Semitic languages
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The Semitic languages are a branch of the
Afroasiatic language family
Afroasiatic language family
. They are spoken by more than 330 million people across much of
West Asia
West Asia
, the
Horn of Africa
Horn of Africa
, and latterly
North Africa
North Africa
,
Malta
Malta
,
West Africa
West Africa
,
Chad
Chad
, and in large
immigrant
immigrant
and expatriate communities in
North America
North America
,
Europe
Europe
, and
Australasia
Australasia
. The terminology was first used in the 1780s by members of the Göttingen school of history, who derived the name from Shem, one of the three sons of Noah in the
Book of Genesis
Book of Genesis
. Semitic languages occur in written form from a very early historical date in West Asia, with East Semitic
Akkadian
Akkadian
and Eblaite texts (written in a script adapted from Sumerian
cuneiform
cuneiform
) appearing from the 30th century BCE and the 25th century BCE in
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia
and the north eastern
Levant
Levant
respectively. The only earlier attested languages are
Sumerian
Sumerian
and Elamite (2800 BCE to 550 BCE), both language isolates, and Egyptian (a sister branch of the Afroasiatic family, related to the Semitic languages but not part of them). Amorite appeared in Mesopotamia and the northern Levant circa 2000 BC, followed by the mutually intelligible Canaanite languages (including Hebrew, Phoenician, Moabite, Edomite and Ammonite, and perhaps Ekronite, Amalekite and Sutean), the still spoken Aramaic, and Ugaritic during the 2nd millennium BC. Most scripts used to write Semitic languages are
abjad An abjad (, ar, أبجد; also abgad) is a writing system in which only consonants are represented, leaving vowel sounds to be inferred by the reader. This contrasts with other alphabets, which provide graphemes for both consonants and vowels ...
sa type of
alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written graphemes (called letter (alphabet), letters) that represent the phonemes of certain spoken languages. Not all writing systems represent language in this way; in a syllabary, each character ...
ic script that omits some or all of the vowels, which is feasible for these languages because the consonants are the primary carriers of meaning in the Semitic languages. These include the Ugaritic, Phoenician,
Aramaic Aramaic ( syc, ܐܪܡܝܐ, Arāmāyā; oar, 𐤀𐤓𐤌𐤉𐤀; arc, 𐡀𐡓𐡌𐡉𐡀; tmr, אֲרָמִית) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic languages, Semitic language that originated in the ancient Syria (regio ...
,
Hebrew Hebrew (; ; ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-surviving descendants, ...
, Syriac,
Arabic Arabic (, ' ; , ' or ) is a Semitic languages, Semitic language spoken primarily across the Arab world.Semitic languages: an international handbook / edited by Stefan Weninger; in collaboration with Geoffrey Khan, Michael P. Streck, Janet C ...
, and ancient South Arabian alphabets. The Geʽez script, used for writing the Semitic languages of
Ethiopia Ethiopia, , om, Itiyoophiyaa, so, Itoobiya, ti, ኢትዮጵያ, Ítiyop'iya, aa, Itiyoppiya officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a landlocked country in the Horn of Africa. It shares borders with Eritrea to the ...
and
Eritrea Eritrea ( ; ti, ኤርትራ, Ertra, ; ar, إرتريا, ʾIritriyā), officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa region of Eastern Africa, with its capital and largest city at Asmara. It is bordered by Ethiopia ...
, is technically an
abugida An abugida (, from Ge'ez language, Ge'ez: ), sometimes known as alphasyllabary, neosyllabary or pseudo-alphabet, is a segmental Writing systems#Segmental writing system, writing system in which consonant-vowel sequences are written as units; ...
a modified abjad in which vowels are notated using
diacritic A diacritic (also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign, or accent) is a glyph added to a letter (alphabet), letter or to a basic glyph. The term derives from the Ancient Greek (, "distinguishing"), from (, "to distinguish"). T ...
marks added to the consonants at all times, in contrast with other Semitic languages which indicate vowels based on need or for introductory purposes. Maltese is the only Semitic language written in the
Latin script The Latin script, also known as Roman script, is an alphabetic writing system based on the letters of the classical Latin alphabet, derived from a form of the Greek alphabet which was in use in the ancient Greece, Greek city of Cumae, in southe ...
and the only Semitic language to be an official language of the
European Union The European Union (EU) is a supranational union, supranational political union, political and economic union of Member state of the European Union, member states that are located primarily in Europe, Europe. The union has a total area of ...
. The Semitic languages are notable for their nonconcatenative morphology. That is, word roots are not themselves syllables or words, but instead are isolated sets of consonants (usually three, making a so-called ''
triliteral root The root (linguistics), roots of verbs and most nouns in the Semitic languages are characterized as a sequence of consonants or "wikt:radical, radicals" (hence the term consonantal root). Such abstract consonantal roots are used in the formation of ...
''). Words are composed out of roots not so much by adding prefixes or suffixes, but rather by filling in the vowels ''between'' the root consonants (although prefixes and suffixes are often added as well). For example, in Arabic, the root meaning "write" has the form '' k-t-b''. From this root, words are formed by filling in the vowels and sometimes adding consonants, e.g. كتاب ''kitāb'' "book", كتب ''kutub'' "books", كاتب ''kātib'' "writer", كتّاب ''kuttāb'' "writers", كتب ''kataba'' "he wrote", يكتب ''yaktubu'' "he writes", etc.


Name and identification

The similarity of the Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic languages has been accepted by all scholars since medieval times. The languages were familiar to Western European scholars due to historical contact with neighbouring
Near East The ''Near East''; he, המזרח הקרוב; arc, ܕܢܚܐ ܩܪܒ; fa, خاور نزدیک, Xāvar-e nazdik; tr, Yakın Doğu is a geographical term which roughly encompasses a transcontinental region in Western Asia, that was once the hist ...
ern countries and through Biblical studies, and a comparative analysis of Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic was published in Latin in 1538 by
Guillaume Postel Guillaume Postel (25 March 1510 – 6 September 1581) was a French people, French linguist, astronomer, Christian Kabbalah, Christian Kabbalist, diplomat, polyglot, professor, Religious universalism, religious universalist, and writer. Born in ...
. Almost two centuries later, Hiob Ludolf described the similarities between these three languages and the Ethiopian Semitic languages. However, neither scholar named this grouping as "Semitic". The term "Semitic" was created by members of the Göttingen School of History, initially by August Ludwig von Schlözer (1781), to designate the languages closely related to Arabic, Aramaic, and Hebrew. The choice of name was derived from Shem, one of the three sons of Noah in the genealogical accounts of the biblical
Book of Genesis
Book of Genesis
, or more precisely from the
Koine Greek Koine Greek (; Koine el, ἡ κοινὴ διάλεκτος, hē koinè diálektos, the common dialect; ), also known as Hellenistic Greek, common Attic, the Alexandrian dialect, Biblical Greek or New Testament Greek, was the common supra-reg ...
rendering of the name, . Johann Gottfried Eichhorn is credited with popularising the term, particularly via a 1795 article "Semitische Sprachen" (''Semitic languages'') in which he justified the terminology against criticism that Hebrew and Canaanite were the same language despite Canaan being " Hamitic" in the Table of Nations: Previously these languages had been commonly known as the "" in European literature. In the 19th century, "Semitic" became the conventional name; however, an alternative name, "", was later introduced by James Cowles Prichard and used by some writers.


