endings are for the first and second
conjugations, while the second listed endings are for the third and
1st Person Singular
2nd Person Singular
3rd Person Singular
1st Person Plural
2nd Person Plural
3rd Person Plural
Note that the future perfect endings are identical to the future
forms of sum (with the exception of erint) and that the
pluperfect endings are identical to the imperfect forms of sum.
A number of Latin words are deponent,
causing their forms to be in the passive mood, while retaining an
active meaning, e.g. hortor, hortārī, hortātus sum
As Latin is an Italic
language, most of its vocabulary is likewise Italic, deriving
ultimately from PIE.
However, because of close cultural interaction, the Romans not only
adapted the Etruscan alphabet to form the Latin alphabet, but also
borrowed some Etruscan
words into their language, including persona (mask) and
Latin also included vocabulary borrowed from Oscan,
another Italic language.
After the Fall
of Tarentum (272 BC), the Romans began hellenizing, or adopting
features of Greek culture, including the borrowing of Greek words,
such as camera (vaulted roof), sumbolum (symbol), and
This hellenization led to the addition of "Y" and "Z"
to the alphabet to represent Greek sounds.
Subsequently the Romans transplanted Greek
Italy, paying almost any price to entice Greek skilled and educated
persons to Rome, and sending their youth to be educated in Greece.
Thus, many Latin scientific and philosophical words were Greek
loanwords or had their meanings expanded by association with Greek
words, as ars (craft) and τέχνη.
Because of the Roman Empire’s
expansion and subsequent trade with outlying European tribes, the
Romans borrowed some northern and central European words, such as
beber (beaver), of Germanic origin, and bracae
(breeches), of Celtic origin.
The specific dialects of Latin across Latin-speaking regions of the
former Roman Empire after its fall were influenced by languages
specific to the regions. These spoken Latins evolved into particular
During and after the adoption of
Christianity into Roman society, Christian vocabulary became a part
of the language, formed either from Greek or Hebrew borrowings, or as
Continuing into the Middle Ages, Latin incorporated many more words
from surrounding languages, including Old
English and other Germanic
Over the ages,
Latin-speaking populations produced new adjectives, nouns, and verbs
by affixing or
For example, the compound adjective, omnipotens,
"all-powerful," was produced from the adjectives omnis,
"all", and potens, "powerful", by dropping
the final s of omnis and concatenating. Often the
concatenation changed the part of speech; i.e., nouns were produced
from verb segments or verbs from nouns and adjectives.
Here the phrases are mentioned with accents
to know where to stress.
In the Latin language, most of the Latin words are stressed at the
second to last (penultimate) syllable,
called in Latin paenultimus or syllaba paenultima.
Lesser words are stressed at the third to last syllable, called in
Latin antepaenultimus or syllaba antepaenultima.
sálve to one person / salvéte
to more than one person - hello
áve to one person / avéte
to more than one person - greetings
vále to one person / valéte
to more than one person - goodbye
cúra ut váleas - take care
exoptátus to male / exoptáta
to female, optátus to
male / optáta to female,
grátus to male / gráta
to female, accéptus to
male / accépta to female -
quómodo váles?, ut váles? - how
béne - good
amabo te - please
béne váleo - I'm fine
mále - bad
mále váleo - I'm not good
quáeso (['kwajso]/['kwe:so]) - please
íta, íta est, íta véro,
sic, sic est, étiam - yes
non, minime - no
grátias tíbi, grátias tíbi
ágo - thank you
mágnas grátias, mágnas grátias
ágo - many thanks
máximas grátias, máximas grátias
ágo, ingéntes grátias ágo -
thank you very much
accípe sis to one person /
accípite sítis to more than one
person, libénter - you're welcome
qua aetáte es? - how old are you?
25 ánnos nátus to male /
25 ánnos náta to female - 25 years
loquerísne ... - do you speak ...
Latíne? - Latin?
(['grajke]/['gre:ke]) - Greek?
Italiáne? - Italian?
Gallice? - French?
([teo'diske]) - German?
Sínice? - Chinese?
([ja'po:nike]) - Japanese?
Coreane? - Korean?
Tagale? - Tagalog?
Arábice? - Arabic?
Pérsice? - Persian?
Indice? - Hindi?
Rússice? - Russian?
úbi latrína est? - where is the toilet?
ámo te / te ámo - I love you
In ancient times, numbers in Latin were only written with letters.
Today, the numbers can be written with the Arabic
numbers as well as with Roman
numerals. The numbers 1, 2 and 3, and from 200 to 900, are
declined as nouns and adjectives with some differences.
ūnus, ūna, ūnum (masculine, feminine,
duo, duae, duo (m., f., n.)
trēs, tria (m./f., n.)
IIII or IV
VIIII or IX
One Hundred (100)
Five Hundred (500)
One Thousand (1000)
The numbers from quattuor (four) to centum (one hundred) do not
change their endings.
de Bello Gallico, also called De Bello Gallico (The
Gallic War), written by Gaius
Julius Caesar, begins with the following passage:
Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam
incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae,
nostra Galli appellantur. Hi omnes lingua, institutis, legibus inter
se differunt. Gallos ab Aquitanis Garumna flumen, a Belgis Matrona et
Sequana dividit. Horum omnium fortissimi sunt Belgae, propterea quod
a cultu atque humanitate provinciae longissime absunt, minimeque ad
eos mercatores saepe commeant atque ea quae ad effeminandos animos
pertinent important, proximique sunt Germanis, qui trans Rhenum
incolunt, quibuscum continenter bellum gerunt. Qua de causa Helvetii
quoque reliquos Gallos virtute praecedunt, quod fere cotidianis
proeliis cum Germanis contendunt, cum aut suis finibus eos prohibent
aut ipsi in eorum finibus bellum gerunt. Eorum una pars, quam Gallos
obtinere dictum est, initium capit a flumine Rhodano, continetur
Garumna flumine, Oceano, finibus Belgarum; attingit etiam ab Sequanis
et Helvetiis flumen Rhenum; vergit ad septentriones. Belgae ab
extremis Galliae finibus oriuntur; pertinent ad inferiorem partem
fluminis Rheni; spectant in septentrionem et orientem solem.
Aquitania a Garumna flumine ad Pyrenaeos montes et eam partem Oceani
quae est ad Hispaniam pertinet; spectat inter occasum solis et
Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert;
Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Latin".
Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig:
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
only knows Latin can go across the whole Poland from one side to the
other one just like he was at his own home, just like he was born
there. So great happiness! I wish a traveler in England could travel
without knowing any other language than Latin!, Daniel Defoe, 1728
Lieven, The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the
Path to Independence, Yale University Press, 1994, ISBN
0-300-06078-5, Google Print, p.48
O'Connor, Culture And Customs of the Baltic States, Greenwood Press,
0-313-33125-1, Google Print, p.115
Friedrich et al., The Other Prussia: Royal Prussia, Poland and
Liberty, 1569–1772, Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN
0-521-58335-7, Google Print, p.88
Mildred K (1966). From Latin to modern French with especial
consideration of Anglo-Norman; phonology and morphology.
Publications of the University of Manchester, no. 229. French
series, no. 6. Manchester: Manchester university press. p. 3.
Mario; compiled,, ; Gaeng, arranged by Paul A. (1976). The
story of Latin and the Romance languages (1st ed.). New York:
Harper & Row. pp. 76–81. ISBN 0-06-013312-0.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This article is about
the writing system. For other uses, see Cuneiform
Trilingual cuneiform inscription of Xerxes
Fortress in Turkey, written in Old
c. 31st century B.C.E. to 1st century C.E.
influenced shape of Ugaritic
to U+123FF (Sumero-Akkadian Cuneiform)
to U+1247F (Numbers)
This article contains IPA
phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering
support, you may see question
marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode
1] is one of the earliest known systems
distinguished by its wedge-shaped
marks on clay
tablets, made by means of a blunt reed
for a stylus. The
itself simply means "wedge shaped", from the Latin cuneus
"wedge" and forma
"shape," and came into English usage probably from Old
In use in Sumer
as early as the late 4th millennium B.C.E. (the Uruk
IV period), cuneiform writing began as a system of pictographs.
In the third millennium, the pictorial representations became
simplified and more abstract as the number of characters in use grew
smaller, from about 1,000 in the Early Bronze
Age to about 400 in Late Bronze Age (Hittite
cuneiform). The system consists of a combination of
logophonetic, consonantal alphabetic and syllabic signs.
The original Sumerian
script was adapted for the writing of the Akkadian,
languages, and it inspired the Ugaritic
Persian alphabets. Cuneiform writing was gradually replaced by
alphabet during the Neo-Assyrian
Empire. By the 2nd century C.E., the script had become extinct,
and all knowledge of how to read it was lost until it began to be
deciphered in the 19th century.
Between half a million
and two million cuneiform tablets are estimated to have been
excavated in modern times. Of these, only approximately 30,000
– 100,000 have been read or published in modern time. The
holds the largest collection, c.130,000, followed by the
Museum Berlin, the Louvre,
Archaeology Museums, the National
Museum of Iraq, the Yale
Babylonian Collection (c.40,000) and Penn
Museum. Most of these have "lain in these collections for a
century without being translated, studied or published,"
as there are only a few hundred qualified cuneiformists in the
The cuneiform writing system was in use
for more than three millennia, through several stages of development,
from the 34th century B.C.E. down to the 2nd century C.E.
Ultimately, it was completely replaced by alphabetic
writing (in the general sense) in the course of the Roman
era and there are no Cuneiform systems in current use. It had to
be deciphered as a completely unknown writing system in 19th-century
Successful completion of its decipherment is dated to 1857.
The cuneiform script underwent
considerable changes over a period of more than two millennia. The
image below shows the development of the sign SAG "head"
(Borger nr. 184, U+12295 ?).
shows the pictogram as it was drawn around 3000 B.C.E.
shows the rotated pictogram as written around 2800 B.C.E.
shows the abstracted glyph in archaic monumental
inscriptions, from c. 2600 B.C.E.
is the sign as written in clay, contemporary to stage 3
represents the late 3rd millennium
represents Old Assyrian ductus of the early 2nd
millennium, as adopted into Hittite
is the simplified sign as written by Assyrian scribes in
the early 1st millennium, and until the script's extinction.
