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Here one can see that the letter groups خ ح ج and several others are identical if not for the dots. In this pair, two are vaguely H-sounding, the other was formerly some form of palatalised G, which I would expect to instead pair with one of gh, k or q, not x or ħ. Particularly perplexing are the medial forms of ـبـ, ـتـ‎ , ـثـ‎, ـنـ, ـيـ, such that a governor sent a letter by Caliph Umar is recorded as having been unable to tell whether to اقبل (accept!) or اقتل (kill!) one guest.

Do we have any information as to how different letters with different sounds converged on the same latter? Do we have any evidence of a complexity loss in the script due to some factor, or of the particular forms of the letters in Arabic prior to their orthographic collapse?

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    This also happened in other scripts derived from Aramaic script, perhaps in its most extreme form in Mongolian. There is no apparent reason or logic to it: it just happened.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 22:26
  • @ColinFine I know very little about Mongolian, but I would have guessed the most extreme case of glyph conflation in an Aramaic script (or anywhere, really) would be Book Pahlavi, where nary a single glyph is unambiguous, and a simple string of just a few glyphs can sometimes theoretically represent several hundred different sound sequences. Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 10:52
  • metmuseum.org/learn/educators/curriculum-resources/….
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 15:44
  • You may be right, @JanusBahsJacquet. Judging from the sample on that page you linked, Mongolian script is very similar, but turned through 90 degrees.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 16:27

1 Answer 1

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This convergence took place at two different levels. First there is the purely graphic evolution of the Aramaic-based scripts, leading (in Arabic) to the merger of “j” and “ḥ”, or of “r” and “z”, and so forth. Second there is the diacritic distinction between letters with similar phonemic value, such as “ḥ” and “x”, or “s” and “š”, etc. These are two separate processes.

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  • In the case of sh and s, I know that the original glyph had been a Sh, the letter sin being derived from it because of proto-Semitic sh undergoing a split sometime before Classical Arabic. Was it the same with ḥ and x?
    – murshad
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 12:56
  • @murshad No, in the case of “ḥ” and “x” the former is the original Aramaic letter.
    – fdb
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 13:03

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