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Encyclopedia Judaica:

Hebrew Alphabet: Table of Contents | Academy of the Hebrew Language | Hebrew Caligraphy

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'AYIN (Heb. ע; עַיִן) (fricative pharyngeal), the 16th letter of the Hebrew alphabet; its numerical value is 70. Its earliest representation is the acrophonic pictograph of an eye (ʿayin) . The pupil of the eye disappears already in the early evolution of the letter. In the later Proto-Canaanite, Phoenician, Hebrew, and Samaritan on the one hand and in South-Arabic and Ethiopic on the other, though with variations, the ʿayin has a circular shape. Thus also in Greek and Latin, in which the consonantal value of the letter turns into the vowel "o".

In the Aramaic script as early as the seventh century B.C.E. the top of the circle opens: (compare with bet, dalet, and resh). It is written mainly with two bars (first the left and then the right) meeting at the base . As there is a cursive tendency to draw the pen toward the next letter, the right bar becomes longer and longer , and thus the classical shape of this letter develops, which is known in the Jewish scripts until the present: . The Nabatean and Palmyrene scripts also adopt this Aramaic letter: the Arabic develops through the Nabatean cursive , and the Syriac through the Palmyrene cursive . The Ashkenazic Jewish cursive develops as follows: . See *Alphabet , Hebrew.

[Joseph Naveh]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

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