|Languages:||Ethiopian Semitic languages (e.g. Ge'ez, Amharic, Tigrinya, Tigre, Harari, etc.), Blin, Me'en, formerly Oromo|
|Time:||5th-6th c. BC to the present (abjad until ca. 330 AD)|
Ge'ez (Geez: ግዕዝ ), also called Ethiopic, is an abugida script that was originally developed to write Ge'ez, a Semitic language. In communities that use it, such as the Amharic and Tigrinya, the script is called (Geez: ፊደል), which means "script" or "alphabet".
The Ge'ez script has been adapted to write other languages, mostly Semitic, such as Amharic in Ethiopia and Tigrinya in Eritrea and Ethiopia. It is also used for Sebatbeit, Me'en, and most other languages of Ethiopia. In Eritrea it is used for Tigre, and it has traditionally been used for Blin, a Cushitic language.Tigre, spoken in western and northen Eritrea and Eastern Sudan, is considered to be the most closely resemblant to Ge'ez than the rest of all other derivative languages. Some other languages in the Horn of Africa, such as Oromo, used to be written using Ge'ez but have migrated to Latin-based orthographies.
For the representation of sounds, this article uses a system that is common (though not universal) among linguists who work on Ethiopian Semitic languages. This differs somewhat from the conventions of the International Phonetic Alphabet. See the articles on the individual languages for information on the pronuncation.
The earliest inscriptions of Ethio-Semitic in Ethiopia and Eritrea date to the 9th century BC in Epigraphic South Arabian (ESA), an alphabet shared with contemporary kingdoms in South Arabia. After the 7th and 6th centuries BC, however, variants of the script arose, evolving in the direction of the Ge'ez alphabet. This evolution can be seen most clearly in evidence from inscriptions (mainly graffiti on rocks and caves) in Tigray region in northern Ethiopia and the former province of Akkele Guzay in Eritrea. By the first centuries AD, what is called "Old Ethiopic" or the "Old Ge'ez alphabet" arose, an abjad written left-to-right (as opposed to boustrophedon like ESA) with letters basically identical to the first-order forms of the modern vocalized alphabet (e.g. "k" in the form of "kä"). There were also minor differences such as the letter "g" facing to the right, instead of to the left as in vocalized Ge'ez, and a shorter left leg of "l," as in ESA, instead of equally-long legs in vocalized Ge'ez (resembling the Greek letter lambda, somewhat). Vocalization of Ge'ez occurred in the fourth century, and though the first completely vocalized texts known are inscriptions by Ezana, vocalized letters predate him by some years, as an individual vocalized letter exists in a coin of his predecessor Wazeba.  Roger Schneider has also pointed out (in an early 1990s unpublished paper) anomalies in the known inscriptions of Ezana that imply that he was consciously employing an archaic style during his reign, indicating that vocalization could have occurred much earlier. As a result, some believe that the vocalization may have been adopted to preserve the pronunciation of Ge'ez texts due to the already moribund or extinct status of Ge'ez, and that, by that time, the common language of the people were already later Ethio-Semitic languages. At least one of Wazeba's coins from the late 3rd/early 4th century contains a vocalized letter, some 30 or so years before Ezana. . Kobishchanov, Daniels, and others have suggested possible influence from the Brahmic family of alphabets in vocalization, as they are also abugidas (also known as "alphasyllabaries"), and Aksum was an important part of major trade routes involving India and the Greco-Roman world throughout the common era of antiquity.  .
According to the beliefs of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the original (consonantal) form of the Ge'ez fidel was divinely revealed to Henos "as an instrument for codifying the laws", and the present system of vocalisation is attributed to a team of Aksumite scholars led by none other than Frumentius (Abba Selama), the same missionary said to have converted King Ezana to Christianity in the 4th century AD .
Ge'ez has 26 basic consonant signs. Compared to the inventory of 29 consonants in the South Arabian alphabet, continuants of ġ, and the interdental fricatives () are missing, as well as South Arabian s3 (Ge'ez Sawt ሠ being derived from South Arabian s2 ). On the other hand, emphatic ጰ, a Ge'ez innovation, is a modification of ጸ, while Pesa ፐ is based on Tawe ተ.