History


Ancient Semitic-speaking peoples

Semitic languages were spoken and written across much of the
Middle East The Middle East ( ar, الشرق الأوسط, ISO 233: ) is a geopolitical region commonly encompassing Arabian Peninsula, Arabia (including the Arabian Peninsula and Bahrain), Anatolia, Asia Minor (Asian part of Turkey except Hatay Pro ...
and
Asia Minor Anatolia (also Asia Minor), is a large peninsula in Western Asia and is the western-most extension of continental Asia. The land mass of Anatolia constitutes most of the territory of contemporary Turkey. Geographically, the Anatolian region i ...
during the
Bronze Age The Bronze Age is a historic period, lasting approximately from 3300 BC to 1200 BC, characterized by the use of bronze Bronze is an alloy consisting primarily of copper, commonly with about 12–12.5% tin and often with the addition of ...
and
Iron Age The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age division of the prehistory and protohistory of humanity. It was preceded by the Stone Age (Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic) and the Bronze Age (Chalcolithic). The concept has been mostly appl ...
, the earliest attested being the East Semitic
Akkadian
Akkadian
of
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia
( Akkad,
Assyria Assyria (Neo-Assyrian cuneiform: , romanized: ''māt Aššur''; syc, ܐܬܘܪ, ʾāthor) was a major ancient Mesopotamia, Mesopotamian civilization which existed as a city-state from the 21st century BC to the 14th century BC, then to a terr ...
, Isin,
Larsa Larsa (Sumerian language, Sumerian logogram: UD.UNUGKI, read ''Larsamki''), also referred to as Larancha/Laranchon (Gk. Λαραγχων) by Berossus, Berossos and connected with the biblical Arioch, Ellasar, was an important city-state of anci ...
and
Babylonia Babylonia (; Akkadian: , ''māt Akkadī'') was an ancient Akkadian-speaking state and cultural area based in the city of Babylon in central-southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq and parts of Syria). It emerged as an Amorites, Amorite-ruled ...
) from the third millennium BC. The origin of Semitic-speaking peoples is still under discussion. Several locations were proposed as possible sites of a prehistoric origin of Semitic-speaking peoples:
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia
, the
Levant
Levant
,
Ethiopia Ethiopia, , om, Itiyoophiyaa, so, Itoobiya, ti, ኢትዮጵያ, Ítiyop'iya, aa, Itiyoppiya officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a landlocked country in the Horn of Africa. It shares borders with Eritrea to the ...
the
Eastern Mediterranean Eastern Mediterranean is a loose definition of the East, eastern approximate One half, half, or third, of the Mediterranean Sea, often defined as the countries around the Levantine Sea. It typically embraces all of that sea's coastal zones, refe ...
region, the
Arabian Peninsula The Arabian Peninsula, (; ar, شِبْهُ الْجَزِيرَةِ الْعَرَبِيَّة, , "Arabian Peninsula" or , , "Island of the Arabs") or Arabia, is a peninsula of Western Asia, situated northeast of Africa Africa is t ...
, and
North Africa
North Africa
. Some claim that the Semitic languages originated in the
Levant
Levant
around 3800 BC, and were introduced to the
Horn of Africa
Horn of Africa
at about 800 BC from the southern Arabian peninsula, and to
North Africa
North Africa
via
Phoenicia Phoenicia () was an ancient Semitic-speaking peoples, ancient thalassocracy, thalassocratic civilization originating in the Levant region of the eastern Mediterranean, primarily located in modern Lebanon. The territory of the Phoenician city-st ...
n colonists at approximately the same time. Others assign the arrival of Semitic speakers in the
Horn of Africa
Horn of Africa
to a much earlier date and many scholars now think that Semitic originated from an offshoot of a still earlier language in North Africa perhaps in the southeastern
Sahara , photo = Sahara real color.jpg , photo_caption = The Sahara taken by Apollo 17 astronauts, 1972 , map = , map_image = , location = , country = , country1 = , ...
and it might have been the process desertization that forced its inhabitants to migrate in the fourth millennium BC some southeast into what is now
Ethiopia Ethiopia, , om, Itiyoophiyaa, so, Itoobiya, ti, ኢትዮጵያ, Ítiyop'iya, aa, Itiyoppiya officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a landlocked country in the Horn of Africa. It shares borders with Eritrea to the ...
, others northwest out of Africa into
Canaan Canaan (; Phoenician language, Phoenician: 𐤊𐤍𐤏𐤍 – ; he, כְּנַעַן – , in pausa – ; grc-bib, Χανααν – ;The current scholarly edition of the Septuagint, Greek Old Testament spells the word without any accents, c ...
,
Syria Syria ( ar, سُورِيَا or سُورِيَة, translit=Sūriyā), officially the Syrian Arab Republic ( ar, الجمهورية العربية السورية, al-Jumhūrīyah al-ʻArabīyah as-Sūrīyah), is a Western Asian country loc ...
and the Mesopotamian valley The various extremely closely related and
mutually intelligible In linguistics, mutual intelligibility is a relationship between languages or dialects in which speakers of different but related Variety (linguistics), varieties can readily understand each other without prior familiarity or special effort. It ...
Canaanite languages, a branch of the Northwest Semitic languages included Amorite, first attested in the 21st century BC, Edomite,
Hebrew Hebrew (; ; ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-surviving descendants, ...
, Ammonite, Moabite, Phoenician (
Punic The Punic people, or western Phoenicians, were a Semitic people, Semitic people in the Western Mediterranean who migrated from Tyre, Lebanon, Tyre, Phoenicia to North Africa during the Iron Age, Early Iron Age. In modern scholarship, the term '' ...
/ Carthaginian), Samaritan Hebrew, Ekronite, Amalekite and Sutean. They were spoken in what is today
Israel Israel (; he, יִשְׂרָאֵל, ; ar, إِسْرَائِيل, ), officially the State of Israel ( he, מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, label=none, translit=Medīnat Yīsrāʾēl; ), is a country in Western Asia. It is situated ...
,
Syria Syria ( ar, سُورِيَا or سُورِيَة, translit=Sūriyā), officially the Syrian Arab Republic ( ar, الجمهورية العربية السورية, al-Jumhūrīyah al-ʻArabīyah as-Sūrīyah), is a Western Asian country loc ...
,
Lebanon Lebanon ( , ar, لُبْنَان, translit=lubnān, ), officially the Republic of Lebanon () or the Lebanese Republic, is a country in Western Asia. It is located between Syria to Lebanon–Syria border, the north and east and Israel to Blue ...
, the
Palestinian territories The Palestinian territories are the two regions of the former British Mandate for Palestine that have been militarily occupied by Israel Israel (; he, יִשְׂרָאֵל, ; ar, إِسْرَائِيل, ), officially the State of ...
,
Jordan Jordan ( ar, الأردن; Romanization of Arabic, tr. ' ), officially the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,; Romanization of Arabic, tr. ' is a country in Western Asia. It is situated at the crossroads of Asia, Africa, and Europe, within the Levan ...
, the northern
Sinai peninsula The Sinai Peninsula, or simply Sinai (now usually ) (, , cop, Ⲥⲓⲛⲁ), is a peninsula in Egypt, and the only part of the country located in Asia. It is between the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Red Sea to the south, and is a l ...
, some northern and eastern parts of the
Arabian peninsula The Arabian Peninsula, (; ar, شِبْهُ الْجَزِيرَةِ الْعَرَبِيَّة, , "Arabian Peninsula" or , , "Island of the Arabs") or Arabia, is a peninsula of Western Asia, situated northeast of Africa Africa is t ...
, southwest fringes of
