Archive for the ‘writing systems’ Tag

The twelve peoples with writing systems, according to a 15th-cent. Armenian manuscript   4 comments

The fifteenth century manuscript, Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia (ACC, Antelias, Lebanon) № 119, contains a large number of short texts, mostly anonymous, on theological and philosophical topics. One such short text (f. 350v), not really theological or philosophical, is a chart that lists the nations said to have a writing system. As the title indicates, there were supposed to be twelve, but the scribe only found eleven, as his concluding note says. In addition to the ethnonyms, to the right of each name is a number, which seems to be the number of letters thought to be in the writing system, although these are not altogether reliable. A similar text is published in Michael E. Stone, Armenian Apocrypha Relating to Adam & Eve, Studia in Veteris Testamenti Pseudepigrapha 14 (Leiden, 1996), p. 163 (see p. 159 for more), but that text has a different list of peoples and different preceding and concluding remarks, nor is the number of letters for each script given.

ACC 119, f. 350v

ACC 119, f. 350v

So the text is:

Յաղագս բժ ազգացդ որ գիր ունին

Եբրայեցի գիրն իդ

Յունացն իբ

Հոռոմոցն իբ

Ասորոցն իբ

Հայոցն լզ

Աղ<ո>ւանն ժբ

Վրացին իէ

Եգիպտացին է

Հնդիկն թ

Տաճկացն իը

Թաթարին իա

Զմի ազգ չգտայ որ գրել էի

English translation:

On the Twelve Peoples that Have Writing

Hebrew writing 24

[The writing] of the Greeks 22

[The writing] of the  Romans 22

[The writing] of the Syrians 22

[The writing] of the Armenians 36

Albanian [writing] 12

Georgian [writing] 27

Egyptian [writing] 7

Indian [writing] 9

[The writing] of the Turks 28

Tatar [writing] 21

I did not find one people group which I was to write.


Ethio-Hebrew Psalms (BL Add. 19342)   2 comments

While looking lately at the records for some Judeo-Persian manuscripts in Margoliouth’s Catalogue of the Hebrew and Samaritan Manuscripts in the British Museum, I stumbled across the record for BL Add. 19342 (№ 158 in the catalog, p. 119), a manuscript with parts of the Psalter in Hebrew, but written in Gǝʿǝz script (Fidäl), something we can call Ethio-Hebrew on the pattern of the descriptors Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian, etc. (We could also call Garšūnī Syro-Arabic, but custom has deemed otherwise.) Until this, I had never encountered this particular phenomenon, but as Margoliouth notes, Wright had previously described the manuscript as part of the Ethiopic collection (№ 127, p. 81). It so happens that this manuscript is among the many already made available through the British Library’s digitization project: see here. Following Wright, Margoliouth dates the manuscript to the 18th century. It contains Pss 1-11:4, 51, 121, 123, 130, 140. Unlike most Ethiopic manuscripts, this one is on paper, not parchment.

The beginning of Ps 1 is in both catalogs mentioned above, but we can now look at the manuscript itself, and in its entirety, thanks to the BL’s having made the images freely accessible. Here are some examples (Heb text below from BHS):

Ps 1:3

וְֽהָיָ֗ה כְּעֵץ֮ שָׁת֪וּל עַֽל־פַּלְגֵ֫י מָ֥יִם אֲשֶׁ֤ר פִּרְיֹ֨ו׀ יִתֵּ֬ן בְּעִתֹּ֗ו וְעָלֵ֥הוּ לֹֽא־יִבֹּ֑ול וְכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲשֶׂ֣ה יַצְלִֽיחַ׃

Ps 1:3 in Ethio-Hebrew, BL Add. 19432, f. 1r. Source.

Ps 1:3 in Ethio-Hebrew, BL Add. 19432, f. 1r. Source.

Ps 2:1-2

לָ֭מָּה רָגְשׁ֣וּ גֹויִ֑ם וּ֝לְאֻמִּ֗ים יֶהְגּוּ־רִֽיק׃ יִ֥תְיַצְּב֨וּ׀ מַלְכֵי־אֶ֗רֶץ וְרֹוזְנִ֥ים נֹֽוסְדוּ־יָ֑חַד עַל־יְ֝הוָה וְעַל־מְשִׁיחֹֽו׃

Ps 2:1-2 in Ethio-Hebrew, BL Add. 19432, f. 1v. Source.

Ps 2:1-2 in Ethio-Hebrew, BL Add. 19432, f. 1v. Source.

