Assyrian/Latin Alphabet

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The opening words of the Gospel of John transliterated in the Assyrian Latin script.

The Assyrian Latin alphabet, or the Syriac Latin alphabet, is the version of the Latin script that is used to write classical Syriac, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and other modern Aramaic languages such as Turoyo. The Latin alphabet is used to transliterate and identify Assyrian words in a non-Assyrian language. The Latin alphabet is a useful tool to present Assyrian terminology to anyone who is not familiar with the Syriac script.

A precise transcription may not be necessary for native Assyrian speakers, as they would be able to pronounce words correctly, but it can be very helpful for those not quite familiar with Syriac and more informed with the Latin script. The romanization of Syriac has become rather widespread in the Assyrian community due to the Assyrian diaspora's settlement mostly being in Europe and the anglophone. The Latin alphabet is preferred by most Assyrians for practical reasons and its convenience, especially in social media, where it is used to communicate in the modern Aramaic language.

The alphabet[edit]

Some letters are altered and would feature diacritics and macrons to indicate long vowels, schwas and diphthongs. The letters with diacritics and macrons, though, are mostly upheld in educational or formal writing. Most Assyrians rarely utilize the modified letters and would conveniently rely on the basic Latin alphabet. The classical Syriac Latin alphabet usually consists of 36 letters:

  • 26 standard Latin letters (all the letters found in the English alphabet).
  • 10 modified Latin letters: Ā, , Ē, Ĕ, , Ō, Š, , , Ū
The Latin Alphabet of Syriac
A Ā B C D E Ē Ĕ F G H I J K L M N O Ō P Q R S Š T U Ū V W X Y Z
Lower case
a ā b c d e ē ĕ f g h i j k l m n o ō p q r s š t u ū v w x y z

Phonology[edit]

  • Ā is used to denote a long A sound or [ɑː] as heard in "car"
  • Ḏ is used to represent the voiced "th" sound as heard in "that"
  • Ē is used to denote an "ee" sound or [eː]
  • Ĕ is to represent an "eh" sound or /ˈɛ/, as heard in Ninwĕ or "mare"
  • Ḥ represents a voiceless pharyngeal fricative (/ħ/), which is only upheld by Turoyo and Chaldean speakers
  • Ō represents a long O sound or /ɔː/
  • Š is consanguineous to the digraph "Sh"
  • Ṣ denotes an emphatic "S", or thick S, similar to the "S" heard in sunk" and mars
  • Ṭ is an emphatic "T", as heard in Assyrian word ṭla" (three)
  • Ū is used to represent an "oo" sound or the Close back rounded vowel /uː/

Sometimes additional letters may be used. The letters tend to be:

  • may be used in the transliteration of biblical Aramaic to show the fricative value (V) of the letter beth.
  • Č may be used to denote the "ch" sound, as inspired by the Turkish alphabet, although the digraph is more common.
  • Ë can be used for a schwa, albeit rarely.
  • Ġ, which is a marginal phoneme found in Arabic loanwords, can be used to represent a Voiced velar fricative (or "gh" sound)
  • Ī, like ē, may also be used to denote an "ee" sound, usually when transliterating biblical Aramaic
  • may be utilized for the Voiceless velar fricative, or the "kh" sound.
  • is used to denote the "th" sound or the Voiceless dental fricative.
  • Ž (or "zh"), a marginal phoneme found in Farsi loanwords, is used to represent a Voiced palato-alveolar sibilant

English equivalent[edit]

As aforementioned, the majority of the Assyrians do not use diacritics and macrons, and would rely on the standard Latin alphabet to represent the letters, including the emphatic ones (i.e. T as instead of ). This is mainly done for the sake of convenience and the fact that computer keyboards don't incorporate altered letters. This table lists the 26 standard Latin letters used in Syriac writing with their phonetic sound, and their usage within English and Assyrian vocabulary.

