In the modern Middle East dominated by Arabic Muslims there remains “islands” of pre-Islamic faiths and ethnicities which have their own scripts. Most famous among them are Jews (Hebrew script) but there are also Assyrians (Syriac script) and Tana. All these scripts are related.

Most are written right-to-left.


In Middle Eastern scripts a letter means either a consonant or a long vowel. Short vowels might be marked by diacritical marks. Usually however they are not written at all (save for religious books, poetry and children books) and must be guessed.


Middle East is one of the places where writing has been invented and nearly every modern script ultimately derives from the Phoenician alphabet.

Phoenicians were a nation of traders; in the West their script was “borrowed” as Greek/Latin/Cyrillic, in the east it became countless Indian and Southeast Asian scripts. In the Middle East itself it evolved into Hebrew, Aramaic (Syriac) and other scripts. At the time Christ was born Aramaic was the prime secular script while Hebrew was used by Jews for their religion.

1500 years later however a single script dominated the Middle East: Arabic, its power established by Muslim conquests of 6th-10th centuries. The previously important other scripts were now limited to some remote towns and closely associated with what were by now religious minorities (Jewish, Gnostics and some minor Christian denominations).

Jews have been also widespread abroad and the Zionist movement successfully encouraged many foreign Jews to migrate into Palestine where they expelled the local Arabs and established Israel (1948). After a 2000 period of being a minority script Hebrew was now the main script of a country.

Interestingly the Middle Eastern scripts inspired new scripts further east. Maldives created Tana as a middle way between Arabic and Indian scripts in the 18th century AD while Mongol unique top-to-down directed Mongol script is used by Mongols of China since 9th century AD.

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