Ps 121

שִׁ֗יר לַֽמַּ֫עֲלֹ֥ות אֶשָּׂ֣א עֵ֭ינַי אֶל־הֶהָרִ֑ים מֵ֝אַ֗יִן יָבֹ֥א עֶזְרִֽי׃
עֶ֭זְרִי מֵעִ֣ם יְהוָ֑ה עֹ֝שֵׂ֗ה שָׁמַ֥יִם וָאָֽרֶץ׃
אַל־יִתֵּ֣ן לַמֹּ֣וט רַגְלֶ֑ךָ אַל־יָ֝נ֗וּם שֹֽׁמְרֶֽךָ׃
הִנֵּ֣ה לֹֽא־יָ֭נוּם וְלֹ֣א יִישָׁ֑ן שֹׁ֝ומֵ֗ר יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
יְהוָ֥ה שֹׁמְרֶ֑ךָ יְהוָ֥ה צִ֝לְּךָ֗ עַל־יַ֥ד יְמִינֶֽךָ׃
יֹומָ֗ם הַשֶּׁ֥מֶשׁ לֹֽא־יַכֶּ֗כָּה וְיָרֵ֥חַ בַּלָּֽיְלָה׃
יְֽהוָ֗ה יִשְׁמָרְךָ֥ מִכָּל־רָ֑ע יִ֝שְׁמֹ֗ר אֶת־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ׃
יְֽהוָ֗ה יִשְׁמָר־צֵאתְךָ֥ וּבֹואֶ֑ךָ מֵֽ֝עַתָּ֗ה וְעַד־עֹולָֽם׃

Ps 121 in Ethio-Hebrew, BL Add. 19432, f. 9r. Source.

Ps 121 in Ethio-Hebrew, BL Add. 19432, f. 9r. Source.

More could be certainly be said, but here are a few scattered observations:

  • The Hebrew h marking final or -e is written (e.g. ሀያህ, ያዓሢህ [ሤ?]).
  • Hebrew is spelled with Gǝʿǝz ፀ (e.g. ክዔፅ, ኤሬፅ) or ጸ (e.g. ይትያጽቡ).
  • Hebrew š is generally spelled with Gǝʿǝz ሠ (e.g. ሣቱል, አሤር, ሦምሬካ), as is Hebrew ś (ያዓሢህ [ሤ?]). In at least one place (Ps 121:6), though, the Ethiopic letter ሸ (not used in Gǝʿǝz, but used in other Ethiosemitic languages) is fittingly used for š: ሀሸሜስ häšämes, but note that the last consonant here, which should also be š, is here a simple s (not ś as usual elsewhere in the manuscript), so that we end up with a form like Arabic šams.
  • Spirantized Hebrew k is spelled with Gǝʿǝz ኀ (e.g. ውኁል, also note the vowel, wǝxul). Spirantization in the other BGDKPT letters is not marked (e.g. ያቦእ).
  • The Hebrew in yārēaḥ is written with Gǝʿǝz ሀ (ውያሬሀ).
  • The Hebrew impf prefix yi- is spelled with Gǝʿǝz yǝ- (e.g. ይቴን, ይቦል). The prefix ye- is spelled with Gǝʿǝz yä- (የሄጉ; note the incorrect vowel on the h).
  • The tetragrammaton is written ይሁዋህ yǝhuwah.
  • The Gǝʿǝz vowel i often appears where we expect e. The latter vowel is used for Heb segol (e.g. ኤሬፅ, ኤል, ኤት); for the pausal form ā́reṣ we have አሬፅ.
  • An Ethiopism is ሚኵል for Heb mikkol.
  • There are some mistakes, such as ወዓላሁ for וְעָלֵ֥הוּ. The first two words of Ps 2 are missing.

“The Garšūnī language”   4 comments

My involvement in cataloging Syriac and Arabic manuscripts over the last few years has impressed upon me how often and actively Syriac Orthodox and Chaldean scribes (and presumably, readers) used Garšūnī: it is anything but an isolated occurrence in these collections. This brings to the fore questions of how these scribes and readers thought about Garšūnī. Did they consider it simply a writing system, a certain kind of Arabic, or something else? At least a few specific references to “Garšūnī” in colophons may help us answer them. Scribes sometimes make reference to their transcriptions from Arabic script into Syriac script, and elsewhere a scribe mentions translation “from Garšūnī into Syriac” (CFMM 256, p. 344; after another text in the same manuscript, p. 349, we have in Arabic script “…who transcribed and copied [naqala wa-kataba] from Arabic into Garšūnī”). Such statements show that scribes certainly considered Arabic and Garšūnī distinctly.

While cataloging Saint Mark’s Monastery, Jerusalem, (SMMJ) № 167 recently, I found in the colophon a reference to Garšūnī unlike any that I’d seen before, in which the scribe refers, not to the Garšūnī “text” or “copy” (nusḫa, as in SMMJ 140, f. 132v), but rather to “the Garšūnī language” (lisān al-garšūnī). Here is an English translation of the relevant part of the colophon, with the images from the manuscript below.