Syriac-Latin IPA Similar English sound and notes Assyrian examples
1 Aa æ, ɑ, ɐ A in "ant" and "ark"
It is also used to denote the stressed "uh" sound in "umbrella" and "under"
Short, fronted A in "Ānā" (myself) and long, back A in "rābā" (plenty)
2 Bb b B, as in "bat" "Bāsēmā" (thanks)
3 Cc t͡ʃ C in "church" is used for words having the "ch" digraph, whereas the /k/ in "cat" is denoted by the letter K "Chachmā" (toilet)
4 Dd d D in "doll" "Dëmā" (blood)
5 Ee ɛ, i, ɪ E in "enter" and RP English "bear"
Many speakers use the digraph "ee" or the letter I to denote an "ee" sound
This letter may also be used to indicate a schwa and the vowel in "sit"
The "eh" sound in "ebā" (shame), "ee" sound in "ēkā" (where) and the schwa sound in "sëtwa" (winter)
6 Ff f F, as in "fog"
This letter is only used in the Turoyo, Chaldean and Tyari dialects
"Muftāweh" (no problem)
7 Gg ɡ G in "goat"
"Gh" would be used for the marginal /ɣ/ sound.
"Gūdā" (wall)
8 Hh h, ħ H in "hat" "Hāwā" (air)
9 Ii i, ɪ I in "pizza" and in "sit"
The letters E and, usually at the end of the word, Y, and diphthong "ee" are also commonly used for /i/
This letter, alongside E, may also be used to represent a schwa
As an /i/ sound in "Iwā (it was) and as a schwa in "itwā" (there was)
10 Jj J in "jury" "Jāmētā (gathering)
11 Kk k, x K in "kick" "Kālū" (bride) and, representing /x/, khātā (new)
12 Ll l L in "lord" "Lēššānā" (tongue)
13 Mm m M in "monk" "Māni" (who)
14 Nn n N in "nasty" "Nūṭā (petroleum)
15 Oo o, ɔ O in "origin"
Depending on the dialect, it may also be used to represent a /uː/ sound
"Nōrā" (mirror)
16 Pp p P for "pink" "Pātā" (face)
17 Qq q Guttural Q sound, pronounced at the back of the throat "Qalāma (pen)
18 Rr ɾ R, a rolled R or an alveolar tap, as heard in American English "better" and "middle" "Rēšā" (head)
19 Ss s, , ʃ S, as in "speak" "Samā" (poison), "ārā" (moon) for the emphatic Ṣ Sade), and "shëmsha" (sun) for Š or shin.
20 Tt t, θ, ð, T, as heard in "tame"
Can also be used for the emphatic
"Tënā" (smoke) and, for the emphatic T or teth, "lā" (three)
21 Uu u U, as heard in in "put" or "oo" in "good" "Gūrā" (big)
22 Vv v or ʋ V, as "vain"
This letter is only used by Urmian speakers or Iranian Assyrians (due to Farsi influence), where W is pronounced as V
"Vardā" (flower)
23 Ww w W in "walking" "Wādā" (doing)
24 Xx x Guttural Kh, as heard in Scottish loch
Only used by Urmians, whereas most Assyrians use the digraph "kh" instead
"Xmārā" (donkey)
25 Yy j Y in "yellow" "Yāmā" (ocean)
26 Zz z Z in "zeal"
"Zmartā" (song)

Chat alphabet[edit]

Some Assyrians who originate from the Arab world may conveniently use the Arabic chat alphabet, which is a character encoding of the Semitic abjads to the Latin script and the Arabic numerals. To handle those Semitic letters that do not have an approximate phonetic equivalent in the Latin script, numerals were appropriated. Among Assyrians, the numeral system is generally used for Arabic loanwords rather than for Assyrian words, where Latin letters are used more commonly instead. This table showcases the few, but commonly used, numeral substitutions in Syriac Latin:

Letters Syriac chat alphabet International Phonetic Alphabet
Syriac Eastern het.svg ḥ 7 ħ
Syriac Eastern het.svg kh Ḵ 5 x
Syriac Eastern tet.svg ṭ 6 ˤ ˠ
Syriac Eastern 'e.svg ʿ 3 ʕ