ETHIOPIAN Manual Alphabet and New Signs

Fri Jul 8 18:12:14 UTC 2005

The Ethiopian alphabet and manual alphabet are very interesting.  The alphabet with 231 
symbols shown on the website looks like there are 33 consonants, and then you can write each 
one as just the consonant, or accomanied by extra marks - diacritics - to show 6 different 
vowels (so 7 versions of each consonant).  Or maybe there are 7 vowels, and one is the "default" 
vowel, the one that doesn't need an extra mark to show it.

Eyasu, are the 33 handshapes showing the 33 consonants?  It looks like the handshapes try to 
look like the shape of the written letter.  And then is the handshape moved in a different way to 
show the vowel that goes along with the consonant - so, the movement of the hand takes the 
place of the little extra markings in the written letter?  Are there 7 vowels altogether?

I think that technically - and I know that we don't need to be technical, but it might help people 
understand what is going on to have the little explanation - the Ethiopian writing system is 
called an abugida rather than an alphabet.  Here is a definition of an abugida:  "A phonographic 
writing system in which vowels are typically written as diacritics on consonants and one vowel is 
not written: e.g. scripts of India, Ethiopic" (from "Writing Systems: a Linguistic Approach", by 
Henry Rogers).

It seems like the manual alphabet sort of works the same way.

Very interesting!


On Fri, 8 Jul 2005, Valerie Sutton wrote:

> SignWriting List
> July 8, 2005
> Dear SW List -
> I am posting a recent message from Eyasu in Ethiopia because it is so 
> fascinating!! Imagine having 233 alphabets in one country! That must make 
> communication quite complicated for the people of Ethiopia! But I think it is 
> great, that Eyasu attached a scan of their Manual Alphabet below, so we can 
> start writing their unusual handshapes together, slowly one by one...Many thnks 
> for this email, Eyasu!...You will find email from me on the SignWriting List, 
> one handshape at a time...It may take some time, but check back regularly and 
> we will accomplish the task! Val ;-)
> -------------------------------
> From: eyasu tamene <eyasuh at>
> Date: July 8, 2005 5:30:51 AM PDT
> To: Sutton at
> Subject: Ethiopian New Signs!!
> Dearest Val,
> Will there be any excuse for my disappearance?  I have been preparing for my 
> final exam.  Infact I have been reading the site and adding the new signs. 
> Still I wonder whether they are readable. For instance -
>                  Mother   G.Mother 
>                Father       G.Father 
>                Egg- 
> I have got it tiresome to take a picture of Ethiopian Manual Alphabet 
> thirty-three times.  Thus I have decided to Scan them and give a discription of 
> them.
> The numbers are the order of the alphabet.  Below I have given no's like V2-V7 
> to refer to the vowels. Totally there are around 233 alphabets in Ethiopia. To 
> View what Ethiopian alphabet looks like- 
> Hoping to read you soon
> Eyasu

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