Sumerian inscription in monumental archaic style, c. 26th century
The cuneiform script proper developed from pictographic
in the late 4th millennium B.C.E. Mesopotamia's "proto-literate"
period spans roughly the 35th to 32nd centuries. The first documents
unequivocally written in the Sumerian
language date to c. the 31st century, found at Jemdet
Originally, pictographs were either drawn on clay
tablets in vertical columns with a sharpened reed
stylus, or incised
in stone. This early style lacked the characteristic wedge shape of
Certain signs to indicate names of gods, countries, cities,
vessels, birds, trees, etc., are known as determinatives,
and were the Sumerian signs of the terms in question, added as a
guide for the reader. Proper names continued to be usually written in
purely "logographic" fashion.
The earliest known Sumerian king whose name appears on
contemporary cuneiform tablets is Enmebaragesi
of Kish. Surviving records only very gradually become less
fragmentary and more complete for the following reigns, but by the
end of the pre-Sargonic period, it had become standard practice for
each major city-state to date documents by year-names commemorating
the exploits of its lugal (king).
From about 2900 B.C.E., many pictographs began to lose their
original function, and a given sign could have various meanings
depending on context. The sign inventory was reduced from some 1,500
signs to some 600 signs, and writing became increasingly
Determinative signs were re-introduced to avoid ambiguity. Cuneiform
thus arises from the more primitive system of pictographs at about
that time (Early
Bronze Age II).
Further information: Liste
der archaischen Keilschriftzeichen
Letter sent by the high-priest Lu'enna to the king of Lagash
informing him of his son's death in combat, c. 2400 B.C.E., found in
In the mid-3rd millennium B.C.E., writing direction was changed to
left to right in horizontal rows (rotating all of the pictographs 90°
counter-clockwise in the process), and a new wedge-tipped stylus was
used which was pushed into the clay, producing wedge-shaped
("cuneiform") signs; these two developments made writing
quicker and easier. By adjusting the relative position of the tablet
to the stylus, the writer could use a single tool to make a variety
Cuneiform tablets could be fired in kilns
to provide a permanent record, or they could be recycled if
permanence was not needed. Many of the clay tablets found by
archaeologists were preserved because they were fired when attacking
armies burned the building in which they were kept.
The script was also widely used on commemorative stelae
and carved reliefs to record the achievements of the ruler in whose
honor the monument had been erected.
The spoken language consisted of
many similar sounds, and in the beginning similar sounding words such
as "life" [til] and "arrow" [ti] were described
in writing by the same symbol. After the Semites conquered Southern
Mesopotamia, some signs gradually changed from being pictograms to
syllabograms, most likely to make things clearer in writing. In that
way the sign for the word "arrow" would become the sign for
the sound "ti". If a sound would represent many different
words the words would all have different signs, for instance the
syllable "gu" had fourteen different symbols. When the
words had similar meaning but very different sounds they were written
with the same symbol. For instance "tooth" [zu], "mouth"
[ka] and "voice" [gu] were all written with the symbol for
"voice". To be more accurate they started adding to signs
or combine two signs to define the meaning. They used either
geometrical patterns or another cuneiform sign.
As time went by the cuneiform got
very complex and the distinction between a pictogram and syllabogram
became vague. Several symbols had too many meanings to permit
clarity. Therefore, symbols were put together to indicate both the
sound and the meaning of compound. The word "Raven" [UGA]
had the same logogram as the words "soap" [NAGA] "name
of a city" [ERESH] and "the patron goddess of Eresh"
[NISABA]. Two phonetic complements were used to define the word [u]
in front of the symbol and [gu] behind. Finally the symbol for "bird"
[MUSHEN] was added to ensure proper interpretation. The written part
of the Sumerian language was used as a learned written language until
the 1st century C.E. The spoken language died out around the 18th
A list of Sumerian deities, c. 2400 B.C.E.
The archaic cuneiform script was adopted by the Akkadians
from c. 2500 B.C.E., and by 2000 B.C.E. had evolved into Old Assyrian
cuneiform, with many modifications to Sumerian orthography. The
equivalents for many signs became distorted or abbreviated to form
new "phonetic" values, because the syllabic nature of the
script as refined by the Sumerians was unintuitive to Semitic
speakers. At this stage, the former pictograms were reduced to a high
level of abstraction, and were composed of only five basic wedge
shapes: horizontal, vertical, two diagonals and the Winkelhaken
impressed vertically by the tip of the stylus. The signs exemplary of
these basic wedges are
AŠ (B001, U+12038) ?:
DIŠ (B748, U+12079) ?:
GE23, DIŠ tenû
(B575, U+12039) ?:
GE22 (B647, U+1203A) ?:
U (B661, U+1230B) ?:
Except for the Winkelhaken which has no tail, the length of
the wedges' tails could vary as required for sign composition.
Signs tilted by about 45 degrees are called tenû in
Akkadian, thus DIŠ is a vertical wedge and DIŠ tenû
a diagonal one. If a sign is modified with additional wedges, this is
called gunû or "gunification;" if signs are
crosshatched with additional Winkelhaken, they are called
šešig; if signs are modified by the removal of a
wedge or wedges, they are called nutillu.
Cuneiform tablet from the Kirkor
Minassian collection in the US Library
of Congress, c. 24th century B.C.E.
One of the Amarna
letters, 14th century B.C.E.
the KA sign (?)
was a Sumerian compound marker, and appears frequently in ligatures
enclosing other signs. GUR7 is itself a ligature of
SÍG.AḪ.ME.U, meaning "to pile up; grain-heap"
(Akkadian kamāru; karû).
"Typical" signs have usually in the range of about five
to ten wedges, while complex ligatures
can consist of twenty or more (although it is not always clear if a
ligature should be considered a single sign or two collated but still
distinct signs); the ligature KAxGUR7 consists of 31
Most later adaptations of Sumerian cuneiform preserved at least
some aspects of the Sumerian script. Written Akkadian
included phonetic symbols from the Sumerian syllabary,
together with logograms
that were read as whole words. Many signs in the script were
polyvalent, having both a syllabic and logographic meaning. The
complexity of the system bears a resemblance to Old
Japanese, written in a Chinese-derived script, where some of
these Sinograms were used as logograms, and others as phonetic
This "mixed" method of writing continued through the end
of the Babylonian
empires, although there were periods when "purism" was in
fashion and there was a more marked tendency to spell out the words
laboriously, in preference to using signs with a phonetic complement.
Yet even in those days, the Babylonian syllabary remained a mixture
of logographic and phonemic writing.
cuneiform is an adaptation of the Old Assyrian cuneiform of c.
1800 B.C.E. to the Hittite
language. When the cuneiform script was adapted to writing
Hittite, a layer of Akkadian logographic spellings was added to the
script, thus the pronunciations of many Hittite words which were
conventionally written by logograms are now unknown.
In the Iron Age (c. 10th to 6th centuries
B.C.E.), Assyrian cuneiform was further simplified. From the 6th
century, the Assyrian language was marginalized by Aramaic,
written in the Aramaean
alphabet, but Neo-Assyrian cuneiform remained in use in literary
tradition well into Parthian
times (250 B.C.E. – 226 C.E.). The last known cuneiform
inscription, an astronomical text, was written in 75 C.E.
The complexity of the system prompted the development of a number
of simplified versions of the script. Old
Persian was written in a subset of simplified cuneiform
characters known today as Old
Persian cuneiform. It formed a semi-alphabetic syllabary, using
far fewer wedge strokes than Assyrian used, together with a handful
of logograms for frequently occurring words like "god" and
"king". The Ugaritic
language was written using the Ugaritic
alphabet, a standard Semitic style alphabet
written using the cuneiform method.
centuries, travellers to Persepolis,
in modern-day Iran,
had noticed carved cuneiform inscriptions and were intrigued.
Attempts at deciphering these Old
Persian writings date back to Arabic/Persian
historians of the medieval
Islamic world, though these early attempts at decipherment
were largely unsuccessful.
In the 15th century the Venetian
Barbero explored ancient ruins in the Middle East and came back with
news of a very odd writing he had found carved on the stones in the
temples of Shiraz
and on many clay tablets.
In 1625 the Roman
Della Valle, coming back from Mesopotamia and Persia, brought
back a tablet written with cuneiform glyphs he had found in Ur,
and also the copy of five characters he had seen in Persepolis.
Della Valle understood that the writing had to be read from left to
right, following the direction of wedges, but did not attempt to
decipher the scripts.
Thomas Herbert, in the 1634 edition of his travel book A
relation of some yeares travaile, reported seeing at Persepolis
carved on the wall “a dozen lines of strange
characters…consisting of figures, obelisk, triangular, and
pyramidal” and thought they resembled Greek. In the 1664
edition he reproduced some and thought they were ‘legible and
intelligible’ and therefore decipherable. He also guessed,
correctly, that they represented not letters or hieroglyphics
but words and syllables, and were to be read from left to right.
Herbert is rarely mentioned in standard histories of the decipherment
Niebuhr brought the first reasonably complete and accurate copies
of the inscriptions at Persepolis
Münter of Copenhagen discovered that the words in the
Persian inscriptions were divided from one another by an oblique
wedge and that the monuments must belong to the age of Cyrus
and his successors. One word, which occurs without any variation
towards the beginning of each inscription, he correctly inferred to
By 1802 Georg
Friedrich Grotefend had determined that two king's names
mentioned were Darius
(but in their native Old Persian forms, which were unknown at the
time and therefore had to be conjectured), and had been able to
assign correct alphabetic values to the cuneiform characters which
composed the two names.
Although Grotefend's Memoir was presented to the Göttingen
Academy on September 4, 1802, the Academy refused to publish it; it
was subsequently published in Heeren's work in 1815, but was
overlooked by most researchers at the time.
