Ethiopic Alphabet: Indic Vowels on
South Semitic Consonants
About 500 B.C. Sabeans from South Arabia (Sheba) crossed the Red
Sea and founded the Kingdom of Axum (now Ethiopia). They took with
them their South Semitic all-consonant alphabet.
During the early fourth century A.D., the 22 consonants took on vowel
indications for the seven vowel sounds of their Ge'ez lanuage. They
were written with small appendages to the consonant letters, with
modifications of their shapes. This method of writing vowels is similar
to that of Indic alphabets.
Tradition credits Frumentius with this change. He also introduced
Christianity and translated the Bible into Ge'ez.
As a youth, Frumentius had traveled to India where he may have noted
Indic vowel writing. Shipwrecked on his return, he was taken to the
king and ultimately became secretary-treasurer. In A.D. 333 he converted
King Ezana to Christianity. Later, Frumentius was named Bishop of
Ethiopia and established the national church. Frumentius' alphabet
is still the national alphabet of Ethiopia.
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