Thus, there are 24 correspondences of Ge'ez and the South Arabian alphabet:
Many of the letter names are cognate with those of Proto-Canaanite, and may thus be assumed for Proto-Sinaitic.
There are 26 basic consonant signs:
The Ge'ez script is an abugida: each symbol represents a consonant+vowel combination, and the symbols are organized in groups of similar symbols on the basis of both the consonant and the vowel.
Ge'ez is written from left to right across the page.
In Ge'ez, each consonant can be combined with seven vowels:
For each consonant in an abugida, there is a basic or unmarked symbol that represents that consonant followed by a default vowel, called the inherent vowel. For the Ge'ez script, the inherent vowel is /ä/, the first column in the table. For the other vowels, the basic consonant symbol is modified in consistent ways.
In the table below, the rows of the table show the consonants in the traditional order. The columns show the seven vowels, also in the traditional order. A consonant can be described, for example, as being in the fifth order, meaning that it is of the form that is fifth in this traditional order of vowels. For some letters, there is an eighth modification expressing a diphthong or , and a ninth expressing .
To represent a consonant with no following vowel, for example at the end of a syllable or in a consonant cluster, the consonant+ form is used (the symbol in the sixth column).
The symbols for the labialized velar consonants are variants of the non-labialized velar consonants:
Unlike the other consonants, these labiovelar ones can only be combined with 5 different vowels:
Some letters have variants for use in languages other than Ge'ez.
The syllable symbols are shown below. Like the other labiovelars, these labiovelars can only be combined with 5 vowels.
Amharic uses all the basic consonants, plus the ones indicated below. Some of the Ge'ez labiovelar letter variants are also used.
Tigrinya has all the basic consonants, the Ge'ez labiovelar letter variants except for (ኈ) plus the ones indicated below. A few of the basic consonants are falling into disuse in Eritrea. See Tigrinya language#Writing system for details.
Tigre uses the basic consonants except for (ሠ), (ኀ) and (ፀ). It also uses the ones indicated below. It does not use the Ge'ez labiovelar letter variants.
Blin uses the basic consonants except for (ሠ), (ኀ) and (ፀ). It also uses the ones indicated below and the Ge'ez labiovelar letter variants.
Note: "v" is used for words of foreign origin except for in some Gurage languages (e.g. cravat, 'tie' from French), and "x" is pronounced "h" in Amharic.
For Ge'ez, Amharic, Tigrinya and Tigre, the usual list order is called Halehame. For the basic signs it is as given elsewhere on this page. Where the labiovelar variants are used, these come immediately after the basic signs, followed by other variants. In Tigrinya, for example, the signs based on ከ come in this order: ከ, ኰ, ኸ, ዀ. In Blin, the order of the signs is slightly different.
The signs' order is similar to that found in some other South Semitic scripts, and curiously, in the ancient Ugaritic alphabet (which also attests the northern Semitic '-b-g-d order). Dillman notes that, excepting newer forms, the signs in the first half of one order are all those found in the second half of the other order (though not in the same sequence); he suggests this would indicate a time when Semitic letters were divided into two rows, and the alphabet might commence with either row.
Ge'ez is a sacred script in the Rastafarian religion. Roots reggae musicians have used it in album art.
The film 500 Years Later (፭፻-ዓመታት በኋላ) was the first mainstream Western documentary to use Ge'ez characters, which were used in the title. The script also appears in the trailer and promotional material of the film.
Ge'ez uses a systems of ones and tens comparable to the Hebrew, Arabic Abjad and Greek numerals, but unlike these systems, rather than giving numeric values to letters, it has separate numeral symbols that are derived from the Coptic letter-numbers:
Ethiopic has been assigned Unicode 3.0 codepoints between U+1200 and U+137F (decimal 4608–4991), containing the basic syllable signs for Ge'ez, Amharic, and Tigrinya, punctuation and numerals. Additionally, in Unicode 4.1, there is the supplement range from U+1380 to U+139F (decimal 4992–5023) containing syllables for Sebatbeit and tonal marks, and the extended range between U+2D80 and U+2DDF (decimal 11648–11743) containing syllable signs needed for writing Sebatbeit, Me'en and Blin.