Turkey Turkey ( tr, Türkiye ), officially the Republic of Türkiye ( tr, Türkiye Cumhuriyeti, links=no ), is a transcontinental country located mainly on the Anatolia, Anatolian Peninsula in Western Asia, with a East Thrace, small portion on th ...
, and in the case of Phoenician, coastal regions of
Tunisia ) , image_map = Tunisia location (orthographic projection).svg , map_caption = Location of Tunisia in northern Africa , image_map2 = , capital = Tunis , largest_city = capital , ...
(
Carthage Carthage was the capital city of Ancient Carthage, on the eastern side of the Lake of Tunis in what is now Tunisia ) , image_map = Tunisia location (orthographic projection).svg , map_caption = Location of Tunisia in ...
),
Libya Libya (; ar, ليبيا, Lībiyā), officially the State of Libya ( ar, دولة ليبيا, Dawlat Lībiyā), is a country in the Maghreb region in North Africa. It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to Egypt–Libya bo ...
,
Algeria ) , image_map = Algeria (centered orthographic projection).svg , map_caption = , image_map2 = , capital = Algiers , coordinates = , largest_city = capital , religi ...
and parts of
Morocco Morocco (),, ) officially the Kingdom of Morocco, is the westernmost country in the Maghreb region of North Africa. It overlooks the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and has land borders with Algeria to A ...
,
Spain , image_flag = Bandera de España.svg , image_coat = Escudo de España (mazonado).svg , national_motto = ''Plus ultra'' (Latin)(English: "Further Beyond") , national_anthem = (English: "Royal March") , i ...
and possibly in
Malta
Malta
and other Mediterranean islands. Ugaritic, a
Northwest Semitic Northwest Semitic is a division of the Semitic languages comprising the indigenous languages of the Levant. It emerged from Proto-Semitic language, Proto-Semitic in the Early Bronze Age. It is first attested in proper names identified as Amorite ...
language closely related to but distinct from the Canaanite group was spoken in the kingdom of
Ugarit Ugarit (; uga, 𐎜𐎂𐎗𐎚, ''ʾUgarītu''; ar, أُوغَارِيت ''Ūġārīt'' or ''Ūǧārīt'') was an ancient port city in northern Syria, in the outskirts of modern Latakia, discovered by accident in 1928 together with the Ugariti ...
in north western Syria. A hybrid Canaano-Akkadian language also emerged in Canaan (Israel, Jordan, Lebanon) during the 14th century BC, incorporating elements of the Mesopotamian East Semitic Akkadian language of Assyria and Babylonia with the West Semitic Canaanite languages.
Aramaic Aramaic ( syc, ܐܪܡܝܐ, Arāmāyā; oar, 𐤀𐤓𐤌𐤉𐤀; arc, 𐡀𐡓𐡌𐡉𐡀; tmr, אֲרָמִית) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic languages, Semitic language that originated in the ancient Syria (regio ...
, a still living ancient
Northwest Semitic Northwest Semitic is a division of the Semitic languages comprising the indigenous languages of the Levant. It emerged from Proto-Semitic language, Proto-Semitic in the Early Bronze Age. It is first attested in proper names identified as Amorite ...
language, first attested in the 12th century BC in the northern
Levant
Levant
, gradually replaced the East Semitic and Canaanite languages across much of the Near East, particularly after being adopted as the
lingua franca A lingua franca (; ; for plurals see ), also known as a bridge language, common language, trade language, auxiliary language, vehicular language, or link language, is a Natural language, language systematically used to make communication possib ...
of the vast
Neo-Assyrian Empire The Neo-Assyrian Empire was the fourth and penultimate stage of ancient Assyrian history and the final and greatest phase of Assyria as an independent state. Beginning with the accession of Adad-nirari II in 911 BC, the Neo-Assyrian Empire grew t ...
(911–605 BC) by
Tiglath-Pileser III Tiglath-Pileser III (Neo-Assyrian cuneiform: , meaning "my trust belongs to the son of Ešarra"), was the king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire from 745 BC to his death in 727. One of the most prominent and historically significant Assyrian kings, Tig ...
during the 8th century BC, and being retained by the succeeding
Neo-Babylonian The Neo-Babylonian Empire or Second Babylonian Empire, historically known as the Chaldean Empire, was the last polity ruled by monarchs native to Mesopotamia. Beginning with the coronation of Nabopolassar as the List of kings of Babylon, King of B ...
and
Achaemenid Empire The Achaemenid Empire or Achaemenian Empire (; peo, wikt:𐎧𐏁𐏂𐎶, 𐎧𐏁𐏂, , ), also called the First Persian Empire, was an History of Iran#Classical antiquity, ancient Iranian empire founded by Cyrus the Great in 550 BC. Bas ...
s. The ''Chaldean language'' (not to be confused with Aramaic or its Biblical variant, sometimes referred to as ''Chaldean'') was a
Northwest Semitic Northwest Semitic is a division of the Semitic languages comprising the indigenous languages of the Levant. It emerged from Proto-Semitic language, Proto-Semitic in the Early Bronze Age. It is first attested in proper names identified as Amorite ...
language, possibly closely related to Aramaic, but no examples of the language remain, as after settling in south eastern Mesopotamia from the Levant during the 9th century BC, the
Chaldea Chaldea () was a small country that existed between the late 10th or early 9th and mid-6th centuries BCE, after which the country and its people were absorbed and assimilated into the indigenous population of Babylonia Babylonia (; Akkadia ...
ns appear to have rapidly adopted the Akkadian and Aramaic languages of the indigenous Mesopotamians. Old South Arabian languages (classified as South Semitic and therefore distinct from the Central-Semitic Arabic) were spoken in the kingdoms of
Dilmun Dilmun, or Telmun, (Sumerian language, Sumerian: , later 𒉌𒌇(𒆠), ni.tukki = DILMUNki; ar, دلمون) was an ancient East Semitic-speaking civilization in Eastern Arabia mentioned from the 3rd millennium BC onwards. Based on contextual ...
,
Meluhha or ( sux, ) is the Sumerian language, Sumerian name of a prominent trading partner of Sumer during the Middle Bronze Age. Its identification remains an open question, but most scholars associate it with the Indus Valley civilisation. Etymolo ...
, Sheba, Ubar, Socotra and Magan, which in modern terms encompassed part of the eastern coast of
Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia, officially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), is a country in Western Asia. It covers the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and has a land area of about , making it the List of Asian countries by area, fifth-largest country in Asia ...
, and
Bahrain Bahrain ( ; ; ar, البحرين, al-Bahrayn, locally ), officially the Kingdom of Bahrain, ' is an island country in Western Asia. It is situated on the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, Persian Gulf, and comprises a small archipelago made u ...
,
Qatar Qatar (, ; ar, قطر, Qaṭar ; local vernacular pronunciation: ), officially the State of Qatar,) is a country in Western Asia. It occupies the Qatar Peninsula on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula in the Middle East; it sha ...
,
Oman Oman ( ; ar, عُمَان ' ), officially the Sultanate of Oman ( ar, سلْطنةُ عُمان ), is an Arabian country located in southwestern Asia. It is situated on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and spans the mouth of t ...
and
Yemen Yemen (; ar, ٱلْيَمَن, al-Yaman), officially the Republic of Yemen,, ) is a country in Western Asia. It is situated on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, and borders Saudi Arabia to the Saudi Arabia–Yemen border, north and ...
. South Semitic languages are thought to have spread to the
Horn of Africa
Horn of Africa
circa 8th century BC where the Ge'ez language emerged (though the direction of influence remains uncertain).


