"Abjad" is a technical term for a kind of writing system which is used when contrasting them with other writing system types such as alphabets, abugidas, and syllabaries.

There is also an Arabic word "أبجد".

In reading various sources on the Internet some say the term was coined by Peter T. Daniels, which would imply that it's originally an English word which was borrowed into English.

Other sources merely say that it's an Arabic word formed by the first four letters of the traditional Arabic alphabetical (abjadical?) order. This would imply that Daniels didn't coin it but was merely responsible for borrowing it into English.

Of course even the stories about Daniels coining the term give the reason for his invention being the traditional Arabic order of the letters.

So is it a word used in Arabic since before Daniels started using it in English or has Arabic only used the word after he coined it as an English word?

2 Answers 2


A comment in this review by Daniels points to the former:

the consonantary (my ''abjad'') and the ''semi-syllabary'' (my ''abugida'') [...] (Neither of my terms is an invention; they are names in Arabic and Ge`ez respectively for exactly the phenomena I imported them into English to name.)

Peter T. Daniels, Review of Writing Systems: An Introduction to Their Linguistic Analysis by Florian Coulmas.

Edit: Frank Lewis further writes:

However, the order A-B-J-D is quite ancient, insofar as the word abjad is not of Arabic origin, but comes from earlier written alphabets, perhaps from Phoenician though the sequence may be as old as Ugaritic. In any case, it certainly predates the writing down of Arabic, as can be seen by comparison of Hebrew (Aleph, Beth, Gimel, Daleth) and Greek (Alpha Beta Gamma Delta).

Lewis, Frank. 1999. Overview of the Abjad numerological system.

  • But though the word might precede Arabic, the changed /g/ -> /dʒ/ took place only in Arabic as far as I know, so it is the Arabic form of the word which Daniels used.
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 31, 2020 at 16:57
  • @ColinFine It also happened in the Romance languages (hence, soft G). It's just that by the time it did, C had been assigned to the unvoiced velar stop, and the voiced G was put after F when it was reintroduced
    – No Name
    Jun 10, 2022 at 1:20
  • 1
    @NoName: palatalisation as a general phonological process has happened at many times and places, including (as you say) in Romance languages, and indeed in another Semitic language, Amharic.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 10, 2022 at 11:41

I agree that it came from the old Arabic alphabet, not taught because it is hard to change the order we know now. Abjad related to the numerical/mathematical science of Arabic, where letters have numbers assigned to them. Yes, this is all rooted from proto-Semitic or Phoenician.

I agree with arjan: the scholars quoted are quite unbiased.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.