What is the Modern Geʾez Syllabary?

The Unicode Standard for Ethiopic (Geʾez) script includes the letters, numerals, and punctuation that are in use now, or at some time in the past, by one of the many languages in the regions of Eritrea and Ethiopia. Altogether the standard includes some 523 symbols. This is much more than any one language requires. Indeed, when written, no single language has need for the sounds of every letter. Thus the “Ethiopic” syllabary is a multilingual system akin to the expansion of letters added to the “Latin” script to support the languages of Europe and beyond.

Yet, the hundreds of letters added to the original 24 will still be refered to collectively as “Latin” or “Roman” so it is fair to likewise refer to the expanded Ethiopic inventory with the “Geʾez” moniker. As a market friendly term, “Geʾez” in the past lacked the benefit of name recognition that “Ethiopic” enjoyed (a term that can be used very broadly for most any aspect of Ethio-Eri culture). The internet has helped elevate the familiarity of term and in the context of writing systems the two terms should be treated as interchangable. Confusion may occur if “Geʾez” is intended to mean only the letters and symbols of the Geʾez language. Context is always important and care is needed in this special case.

“Modern Geʾez” and “Legacy Geʾez” are introduced as more focused terms that respectively identify the letters and symbols required, and actively used by, languages today; or had been used by some languages in the past. Knowing these distinctions can help font and software developers prioritize their work around the needs of the most active user communities. Ideally, companies will be able to support both the full Geʾez inventory. But when time and budgets are limited, the Modern Geʾez syllabary should be supported first, followed later by the Legacy Geʾez syllabary to support customers with interest in historical literature.

The Modern and Legacy syllabaries are presented in this PDF file.

UCD Style Data Files

The Modern Geʾez Syllabary

The Legacy Geʾez Syllabary