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On the Origin of Arabic Script
Kamal Mansour
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Abstract. For the past two centuries, scholars have debated the origin of Arabic script, the youngest of the Semitic scripts. While one camp pointed to Nabatean as the sure ancestor, another favored Syriac instead. By examining the each ancestor visually and historically, one finds evidence for each point of view. Is it reasonable to insist on a single ancestor for Arabic script? The historical examples of Proto-Sinaitic and Ugaritic scripts demonstrate that a single script can be shown to have features amalgamated from more than one source. Detailed examination of the features of early Arabic script leads us to conclude that both Nabatean and Syriac strongly influenced its development. Finally, we demonstrate that particular details of cursive linking in Arabic script replicate analogous behavior in Syriac.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.36824/2018-graf-mans


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   AUTHOR = {Al-Baladhuri, Ahmad},
   TITLE = {{“The Origins of the Islamic State,'' Being a Translation from the Arabic
   Accompanied with Annotations Geographic and Historic of the Kitâb Futuḥ Al-Buldân by
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   AUTHOR = {Briquel-Chatonnet, Françoise},
   EDITOR = {Déroche, François and Richard, Francis},
   TITLE = {{De l'araméen à l'arabe: quelques réflexions sur la genèse de l'écriture arabe}},
   BOOKTITLE = {{Scribes et manu\-scrits du Moyen-Orient}},
   PUBLISHER = {Bibliothèque nationale de France},
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   AUTHOR = {Grohmann, Adolph},
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@BOOK{bib58,
   AUTHOR = {Gründler, Beatrice},
   TITLE = {{The Development of the Arabic Scripts: From the Nabatean Era to the First
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   ADDRESS = {Atlanta},
   YEAR = {1993},
   VOLUME = {43},
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   AUTHOR = {Gründler, Beatrice},
   EDITOR = {McAuliffe, J. D.},
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@INPROCEEDINGS{bib60,
   AUTHOR = {Gründler, Beatrice},
   EDITOR = {Edzard, Lutz and de Jong, Rudolf},
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   BOOKTITLE = {{Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics}},
   PUBLISHER = {Brill},
   ADDRESS = {Leiden, Boston},
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@ARTICLE{bib61,
   AUTHOR = {Healey, John F.},
   TITLE = {{The Early History of the Syriac Script—--a Reassessment}},
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   PAGES = {55--68},
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@ARTICLE{bib62,
   AUTHOR = {Kiraz, George},
   TITLE = {{Old Syriac Graphotactics}},
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   AUTHOR = {Nebes, Norbert and Stein, Peter},
   EDITOR = {Woodward, R.D.},
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   PUBLISHER = {Cambridge University Press},
   ADDRESS = {Cambridge},
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@ARTICLE{bib65,
   AUTHOR = {Nehmé, Laïla},
   TITLE = {{New Dated Inscriptions (Nabataean and Pre-islamic Arabic) from a Site Near
   Al-Jawf, Ancient Dūmah, Saudi Arabia}},
   JOURNAL = {Arabian Epigraphic Notes},
   YEAR = {2017},
   VOLUME = {3},
   PAGES = {121--164},
}

@BOOK{bib66,
   AUTHOR = {Pardee, Dennis},
   TITLE = {{The Ugaritic Texts and the Origins of West Semitic Literary Composition}},
   PUBLISHER = {Oxford University Press},
   ADDRESS = {Oxford},
   YEAR = {2012},
}

@INPROCEEDINGS{bib67,
   AUTHOR = {Salomon, Richard},
   TITLE = {{Some Principles and Patterns of Script Change}},
   BOOKTITLE = {{The Shape of Script: How and Why Writing Systems Change}},
   PUBLISHER = {School for Advanced Research Press},
   ADDRESS = {Santa Fe},
   YEAR = {2012},
}

@ARTICLE{bib68,
   AUTHOR = {Starcky, Jean},
   TITLE = {{Un contrat nabatéen sur papyrus}},
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@INPROCEEDINGS{bib69,
   AUTHOR = {Starcky, Jean},
   TITLE = {{Pétra et la Nabatène}},
   BOOKTITLE = {{Dictionnaire de la Bible: Supplement VII}},
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   PAGES = {886--1017},
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@ARTICLE{bib70,
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   VOLUME = {134},
   PAGES = {144--166},
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Kamal Mansour (2019), On the Origin of Arabic Script, in Proceedings of Graphemics in the 21st Century, Brest 2018 (Yannis Haralambous, Ed.), Brest: Fluxus Editions, 245–255

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   AUTHOR = {Mansour, Kamal},
   EDITOR = {Haralambous, Yannis},
   TITLE = {{On the Origin of Arabic Script}},
   BOOKTITLE = {{Proceedings of Graphemics in the 21st Century, Brest 2018}},
   PUBLISHER = {Fluxus Editions},
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   DOI = {https://doi.org/10.36824/2018-graf-mans},
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