Canaanite languages or Canaanite dialects are one of the four
subgroups of the Northwest Semitic languages, the others being
Ugaritic and Amorite. They were spoken by the ancient Semitic
people of the
Levant regions, an area encompassing what are
today Israel, Jordan, Sinai, Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian
territories, and also some fringe areas of southern
Turkey and the
northern Arabian peninsula. The
Canaanites are broadly defined to
Judeans and Samaritans), Phoenicians
(including Carthaginians), Amorites, Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites,
Suteans, Ekronites, and Amalekites. The
Canaanite languages had ceased
to be everyday spoken languages by the 1st millennium AD, but Hebrew
remained in continuous use by many Jews since that period into
medieval times as a liturgical language, as a literary language, and
for commerce, until it was revived as an everyday spoken language in
the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and became the main language
of the Jews of Palestine and later the State of Israel.
Hebrew is the
only living Canaanite language today.
This family of languages has the distinction of being the first
historically attested group of languages to use an alphabet, derived
from the Proto-Canaanite alphabet, to record their writings, as
opposed to the far earlier
Cuneiform of the region.
The primary reference for extra-biblical Canaanite inscriptions,
together with Aramaic inscriptions, is the German-language book
"Kanaanäische und Aramäische Inschriften", from which inscriptions
are often referenced as KAI n (for a number n).
1 Classification and sources
1.1 North Canaan
1.2 South Canaan
2 Comparison to Aramaic
4 See also
7 External links
Classification and sources
Canaanite languages or dialects can be split into the
Phoenician. The main sources are Ahiram sarcophagus inscription,
sarcophagus of Eshmunazar, the Tabnit sarcophagus, the Kilamuwa
inscription, the Cippi of Melqart, the other Byblian royal
inscriptions. For later Punic: in Plautus' play
Poenulus at the
beginning of the fifth act.
Hebrew died out as an everyday spoken language between 200 and 400 AD,
but remained in continuous use by many Jews since that period, as a
written language, a read language and by many people a spoken language
as well. It was primarily used in liturgy, literature, and commerce
well into medieval times. Beginning in the late 19th century, it was
revived as an everyday spoken language by Jews in Palestine and Europe
Zionism emerged as a political movement and Jews began returning to
Palestine in increasing numbers, and it became the lingua franca of
the growing Jewish community there. After the State of
established, it became the main language of the country. Slightly
different dialects of the language were used at different times, but
overall it is as much the
Hebrew language as the various forms of
Hebrew in the first Millennium BC were one language.
Hebrew is the
only Canaanite language that is a living language, and the only truly
successful example of a revived dead language.
The main sources of Classical
Hebrew are the various books of the
Jewish Bible (Tanakh).
Ammonite – an extinct Hebraic dialect of the Ammonite people
mentioned in the Bible.
Moabite – an extinct Hebraic dialect of the Moabite people mentioned
in the Bible. The main sources are the
Mesha Stele and El-Kerak Stela.
Edomite – an extinct Hebraic dialect of the Edomite people mentioned
in the Bible.
Other possible Canaanite languages:
Ugaritic, although the inclusion of this language within Canaanite is
The Deir Alla Inscription, written in a dialect with Aramaic and South
Canaanite characteristics, which is classified as Canaanite in
Ekronite or Philistine Semitic - not to be confused with the
non-Semitic (assumed Indo-European) Philistine language. The former is
attested by several dozen inscriptions in Phoenician script scattered
along Israel's southwest coast, in particular the
Comparison to Aramaic
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Some distinctive typological features of Canaanite in relation to
The prefix h- used as the definite article (Aramaic has a postfixed
-a). That seems to be an innovation of Canaanite.
The first person pronoun being ʼnk (אנכ anok(i), versus Aramaic
ʼnʼ/ʼny', which is similar to Akkadian, Ancient Egyptian and
The *ā > ō vowel shift (Canaanite shift).
