Computing, Syriac

The term ‘Syriac Computing’ was coined in 1992 with the establishment of the Syriac Computing Institute, the forerunner of Beth Mardutho: The Syriac Institute, and took shape in 1995 when the First International Forum on Syriac Computing was held in conjunction with the Second Syriac Symposium in Washington, DC (see Syriac Conferences). The term applies to computer-related activities and projects which support Syriac studies. Previous activities covered the following domains:

1. Lexicography and concordance generation. The main focus of projects in the past has been on computational lexicography. The first computational project, which was done at UCLA probably around the 1960s, encoded Brockelmann’s Lexicon Syriacum on a mainframe, but nothing more is known about it. In the 1970s, the Göttingen-based Göttinger Syrische Konkordanz project produced OT text concordances under the direction of Werner Strothmann, and The Way International produced a morphologically tagged database for the text of the NT. In the 1980s, the Peshitta Institute in Leiden developed further systems for the creation of OT concordances. Also in the 1980s, G. Kiraz developed the SEDRA database for the text of the NT. In the 1990s, Brigham Young University commissioned G.  Kiraz to develop the Bar Bahlul lexical database. The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon project, under the direction of Stephen Kaufman, collects texts and lexical resources, taggs them morphologically, and makes them available online, and has produced a concordance of the Old Syriac Version of the Gospels. More involved linguistic analysis of Syriac texts is part of the CALAP and Turgama projects of the Peshitta Institute where the aim is to analyze texts at the word, phrase, clause, and text levels.

2. Word processing and desktop publishing. The first publications that employed computer technology for the production of Syriac text, viz. the concordances of the Göttingen project, used plotter technology. With the rise of personal computers in the early 1980s, a number of non-commercial Macintosh-based outline fonts were available. Users of the DOS platform primarily used the bitmap fonts made by Alaph Beth Computer System for a program called Multi-Lingual Scholar (Gamma Productions, Inc.) from 1986 onward. When Windows became ubiquitous in the 1990s, a few TrueType outline fonts became available, but texts had to be typed either backward or on the Arabic version of Windows. The development of the bi-directional Windows 2000 and XP operating systems provided native bi-directional editing for the first time at the operating system level. At the same time, OpenType font technology allowed for encoding language-specific features of a script (e.g., shapes of letters, joining rules, ligatures, etc.) inside the font itself. The primary fonts that made use of these technologies are Meltho fonts by S. Hasso, G. Kiraz, and P. Nelson. Numerous other fonts have become available recently. Yannis Haralambous designed a system called Sabra for the TeX typesetting system, which was used in a few publications.

3. Standards. In February 1998, a proposal was presented to the Unicode Consortium to add Syriac to Unicode, an encoding system for scripts. Syriac became officially part of Unicode 3.0 in 2000. Six Syriac letters for use in Sogdian and Persian were incorporated into Unicode 5.0 in 2007. Syriac letters used for Malayalam Garshuni have not yet been proposed. The name of the Syriac language is also part of ISO 639 where it is designated by ‘Sy’ in the two-letter codes and ‘Syr’ in the three-letter codes.

4. Digitization of mss. and books. The Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML) digitized a few Syriac manuscripts from European libraries in the 1970s as part of a larger digitization project that did not primarily involve Syriac. In 2000 and 2002 Brigham Young University digitized 33 mss. from the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana and published them on a CD ROM. From 2003, HMML began a systematic effort to digitize Syriac collections in the Middle East including the libraries of Balamand, Kaslik (started by BYU), and the monasteries and churches of the Lebanese Maronite Order (ca. 1,000 mss), the Bibliothèque Orientale, Université Saint-Joseph (also started by BYU), Mardin (both the Church of the Forty Martyrs and Dayr al-Zaʿfarān, ca. 1100 mss), Monastery of Mor Gabriel (ca. 450 mss), Aleppo (Syr. Orth. and Syr. Cath., ca. 775 mss), and the Missionaires Libanais in Jounieh (ca. 1000 mss). Work is underway in Ḥimṣ and Kerala (where Istvan Perzcel initiated a digitization project). Beth Mardutho: The Syriac Institute initiated a digitization project of printed books. The main digitization took place at the ICOR Library of the Catholic University of America in 2004 with BYU as a partner. Beth Mardutho’s collection of ca. 700 books was deposited with HMML. BYU digitized ca. 400 books. Mass digitization projects by Google, Microsoft, and others incidentally contain digital versions of books on Syriac studies.


  • J. D. Allen et al. (eds.), The Unicode Standard, Version 5.0 (2007).
  • P. Borbone, ‘Un programma per l’elaborazione di testi siriaci e un progetto di redazione di concordanze della Peshitta’, in SymSyr V 439–50.
  • K.  Heal, ‘Vatican Syriac Manuscripts: Volume 1’, Hugoye 8.1 (2005).
  • G. A.  Kiraz, ‘Forty Years of Syriac Computing’, Hugoye 10.1 (2007), 33–52.
  • G. A. Kiraz (ed.), SyrCOM–95, Proceedings of the First International Forum on Syriac Computing (1995).
  • G. A. Kiraz, SyrCOM–96, Proceedings of the Second International Forum on Syriac Computing (1996).
  • G. A. Kiraz, SyrCOM–99, Proceedings of the Third International Forum on Syriac Computing (1999).
  • M.  Zumpe, Technische Aspekte der Göttinger Syrischen Konkordanz (Deutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft Vorderer Orient, September 2001).

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