In 1836, the eminent French scholar Eugène
Burnouf discovered that the first of the inscriptions published
by Niebuhr contained a list of the satrapies
of Darius. With this clue in his hand, he identified and published an
alphabet of thirty letters, most of which he had correctly
A month earlier, a friend and pupil of Burnouf's, Professor Christian
Lassen of Bonn, had also published his own work on The Old
Persian Cuneiform Inscriptions of Persepolis.
He and Burnouf had been in frequent correspondence, and his claim to
have independently detected the names of the satrapies, and thereby
to have fixed the values of the Persian characters, was consequently
fiercely attacked. According to Sayce, whatever his obligations to
Burnouf may have been, Lassen's "contributions to the
decipherment of the inscriptions were numerous and important. He
succeeded in fixing the true values of nearly all the letters in the
Persian alphabet, in translating the texts, and in proving that the
language of them was not Zend,
but stood to both Zend and Sanskrit
in the relation of a sister".
Meanwhile, in 1835 Henry
Rawlinson, a British East India Company army officer, visited the
Inscriptions in Persia.
Carved in the reign of King
Darius of Persia (522–486 B.C.E.), they consisted of
identical texts in the three official languages of the empire: Old
and Elamite. The
Behistun inscription was to the decipherment of cuneiform what the
was to the decipherment of Egyptian
Rawlinson correctly deduced that the Old Persian was a phonetic
script and he successfully deciphered it. In 1837 he finished his
copy of the Behistun inscription, and sent a translation of its
opening paragraphs to the Royal Asiatic Society. Before his article
could be published, however, the works of Lassen and Burnouf reached
him, necessitating a revision of his article and the postponement of
its publication. Then came other causes of delay. In 1847 the first
part of the Rawlinson's Memoir was published; the second part did not
appear until 1849.[nb
2] The task of deciphering the Persian cuneiform texts was
After translating the Persian, Rawlinson
and, working independently of him, the Irish Assyriologist
began to decipher
the others. (The actual techniques used to decipher the Akkadian
language have never been fully published; Hincks described how he
sought the proper names already legible in the deciphered Persian
while Rawlinson never said anything at all, leading some to speculate
that he was secretly copying Hincks.)
They were greatly helped by Paul
Émile Botta's discovery of the city of Nineveh
in 1842. Among the treasures uncovered by Botta were the remains of
the great library
of Ashurbanipal, a royal archive containing tens of thousands of
baked clay tablets covered with cuneiform inscriptions.
By 1851, Hincks and Rawlinson could read 200 Babylonian signs.
They were soon joined by two other decipherers: young German-born
Oppert, and versatile British Orientalist William
Henry Fox Talbot. In 1857 the four men met in London and took
part in a famous experiment to test the accuracy of their
Norris, the secretary of the Royal
Asiatic Society, gave each of them a copy of a recently
discovered inscription from the reign of the Assyrian emperor
I. A jury of experts was empanelled to examine the resulting
translations and assess their accuracy. In all essential points the
translations produced by the four scholars were found to be in close
agreement with one another. There were of course some slight
discrepancies. The inexperienced Talbot had made a number of
mistakes, and Oppert's translation contained a few doubtful passages
which the jury politely ascribed to his unfamiliarity with the
English language. But Hincks' and Rawlinson's versions corresponded
remarkably closely in many respects. The jury declared itself
satisfied, and the decipherment of Akkadian cuneiform was adjudged a
In the early days of cuneiform decipherment, the reading of proper
names presented the greatest difficulties. However, there is now a
better understanding of the principles behind the formation and the
pronunciation of the thousands of names found in historical records,
business documents, votive inscriptions, literary productions and
legal documents. The primary challenge was posed by the
characteristic use of old Sumerian non-phonetic logograms in other
languages that had different pronunciations for the same symbols.
Until the exact phonetic reading of many names was determined through
parallel passages or explanatory lists, scholars remained in doubt,
or had recourse to conjectural or provisional readings. Fortunately,
in many cases, there are variant readings, the same name being
written phonetically (in whole or in part) in one instance, and
logographically in another.
Extract from the Cyrus
Cylinder (lines 15–21), giving the genealogy of Cyrus
the Great and an account of his capture of Babylon
in 539 B.C.E.
Cuneiform has a specific format for transliteration.
Because of the script's polyvalence,
transliteration requires certain choices of the transliterating
scholar, who must decide in the case of each sign which of its
several possible meanings is intended in the original document. For
example, the sign DINGIR
in a Hittite text may represent either the Hittite syllable an
or may be part of an Akkadian phrase, representing the syllable il,
it may be a Sumerogram,
representing the original Sumerian meaning, 'god' or the
for a deity. In transliteration, a different rendition of the same
glyph is chosen depending on its role in the present context.
Therefore, a text containing DINGIR
and MU in succession could be construed to represent the words "ana",
"ila", god + "a" (the accusative
ending), god + water, or a divine name "A" or Water.
Someone transcribing the signs would make the decision how the signs
should be read and assemble the signs as "ana", "ila",
"Ila" ("god"+accusative case), etc. A
transliteration of these signs, however, would separate the signs
with dashes "il-a", "an-a", "DINGIR-a"
This is still easier to read than the original cuneiform, but now the
reader is able to trace the sounds back to the original signs and
determine if the correct decision was made on how to read them. A
transliterated document thus presents both the reading preferred by
the transliterating scholar as well as the opportunity to reconstruct
the original text.
There are differing conventions for transliterating Sumerian,
Akkadian (Babylonian) and Hittite (and Luwian) cuneiform texts. One
convention that sees wide use across the different fields is the use
of acute and grave accents as an abbreviation for homophone
disambiguation. Thus, u is equivalent to u1,
the first glyph expressing phonetic u. An acute accent, ú,
is equivalent to the second, u2, and a grave
accent ù to the third, u3
glyph in the series (while the sequence of numbering is conventional
but essentially arbitrary and subject to the history of
decipherment). In Sumerian transliteration, a multiplication sign 'x'
is used to indicate ligatures.
As shown above, signs as such are represented in capital
letters, while the specific reading selected in the
transliteration is represented in small letters. Thus, capital
letters can be used to indicate a so-called Diri compound – a
sign sequence that has, in combination, a reading different from the
sum of the individual constituent signs (for example, the compound
IGI.A – "water" + "eye" – has the
reading imhur, meaning "foam"). In a Diri compound,
the individual signs are separated with dots in transliteration.
Capital letters may also be used to indicate a Sumerogram (for
example, KÙ.BABBAR – Sumerian for "silver" –
being used with the intended Akkadian
reading kaspum, "silver"), an Akkadogram, or simply
a sign sequence of whose reading the editor is uncertain. Naturally,
the "real" reading, if it is clear, will be presented in
small letters in the transliteration: IGI.A will be rendered as
Since the Sumerian language has only been widely known and studied
by scholars for approximately a century, changes in the accepted
reading of Sumerian names have occurred from time to time. Thus the
name of a king of Ur,
read Ur-Bau at one time, was later read as Ur-Engur,
and is now read as Ur-Nammu
or Ur-Namma; for Lugal-zaggisi,
a king of Uruk, some
scholars continued to read Ungal-zaggisi; and so forth. Also,
with some names of the older period, there was often uncertainty
whether their bearers were Sumerians or Semites. If the former, then
their names could be assumed to be read as Sumerian, while, if they
were Semites, the signs for writing their names were probably to be
read according to their Semitic equivalents, though occasionally
Semites might be encountered bearing genuine Sumerian names. There
was also doubt whether the signs composing a Semite's name
represented a phonetic reading or a logographic compound. Thus, e.g.
when inscriptions of a Semitic ruler of Kish, whose name was written
Uru-mu-ush, were first deciphered, that name was first taken
to be logographic because uru mu-ush could be read as "he
founded a city" in Sumerian, and scholars accordingly
retranslated it back to the original Semitic as Alu-usharshid.
It was later recognized that the URU sign can also be read as rí
and that the name is that of the Akkadian
The tables below show signs used for simple syllables of the form
CV or VC. As used for the Sumerian language, the cuneiform script was
in principle capable of distinguishing at least 16 consonants,
- b, d, g, g̃, ḫ, k, l,
m, n, p, r, ř, s, š, t, z
as well as four vowel qualities, a, e, i, u. The Akkadian
language had no use for g̃ or ř but needed to
distinguish its emphatic
series, q, ṣ, ṭ, adopting various
"superfluous" Sumerian signs for the purpose (e.g. qe=KIN,
qu=KUM, qi=KIN, ṣa=ZA, ṣe=ZÍ,
needed]) Hittite as it adopted the Akkadian cuneiform further
introduced signs for the glide w, e.g. wa=PI,
wi5=GEŠTIN) as well as a ligature I.A
át=GÍR gunû ?
iz= GIŠ ?,
See also: List
of cuneiform signs
writing in Ur,
The Sumerian cuneiform script had on the order of 1,000 distinct
signs (or about 1,500 if variants are included). This number was
reduced to about 600 by the 24th century B.C.E. and the beginning of
Akkadian records. Not all Sumerian signs are used in Akkadian texts,
and not all Akkadian signs are used in Hittite.
Falkenstein (1936) lists 939 signs used in the earliest period
34th to 31st centuries). With an emphasis on Sumerian forms,
lists 870 signs used in the Early
Dynastic II period (28th century, "LAK") and for the
Early Dynastic IIIa period (26th century, "ŠL").
Rosengarten (1967) lists 468 signs used in Sumerian (pre-Sargonian).
Mittermayer ("aBZL", 2006) list 480 Sumerian forms, written
in Isin-Larsa and Old Babylonian times. Regarding Akkadian
forms, the standard handbook for many years was Borger ("ABZ",
1981) with 598 signs used in Assyrian/Babylonian writing, recently
superseded by Borger ("MesZL", 2004) with an expansion to
907 signs, an extension of their Sumerian readings and a new
Signs used in Hittite
cuneiform are listed by Forrer (1922), Friedrich (1960) and the
HZL (Rüster and Neu 1989). The HZL lists a total of 375
signs, many with variants (for example, 12 variants are given for
number 123 EGIR).
