ETHIOPIAN Manual Alphabet and New Signs

Valerie Sutton sutton at SIGNWRITING.ORG
Mon Jul 11 16:58:35 UTC 2005

Thank you, Nancy, for this interesting information!  Val ;-)


On Jul 8, 2005, at 11:12 AM, nemery at wrote:

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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