Common Era

The
Akkadian
Akkadian
-influenced Syriac, a 5th-century BC Mesopotamian ( Assyrian) descendant of Aramaic used in
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia
, northeastern
Syria Syria ( ar, سُورِيَا or سُورِيَة, translit=Sūriyā), officially the Syrian Arab Republic ( ar, الجمهورية العربية السورية, al-Jumhūrīyah al-ʻArabīyah as-Sūrīyah), is a Western Asian country loc ...
, and south east
Anatolia Anatolia (also Asia Minor), is a large peninsula in Western Asia and is the western-most extension of continental Asia. The land mass of Anatolia constitutes most of the territory of contemporary Turkey. Geographically, the Anatolian region i ...
, rose to importance as a literary language of early
Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic Monotheism, monotheistic religion based on the Life of Jesus in the New Testament, life and Teachings of Jesus, teachings of Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. It is the Major religious groups, world's ...
in the third to fifth centuries and continued into the early
Islam Islam (; ar, ۘالِإسلَام, , ) is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion centred primarily around the Quran, a religious text considered by Muslims to be the direct word of God in Islam, God (or ''Allah'') as it was revealed to Muh ...
ic era. The
Arabic Arabic (, ' ; , ' or ) is a Semitic languages, Semitic language spoken primarily across the Arab world.Semitic languages: an international handbook / edited by Stefan Weninger; in collaboration with Geoffrey Khan, Michael P. Streck, Janet C ...
language, although originating in the
Arabian Peninsula The Arabian Peninsula, (; ar, شِبْهُ الْجَزِيرَةِ الْعَرَبِيَّة, , "Arabian Peninsula" or , , "Island of the Arabs") or Arabia, is a peninsula of Western Asia, situated northeast of Africa Africa is t ...
, first emerged in written form in the 1st to 4th centuries CE in the southern regions of The
Levant
Levant
. With the advent of the early Arab conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries, Classical Arabic eventually replaced many (but not all) of the indigenous Semitic languages and cultures of the
Near East The ''Near East''; he, המזרח הקרוב; arc, ܕܢܚܐ ܩܪܒ; fa, خاور نزدیک, Xāvar-e nazdik; tr, Yakın Doğu is a geographical term which roughly encompasses a transcontinental region in Western Asia, that was once the hist ...
. Both the Near East and North Africa saw an influx of Muslim Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula, followed later by non-Semitic Muslim Iranian and
Turkic peoples The Turkic peoples are a collection of diverse ethnic group An ethnic group or an ethnicity is a grouping of people who identity (social science), identify with each other on the basis of shared attributes that distinguish them from other ...
. The previously dominant Aramaic dialects maintained by the Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians gradually began to be sidelined, however descendant dialects of Eastern Aramaic (including the
Akkadian
Akkadian
influenced Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, Turoyo and Mandaic) survive to this day among the Assyrians and
Mandaeans Mandaeans ( ar, المندائيون ), also known as Mandaean Sabians ( ) or simply as Sabians ( ), are an ethnoreligious group who are followers of Mandaeism. They believe that John the Baptist was the final and most important prophet. They ...
of northern and southern
Iraq Iraq,; ku, عێراق, translit=Êraq officially the Republic of Iraq, '; ku, کۆماری عێراق, translit=Komarî Êraq is a country in Western Asia. It is bordered by Turkey to Iraq–Turkey border, the north, Iran to Iran–Iraq ...
, northwestern
Iran Iran, officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, and also called Persia, is a country located in Western Asia. It is bordered by Iraq and Turkey to the west, by Azerbaijan and Armenia to the northwest, by the Caspian Sea and Turkmeni ...
, northeastern
Syria Syria ( ar, سُورِيَا or سُورِيَة, translit=Sūriyā), officially the Syrian Arab Republic ( ar, الجمهورية العربية السورية, al-Jumhūrīyah al-ʻArabīyah as-Sūrīyah), is a Western Asian country loc ...
and southeastern
Turkey Turkey ( tr, Türkiye ), officially the Republic of Türkiye ( tr, Türkiye Cumhuriyeti, links=no ), is a transcontinental country located mainly on the Anatolia, Anatolian Peninsula in Western Asia, with a East Thrace, small portion on th ...
, with up to a million fluent speakers. Eastern Aramic is a recognized language in Iraq, furthermore, Mesopotamian Arabic is the most Aramaic-Syriac influenced dialect of Arabic, due to Aramaic-Syriac having originated in Mesopotamia. Meanwhile Western Aramaic is now only spoken by a few thousand
Aramean The Arameans ( oar, 𐤀𐤓𐤌𐤉𐤀; arc, 𐡀𐡓𐡌𐡉𐡀; syc, ܐܪ̈ܡܝܐ, Ārāmāyē) were an ancient Semitic languages, Semitic-speaking people in the Near East, first recorded in historical sources from the late 12th century B ...
Syriac Christians Syriac Christianity ( syr, ܡܫܝܚܝܘܬܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܬܐ / ''Mšiḥoyuṯo Suryoyto'' or ''Mšiḥāyūṯā Suryāytā'') is a distinctive branch of Eastern Christianity, whose formative Christian theology, theological writings and traditiona ...
in western
Syria Syria ( ar, سُورِيَا or سُورِيَة, translit=Sūriyā), officially the Syrian Arab Republic ( ar, الجمهورية العربية السورية, al-Jumhūrīyah al-ʻArabīyah as-Sūrīyah), is a Western Asian country loc ...
. The Arabs spread their Central Semitic language to
North Africa
North Africa
(
Egypt Egypt ( ar, مصر , ), officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a List of transcontinental countries, transcontinental country spanning the North Africa, northeast corner of Africa and Western Asia, southwest corner of Asia via a land bridg ...
,
Libya Libya (; ar, ليبيا, Lībiyā), officially the State of Libya ( ar, دولة ليبيا, Dawlat Lībiyā), is a country in the Maghreb region in North Africa. It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to Egypt–Libya bo ...
,
Tunisia ) , image_map = Tunisia location (orthographic projection).svg , map_caption = Location of Tunisia in northern Africa , image_map2 = , capital = Tunis , largest_city = capital , ...
,
Algeria ) , image_map = Algeria (centered orthographic projection).svg , map_caption = , image_map2 = , capital = Algiers , coordinates = , largest_city = capital , religi ...
,
Morocco Morocco (),, ) officially the Kingdom of Morocco, is the westernmost country in the Maghreb region of North Africa. It overlooks the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and has land borders with Algeria to A ...
and northern
Sudan Sudan ( or ; ar, السودان, as-Sūdān, officially the Republic of the Sudan ( ar, جمهورية السودان, link=no, Jumhūriyyat as-Sūdān), is a country in Northeast Africa. It shares borders with the Central African Republic ...
and
Mauritania Mauritania (; ar, موريتانيا, ', french: Mauritanie; Berber languages, Berber: ''Agawej'' or ''Cengit''; Pulaar language, Pulaar: ''Moritani''; Wolof language, Wolof: ''Gànnaar''; Soninke language, Soninke:), officially the Islamic ...
), where it gradually replaced Egyptian Coptic and many
Berber languages The Berber languages, also known as the Amazigh languages or Tamazight,, ber, label=Tuareg Tifinagh, ⵜⵎⵣⵗⵜ, ) are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family. They comprise a group of closely related languages spoken by Berbers, Berbe ...
(although Berber is still largely extant in many areas), and for a time to the
Iberian Peninsula The Iberian Peninsula (), ** * Aragonese language, Aragonese and Occitan language, Occitan: ''Peninsula Iberica'' ** ** * french: Péninsule Ibérique * mwl, Península Eibérica * eu, Iberiar penintsula also known as Iberia, is a pe ...
(modern
Spain , image_flag = Bandera de España.svg , image_coat = Escudo de España (mazonado).svg , national_motto = ''Plus ultra'' (Latin)(English: "Further Beyond") , national_anthem = (English: "Royal March") , i ...
,
Portugal Portugal, officially the Portuguese Republic ( pt, República Portuguesa, links=yes ), is a Sovereign state, country whose mainland is located on the Iberian Peninsula of Southern Europe, Southwestern Europe, and whose territory also includes ...
and
Gibraltar ) , anthem = "God Save the King" , song = "Gibraltar Anthem" , image_map = Gibraltar location in Europe.svg , map_alt = Location of Gibraltar in Europe , map_caption = United Kingdom shown in pale green , mapsize = , image_map2 = Gibra ...
) and
Malta
Malta
. With the patronage of the caliphs and the prestige of its
liturgical Liturgy is the customary public ritual of worship performed by a religious group. ''Liturgy'' can also be used to refer specifically to public worship by Christian, Christians. As a religious phenomenon, liturgy represents a community, communal r ...
status, Arabic rapidly became one of the world's main literary languages. Its spread among the masses took much longer, however, as many (although not all) of the native populations outside the
Arabian Peninsula The Arabian Peninsula, (; ar, شِبْهُ الْجَزِيرَةِ الْعَرَبِيَّة, , "Arabian Peninsula" or , , "Island of the Arabs") or Arabia, is a peninsula of Western Asia, situated northeast of Africa Africa is t ...
only gradually abandoned their languages in favour of Arabic. As
Bedouin The Bedouin, Beduin, or Bedu (; , singular ) are nomadic Arabs, Arab tribes who have historically inhabited the desert regions in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, the Levant, and Mesopotamia. The Bedouin originated in the Syrian Desert ...
tribes settled in conquered areas, it became the main language of not only central Arabia, but also Yemen, the
Fertile Crescent The Fertile Crescent ( ar, الهلال الخصيب) is a crescent-shaped region in the Middle East, spanning modern-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, State of Palestine, Palestine and Jordan, together with the northern region of Kuwait, sou ...
, and
Egypt Egypt ( ar, مصر , ), officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a List of transcontinental countries, transcontinental country spanning the North Africa, northeast corner of Africa and Western Asia, southwest corner of Asia via a land bridg ...
. Most of the
Maghreb The Maghreb (; ar, الْمَغْرِب, al-Maghrib, lit=the west), also known as the Arab Maghreb ( ar, المغرب العربي) and Northwest Africa, is the western part of North Africa and the Arab world. The region includes Algeria, ...
followed, specifically in the wake of the
Banu Hilal The Banu Hilal ( ar, بنو هلال, translit=Banū Hilāl) was a confederation of Arabian tribes from the Hejaz and Najd regions of the Arabian Peninsula that emigrated to North Africa in the 11th century. Masters of the vast plateaux of t ...
's incursion in the 11th century, and Arabic became the native language of many inhabitants of
al-Andalus Al-Andalus translit. ; an, al-Andalus; ast, al-Ándalus; eu, al-Andalus; ber, ⴰⵏⴷⴰⵍⵓⵙ, label=Berber, translit=Andalus; ca, al-Àndalus; gl, al-Andalus; oc, Al Andalús; pt, al-Ândalus; es, al-Ándalus () was the Mus ...
. After the collapse of the
Nubia Nubia () (Nobiin language, Nobiin: Nobīn, ) is a region along the Nile river encompassing the area between the Cataracts of the Nile, first cataract of the Nile (just south of Aswan in southern Egypt) and the confluence of the Blue Nile, Blue ...
n kingdom of Dongola in the 14th century, Arabic began to spread south of Egypt into modern
Sudan Sudan ( or ; ar, السودان, as-Sūdān, officially the Republic of the Sudan ( ar, جمهورية السودان, link=no, Jumhūriyyat as-Sūdān), is a country in Northeast Africa. It shares borders with the Central African Republic ...
; soon after, the Beni Ḥassān brought
Arabization Arabization or Arabisation ( ar, تعريب, ') describes both the process of growing Arabs, Arab influence on non-Arab populations, causing a language shift by the latter's gradual adoption of the Arabic, Arabic language and incorporation of Ar ...
to
Mauritania Mauritania (; ar, موريتانيا, ', french: Mauritanie; Berber languages, Berber: ''Agawej'' or ''Cengit''; Pulaar language, Pulaar: ''Moritani''; Wolof language, Wolof: ''Gànnaar''; Soninke language, Soninke:), officially the Islamic ...
. A number of Modern South Arabian languages distinct from Arabic still survive, such as Soqotri language, Soqotri, Mehri language, Mehri and Shehri language, Shehri which are mainly spoken in Socotra, Yemen and Oman. Meanwhile, the Semitic languages that had arrived from southern Arabia in the 8th century BC were diversifying in
Ethiopia Ethiopia, , om, Itiyoophiyaa, so, Itoobiya, ti, ኢትዮጵያ, Ítiyop'iya, aa, Itiyoppiya officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a landlocked country in the Horn of Africa. It shares borders with Eritrea to the ...
and
Eritrea Eritrea ( ; ti, ኤርትራ, Ertra, ; ar, إرتريا, ʾIritriyā), officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa region of Eastern Africa, with its capital and largest city at Asmara. It is bordered by Ethiopia ...
, where, under heavy Cushitic languages, Cushitic influence, they split into a number of languages, including Amharic and Tigrinya language, Tigrinya. With the expansion of Ethiopia under the Solomonic dynasty, Amharic, previously a minor local language, spread throughout much of the country, replacing both Semitic (such as Gafat language, Gafat) and non-Semitic (such as Weyto language, Weyto) languages, and replacing Ge'ez as the principal literary language (though Ge'ez remains the liturgical language for Christians in the region); this spread continues to this day, with Qimant language, Qimant set to disappear in another generation.


Present situation

Arabic Arabic (, ' ; , ' or ) is a Semitic languages, Semitic language spoken primarily across the Arab world.Semitic languages: an international handbook / edited by Stefan Weninger; in collaboration with Geoffrey Khan, Michael P. Streck, Janet C ...
is currently the native language of majorities from
Mauritania Mauritania (; ar, موريتانيا, ', french: Mauritanie; Berber languages, Berber: ''Agawej'' or ''Cengit''; Pulaar language, Pulaar: ''Moritani''; Wolof language, Wolof: ''Gànnaar''; Soninke language, Soninke:), officially the Islamic ...
to
Oman Oman ( ; ar, عُمَان ' ), officially the Sultanate of Oman ( ar, سلْطنةُ عُمان ), is an Arabian country located in southwestern Asia. It is situated on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and spans the mouth of t ...
, and from
Iraq Iraq,; ku, عێراق, translit=Êraq officially the Republic of Iraq, '; ku, کۆماری عێراق, translit=Komarî Êraq is a country in Western Asia. It is bordered by Turkey to Iraq–Turkey border, the north, Iran to Iran–Iraq ...
to the
Sudan Sudan ( or ; ar, السودان, as-Sūdān, officially the Republic of the Sudan ( ar, جمهورية السودان, link=no, Jumhūriyyat as-Sūdān), is a country in Northeast Africa. It shares borders with the Central African Republic ...
. Classical Arabic is the language of the Quran. It is also studied widely in the non-Arabic-speaking Muslim world. The Maltese language is genetically a descendant of the extinct Siculo-Arabic, a variety of Maghrebi Arabic formerly spoken in Sicily. The modern Maltese alphabet is based on the
Latin script The Latin script, also known as Roman script, is an alphabetic writing system based on the letters of the classical Latin alphabet, derived from a form of the Greek alphabet which was in use in the ancient Greece, Greek city of Cumae, in southe ...
with the addition of some letters with
diacritic A diacritic (also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign, or accent) is a glyph added to a letter (alphabet), letter or to a basic glyph. The term derives from the Ancient Greek (, "distinguishing"), from (, "to distinguish"). T ...
marks and Digraph (orthography), digraphs. Maltese is the only Semitic official language within the
European Union The European Union (EU) is a supranational union, supranational political union, political and economic union of Member state of the European Union, member states that are located primarily in Europe, Europe. The union has a total area of ...
. Successful as second languages far beyond their numbers of contemporary first-language speakers, a few Semitic languages today are the base of the sacred literature of some of the world's major religions, including Islam (Arabic), Judaism (Hebrew and Aramaic), churches of Syriac Christianity (Syriac) and Christianity in Ethiopia, Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Christianity (Ge'ez). Millions learn these as a second language (or an archaic version of their modern tongues): many Muslims learn to read and recite the Qur'an and Jews speak and study Biblical Hebrew, the language of the Torah, Midrash, and other Jewish scriptures. Ethnic Assyrian followers of the Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church, Ancient Church of the East, Assyrian Pentecostal Church, Assyrian Evangelical Church and Assyrian members of the Syriac Orthodox Church both speak Mesopotamian eastern Aramaic and use it also as a liturgical tongue. The language is also used liturgically by the primarily Arabic-speaking followers of the Maronites, Maronite, Syriac Catholic Church and some Melkite Christians. Greek and Arabic are the main liturgical languages of Oriental Orthodox Churches, Oriental Orthodox Christians in the Middle East, who compose the patriarchates of Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, Antioch, Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, Jerusalem and Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Alexandria. Mandaic is both spoken and used as a liturgical language by the
Mandaeans Mandaeans ( ar, المندائيون ), also known as Mandaean Sabians ( ) or simply as Sabians ( ), are an ethnoreligious group who are followers of Mandaeism. They believe that John the Baptist was the final and most important prophet. They ...
. Despite the ascendancy of Arabic in the Middle East, other Semitic languages still exist. Biblical Hebrew, long extinct as a colloquial language and in use only in Jewish literary, intellectual, and liturgical activity, Revival of the Hebrew language, was revived in spoken form at the end of the 19th century. Modern Hebrew is the main language of
Israel Israel (; he, יִשְׂרָאֵל, ; ar, إِسْرَائِيل, ), officially the State of Israel ( he, מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, label=none, translit=Medīnat Yīsrāʾēl; ), is a country in Western Asia. It is situated ...
, with Biblical Hebrew remaining as the Study of the Hebrew language, language of liturgy and religious scholarship of Jews worldwide. Ethnic groups, in particular the Assyrians, History of the Jews in Kurdistan, Kurdish Jews, and Gnostic Mandeans, continue to speak and write Mesopotamian Aramaic languages, particularly Neo-Aramaic languages descended from Syriac, in those areas roughly corresponding to Kurdistan (Iraqi Kurdistan, northern Iraq, Syrian Kurdistan, northeast
Syria Syria ( ar, سُورِيَا or سُورِيَة, translit=Sūriyā), officially the Syrian Arab Republic ( ar, الجمهورية العربية السورية, al-Jumhūrīyah al-ʻArabīyah as-Sūrīyah), is a Western Asian country loc ...
, Turkish Kurdistan, south eastern
Turkey Turkey ( tr, Türkiye ), officially the Republic of Türkiye ( tr, Türkiye Cumhuriyeti, links=no ), is a transcontinental country located mainly on the Anatolia, Anatolian Peninsula in Western Asia, with a East Thrace, small portion on th ...
and Iranian Kurdistan, northwestern
Iran Iran, officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, and also called Persia, is a country located in Western Asia. It is bordered by Iraq and Turkey to the west, by Azerbaijan and Armenia to the northwest, by the Caspian Sea and Turkmeni ...
). Syriac language itself, a descendant of Eastern Aramaic languages (Mesopotamian Old Aramaic), is used also liturgically by the
Syriac Christians Syriac Christianity ( syr, ܡܫܝܚܝܘܬܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܬܐ / ''Mšiḥoyuṯo Suryoyto'' or ''Mšiḥāyūṯā Suryāytā'') is a distinctive branch of Eastern Christianity, whose formative Christian theology, theological writings and traditiona ...
throughout the area. Although the majority of Neo-Aramaic dialects spoken today are descended from Eastern varieties, Western Neo-Aramaic is still spoken in 3 villages in Syria. In Arab-dominated
Yemen Yemen (; ar, ٱلْيَمَن, al-Yaman), officially the Republic of Yemen,, ) is a country in Western Asia. It is situated on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, and borders Saudi Arabia to the Saudi Arabia–Yemen border, north and ...
and Oman, on the southern rim of the Arabian Peninsula, a few tribes continue to speak Modern South Arabian languages such as Mehri language, Mahri and Soqotri language, Soqotri. These languages differ greatly from both the surrounding Arabic dialects and from the (unrelated but previously thought to be related) languages of the Old South Arabian inscriptions. Historically linked to the peninsular homeland of Old South Arabian, of which only one language, Razihi language, Razihi, remains, Ethiopia and Eritrea contain a substantial number of Semitic languages; the most widely spoken are Amharic in Ethiopia, Tigre language, Tigre in
Eritrea Eritrea ( ; ti, ኤርትራ, Ertra, ; ar, إرتريا, ʾIritriyā), officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa region of Eastern Africa, with its capital and largest city at Asmara. It is bordered by Ethiopia ...
, and Tigrinya language, Tigrinya in both. Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia. Tigrinya is a working language in Eritrea. Tigre is spoken by over one million people in the northern and central Eritrean lowlands and parts of eastern Sudan. A number of Gurage languages are spoken by populations in the semi-mountainous region of central Ethiopia, while Harari language, Harari is restricted to the city of Harar. Ge'ez remains the liturgical language for certain groups of Christianity in Ethiopia, Christians in Ethiopia and Christianity in Eritrea, in Eritrea.