Modern Hebrew, revived in the modern era from an extinct dialect of
Israelites preserved in literature, poetry, liturgy; also
known as Classical Hebrew, the oldest form of the language attested in
writing. The original pronunciation of
Biblical Hebrew is accessible
only through reconstruction. It may also include Ancient Samaritan
Hebrew, an dialect formerly spoken by the ancient Samaritans. The main
sources of Classical
Hebrew are the
Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), and
inscriptions such as the Gezer calendar, Khirbet Qeiyafa pottery
shard. All of the other Cannanite languages seem to have become
extinct by the early 1st millennium AD.
Slightly varying forms of
Hebrew preserved from the First Millennium
BC until modern times include:
Hebrew – Masoretic scholars living in the Jewish community
Tiberias in Palestine c. 750-950 AD.
Hebrew – Mizrahi Jews, liturgical
Hebrew – Yemenite Jews, liturgical
Hebrew – Sephardi Jews, liturgical
Hebrew – Ashkenazi Jews, liturgical
Hebrew (Rabbinical Hebrew) – Jews, liturgical, rabbinical,
any of the
Hebrew dialects found in the Talmud.
Hebrew – Jews, liturgical, poetical, rabbinical,
scientific, literary; lingua franca based on Bible, Mishna and
neologisms forms created by translators and commentators
Hebrew – Jews, scientific, literary and journalistic
language based on Biblical but enriched with neologisms created by
writers and journalists, a transition to the later
Hebrew used in
Hebrew – Samaritans, liturgical
The Phoenician and Carthaginian expansion spread the Phoenician
language and its Punic dialect to the
Western Mediterranean for a
time, but there too it died out, although it seems to have survived
slightly longer than in
Northwest Semitic languages
Classification of Semitic languages
^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds.
Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck
Institute for the Science of Human History.
^ a b Rendsburg 1997, p. 65.
^ For example, the
Mesha Stele is "KAI 181".
^ Waltke & O'Connor (1990:8): "The extrabiblical linguistic
material from the iron Age is primarily epigraphic, that is, texts
written on hard materials (pottery, stones, walls, etc.). The
epigraphic texts from Israelite territory are written in
Hebrew in a
form of the language which may be called Inscriptional Hebrew; this
"dialect" is not strikingly different from the
Hebrew preserved in the
Masoretic text. Unfortunately, it is meagerly attested. Similarly
limited are the epigraphic materials in the other South Canaanite
dialects, Moabite and Ammonite; Edomite is so poorly attested that we
are not sure that it is a South Canaanite dialect, though that seems
likely. Of greater interest and bulk is the body of Central Canaanite
inscriptions, those written in the
Phoenician language of Tyre, Sidon,
and Byblos, and in the offshoot Punic and Neo-Punic tongues of the
Phoenician colonies in North Africa. An especially problematic body of
material is the Deir Alla wall inscriptions referring to a prophet
Balaam (ca. 700 BC), these texts have both Canaanite and Aramaic
features. W. R. Garr has recently proposed that all the Iron Age
Canaanite dialects be regarded as forming a chain that actually
includes the oldest forms of Aramaic as well."
The Semitic Languages. Routledge Language Family Descriptions. Edited
by Robert Hetzron. New York: Routledge, 1997.
Garnier, Romain; Jacques, Guillaume (2012). "A neglected phonetic law:
The assimilation of pretonic yod to a following coronal in North-West
Semitic". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies.
75.1: 135–145. doi:10.1017/s0041977x11001261.
Rendsburg, Gary (1997). "Ancient
Hebrew Phonology". Phonologies of
Asia and Africa: Including the Caucasus. Eisenbrauns. p. 65.
Waltke, Bruce K.; O'Connor, M. (1990). An Introduction to Biblical
Hebrew Syntax. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns.
Some West Semitic Inscriptions
How the Alphabet Was Born from Hieroglyphs Biblical Archaeology Review
East Semitic languages
West Semitic and Central Semitic languages
Jewish Babylonian Aramaic
Koy Sanjaq Surat
Eastern Egyptian and Peninsular Bedawi
South Semitic languages
Silt'e (Wolane, Ulbareg, Inneqor)
Modern South Arabian