Main article: Babylonian
The Sumerians used a numerical
system based on 1, 10 and 60. The way of writing a number like 70
would be the sign for 60 and the sign for 10 right after. This way of
counting is still used today for measuring time as 60 seconds per
minute and 60 minutes per hour.
Main articles: Cuneiform
(Unicode block) and Cuneiform
Numbers and Punctuation (Unicode block)
Unicode (as of
version 6.0) assigns to Sumero-Akkadian Cuneiform script the
- U+12000–U+123FF (879 assigned characters) "Cuneiform"
U+12400–U+1247F (103 assigned characters) "Cuneiform
Numbers and Punctuation"
The final proposal for Unicode encoding of
the script was submitted by two cuneiform scholars working with an
experienced Unicode proposal writer in June 2004.
The base character inventory is derived from the list of Ur
III signs compiled by the Cuneiform
Digital Library Initiative of UCLA
based on the inventories of Miguel Civil, Rykle Borger (2003), and
Robert Englund. Rather than opting for a direct ordering by glyph
shape and complexity, according to the numbering of an existing
catalog, the Unicode order of glyphs was based on the Latin
alphabetic order of their "last" Sumerian transliteration
as a practical approximation.
List of major Cuneiform tablet discoveries
- This list is incomplete;
you can help by expanding
Number of tablets
Sumerian and Eblaite
It seems that various parts of
Rawlisons' paper formed Vol X of this journal. The final part III
comprised chapters IV (Analysis of the Persian Inscriptions of
Behistunand) and V (Copies and Translations of the Persian Cuneiform
Inscriptions of Persepolis, Hamadan, and Van), pp. 187–349.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
also called a pictogramme,
and also an 'icon'[citation
needed], is an ideogram
that conveys its meaning through its pictorial resemblance to a
physical object. Pictographs are often used in writing and graphic
systems in which the characters are to a considerable extent
pictorial in appearance.
Pictography is a form of writing
which uses representational, pictorial drawings,
similarly to cuneiform
and, to some extent, hieroglyphic
writing, which also uses drawings as phonetic letters or
rhymes. In certain modern use, pictograms participate to a formal
language (e.g. Hazards
pictographs on cliff-face at Agawa Rock, Lake
Superior Provincial Park
Early written symbols
were based on pictographs (pictures which resemble what they signify)
(symbols which represent ideas). Ancient Sumerian, Egyptian, and
Chinese civilizations began to use such symbols over, developing them
writing systems. Pictographs are still in use as the main medium
of written communication in some non-literate cultures in Africa,
the Americas, and
Pictographs are often used as simple, pictorial, representational
symbols by most contemporary cultures.
Pictographs can be considered an art
form, or can be considered a written language and are designated as
such in Pre-Columbian
American art, Ancient Mesopotamia
in the Americas before Colonization. One example of many is the
art of the Chumash people, part of the Native
American history of California. In 2011, UNESCO World Heritage
adds to its list a new site "Petroglyph
Complexes of the Mongolian Altai, Mongolia"
to celebrate the importance of the pictograms engraved in rocks.
in the field of neuropsychiatry and neuropsychology, such as Prof.
Christian Meyer, are studying the symbolic meaning of indigenous
pictograms and petroglyphs,
aiming to create new ways of communication between native people and
modern scientists to safeguard and valorize their cultural
An early modern example of the extensive use of pictographs may be
seen in the map in the London suburban timetables of the London and
North Eastern Railway, 1936-1947, designed by George
Dow, in which a variety of pictographs was used to indicate
facilities available at or near each station. Pictographs remain in
common use today, serving as pictorial, representational signs,
instructions, or statistical diagrams. Because of their graphical
nature and fairly realistic style, they are widely used to indicate
public toilets, or places such as airports and train stations.
Pictographic writing as a modernist
poetic technique is credited to Ezra
Pound, though French surrealists
accurately credit the Pacific
Indians of Alaska
who introduced writing, via totem
poles, to North
Contemporary artist Xu
Bing created Book
from the Ground, a universal language made up of pictograms
collected from around the world. A Book from the Ground chat program
has been exhibited in museums and galleries internationally.
Pictograms are used in many areas of modern life for commodity
purposes, often as a formal
language (see following section).
A compound pictogram showing the breakdown of the survivors and
deaths of the maiden voyage of the RMS
Titanic by class and age/gender (click
for more detail)
In statistics, pictograms are charts in
which icons represent numbers to make it more interesting and easier
to understand. A key is often included to indicate what each icon
represents. All icons must be of the same size, but a fraction of an
icon can be used to show the respective fraction of that amount.
For example, the following table:
Can be graphed as follows. As the values are rounded to the
nearest 5 letters, the second icon on Tuesday is the left half of the
= 10 letters
Pictographs can often transcend languages in that they can
communicate to speakers of a number of tongues and language families
equally effectively, even if the languages and cultures are
completely different. This is why road
signs and similar pictographic material are often applied as
global standards expected to be understood by nearly all.
A standard set of pictographs was defined in the international
7001: Public Information Symbols. Another common set of
pictographs are the laundry
symbols used on clothing tags and the chemical
hazard symbols as standardized by the GHS
Pictograms have been popularized in use on the web
and in software,
better known as "icons"
displayed on a computer screen in order to help user navigate a
computer system or mobile device.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Pictish is the
language, or dialect, spoken by the Picts,
the people of northern and central Scotland
in the Early
Middle Ages. There is virtually no direct attestation of
Pictish, short of a limited number of place names and names of
people found on monuments and the contemporary records in the area
controlled by the Kingdom of the Picts. However, evidence from place
names and personal
names points to the language being closely related to the
language spoken prior to Anglo-Saxon
settlement in what is now southern Scotland, England and Wales.
A minority view held by a few scholars claims that Pictish was at
least partially non-Indo-European or that a non-Indo-European and
Brittonic language coexisted. Pictish was replaced by Gaelic
in the latter centuries of the Pictish period.
Picture by H.
E. Marshall (1867–1941) depicting Columba
preaching to Bridei,
king of Fortriu in
The existence of a distinct
Pictish language during the Early Middle Ages is attested clearly in
Bede's early 8th
ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, which names Pictish as a
language distinct from that spoken by the Britons,
the Irish, and the
Bede states that Columba,
a Gael, used an
interpreter during his mission to the Picts. A number of competing
theories have been advanced regarding the nature of the Pictish
Most scholars agree that Pictish was a
branch of the Brittonic language, while a few scholars merely accept
that it was related to the Brittonic language. Pictish came under
increasing pressure and influence from Old
Irish spoken in Dál
Riata from the 5th century until its eventual replacement.
Pictish is thought to have influenced the
development of modern Scottish Gaelic. This is perhaps most obvious
in the contribution of loan words, but more importantly it is thought
that Pictish influenced the syntax of Scottish Gaelic, which bears
greater similarity to Brittonic languages than does Irish.
The evidence of place
names and personal
names demonstrates that an Insular
Celtic language related to the more southerly Brittonic
languages was formerly spoken in the Pictish area.
The view of Pictish as a P-Celtic
language was first proposed in 1582 by George
Buchanan, who aligned the language with Gaulish.
A compatible view was advanced by antiquarian George
Chalmers in the early 19th century. Chalmers considered that
Pictish and Brittonic
were one and the same, basing his argument on P-Celtic orthography in
king lists and in place names predominant in historically Pictish
Personal names of Roman-era chieftains
from the Pictish area, including Calgacus
(above) have a Celtic origin.
Celtic scholar Whitley
Stokes, in a philological study of the Irish
annals, concluded that Pictish was closely related to Welsh.
This conclusion was supported by philologist Alexander
MacBain's analysis of the place and tribe names in Ptolemy's 2nd
Watson's exhaustive review of Scottish place names demonstrated
convincingly the existence of a dominant P-Celtic language in
historically Pictish areas, concluding that the Pictish language was
a Northern extension of British and that Gaelic was a later
introduction from Ireland.
Forbes Skene argued in 1837 that Pictish was a Goidelic language,
the ancestor of modern Scottish
He suggested that Columba's use of an interpreter reflected his
preaching to the Picts in Latin,
rather than any difference between the Irish and Pictish
This view, involving independent settlement of Ireland and Scotland
by Goedelic people, obviated an Irish influence in the development of
Gaelic Scotland and enjoyed wide popular acceptance in 19th century
Scotland, but is no longer given credence.
While Skene's notion of an exclusively Q-Celtic Pictish language has
long been rejected, the Picts were under increasing political, social
and linguistic pressure from Dál Riata from around the 5th
century. The Picts were steadily Gaelicised
through the latter centuries of the Pictish Kingdom, and by the time
of the merging of the Pictish and Dál Riatan kingdoms, the
Picts were essentially a Gaelic-speaking people.
speculates that a period of bilingualism may have outlasted the
Pictish kingdom in peripheral areas by several generations.
Gaelic, unlike Irish
(and, for that matter, Old
Irish) maintains a substantial corpus of Brittonic loan-words
and, moreover, uses a verbal system modelled on the same pattern as
Difficulties in translation of Ogham
inscriptions, like those found on the Brandsbutt
Stone, led to a widely held belief that Pictish was a
John Rhys, in
1892, proposed that Pictish was a non-Indo-European
language. This opinion was based on the apparently unintelligible
inscriptions found in historically Pictish areas.
A similar position was taken by Heinrich
Zimmer, who argued that the Picts' supposedly exotic cultural
practices (tattooing and matriliny) were equally
and a Pre-Indo-European model was maintained by some well into the
A modified version of this theory was advanced in an influential 1955
review of Pictish by Kenneth
Jackson. Jackson proposed a two-language model: while Pictish was
undoubtedly P-Celtic, it may have had a non-Celtic substratum and a
second language may have been used for inscriptions.
Jackson's hypothesis was framed in the then-current model that a
Brittonic elite, identified as the Broch-builders,
had migrated from the south of Britain into Pictish territory,
dominating a pre-Celtic majority.
He used this to reconcile the perceived translational difficulties of
Ogham with the
overwhelming evidence for a P-Celtic Pictish language. Jackson was
content to write off Ogham inscriptions as inherently
Jackson's model became the orthodox
position for the latter half of the 20th century. However, it has
become progressively undermined by advances in understanding of late
Iron Age archaeology, as well as by improved understanding of the
enigmatic Ogham inscriptions, a number of which have since been
interpreted as Celtic.
Despite this, Eric
P. Hamp in his 2012 Indo-European family tree, classified Pictish
as a non-Indo-European language.
Traditional accounts (now rejected) claimed that the Picts had
migrated to Scotland from Scythia,
a region that encompassed Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Buchanan, looking for a Scythian P-Celtic candidate for the ancestral
Pict, settled on the Gaulish-speaking Cotini
(which he rendered as Gothuni), a tribe from the region that
is now modern-day Slovakia.
This was later misunderstood by Robert
Sibbald in 1710, who equated Gothuni with the
expanded on this in 1789, claiming that Pictish was the predecessor
Pinkerton's arguments were often rambling, bizarre and clearly
motivated by his belief that Celts were an inferior people. The
theory of a Germanic Pictish language is no longer considered
Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert;
Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Pictish".
Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig:
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
HE I:1; Forsyth
2006 suggests this tradition originated from a misreading of
fifth century AD commentary on Virgil's
Aeneid 4:146 reads: Cretesque Dryopesque fremunt
Servius' commentary states: Pictique
Agathyrsi populi sunt Scythiae, colentes Apollinem hyperboreum,
cuius logia, id est responsa, feruntur. 'Picti' autem, non stigmata
habentes, sicut gens in Britannia, sed pulchri, hoc est cyanea coma
placentes. Which actually states that the Scythian Agathyrsi
did not "bear marks" like the British, but had blue
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For the official language of the People's
Republic of China, Taiwan, and Singapore, see Standard
Chinese. For other languages spoken in China, see Languages
otherwise specified, Chinese texts in this article are written in
format. In cases where Simplified and Traditional Chinese scripts
are identical, the Chinese term is written once.
Hànyǔ (Chinese) written in
(left) and simplified
and other places with significant overseas
(1.2 billion cited 1984–2001)
Ancient use of 'Phags-pa
Official language in
National Commission on Language and Script Work
Language Standardisation Council
cdo – Min
cjy – Jinyu
cmn – Mandarin
cpx – Pu
czh – Huizhou
czo – Min
gan – Gan
hak – Hakka
hsn – Xiang
mnp – Min
nan – Min
wuu – Wu
yue – Yue
och – Old
ltc – Late
lzh – Classical
Map of the Sinophone
identified Chinese as a primary, administrative, or native
with more than 5,000,000 Chinese speakers
with more than 1,000,000 Chinese speakers
with more than 500,000 Chinese speakers
with more than 100,000 Chinese speakers
This article contains IPA
phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering
support, you may see question
marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode
Chinese language (Written)
is a group of related but in many cases mutually
unintelligible language varieties,
forming a branch of the Sino-Tibetan
language family. Chinese is spoken by the Han
majority and many other ethnic groups in China.
Nearly 1.2 billion people (around 16% of the world's population)
speak some form of Chinese as their first
of Chinese are usually described by native speakers as dialects
of a single Chinese language, but linguists note that they are as
diverse as a language
The internal diversity of Chinese has been likened to that of the
languages, but may be even more varied. There are between 7 and
13 main regional groups of Chinese (depending on classification
scheme), of which the most spoken, by far, is Mandarin
(about 960 million), followed by Wu
(80 million), Yue
(70 million) and Min
(70 million). Most of these groups are mutually unintelligible,
although some, like Xiang
and the Southwest Mandarin dialects, may share common terms and some
degree of intelligibility. All varieties of Chinese are tonal
is a standardized form of spoken Chinese based on the Beijing
dialect of Mandarin. It is the official language of China
and Taiwan, as
well as one of four official languages of Singapore.
It is one of the six
official languages of the United
Nations. The written
form of the standard language (中文;
based on the logograms
known as Chinese
is shared by literate speakers of otherwise unintelligible dialects.
Of the other varieties of Chinese, Cantonese
(the prestige variety of Yue) is influential in Guangdong
province and in Hong
Kong and Macau,
and is widely spoken among overseas communities. Min
Nan, part of the Min group, is widely spoken in southern Fujian,
in neighbouring Taiwan (where it is known as Taiwanese
or Hoklo) and in Southeast
Asia (also known as Hokkien
in the Philippines,
Singapore, and Malaysia).
There are also sizeable Hakka
example in Taiwan, where most Hakka communities are also conversant
in Taiwanese and Standard Chinese.
Main article: History
of the Chinese language
can be traced back over 3,000 years to the first written records, and
even earlier to a hypothetical Sino-Tibetan
The language has evolved over time, with various local varieties
becoming mutually unintelligible. In reaction, central governments
have repeatedly sought to promulgate a unified standard.
Most linguists classify all varieties of Chinese as part of the
language family, together with Burmese,
and many other languages spoken in the Himalayas
and the Southeast
Although the relationship was first proposed in the early 19th
century and is now broadly accepted, reconstruction of Sino-Tibetan
is much less developed than for families such as Indo-European
Difficulties have included the great diversity of the languages, the
lack of inflection in many of them, and the effects of language
contact. In addition, many of the smaller languages are spoken in
mountainous areas that are difficult to access, and are often also
sensitive border zones.
Without a secure reconstruction of proto-Sino-Tibetan, the
higher-level structure of the family remains unclear.
A top-level branching into Chinese and Tibeto-Burman
languages is often assumed, but has not been convincingly
The earliest examples of Chinese are divinatory inscriptions on
from around 1250 BCE in the late Shang
was the language of the Western
Zhou period (1046–771 BCE), recorded in inscriptions
on bronze artifacts, the Classic
of Poetry and portions of the Book
of Documents and I
Scholars have attempted to reconstruct the phonology
of Old Chinese by comparing later varieties of Chinese with the
rhyming practice of the Classic of Poetry and the phonetic
elements found in the majority of Chinese characters.
Although many of the finer details remain unclear, most scholars
agree that Old Chinese differed from Middle Chinese in lacking
retroflex and palatal obstruents but having initial consonant
clusters of some sort, and in having voiceless nasals and
Most recent reconstructions also describe an atonal language with
consonant clusters at the end of the syllable, developing into tone
distinctions in Middle Chinese.
affixes have also been identified, but the language lacked
indicated grammatical relationships using word order and grammatical
was the language used during Southern
and Northern Dynasties and the Sui,
dynasties (6th through 10th centuries CE). It can be divided into an
early period, reflected by the Qieyun
rime book (601
CE), and a late period in the 10th century, reflected by rhyme
tables such as the Yunjing
constructed by ancient Chinese philologists as a guide to the Qieyun
These works define phonological categories, but with little hint of
what sounds they represent.
Linguists have identified these sounds by comparing the categories
with pronunciations in modern varieties
of Chinese, borrowed
Chinese words in Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean, and
The resulting system is very complex, with a large number of
consonants and vowels, but they were probably not all distinguished
in any single dialect. Most linguists now believe it represents a
encompassing 6th-century northern and southern standards for reading
After the fall of the Northern
Song dynasty, and during the reign of the Jin
(Jurchen) and Yuan
(Mongol) dynasties in northern China, a common speech (now called Old
Mandarin) developed based on the dialects of the North
China Plain around the capital.
Yinyun (1324) was a dictionary that codified the rhyming
conventions of new sanqu
verse form in this language.
Together with the slightly later Menggu
Ziyun, this dictionary describes a language with many of the
features characteristic of modern Mandarin
Until the mid-20th century, most of the Chinese people living in many
parts of southern China spoke only their local language. As a
practical measure, officials of the Ming
dynasties carried out the administration of the empire using a common
language based on Mandarin varieties, known as Guānhuà
literally "language of officials").
For most of this period, this language was a koiné
based on dialects spoken in the Nanjing
area, though not identical to any single dialect.
By the middle of the 19th century, the Beijing dialect had become
dominant and was essential for any business with the imperial
In the 1930s a standard
national language Guóyǔ (国语/國語
"national language") was adopted. After much
dispute between proponents of northern and southern dialects and an
abortive attempt at an artificial pronunciation, the National
Language Unification Commission finally settled on the Beijing
dialect in 1932. The People's Republic founded in 1949 retained this
standard, calling it pǔtōnghuà (普通话/普通話
The national language is now used in education, the media, and formal
situations in both Mainland China and Taiwan.
In Hong Kong and
Macau, because of
their colonial and linguistic history, the language of education, the
media, formal speech and everyday life remains the local Cantonese,
although the standard language is now very influential and taught in
See also: Adoption
of Chinese literary culture and Sino-Xenic
Koreana, a Korean collection of the Chinese
The Chinese language has spread to neighbouring countries through a
variety of means. Northern Vietnam was incorporated into the Han
empire in 111 BCE, beginning a period
of Chinese control that ran almost continuously for a millennium.
Commanderies were established in northern Korea in the first
century BCE, but disintegrated in the following centuries.
Buddhism spread over East Asia between the 2nd and 5th centuries
CE, and with it the study of scriptures and literature in Literary
Later Korea, Japan and Vietnam developed strong central governments
modelled on Chinese institutions, with Literary Chinese as the
language of administration and scholarship, a position it would
retain until the late 19th century in Korea and (to a lesser extent)
Japan, and the early 20th century in Vietnam.
Scholars from different lands could communicate, albeit only in
writing, using Literary Chinese.
Although they used Chinese solely for written communication, each
country had its own tradition of reading texts aloud, the so-called
pronunciations. Chinese words with these pronunciations were also
borrowed extensively into the Korean,
languages, and today comprise over half their vocabularies.
This massive influx led to changes in the phonological structure of
the languages, contributing to the development of moraic
structure in Japanese
and the disruption of vowel harmony in Korean.
Borrowed Chinese morphemes have been used extensively in all these
languages to coin compound words for new concepts, in a similar way
to the use of Latin
Greek roots in European languages.
Many new compounds, or new meanings for old phrases, were created in
the late 19th and early 20th centuries to name Western concepts and
artifacts. These coinages, written in shared Chinese characters, have
then been borrowed freely between languages. They have even been
accepted into Chinese, a language usually resistant to loanwords,
because their foreign origin was hidden by their written form. Often
different compounds for the same concept were in circulation for some
time before a winner emerged, and sometimes the final choice differed
The proportion of vocabulary of Chinese origin thus tends to be
greater in technical, abstract or formal language. For example,
words account for about 35% of the words in entertainment
magazines, over half the words in newspapers, and 60% of the words in
Vietnam, Korea and Japan each developed writing systems for their
own languages, initially based on Chinese
characters, but later replaced with the Hangul
alphabet for Korean and supplemented with kana
syllabaries for Japanese, while Vietnamese continued to be written
with the complex Chữ
nôm script. However these were limited to popular
literature until the late 19th century. Today Japanese is written
with a composite script using both Chinese characters (Kanji)
and kana, but Korean is written exclusively with Hangul in North
Korea, and supplementary Chinese characters (Hanja)
are increasingly rarely used in the South. Vietnamese is written with
Examples of loan
words in English include "tea",
from Hokkien (Min
from Cantonese gam1gwat1
Main article: Varieties
estimated that there are hundreds of mutually unintelligible
varieties of Chinese.
These varieties form a dialect
continuum, in which differences in speech generally become more
pronounced as distances increase, though the rate of change varies
Generally, mountainous South China exhibits more linguistic diversity
than the North
China Plain. In parts of South China, a major city's dialect may
only be marginally intelligible to close neighbours. For instance,
Wuzhou is about 120
miles (190 km) upstream from Guangzhou,
but the Yue
variety spoken there is more like that of Guangzhou than is that of
Taishan, 60 miles
(95 km) southwest of Guangzhou and separated from it by several
In parts of Fujian
the speech of neighbouring counties or even villages may be mutually
Until the late 20th century, Chinese emigrants to Southeast Asia and
North America came from southeast coastal areas, where Min, Hakka and
Yue dialects are spoken.
The vast majority of Chinese immigrants to North America spoke the
dialect, from a small coastal area southwest of Guangzhou.
Local varieties of Chinese are conventionally classified into seven
dialect groups, largely on the basis of the different evolution of
The classification of Li Rong, which is used in the Language
Atlas of China (1987), distinguishes three further
previously included in Mandarin.
previously included in Wu.
previously included in Yue.
primary branches of Chinese in eastern China and Taiwan
of first-language speakers (all countries):
Mandarin: 847.8 million (70.9%)
Wu: 77.2 million (6.5%)
Min: 71.8 million (6.0%)
Yue: 60 million (5.0%)
Jin: 45 million (3.8%)
Xiang: 36 million (3.0%)
Hakka: 30.1 million (2.5%)
Gan: 20.6 million (1.7%)
Huizhou: 4.6 million (0.4%)
varieties remain unclassified, including Danzhou
dialect (spoken in Danzhou,
on Hainan Island),
(spoken in western Hunan)
Tuhua (spoken in northern Guangdong).
Chinese and diglossia
Main articles: Standard
Chinese and List
of countries where Chinese is an official language
/ Guoyu, often called "Mandarin", is the official
language used by the People's
Republic of China, the Republic
of China (Taiwan), and Singapore
(where it is called "Huayu" or simply Chinese). It is based
on the Beijing
dialect, which is the dialect of Mandarin
as spoken in Beijing.
The government intends for speakers of all Chinese speech varieties
to use it as a common language of communication. Therefore it is used
in government agencies, in the media, and as a language of
instruction in schools.
China and Taiwan, diglossia
has been a common feature: it is common for a Chinese to be able to
speak two or even three varieties of the Sinitic languages (or
"dialects") together with Standard Chinese. For example, in
addition to putonghua, a resident of Shanghai
might speak Shanghainese;
and, if he or she grew up elsewhere, then he or she may also be
likely to be fluent in the particular dialect of that local area. A
native of Guangzhou
may speak both Cantonese and putonghua, a resident of Taiwan,
and putonghua/guoyu. A person living in Taiwan
may commonly mix pronunciations, phrases, and words from Mandarin and
and this mixture is considered normal in daily or informal speech.
common English usage, Chinese is considered a language and its
varieties "dialects", a classification that agrees with
Chinese speakers' self-perception. Most linguists prefer instead to
call Chinese a family of languages, because of the lack of mutual
intelligibility between its divisions. Measuring this mutual
intelligibility is not precise, but Chinese is often compared to the
languages in this regard. According to the Ausbausprache,
Abstandsprache and Dachsprache framework mutual intelligibility
is not the decisive element to classify different language forms as
"dialect" or "language". Some linguists find the
use of "Chinese languages" also problematic, because it can
imply a set of disruptive "religious, economic, political, and
other differences" between speakers that exist between for
example between French
Catholics and English Protestants in Canada, but not between
speakers of Cantonese and Mandarin in China, owing to China's
near-uninterrupted history of centralized government.
Chinese itself has a term for its unified writing system, Zhōngwén
while the closest equivalent used to describe its spoken variants
would be Hànyǔ (汉语/漢語,
"spoken language[s] of the Han
Chinese")—this term could be translated to either
"language" or "languages" since Chinese lacks
number. For centuries in China, owing to the widespread use of a
written standard in Classical
Chinese, there was no uniform speech-and-writing continuum, as
indicated by the employment of two separate morphemes yǔ
and wén 文.
The characters used in written
Chinese are logographs
that denote morphemes as a whole rather than their phonemes,
although most logographs are compounds of similar-sounding characters
and semantic disambiguation (the "radical").
Modern-day Chinese speakers of all kinds communicate using the modern
standard written language, the written form of Standard Chinese.
Chinese, the major spoken varieties of Chinese are called fāngyán
literally "regional speech"), and mutually intelligible
variants within these are called dìdiǎn fāngyán
"local speech"). Both terms are customarily
translated into English as "dialect".
Ethnic Chinese often consider these spoken variations as one single
language for reasons of nationality
and as they inherit one common cultural and linguistic heritage in
Chinese. Han native speakers of Wu, Min, Hakka, and Cantonese,
for instance, may consider their own linguistic varieties as separate
spoken languages, but the Han
Chinese as one—albeit internally very diverse—ethnicity.
To Chinese nationalists, the idea of Chinese as a language family may
suggest that the Chinese identity is much more fragmented and
disunified than it actually is and as such is often looked upon as
culturally and politically provocative. Additionally, in Taiwan
it is closely associated with Taiwanese
independence, some of whose supporters promote the local
Hokkien spoken language.
Main articles: Written
Chinese Braille and Taiwanese
The relationship between the Chinese spoken and written language
is rather complex. Its spoken varieties evolved at different rates,
while written Chinese itself has changed much less. Classical
began in the Spring
and Autumn period, although written records have been discovered
as far back as the 14th to 11th centuries BCE Shang
bones using the oracle
The Chinese orthography
centers on Chinese characters, hanzi, which are written within
imaginary rectangular blocks, traditionally arranged in vertical
columns, read from top to bottom down a column, and right to left
across columns. Chinese characters are morphemes
independent of phonetic change. Thus the character 一
("one") is uttered yī in Standard
Chinese, jat1 in Cantonese
and chi̍t/it in Hokkien
(form of Min). Vocabularies from different major Chinese variants
have diverged, and colloquial non-standard written Chinese often
makes use of unique "dialectal characters", such as 冇
for Cantonese and Hakka,
which are considered archaic or unused in standard written Chinese.
Written colloquial Cantonese has become quite popular in online
chat rooms and
messaging amongst Hong-Kongers and Cantonese-speakers elsewhere.
Use of it is considered highly informal, and does not extend to many
In Hunan, women
in certain areas write their local language in Nü
Shu, a syllabary
derived from Chinese
characters. The Dungan
language, considered by many a dialect of Mandarin, is nowadays
written in Cyrillic,
and was previously written in the Arabic
script. The Dungan
people are primarily Muslim and live mainly in Kazakhstan,
Russia; some of the
related Hui people
also speak the language and live mainly in China.
Main article: Chinese
to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion" by Wang
Xizhi, written in semi-cursive
Each Chinese character represents a monosyllabic Chinese word or
morpheme. In 100 CE, the famed Han
dynasty scholar Xu
characters into six categories, namely pictographs,
compound ideographs, phonetic loans, phonetic compounds and
derivative characters. Of these, only 4% were categorized as
pictographs, including many of the simplest characters, such as rén
(sun), shān 山
(mountain; hill), shuǐ 水
(water). Between 80% and 90% were classified as
phonetic compounds such as chōng 沖
(pour), combining a phonetic component zhōng
with a semantic radical
Almost all characters created since have been of this type. The
Dictionary recognized 214 radicals.
Modern characters are styled after the regular
script. Various other written styles are also used in Chinese
calligraphy, including seal
script and clerical
script. Calligraphy artists can write in traditional and
simplified characters, but they tend to use traditional characters
for traditional art.
There are currently two systems for Chinese characters. The
system, still used in Hong
Macau and Chinese
speaking communities (except Singapore
China, takes its form from standardized character forms dating
back to the late Han dynasty. The Simplified
Chinese character system, introduced by the People's Republic of
China in 1954 to promote mass literacy,
simplifies most complex traditional glyphs
to fewer strokes, many to common cursive shorthand
which has a large Chinese community, is the first—and at
present the only—foreign nation to officially adopt simplified
characters, although it has also become the de facto standard
for younger ethnic Chinese in Malaysia.
provides the platform to practice reading the alternative system, be
it traditional or simplified.
A well-educated Chinese reader today recognizes approximately
4,000–6,000 characters; approximately 3,000 characters are
required to read a Mainland
newspaper. The PRC government defines literacy amongst workers as
a knowledge of 2,000 characters, though this would be only functional
literacy. A large unabridged dictionary,
like the Kangxi Dictionary, contains over 40,000 characters,
including obscure, variant, rare, and archaic characters; fewer than
a quarter of these characters are now commonly used.
Standard Chinese has fewer than 1,700 distinct syllables but 4,000
common written characters, so there are many homophones.
For example, the following characters (not necessarily words) are all
pronounced jī: 鸡／雞
to hit, 饥／饑
hunger, and 积／積
accumulate. In speech, the meaning of a syllable
is determined by context (for example, in English, "some"
as the opposite of "none" as opposed to "sum" in
arithmetic) or by the word it is found in ("some" or "sum"
vs. "summer"). Speakers may clarify which written character
they mean by giving a word or phrase it is found in: 名字叫嘉英，嘉陵江的嘉，英國的英
Míngzi jiào Jiāyīng, Jiālíng
Jiāng de jiā, Yīngguó de yīng –
"My name is Jiāyīng, 'Jia' as in 'Jialing
River' and 'ying' as in 'England'."
Southern Chinese varieties like Cantonese and Hakka preserved more
of the rimes
of Middle Chinese and also have more tones. Several of the examples
of Mandarin jī above have distinct pronunciations in
Cantonese (romanized using jyutping):
gai1, gei1, gei1, gik1, gei1, and
zik1 respectively. For this reason, southern varieties tend to
need to employ fewer multi-syllabic words.
See also Standard
Chinese phonology, Historical
Chinese phonology and Varieties
of Chinese → Phonology
structure of each syllable consists of a nucleus
consisting of a vowel
(which can be a monophthong,
even a triphthong
in certain varieties), preceded by an onset
(a single consonant,
zero onset is also possible), and followed (optionally) by a coda
consonant; a syllable also carries a tone.
There are some instances where a vowel is not used as a nucleus. An
example of this is in Cantonese,
where the nasal
consonants /m/ and /ŋ/ can stand alone as their own syllable.
Across all the spoken varieties, most syllables tend to be open
syllables, meaning they have no coda (assuming that a final glide
is not analyzed as a coda), but syllables that do have codas are
restricted to /m/, /n/, /ŋ/, /p/, /ɻ /, /t/, /k/, or
/ʔ/. Some varieties allow most of these codas, whereas others,
such as Standard
Chinese, are limited to only /n/, /ŋ/ and /ɻ /.
The number of sounds in
the different spoken dialects varies, but in general there has been a
tendency to a reduction in sounds from Middle
Chinese. The Mandarin dialects in particular have experienced a
dramatic decrease in sounds and so have far more multisyllabic words
than most other spoken varieties. The total number of syllables in
some varieties is therefore only about a thousand, including tonal
variation, which is only about an eighth as many as English.[b]
All varieties of
spoken Chinese use tones
to distinguish words.
A few dialects of north China may have as few as three tones, while
some dialects in south China have up to 6 or 10 tones, depending on
how one counts. One exception from this is Shanghainese
which has reduced the set of tones to a two-toned pitch
accent system much like modern Japanese.
A very common example used to illustrate the use of tones in
Chinese are the four tones of Standard
Chinese (along with the neutral tone) applied to the syllable ma.
The tones are exemplified by the following five Chinese words:
The four main tones of Standard Mandarin, pronounced with the
Example of Standard
contrast, has six tones in open syllables and three tones in
syllables ending with stops:
Example of Standard
high level, high falling
high level (stopped)
mid level (stopped)
low level (stopped)
The Chinese had no uniform phonetic transcription system until the
mid-20th century, although enunciation patterns were recorded in
early rime books
and dictionaries. Early Indian
translators, working in Sanskrit
and Pali, were the
first to attempt to describe the sounds and enunciation patterns of
Chinese in a foreign language. After the 15th century, the efforts of
Jesuits and Western court missionaries resulted in some rudimentary
Latin transcription systems, based on the Nanjing
"National language" (國語;
Guóyǔ) written in Traditional and Simplified
Chinese characters, followed by various romanizations.
See also: Chinese
language romanisation in Singapore and Romanization
of Mandarin Chinese
is the process of transcribing a language into the Latin
script. There are many systems of romanization for the Chinese
languages due to the lack of a native phonetic transcription until
modern times. Chinese is first known to have been written in Latin
characters by Western Christian
missionaries in the 16th century.
Today the most common romanization standard for Standard Chinese
Pinyin, often known simply as pinyin, introduced in 1956 by
Republic of China, and later adopted by Singapore
and Taiwan. Pinyin
is almost universally employed now for teaching standard spoken
Chinese in schools and universities across America,
parents also use Pinyin to teach their children the sounds and tones
of new words. In school books that teach Chinese, the Pinyin
romanization is often shown below a picture of the thing the word
represents, with the Chinese character alongside.
The second-most common romanization system, the Wade–Giles,
was invented by Thomas Wade in 1859 and modified by Herbert Giles in
1892. As this system approximates the phonology of Mandarin Chinese
into English consonants and vowels, i.e. it is an Anglicization,
it may be particularly helpful for beginner Chinese speakers of an
English-speaking background. Wade–Giles was found in academic
use in the United
States, particularly before the 1980s, and until recently[when?]
was widely used in Taiwan.
When used within European texts, the tone
transcriptions in both pinyin and Wade–Giles are often left out
for simplicity; Wade–Giles' extensive use of apostrophes is
also usually omitted. Thus, most Western readers will be much more
familiar with Beijing than they will be with Běijīng
(pinyin), and with Taipei than T'ai²-pei³
(Wade–Giles). This simplification presents syllables as
homophones which really are none, and therefore exaggerates the
number of homophones almost by a factor of four.
Here are a few examples of Hanyu Pinyin and Wade–Giles,
Capital of the People's Republic of China
Capital of the Republic of China (Taiwan)
Former Communist Chinese leader
Former Nationalist Chinese leader (better known to English
speakers as Chiang
Kai-shek, with Cantonese pronunciation)
Other systems of romanization for Chinese include Gwoyeu
Romatzyh, the French EFEO,
(invented during WWII for U.S. troops), as well as separate systems
Min Nan, Hakka,
and other Chinese languages or dialects.
Chinese languages have been phonetically transcribed into many
other writing systems over the centuries. The 'Phags-pa
script, for example, has been very helpful in reconstructing the
pronunciations of pre-modern forms of Chinese.
called bopomofo), a semi-syllabary
is still widely used in Taiwan's elementary
schools to aid standard pronunciation. Although bopomofo
characters are reminiscent of katakana
script, there is no source to substantiate the claim that Katakana
was the basis for the zhuyin system. A comparison table of zhuyin to
pinyin exists in the zhuyin
article. Syllables based on pinyin and zhuyin can also be
compared by looking at the following articles:
There are also at least two systems of cyrillization
for Chinese. The most widespread is the Palladius
Main article: Chinese
See also: Chinese
Chinese is often described as a "monosyllabic" language.
However, this is only partially correct. It is largely accurate when
Chinese and Middle
Chinese; in Classical Chinese, for example, perhaps 90% of words
correspond to a single syllable and a single character. In the modern
varieties, it is still usually the case that a morpheme
(unit of meaning) is a single syllable; contrast English, with plenty
of multi-syllable morphemes, both bound and free, such as "seven",
"elephant", "para-" and "-able". Some
of the conservative southern varieties of modern Chinese still have
largely monosyllabic words, especially among the more basic
In modern Mandarin,
however, most nouns,
verbs are largely
disyllabic. A significant cause of this is phonological
change over time has steadily reduced the number of possible
syllables. In modern Mandarin, there are now only about 1,200
possible syllables, including tonal distinctions, compared with about
5,000 in Vietnamese
(still largely monosyllabic) and over 8,000 in English.[b]
This phonological collapse has led to a
corresponding increase in the number of homophones.
As an example, the small Langenscheidt Pocket Chinese Dictionary
lists six common words pronounced shí (tone 2): 十
"real, actual"; 识
"know (a person), recognize"; 石
"food". These were all pronounced differently
Middle Chinese; in William
H. Baxter's transcription they were dzyip, zyit,
syik, dzyek, dzyi and zyik respectively.
They are still pronounced differently in today's Cantonese;
in Jyutping they
are sap9, sat9, sik7, sek9, si4,
sik9. In modern spoken Mandarin, however, tremendous ambiguity
would result if all of these words could be used as-is; Yuen
Ren Chao's modern poem Lion-Eating
Poet in the Stone Den exploits this, consisting of 92 characters
all pronounced shi. As such, most of these words have been
replaced (in speech, if not in writing) with a longer, less-ambiguous
compound. Only the first one, 十
"ten", normally appears as such when spoken;
the rest are normally replaced with, respectively, 实际
shíjì (lit. "actual-connection");
rènshi (lit. "recognize-know");
shítou (lit. "stone-head"); 时间
shíjiān (lit. "time-interval");
shíwù (lit. "food-thing").
In each case, the homophone was disambiguated by adding another
morpheme, typically either a synonym or a generic word of some sort
(for example, "head", "thing"), whose purpose is
simply to indicate which of the possible meanings of the other,
homophonic syllable should be selected.
However, when one of the above words forms part of a compound, the
disambiguating syllable is generally dropped and the resulting word
is still disyllabic. For example, 石
shí alone, not 石头
shítou, appears in compounds meaning
"stone-", for example, 石膏
shígāo "plaster" (lit.
"stone cream"), 石灰
shíhuī "lime" (lit. "stone
shíkū "grotto" (lit.
"stone cave"), 石英
shíyīng "quartz" (lit.
"stone flower"), 石油
shíyóu "petroleum" (lit.
Most modern varieties of Chinese have the tendency to form new
words through disyllabic, trisyllabic and tetra-character compounds.
In some cases, monosyllabic words have become disyllabic without
compounding, as in 窟窿
kūlong from 孔
kǒng; this is especially common in Jin.
is strictly bound to a set number of syllables
with a fairly rigid construction which are the morphemes,
the smallest blocks of the language. While many of these
single-syllable morphemes (字,
zì) can stand alone as individual words,
they more often than not form multi-syllabic compounds,
known as cí (词／詞),
which more closely resembles the traditional Western notion of a
word. A Chinese cí (“word”) can consist of
more than one character-morpheme, usually two, but there can be three
– "I, me"
All varieties of modern Chinese are analytic
languages, in that they depend on syntax
(word order and sentence structure) rather than morphology—i.e.,
changes in form of a word—to indicate the word's function in a
In other words, Chinese has very few grammatical
inflections—it possesses no tenses,
(singular, plural; though there are plural markers, for example for
personal pronouns), and only a few articles
(i.e., equivalents to "the, a, an" in English).[c]
They make heavy use of grammatical
particles to indicate aspect
In Mandarin Chinese, this involves the use of particles like le
(perfective), hái 还／還
(still), yǐjīng 已经／已經
(already), and so on.
Chinese features a subject–verb–object
word order, and
like many other languages in East
Asia, makes frequent use of the topic–comment
construction to form sentences. Chinese also has an extensive system
words, another trait shared with neighbouring languages like
Other notable grammatical features common to all the spoken varieties
of Chinese include the use of serial
verb construction, pronoun
dropping and the related subject
Although the grammars of the spoken varieties share many traits,
they do possess differences.
The entire Chinese character corpus since antiquity comprises well
over 20,000 characters, of which only roughly 10,000 are now commonly
in use. However Chinese characters should not be confused with
Chinese words. Because most Chinese words are made up of two or more
characters, there are many times more Chinese words than there are
Estimates of the total number of Chinese
words and phrases vary greatly. The Hanyu
Da Zidian, a compendium of Chinese characters, includes
54,678 head entries for characters, including bone
oracle versions. The Zhonghua
Zihai (1994) contains 85,568 head entries for character
definitions, and is the largest reference work based purely on
character and its literary variants. The CC-CEDICT
project (2010) contains 97,404 contemporary entries including idioms,
technology terms and names of political figures, businesses and
products. The 2009 version of the Webster's Digital Chinese
based on CC-CEDICT,
contains over 84,000 entries.
The most comprehensive pure linguistic Chinese-language
dictionary, the 12-volumed Hanyu
Da Cidian, records more than 23,000 head Chinese characters
and gives over 370,000 definitions. The 1999 revised Cihai,
a multi-volume encyclopedic dictionary reference work, gives 122,836
vocabulary entry definitions under 19,485 Chinese characters,
including proper names, phrases and common zoological, geographical,
sociological, scientific and technical terms.
The latest 2012 6th edition of Xiandai
Hanyu Cidian, an authoritative one-volume dictionary on
modern standard Chinese language as used in mainland
China, has 69,000 entries and defines 13,000 head characters.
See also: Translation
of neologisms into Chinese and Transcription
into Chinese characters
Like any other language, Chinese has absorbed a sizable number of
loanwords from other cultures. Most Chinese words are formed out of
native Chinese morphemes, including words describing imported objects
and ideas. However, direct phonetic borrowing of foreign words has
gone on since ancient times.
Some early Indo-European
loanwords in Chinese have been proposed, notably 蜜
mì "honey", 獅
shī "lion," and perhaps also 馬
mǎ "horse", 豬
zhū "pig", 犬
quǎn "dog", and 鵝
Ancient words borrowed from along the Silk
Road since Old
Chinese include 葡萄
Some words were borrowed from Buddhist scriptures, including 佛
Fó "Buddha" and 菩萨／菩薩
Other words came from nomadic peoples to the north, such as 胡同
Words borrowed from the peoples along the Silk Road, such as 葡萄
"grape," generally have Persian
etymologies. Buddhist terminology is generally derived from Sanskrit
languages of North
India. Words borrowed from the nomadic tribes of the Gobi,
Mongolian or northeast regions generally have Altaic
etymologies, such as 琵琶
pípa, the Chinese lute, or 酪
or "yoghurt", but from exactly which source is not always
borrowings and loanwords
Modern neologisms are primarily translated into Chinese in one of
three ways: free translation (calque,
or by meaning), phonetic translation (by sound), or a
combination of the two. Today, it is much more common to use
existing Chinese morphemes to coin new words in order to represent
imported concepts, such as technical expressions and international
scientific vocabulary. Any Latin
etymologies are dropped and converted into the corresponding Chinese
characters (for example, anti- typically becomes "反",
literally opposite), making them more comprehensible for
Chinese but introducing more difficulties in understanding foreign
texts. For example, the word telephone was loaned phonetically
(Shanghainese: télífon [təlɪfoŋ],
Mandarin: délǜfēng) during the 1920s and
widely used in Shanghai, but later 电话／電話
diànhuà (lit. "electric
speech"), built out of native Chinese morphemes, became
is in fact from the Japanese 電話
denwa; see below for more Japanese loans). Other
examples include 电视／電視
diànshì (lit. "electric
vision") for television, 电脑／電腦
diànnǎo (lit. "electric brain")
for computer; 手机／手機
shǒujī (lit. "hand machine")
for mobile phone, 蓝牙／藍牙
lányá (lit. "blue tooth")
wǎngzhì (lit. "internet
logbook") for blog in Hong Kong and Macau Cantonese.
Occasionally half-transliteration, half-translation compromises
matching) are accepted, such as 汉堡包／漢堡包
hànbǎo "Hamburg" + 包
bāo "bun") for "hamburger".
Sometimes translations are designed so that they sound like the
original while incorporating Chinese morphemes, such as 拖拉机／拖拉機
tuōlājī "tractor" (lit.
"dragging-pulling machine"), or 马利奥／馬利奧
Mǎlì'ào for the video game character
This is often done for commercial purposes, for example 奔腾／奔騰
bēnténg (lit. "dashing-leaping")
Sàibǎiwèi (lit. "better-than
hundred tastes") for Subway
Foreign words, mainly proper
nouns, continue to enter the Chinese language by transcription
according to their pronunciations. This is done by employing Chinese
characters with similar pronunciations. For example, "Israel"
Bālí. A rather small number of
direct transliterations have survived as common words, including
shāfā "sofa", 马达／馬達
mǎdá "motor", 幽默
yōumò "humor", 逻辑／邏輯
luójí "logic", 时髦／時髦
shímáo "smart, fashionable",
The bulk of these words were originally coined in the Shanghai
dialect during the early 20th century and were later loaned into
Mandarin, hence their pronunciations in Mandarin may be quite off
from the English. For example, 沙发／沙發
"sofa" and 马达／馬達
"motor" in Shanghainese sound more like their
English counterparts. Cantonese differs from Mandarin with some
transliterations, such as 梳化
"sofa" and 摩打
Western foreign words representing Western concepts have
influenced Chinese since the 20th century through transcription. From
bāléi "ballet" and 香槟
xiāngbīn, "champagne"; from
English influence is particularly pronounced. From early 20th century
Shanghainese, many English words are borrowed, such as 高尔夫／高爾夫
gāoěrfū "golf" and the
shāfā "sofa". Later, the
United States soft
influences gave rise to 迪斯科
dísīkē "disco", 可乐／可樂
kělè "cola", and 迷你
mínǐ "mini [skirt]".
Contemporary colloquial Cantonese has distinct loanwords from
English, such as 卡通
"gay people", 的士
"taxi", and 巴士
"bus". With the rising popularity of the Internet, there is
a current vogue in China for coining English transliterations, for
fěnsī "fans", 黑客
hēikè "hacker" (lit.
"black guest"), and 博客
bókè. In Taiwan, some of these
transliterations are different, such as 駭客
hàikè for "hacker" and
bùluògé for "blog"
(lit. "interconnected tribes").
Another result of the English influence on Chinese is the
appearance in Modern Chinese texts of so-called 字母词／字母詞
zìmǔcí (lit. "lettered
words") spelled with letters from the English alphabet. This has
appeared in magazines, newspapers, on web sites, and on TV: 三G手机／三G手機
"3rd generation cell phones" (三
sān "three" + G "generation"
shǒujī "mobile phones"), IT界
"IT circles" (IT "information
technology" + 界
jiè "industry"), HSK (Hànyǔ
Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì, 汉语水平考试／漢語水平考試),
GB (Guóbiāo, 国标／國標),
(CIF "Cost, Insurance, Freight" + 价／價
jià "price"), e家庭
"e-home" (e "electronic" + 家庭
jiātíng "home"), W时代／W時代
"wireless era" (W "wireless" +
shídài "era"), TV族
"TV watchers" (TV "television" + 族
zú "social group; clan"),
"post-PC era" (后／後
hòu "after/post-" + PC
"personal computer" + 时代／時代),
and so on.
Since the 20th century, another source of words has been Japanese
using existing kanji
(Chinese characters used in Japanese). Japanese re-molded European
concepts and inventions into wasei-kango
lit. "Japanese-made Chinese"), and many of these
words have been re-loaned into modern Chinese. Other terms were
coined by the Japanese by giving new senses to existing Chinese terms
or by referring to expressions used in classical Chinese literature.
For example, jīngjì (经济／經濟;
keizai in Japanese), which in the original
Chinese meant "the workings of the state", was narrowed to
"economy" in Japanese; this narrowed definition was then
re-imported into Chinese. As a result, these terms are virtually
indistinguishable from native Chinese words: indeed, there is some
dispute over some of these terms as to whether the Japanese or
Chinese coined them first. As a result of this loaning, Chinese,
Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese share a corpus of linguistic terms
describing modern terminology, paralleling the similar corpus of
terms built from Greco-Latin and shared among European languages.
Yang Lingfu, former curator of the
Museum of China, giving Chinese language instruction at the Civil
Affairs Staging Area in 1945.
See also: Chinese
as a foreign language
With the growing importance and
influence of China's economy globally, Mandarin
instruction is gaining popularity in schools in the USA,
and has become an increasingly popular subject of study amongst the
young in the Western world, as in the UK.
In 1991 there were 2,000 foreign
learners taking China's official Chinese
Proficiency Test (comparable to the English Cambridge
Certificate), while in 2005, the number of candidates had risen
sharply to 117,660.
By 2010, 750,000 people had taken the Chinese Proficiency Test.