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Gothic alphabet

This article is about the 4th century alphabet of the Gothic Bible. For manuscript hands and typefaces sometimes referred to as "Gothic script", see Blackletter.
For type fonts sometimes referred to as "Gothic", see Sans-serif.
Languages Gothic
Time period
From c. 350, in decline by 600
Parent systems
Mostly Greek, with Latin and Runic influences
  • Gothic
ISO 15924 Goth, 206
Direction Left-to-right
Unicode alias

The Gothic alphabet is an alphabet for writing the Gothic language, created in the 4th century by Ulfilas (or Wulfila) for the purpose of translating the Bible.[1]

The alphabet is essentially an uncial form of the Greek alphabet, with a few additional letters to account for Gothic phonology: Latin F, two Runic letters to distinguish the /j/ and /w/ glides from vocalic /i/ and /u/, and the letter ƕair to express the Gothic labiovelar. It is completely different from the 'Gothic script' of the Middle Ages, a script used to write the Latin alphabet.


Ulfilas is thought to have consciously chosen to avoid the use of the older Runic alphabet for this purpose, as it was heavily connected with heathen beliefs and customs.[2] Also, the Greek-based script probably helped to integrate the Gothic nation into the dominant Greco-Roman culture around the Black Sea.[3] The individual letters, however, still bear names derived from those of their Runic equivalents.

In past centuries, some authors asserted that Greek-like letters were already in use among Germanic tribes long before Ulfilas. Johannes Aventinus (c. 1525) even ascribed them to the mythical progenitor Tuisto, claiming the Greeks had really stolen the idea from them, and not the Phoenicians. Such theories enjoy no scholarly support today, as all available evidence traces the development of alphabetic writing to the Middle East, although there is some testimony by classical Roman sources, as well as a few assorted tombstones, indicating that Greek letters were sometimes used in Germany, in addition to Gaul, by the time of Julius Caesar (1st century BC).

The letters

Below is a table of the Gothic alphabet.[4] Two letters used in its transliteration are not used in current English: the Runic þ (representing /θ/), and ƕ (representing //).

As with the Greek alphabet, Gothic letters were also assigned numerical values. When used as numerals, letters were written either between two dots (•𐌹𐌱• = 12) or with an overline (𐌹𐌱 = 12). Two letters, 𐍁 (90) and 𐍊 (900), have no phonetic value.

The letter names are recorded in a 9th-century manuscript of Alcuin (Codex Vindobonensis 795). Most of them seem to be Gothic forms of names also appearing in the rune poems. The names are given in their attested forms followed by the reconstructed Gothic forms and their meanings.[5]

Letter Translit. Compare Gothic name PGmc rune name IPA Numeric value XML entity
x32px 𐌰 a Α aza < ans "god" or asks "ash" *ansuz /a, aː/ 1 &#x10330;
x32px 𐌱 b Β bercna < *bairka "birch" *berkanan /b/ [[[voiced bilabial stop#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.b]]
, [[voiced bilabial fricative#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.β]]
2 &#x10331;
x32px 𐌲 g Γ geuua < giba "gift" *gebō /ɡ/ [[[voiced velar stop#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ɡ]]
, [[voiced velar fricative#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ɣ]]
, [[voiceless velar fricative#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.x]]
]; /n/ [[[velar nasal#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ŋ]]
3 &#x10332;
x32px 𐌳 d Δ daaz < dags "day" *dagaz /d/ [[[voiced alveolar stop#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.d]]
, [[voiced dental fricative#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ð]]
4 &#x10333;
x32px 𐌴 e Ε eyz < aiƕs "horse" or eivs "yew" *eihwaz // 5 &#x10334;
x32px 𐌵 q Ϙ quetra < *qairþra ? or quairna "millstone" (see *perþō) // 6 &#x10335;
x32px 𐌶 z Ζ ezec < ezec[6] (?) (see *algiz) /z/ 7 &#x10336;
x32px 𐌷 h Η haal < *hagal or *hagls "hail" *haglaz /h/, /x/ 8 &#x10337;
x32px 𐌸 þ (th) Θ thyth < þiuþ "good" or þaurnus "thorn" *thurisaz /θ/ 9 &#x10338;
x32px 𐌹 i Ι iiz < *eis "ice" *īsaz /i/ 10 &#x10339;
x32px 𐌺 k Κ chozma < *kusma or kōnja "pine sap" *kaunan /k/ 20 &#x1033A;
x32px 𐌻 l Λ laaz < *lagus "sea, lake" *laguz /l/ 30 &#x1033B;
x32px 𐌼 m Μ manna < manna "man" *mannaz /m/ 40 &#x1033C;
x32px 𐌽 n Ν noicz < nauþs "need" *naudiz /n/ 50 &#x1033D;
x32px 𐌾 j gaar < jēr "year" *jēran /j/ 60 &#x1033E;
x32px 𐌿 u uraz < *ūrus "aurochs" *ūruz /ʊ/, // 70 &#x1033F;
x32px 𐍀 p Π pertra < *pairþa ? *perþō /p/ 80 &#x10340;
x32px 𐍁 Ϙ 90 &#x10341;
x32px 𐍂 r R reda < *raida "wagon" *raidō /r/ 100 &#x10342;
x32px 𐍃 s S sugil < sauïl or sōjil "sun" *sôwilô /s/ 200 &#x10343;
x32px 𐍄 t Τ tyz < *tius "the god Týr" *tīwaz /t/ 300 &#x10344;
x32px 𐍅 w Υ uuinne < vinja "field, pasture" or vinna "pain" *wunjō /w, y/ 400 &#x10345;
x32px 𐍆 f Ϝ fe < faihu "cattle, wealth" *fehu /f/ 500 &#x10346;
x32px 𐍇 x Χ enguz < *iggus or *iggvs "the god Yngvi" *ingwaz /x/? 600 &#x10347;
x32px 𐍈 ƕ (hw) Θ uuaer < *ƕair "kettle" - // 700 &#x10348;
x32px 𐍉 o Ω, utal < *ōþal "ancestral land" *ōþala // 800 &#x10349;
x32px 𐍊 Ϡ 900 &#x1034a;

Most of the letters have been taken over directly from the Greek alphabet, though a few have been created and/or modified from Latin or Runic letters to express unique phonological features of Gothic. These are:

  • 𐌵 (q; derived by inverting Greek 𐍀 /p/, perhaps due to similarity in the Gothic names: pairþa vs. qairþa)
  • 𐌸 (þ; derived from Greek Φ /f/ with phonetic reassignment)[citation needed]
  • 𐌾 (j; derived from Latin G /g/[citation needed] with possible influence from Runic /j/)
  • 𐌿 (u; derived from Runic /u/)[7]
  • 𐍈 (ƕ; derived from Greek Θ /θ/ with phonetic reassignment)[citation needed]
  • 𐍉 (o; derived either from Greek Ω or from Runic )[8]

𐍂 (r), 𐍃 (s) and 𐍆 (f) appear to be derived from their Latin equivalents rather than from the Greek, although the equivalent Runic letters (, and ), assumed to have been part of the Gothic futhark, likely played some role in this choice.[9]

𐍇 (x) is only used in proper names and loanwords containing Greek Χ (xristus "Christ", galiugaxristus "Pseudo-Christ", zaxarias "Zacharias", aivxaristia "eucharist").[10]

Regarding the letters' numeric values, most correspond to those of the Greek numerals. Gothic 𐌵 takes the place of Ϝ (6), 𐌾 takes the place of ξ (60), 𐌿 that of Ο (70), and 𐍈 that of ψ (700).

Diacritics and punctuation

Diacritics and punctuation used in the Codex Argenteus include a trema placed on 𐌹 i, transliterated as ï, in general applied to express diaeresis, the Interpunct (·) and colon (:) as well as overlines to indicate sigla (such as xaus for xristaus) and numerals.

File:Codex Argenteus.jpg
First page of the Codex Argenteus or "Silver Bible", a 6th-century manuscript containing bishop Ulfilas's 4th century translation of the Christian Bible into the Gothic language.


The Gothic alphabet was added to the Unicode Standard in March, 2001 with the release of version 3.1.

The Unicode block for Gothic is U+10330–U+1034F in the Supplementary Multilingual Plane. As older software that uses UCS-2 (the predecessor of UTF-16) assumes that all Unicode codepoints can be expressed as 16 bit numbers (U+FFFF or lower, the Basic Multilingual Plane), problems may be encountered using the Gothic alphabet Unicode range and others outside of the Basic Multilingual Plane.

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1033x 𐌰 𐌱 𐌲 𐌳 𐌴 𐌵 𐌶 𐌷 𐌸 𐌹 𐌺 𐌻 𐌼 𐌽 𐌾 𐌿
U+1034x 𐍀 𐍁 𐍂 𐍃 𐍄 𐍅 𐍆 𐍇 𐍈 𐍉 𐍊
1.^ As of Unicode version 7.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points</br>


  1. ^ According to the testimony of the historians Philostorgius, Socrates of Constantinople and Sozomen. Cf. Streitberg (1910:20).
  2. ^ Cf. Jensen (1969:474).
  3. ^ Cf. Haarmann (1991:434).
  4. ^ For a discussion of the Gothic alphabet see also Fausto Cercignani, The Elaboration of the Gothic Alphabet and Orthography, in “Indogermanische Forschungen”, 93, 1988, pp. 168-185.
  5. ^ The forms which are not attested in the Gothic corpus are marked with an asterisk. For a detailed discussion of the reconstructed forms, cf. Kirchhoff (1854). For a survey of the relevant literature, cf. Zacher (1855).
  6. ^ Zacher arrives at *iuya, *ivja or *ius, cognate to ON ȳr, OE īv, eóv, OHG īwa "yew tree", though he admits having no ready explanation for the form ezec. Cf. Zacher (1855:10-13).
  7. ^ Cf. Kirchhoff (1854:55).
  8. ^ Haarmann (1991:434).
  9. ^ Cf. Kirchhoff (1854:55-56); Friesen (1915:306-310).
  10. ^ Wright (1910:5).

See also


  • Braune, Wilhelm (1952). Gotische Grammatik. Halle: Max Niemeyer.
  • Cercignani, Fausto, The Elaboration of the Gothic Alphabet and Orthography, in “Indogermanische Forschungen”, 93, 1988, pp. 168–185.
  • Dietrich, Franz (1862). Über die Aussprache des Gotischen Wärend der Zeit seines Bestehens. Marburg: N. G. Elwert'sche Universitätsbuchhandlung.
  • Friesen, Otto von (1915). "Gotische Schrift" in Hoops, J. Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde, Bd. II. pp. 306–310. Strassburg: Karl J. Trübner.
  • Haarmann, Harald (1991). Universalgeschichte der Schrift. Frankfurt: Campus.
  • Jensen, Hans (1969). Die Schrift in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart. Berlin: Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften.
  • Kirchhoff, Adolf (1854). Das gothische Runenalphabet. Berlin: Wilhelm Hertz.
  • Streitberg, Wilhelm (1910). Gotisches Elementarbuch. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.
  • Weingärtner, Wilhelm (1858). Die Aussprache des Gotischen zur Zeit Ulfilas. Leipzig: T. O. Weigel.
  • Wright, Joseph (1910). Grammar of the Gothic Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Zacher, Julius (1855). Das gothische Alphabet Vulvilas und das Runenalphabet. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus.

External links