Mandaic alphabet

Languages Classical Mandaic
Parent systems
Direction Right-to-left
ISO 15924 Mand, 140
Unicode alias

The Mandaic alphabet is thought to have evolved between the 2nd and 7th century CE from either a cursive form of Aramaic (as did Syriac) or from the Parthian chancery script.[1][2] The exact roots of the script are difficult to determine.[3] It was developed by members of the Mandaean gnostic religion of southern Mesopotamia to write the Mandaic language for liturgical purposes.[1] Classical Mandaic and its descendant Neo-Mandaic are still in limited use.[1] The script has changed very little over centuries of use.[3][1]

The Mandaic name for the script is Abagada or Abaga, after the first letters of the alphabet. Rather than the ancient Semitic names for the letters (aleph, beth, gimel), the letters are known as a, ba, ga and so on.[4]

It is written from right to left in horizontal lines. It is a cursive script, but not all letters connect within a word. Spaces separate individual words.


The Mandaic alphabet contains 22 letters (in the same order as the Aramaic alphabet) and the digraph adu. The alphabet is formally closed by repeating the first letter, a, so that it has a symbolic count of 24 letters:[5][6]

Mandaic alphabet[7]
#Name[3]LetterJoining behaviorTransliterationIPA[3]Unicode
code point
1, 24aـaאaU+0840 HALQA
2baــــbבbU+0841 AB
3gaــــgגgU+0842 AG
4daــــdדdU+0843 AD
5haــــhהhU+0844 AH
6waــــuוu, wU+0845 USHENNA
7zaـzזzU+0846 AZ
8ehـ-ẖחχU+0847 IT
9ṭaــــטU+0848 ATT
10yaـiיi, jU+0849 AKSA
11kaــــkכkU+084A AK
12laــــlלlU+084B AL
13maــــmמmU+084C AM
14naــــnנnU+084D AN
15saــــsסsU+084E AS
16-ــــʿעeU+084F IN
17paــــpפpU+0850 AP
18ṣaــــצU+0851 ASZ
19qaــــqקqU+0852 AQ
20-ــــrרrU+0853 AR
21šaـšשʃU+0854 ASH
22taــــtתtU+0855 AT
23aduḏ-ד̌ðU+0856 DUSHENNA


Unlike most other Semitic alphabets, vowels are usually written out in full. The first letter, a (corresponding to alaph), is used to represent a range of open vowels. The sixth letter, wa, is used for close back vowels (u and o), and the tenth letter, ya is used for close front vowels (i and e). These last two can also serve as the consonants w/v and y. The eighth letter corresponds to the Semitic heth, and is called eh; it is pronounced as a long i-vowel but is used only as a suffix for the third person singular.[6] The sixteenth letter, e (Aramaic ayn), usually represents e at the beginning of a word or, when followed by wa or ya, represents initial u or i respectively.

A mark similar to an underscore ( U+085A MANDAIC VOCALIZATION MARK) can be used to distinguish vowel quality for three Mandaic vowels. It is used in teaching materials but may be omitted from ordinary text.[8] It is only used with vowels a, wa, and ya. Using the letter ba as an example:

  • /bā/ becomes /ba/
  • /bu/ becomes /bo/
  • /bi/ becomes /be/

Gemination mark

A dot under a consonant ( U+085B MANDAIC GEMINATION MARK) can be used to note gemination, indicating what native writers call a “hard” pronunciation.[8] Sample words include (ekka) 'there is', (šenna) 'tooth', (lebba) 'heart', and (rabba) 'great'.[8]


The 23rd letter of the alphabet is the digraph adu (da + ya), the relative particle[1][5] (cf. Arabic tāʾ marbūṭah, Coptic letter "ti", and English ampersand).

In addition to normal joining behavior, some Mandaic letters can combine to form various ligatures:[3][8]

  • /kd/, /kḏ/, /ki/, /kl/, /kr/, /kt/, and /ku/
  • /nd/, /ni/, /nm/, /nq/, /nt/, and /nu/
  • /pl/, /pr/, and /pu/
  • /ṣl/, /ṣr/, and /ṣu/
  • /ut/

Both adu ( U+0856 MANDAIC LETTER DUSHENNA) and the old ligature kḏ ( U+0857 MANDAIC LETTER KAD) are treated as single characters in Unicode.


Affrication mark

Postclassical and modern Mandaic use many Persian words. Various Mandaic letters can be re-purposed by placing two horizontally-aligned dots underneath ( U+0859 MANDAIC AFFRICATION MARK). This idea is comparable to the four novel letters in the Persian alphabet, allowing the alphabet to be used to represent foreign sounds (whether affrication, lenition, or another sound):[8]

  • /g/ becomes /γ/
  • /d/ becomes /δ/
  • /h/ becomes /ḥ/
  • /ṭ/ becomes /ẓ/
  • /k/ becomes /χ/
  • /p/ becomes /f/
  • /ṣ/ becomes /ž/
  • /š/ becomes /č/, /ǰ/
  • /t/ becomes /θ/


Mandaic ayin () is borrowed from Arabic ayin (ع).[1] Unlike in Arabic, Mandaic ayin does not join with other letters.[8]

Punctuation and other marks

Punctuation is sparsely used in Mandaic text.[8] A break in text can be indicated by two concentric circles ( U+085E MANDAIC PUNCTUATION).[1]

A horizontal low line ( U+0640 ـ ARABIC TATWEEL) can be used to justify text.[1]

Magical and religious use

Each letter of the Mandaic alphabet is said to represent a power of life and light.[6] Mandaeans view their alphabet as magical and sacred.[6][1]

The Semitic alphabet contains 22 letters. In order to bring this number to 24, the number of hours in a day, adu was added and a was repeated as the last letter of the Mandaic alphabet.[4][6] Without this repetition the alphabet would be considered incomplete for magical purposes.[4]


The Mandaic alphabet was added to the Unicode Standard in October, 2010 with the release of version 6.0.

The Unicode block for Mandaic is U+0840U+085F:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
1.^ As of Unicode version 11.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "Chapter 9: Middle East-I, Modern and Liturgical Scripts". The Unicode Standard, Version 10.0 (PDF). Mountain View, CA: Unicode, Inc. June 2017. ISBN 978-1-936213-16-0.
  2. Häberl, Charles G. (February 2006). "Iranian Scripts for Aramaic Languages: The Origin of the Mandaic Script". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (341): 53–62. doi:10.7282/T37D2SGZ.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Daniels, Peter T.; Bright, William, eds. (1996). The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press, Inc. pp. 511–513. ISBN 978-0195079937.
  4. 1 2 3 Macúch, Rudolf (1965). Handbook of Classical and Modern Mandaic. Berlin: De Gruyter. pp. 7–26.
  5. 1 2 3 Drower, Ethel Stefana; Macúch, Rudolf (1963). A Mandaic Dictionary. London: Clarendon Press. pp. 1, 491.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Drower, Ethel Stefana (1937). The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran: Their Cults, Customs, Magic, Legends, and Folklore. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 240–243.
  7. This table can be viewed correctly using Firefox.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Everson, Michael; Richmond, Bob (2008-08-04). "L2/08-270R: Proposal for encoding the Mandaic script in the BMP of the UCS" (PDF).
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