Phonology

The phonologies of the attested Semitic languages are presented here from a comparative method, comparative point of view. See Proto-Semitic language#Phonology for details on the phonological reconstruction of Proto-Semitic used in this article. The reconstruction of Proto-Semitic (PS) was originally based primarily on
Arabic Arabic (, ' ; , ' or ) is a Semitic languages, Semitic language spoken primarily across the Arab world.Semitic languages: an international handbook / edited by Stefan Weninger; in collaboration with Geoffrey Khan, Michael P. Streck, Janet C ...
, whose phonology and morphology (particularly in Classical Arabic) is very conservative, and which preserves as contrastive 28 out of the evident 29 consonantal phonemes. with and merging into Arabic and becoming Arabic . Note: the fricatives *s, *z, *ṣ, *ś, *ṣ́, *ṱ may also be interpreted as affricates (/t͡s/, /d͡z/, /t͡sʼ/, /t͡ɬ/, /t͡ɬʼ/, /t͡θʼ/), as discussed in . This comparative approach is natural for the consonants, as sound correspondences among the consonants of the Semitic languages are very straightforward for a family of its time depth. Sound shifts affecting the vowels are more numerous and, at times, less regular.


Consonants

Each Proto-Semitic phoneme was reconstructed to explain a certain regular sound correspondence between various Semitic languages. Note that Latin letter values (''italicized'') for extinct languages are a question of transcription; the exact pronunciation is not recorded. Most of the attested languages have merged a number of the reconstructed original fricatives, though South Arabian retains all fourteen (and has added a fifteenth from *p > f). In Aramaic and Hebrew, all non-emphatic stops occurring singly after a vowel were softened to fricatives, leading to an alternation that was often later phonemicized as a result of the loss of gemination. In languages exhibiting pharyngealization of emphatics, the original velar emphatic has rather developed to a Uvular consonant, uvular stop .
Note: the fricatives *s, *z, *ṣ, *ś, *ṣ́, *ṱ may also be interpreted as affricates (/t͡s/, /d͡z/, /t͡sʼ/, /t͡ɬ/, /t͡ɬʼ/, /t͡θʼ/).
Notes: # Proto-Semitic was still pronounced as in Biblical Hebrew, but no letter was available in the Phoenician alphabet, Early Linear Script, so the letter ש did double duty, representing both and . Later on, however, merged with , but the old spelling was largely retained, and the two pronunciations of ש were distinguished graphically in Tiberian Hebrew as שׁ vs. שׂ < . # Biblical Hebrew as of the 3rd century BCE apparently still distinguished the phonemes and from and , respectively, based on transcriptions in the Septuagint. As in the case of , no letters were available to represent these sounds, and existing letters did double duty: ח and ע . In both of these cases, however, the two sounds represented by the same letter eventually merged, leaving no evidence (other than early transcriptions) of the former distinctions. # Although early Aramaic (pre-7th century BCE) had only 22 consonants in its alphabet, it apparently distinguished all of the original 29 Proto-Semitic phonemes, including , , , , , and although by Middle Aramaic times, these had all merged with other sounds. This conclusion is mainly based on the shifting representation of words etymologically containing these sounds; in early Aramaic writing, the first five are merged with , , , , , respectively, but later with , , , , . (Also note that due to begadkefat spirantization, which occurred after this merger, OAm. t > ṯ and d > ḏ in some positions, so that PS *t,ṯ and *d, ḏ may be realized as either of t, ṯ and d, ḏ respectively.) The sounds and were always represented using the pharyngeal letters , but they are distinguished from the pharyngeals in the Demotic-script papyrus Amherst 63, written about 200 BCE. This suggests that these sounds, too, were distinguished in Old Aramaic language, but written using the same letters as they later merged with. # The earlier pharyngeals can be distinguished in Akkadian from the zero reflexes of *ḥ, *ʕ by e-coloring adjacent *a, e.g. pS ''*ˈbaʕal-um'' 'owner, lord' > Akk. ''bēlu(m)''. # Hebrew and Aramaic underwent begadkefat spirantization at a certain point, whereby the stop sounds were lenition, softened to the corresponding fricatives (written ''ḇ ḡ ḏ ḵ p̄ ṯ'') when occurring after a vowel and not geminated. This change probably happened after the original Old Aramaic phonemes disappeared in the 7th century BCE, and most likely occurred after the loss of Hebrew c. 200 BCE. It is known to have occurred in Hebrew by the 2nd century CE. After a certain point this alternation became contrastive in word-medial and final position (though bearing low functional load), but in word-initial position they remained allophonic. In Modern Hebrew, the distinction has a higher functional load due to the loss of gemination, although only the three fricatives are still preserved (the fricative is pronounced in modern Hebrew). # In the Northwest Semitic languages, became at the beginning of a word, e.g. Hebrew ''yeled'' "boy" < ''*wald'' (cf. Arabic ''walad''). # There is evidence of a rule of assimilation of /j/ to the following coronal consonant in pre-tonic position, shared by Hebrew, Phoenician and Aramaic. # In Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, is nonexistent. In general cases, the language would lack pharyngeal consonant, pharyngeal fricative (as heard in ''Ayin''). However, /ʕ/ is retained in educational speech, especially among Assyrian priests. #The Palatalization (sound change), palatalization of Proto-Semitic Gimel, gīm to Arabic jīm, is most probably connected to the pronunciation of Qoph, qāf as a gāf (this sound change also occurred in Yemenite Hebrew), hence in most of the Peninsular Arabic, Arabian peninsula (which is the homeland of the Arabic language) is jīm and is gāf , except in western and southern Yemeni Arabic, Yemen and parts of Omani Arabic, Oman where is gīm and is qāf . # Ugaritic orthography indicated the vowel after the glottal stop. #The Arabic letter ' () has three main pronunciations in Modern Standard Arabic. in north Algeria, Iraq, also in most of the Arabian peninsula and as the predominant pronunciation of Literary Arabic outside the Arab world, occurs in most of the
