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Script used to write Arabic and a number of other languages whose speakers have been influenced by Arab and Islamic culture. The 28-character Arabic alphabet developed from a script used to write Nabataean Aramaic. Because Arabic had different consonants than Aramaic, diacritical dots came to be used to eliminate ambiguous readings of some letters, and these remain a feature of the script. Arabic is written from right to left. The letters denote only consonants, though the symbols for w, y, and (historically) the glottal stop do double duty as vowel letters for long u, i, and a. Additional diacritics, representing short vowels (or the lack thereof), case endings, and geminate (duplicate) consonants, are normally employed only for the text of the Qur'an, for primers, or in instances where the reading might otherwise be ambiguous. Because Arabic script is fundamentally cursive, most letters have slightly different forms depending on whether they occur in the beginning, middle, or end of a word. Non-Semitic languages for which some version of the Arabic alphabet has been or is used include Persian, Kurdish, Pashto, Urdu, some Turkic languages, Malay, Swahili, and Hausa. The Maltese language is the only form of Arabic to be written in the Latin alphabet.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Arabic alphabet, visit Britannica.com.