SMMJ 167, ff. 322r-322v

…[God], in whose help this blessed book is finished and completed, the book of Mar Ephrem the Syrian. The means for copying it were not available with us at the monastery, so we found it with a Greek [rūmī] priest from Beit Jala, a friend of ours, and we took it on loan, so that we could read in it. We observed that it was a priceless jewel. It was written in Arabic, so we, the wretched, with his holiness, our revered lord, the honored Muṭrān, Ǧirǧis Mār Grigorios, were interested in transcribing it into the Garšūnī language, so that reading it might be easy for the novice monks, that they might obtain the salvation of their souls.

This was in the year 1882 AD, the 11th of the blessed month of June…

SMMJ 167, f. 322r (bottom)

SMMJ 167, f. 322r (bottom)

SMMJ 167, f. 322v (top)

SMMJ 167, f. 322v (top)

This is the second explicit reference I have found where a Garšūnī text is considered more readable to at least some section of the literate population. In this case, the audience in view is a group of beginning monks, and in the aforementioned manuscript SMMJ 140 the transcription from Arabic into Garšūnī was made “to facilitate the understanding of its contents for every reader.”

UPDATE (June 17, 2014): Thanks to Salam Rassi for help on the phrase ʕalá sabīl al-ʕīra.

Syro-Georgian trisagion   8 comments

Among other uses of Syriac script for non-Syriac languages, we know well of Garšūnī (or Syro-Arabic) and even Syro-Armenian and Syro-Kurdish (especially the Lawij of Basilios Šemʕon al-Ṭūrānī), but I was surprised to find in my recent cataloging work a small example of Georgian written in Syriac script.* The text, which follows several pages of a grammatical list, is on one page of CCM 10 (olim Mardin 81) and it was not noted by Addai Scher, who cataloged the collection in the early twentieth century. It’s the trisagion (vel sim.: the Latin may be a garbled version of lines from this Easter hymn) in eight languages: Latin, Greek, Armenian, Georgian, Persian, Turkish, Arabic, and finally, Syriac. Much might be said about how these languages are represented in this short text, but here I’m only considering the Georgian part, lines 13-14 below.

CCM 10 = Mardin 81, f. 8r

CCM 10 = Mardin 81, f. 8r

The Georgian trisagion (words, transliteration, and ET here) is:

წმინდაო ღმერთო,
წმინდაო ძლიერო,
წმინდაო უკვდავო,
შეგვიწყალენ ჩვენ.

There are many recordings available of the hymn: here is one:

The noun “God” and the adjectives are all in the vocative case, and in the last line we have the verb შეწყალება, which might be analyzed as


There are several occurrences of the imperative ἐλέησον (with first or third person objects) in the Gospels, and so we can look among the Old Georgian versions to see how else the phrase is translated. Here are a few, all from the Adishi version:

  • Mt 9:27, 20:30 მიწყალენ ჩუენ
  • Mt 15:22 შემიწყალე მე
  • Mt 17:15 შეიწყალე ძჱ ჩემი
  • Mt 20:31 გჳწყალენ ჩუენ
  • Lk 17:13 შეგჳწყალენ ჩუენ

The last one, also with 1pl object, is different from the trisagion form only in orthography. The form from Mt 9:27 and 20:30 is built on the same root, but without the preverb შე- and with the 1st person marker მ- instead of გუ- (or variations thereof). The form in Mt 20:31 also has no preverb, but (allowing for the slight orthographic difference) it has the same 1pl markers as in the triasagion form. Finally, those in Mt 15:22 and 17:15 do have the preverb, and given their objects — 1sg and the 3rd person object “my son”, respectively — these forms look exactly as we would expect, the objects marked by -მ- in the first case and -∅- in the second, and naturally without the final -ნ to mark a plural object.

If we compare this Georgian text with the Syriac script above, we find the latter to be muddled. Recognizable to some degree are წმინდაო (Syr. zmyndʔ), ღმერთო (ʔwmrtw), ძლიერო (zryzw), and უკვდავო (ʔwkwdš), but that’s all I can see. While the Syriac letters are hardly as fitting for Georgian as the Georgian alphabet itself is, even with Syriac one might have gotten closer than the orthography in this example. What is the source of the confusion? Did this scribe write these lines from something he heard or knew himself? Did he copy from another written source also in Syriac letters?

I would be happy to hear about any other examples of Georgian written in Syriac letters, but I suspect it is a rare phenomenon.

* Thanks for their comments to Hidemi Takahashi and Nathan Chase, with whom I discussed this text a little.

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