Gimel is the third letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Gīml , Hebrew ˈGimel ג, Aramaic Gāmal , Syriac Gāmal ܓ, and Arabic ǧīm ج (in alphabetical order; fifth in spelling order). Its sound-value in the original Phoenician and in all derived alphabets, except Arabic, is a voiced velar plosive [ɡ]; in Modern Standard Arabic, it represents either a /d͡ʒ/ or /ʒ/ for most Arabic speakers except in Lower Egypt, the southern parts of Yemen and some parts of Oman where it is pronounced as a voiced velar plosive [ɡ] (see below).
In its unattested, yet hypothetical, Proto-Canaanite form, the letter may have been named after a weapon that was either a staff sling or a throwing stick, ultimately deriving from a Proto-Sinaitic glyph based on the hieroglyph below:
Bertrand Russell posits that the letter's form is a conventionalized image of a camel. The letter may be the shape of the walking animal's head, neck, and forelegs. Barry B. Powell, a specialist in the history of writing, states "It is hard to imagine how gimel = "camel" can be derived from the picture of a camel (it may show his hump, or his head and neck!)".
Gimel is one of the six letters which can receive a dagesh qal. The two functions of dagesh are distinguished as either qal (light) or hazaq (strong). The six letters that can receive a dagesh qal are bet, gimel, daled, kaph, pe, and taf. Three of them (bet, kaph, and pe) have their sound value changed in modern Hebrew from the fricative to the plosive by adding a dagesh. The other three represent the same pronunciation in modern Hebrew, but have had alternate pronunciations at other times and places. They are essentially pronounced in the fricative as ג gh غ, dh ذ and th ث. In the Temani pronunciation, gimel represents /ɡ/, /ʒ/, or /d͡ʒ/ when with a dagesh, and /ɣ/ without a dagesh. In modern Hebrew, the combination ג׳ (gimel followed by a geresh) is used in loanwords and foreign names to denote [d͡ʒ].
It is written like a vav with a yud as a "foot", and is traditionally believed to resemble a person in motion; symbolically, a rich man running after a poor man to give him charity. In the Hebrew alphabet gimel directly precedes dalet, which signifies a poor or lowly man, from the Hebrew word dal (b. Shabbat, 104a).
The word gimel is related to gemul, which means 'justified repayment', or the giving of reward and punishment.
In Modern Hebrew, the frequency of usage of gimel, out of all the letters, is 1.26%.
In the Syriac alphabet, the third letter is ܓ — Gamal in eastern pronunciation, Gomal in western pronunciation (ܓܵܡܵܠ). It is one of six letters that represent two associated sounds (the others are Bet, Dalet, Kaph, Pe and Taw). When Gamal/Gomal has a hard pronunciation (qûššāyâ ) it represents [ɡ], like "goat". When Gamal/Gomal has a soft pronunciation (rûkkāḵâ ) it traditionally represents [ɣ] (ܓ݂ܵܡܵܠ), or Ghamal/Ghomal. The letter, renamed Jamal/Jomal, is written with a tilde/tie either below or within it to represent the borrowed phoneme [d͡ʒ] (ܓ̰ܡܵܠ), which is used in Garshuni and some Neo-Aramaic languages to write loan and foreign words from Arabic or Persian.
The Arabic letter ج is named جيم ǧīm [d͡ʒiːm, ʒiːm, ɡiːm, ɟiːm]. It is written in several ways depending on its position in the word:
In most Modern Standard Arabic (Literary Arabic) registers and languages that use the Arabic script (e.g. Persian, Urdu, Pashto, Uyghur, Malay, etc)[clarification needed] The standard pronunciation taught outside the Arabic speaking world is an affricate [d͡ʒ], which was the agreed upon pronunciation by the end of the nineteenth century to recite the Qur'an. It is pronounced as a fricative [ʒ] in most of Northern Africa and the Levant, and [ɡ] is the prestigious and most common pronunciation in Egypt which is also found in Southern Arabian Peninsula. Differences in pronunciation occur because speakers of Modern Standard Arabic pronounce words in accordance to their spoken variety of Arabic. In such varieties, cognate words will have consistent differences in pronunciation of the letter:
Egyptians always use the letter to represent [ɡ] as well as in names and loanwords, such as جولف "golf". However, ج may be used in Egypt to transcribe /ʒ~d͡ʒ/ (normally pronounced [ʒ]) or if there is a need to differentiate between them completely then چ can be used instead to represent /ʒ/, which is also a proposal for Mehri and Soqotri languages.
While in most Semitic languages, e.g. Aramaic, Hebrew, Ge'ez, Old South Arabian the Gimel represents a [ɡ], Arabic is considered unique among them where the Gimel or Jīm ⟨ج⟩ was palatalized to an affricate [d͡ʒ] or a fricative [ʒ] in most dialects from classical times. While there is variation in Modern Arabic varieties, most of them reflect this palatalized pronunciation except in Egyptian Arabic and a number of Yemeni and Omani dialects, where it is pronounced as [ɡ] due to their substrate languages being Old South Arabian languages.
It is not well known when this change occurred or the probability of it being connected to the pronunciation of Qāf ⟨ق⟩ as a [ɡ], but in most of the Arabian peninsula (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE and parts of Yemen and Oman) which is the homeland of the Arabic language, the ⟨ج⟩ represents a [d͡ʒ] and ⟨ق⟩ represents a [ɡ], except in western and southern Yemen and southern Oman where ⟨ج⟩ represents a [ɡ] and ⟨ق⟩ represents a [q], which shows a strong correlation between the palatalization of ⟨ج⟩ to [d͡ʒ] and the pronunciation of the ⟨ق⟩ as a [ɡ] as shown in the table below: