There are a lot of names like "Ai", "Kai", "Anita", or "Amari" that would be quite tricky to infer based on the consonants. Disregarding abjads with matres lectionis, how would vowel-loaded names be written in abjads?

Would they just be represented like "K" or "Mr"?

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    Even worse if you have names with no consonants at all. The name of hypothetical Irishman Aodh Ó Fiaigh [Hugh (O’)Fee] would in the genitive (Aodha Uí Fhiaigh) be /ˌɯːə iː ˈiəɪ/, with nary a consonant in sight. Mar 1 at 2:46
  • They wouldn't be. Pure abjads are paired with languages that permit deducing the vowels from the consonants, and such a language wouldn't have those names.
    – Mark
    Mar 1 at 23:48
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    @Mark: I think the question is: how would a text written in such a writing system refer to foreigners by name?
    – TonyK
    Mar 2 at 17:04
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    – curiousdannii
    Mar 13 at 5:11

3 Answers 3


Sure. You'll find very few abjads in the world that don't have any way of representing vowels—in fact I'm not aware of a single one—but in Egyptian, about the closest you can get, a name like /təˈwaːtə ˈʕaːnəχ ʔaˈmaːnə/ (who we now call "Tutankhamun") was written with only the consonants as twt-ʕnx-jmn. Plenty of non-royal Egyptian names consist of only two or three consonants.

Most languages written with abjads also don't allow vowel-initial words (or syllables), which ensures there's always at least one consonant (or one consonant per syllable) to work with. This is in fact a common source of matres lectionis: if any consonant stops being pronounced, its letter can easily get reinterpreted as a marker of an initial or final vowel.

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    This may have occurred with Arabic alif and Hebrew aleph and ayin. None of those seem to have an inherent sound of their own, but act almost universally as carriers for vowels. Mar 1 at 12:33
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    @JeffZeitlin Indeed; originally aleph was ʔ and ayin was ʕ, but those sounds have been lost in…I want to say most dialects? Definitely Ashkenazi.
    – Draconis
    Mar 1 at 16:55
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    @Draconis Modern Israeli Hebrew has both as ʔ (albeit alongside occasional use for hiatus, and some uses of aleph as a mater lectionis). Mizrahi Hebrews and Sephardim in Arabic-speaking areas generally preserve both as ʔ or ʕ. I'm not sure about Sephardim outside of Arabic-speaking areas
    – Tristan
    Mar 1 at 21:34
  • @Tristan: Re: "Modern Israeli Hebrew has both as ʔ": Eh, sort of. I think people consider [ʔ] the "right" pronunciation, so you'll see it in hyperarticulated speech and newscaster speech and so on; but regular people don't go around pronouncing them as [ʔ] in normal conversation.
    – ruakh
    Mar 1 at 22:52

It is important to make a distinction between spelling and pronunciation. Ai is written with a and i which normally represent vowels, but is in fact pronounced with a glide at the end; also, as Draconis points out, many languages with abjads wouldn't allow vowel-initial words so there would be a letter for a glottal stop or something like that at the beginning. So in a hypothetical Semitic-like pure abjad you could write Ai, Kai, Anita, Amari as 'y, ky, 'nt, 'mr, where ' stands for the glottal stop (or so).

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    Both Arabic and Hebrew - and possibly other languages using abjads - have letters that don't have (or possibly no longer have) inherent sounds of their own, not even the glottal stop, and which are used essentially as vowel carriers. Mar 1 at 12:35
  • @JeffZeitlin that is correct. However, I did not use them in this hypothetical abjad here (then Anita and Amari could be 'nth and 'mry, respectively), because the OP asked for a pure abjad. Maybe I don't get what you are trying to say?
    – Keelan
    Mar 1 at 12:50
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    @JeffZeitlin huh? All Hebrew letters have a consonantal pronunciation in most positions. They may also be used as matres lectionis between consonants and word-finally, but no letter is silent word-initially or in all medial positions
    – Tristan
    Mar 1 at 21:31
  • @Tristan - What are the consonantal pronunciations of alef and ayin? When I learned the most basic of basic Hebre lo these many years ago, the rabbi said that they don't have sounds of their own; they only carry vowels. Mar 3 at 23:03
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    @JeffZeitlin in Modern Hebrew both can be consonantal /ʔ/ in most positions (they can also be silent in most positions). Because English doesn't generally have a phonemic glottal stop, we tend not to hear this as a consonant, which is likely why the rabbi said that, but it absolutely is one. Historically ayin was /ʕ/ as in Arabic, a sound it still has in Eastern Sephardi, Yemenite, and Mizrachi Hebrew pronunciations. Western Sephardim (and historically some of the very westernmost Ashkenazim) traditionally pronounce(d) ayin as /ŋ/
    – Tristan
    Mar 4 at 7:57

Abjads usually include a letter that represents a "silent" or "weak" consonant, which allows syllable-initial vowels to be written as if they have a preceding consonant.

For example, Hebrew has the "silent" letters alef (א) and ayin (ע). Etymologically, they represent the glottal stop and voiced pharyngeal fricative, but in Modern Hebrew phonology, they're treated as a zero constant that serves as a vowel carrier. So, Hebrew script without matres lectiones would treat the names from your question as:

  • Anita → /∅a ni ta/ → ∅nt → אנט
  • Amari → /∅a ma ri/ → ∅mr → אמר

For the names that contain /ai/, it depends on whether you treat this diphthong as one sound or two.

  • Ai (1 syllable) → /∅ai/ → ∅ → א
  • Ai (2 syllables) → /∅a ∅i/ → ∅∅ → אא
  • Kai (1 syllable) → /kai/ → k → א
  • Kai (2 syllables) → /ka ∅i/ → k∅ → קא
  • Hebrew requires a mater lectionis for final vowels, so these would have to be ʔʔ, kʔy, ʔnṭh/ʔnṭʔ, ʔmri
    – Tristan
    Mar 1 at 21:32
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    @Tristan: The OP specifically asked about a "pure" abjad without mater lectionis. I know that it's not how Modern Hebrew is spelled.
    – dan04
    Mar 1 at 21:36
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    headdesk, yep, please ignore
    – Tristan
    Mar 1 at 22:18
  • The syllable division in the first two examples seems off.
    – Keelan
    Mar 1 at 23:29
  • @Keelan: Well, it depends on the language's phonology, on whether /ai/ is treated as a single sound or as two separate ones. I used the latter interpretation, which parallels how Japanese kana work.
    – dan04
    Mar 2 at 0:10

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