Levant
Levant
and most North Africa; and is used in northern Egypt and some regions in Yemen and Oman. In addition to other minor allophones. #The Arabic letter ' () has three main pronunciations in spoken Varieties of Arabic, varieties. in most of the
Arabian Peninsula The Arabian Peninsula, (; ar, شِبْهُ الْجَزِيرَةِ الْعَرَبِيَّة, , "Arabian Peninsula" or , , "Island of the Arabs") or Arabia, is a peninsula of Western Asia, situated northeast of Africa Africa is t ...
, San'ani Arabic, Northern and Hadhrami Arabic, Eastern Yemen and parts of Oman, Southern Mesopotamian Arabic, Iraq, Upper Egypt,
Sudan Sudan ( or ; ar, السودان, as-Sūdān, officially the Republic of the Sudan ( ar, جمهورية السودان, link=no, Jumhūriyyat as-Sūdān), is a country in Northeast Africa. It shares borders with the Central African Republic ...
,
Libya Libya (; ar, ليبيا, Lībiyā), officially the State of Libya ( ar, دولة ليبيا, Dawlat Lībiyā), is a country in the Maghreb region in North Africa. It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to Egypt–Libya bo ...
, some parts of the Levant and to lesser extent in some parts (mostly rural) of
Maghreb The Maghreb (; ar, الْمَغْرِب, al-Maghrib, lit=the west), also known as the Arab Maghreb ( ar, المغرب العربي) and Northwest Africa, is the western part of North Africa and the Arab world. The region includes Algeria, ...
. in most of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, Ta'izzi-Adeni Arabic, Southern and Tihamiyya Arabic, Western Yemen and parts of Oman, Northern Iraq, parts of the Levant especially Druze dialects. in most of the Levant and Lower Egypt, as well as some North African towns such as Tlemcen and Fez, Morocco, Fez. In addition to other minor allophones. #' can be written ', and always is in the Ugaritic#Phonology, Ugaritic and Arabic alphabet#Table of basic letters, Arabic contexts. In Ugaritic, sometimes assimilates to ', as in ''ġmʔ'' 'thirsty' (Arabic ''ẓmʔ'', Hebrew ''ṣmʔ'', but Ugaritic ''mẓmủ'' 'thirsty', root ''ẓmʔ'', is also attested). #Early Amharic might have had a different phonology. #The pronunciations /ʕ/ and /ħ/ for ''ʿAyin'' and ''Ḥet'', respectively, still occur among some older Mizrahi speakers, but for most modern Israelis, ''ʿAyin'' and ''Ḥet'' are realized as /ʔ, -/ and /χ ~ x/, respectively. The following table shows the development of the various fricatives in Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic through cognate words: # possibly affricated (/dz/ /tɬʼ/ /ʦʼ/ /tθʼ/ /tɬ/)


Vowels

Proto-Semitic vowels are, in general, harder to deduce due to the nonconcatenative morphology of Semitic languages. The history of vowel changes in the languages makes drawing up a complete table of correspondences impossible, so only the most common reflexes can be given: # in a stressed open syllable # in a stressed closed syllable before a geminate # in a stressed closed syllable before a consonant cluster # when the proto-Semitic stressed vowel remained stressed # pS *a,*ā > Akk. e,ē in the neighborhood of pS *ʕ,*ħ and before r. # i.e. pS *g,*k,*ḳ,*χ > Ge'ez gʷ, kʷ,ḳʷ,χʷ / _u


Grammar

The Semitic languages share a number of grammatical features, although variation — both between separate languages, and within the languages themselves — has naturally occurred over time.


Word order

The reconstructed default word order in Proto-Semitic is verb–subject–object (VSO), possessed–possessor (NG), and noun–adjective (NA). This was still the case in Classical Arabic and Biblical Hebrew, e.g. Classical Arabic رأى محمد فريدا ''ra'ā muħammadun farīdan.'' (literally "saw Muhammad Farid", ''Muhammad saw Farid''). In the modern Varieties of Arabic, Arabic vernaculars, however, as well as sometimes in Modern Standard Arabic (the modern literary language based on Classical Arabic) and Modern Hebrew, the classical VSO order has given way to SVO. Modern Ethiopian Semitic languages follow a different word order: SOV, possessor–possessed, and adjective–noun; however, the oldest attested Ethiopian Semitic language, Ge'ez, was VSO, possessed–possessor, and noun–adjective. Akkadian was also predominantly SOV.


Cases in nouns and adjectives

The proto-Semitic three-case system (nominative case, nominative, Accusative case, accusative and genitive case, genitive) with differing vowel endings (-u, -a -i), fully preserved in Qur'anic Arabic (see ʾIʿrab), Akkadian and Ugaritic language, Ugaritic, has disappeared everywhere in the many colloquial forms of Semitic languages. Modern Standard Arabic maintains such case distinctions, although they are typically lost in free speech due to colloquial influence. An accusative ending -n is preserved in Ethiopian Semitic. In the northwest, the scarcely attested Samalian language, Samalian reflects a case distinction in the plural between nominative ''-ū'' and oblique ''-ī'' (compare the same distinction in Classical Arabic). Additionally, Semitic nouns and adjectives had a category of state, the indefinite state being expressed by nunation.


Number in nouns

Semitic languages originally had three grammatical numbers: singular, Dual (grammatical number), dual, and plural. Classical Arabic still has a mandatory dual (i.e. it must be used in all circumstances when referring to two entities), marked on nouns, verbs, adjectives and pronouns. Many contemporary dialects of Arabic still have a dual, as in the name for the nation of Bahrain (''baħr'' "sea" + ''-ayn'' "two"), although it is marked only on nouns. It also occurs in Hebrew in a few nouns (''šana'' means "one year", ''šnatayim'' means "two years", and ''šanim'' means "years"), but for those it is obligatory. The curious phenomenon of broken plurals – e.g. in Arabic, ''sadd'' "one dam" vs. ''sudūd'' "dams" found most profusely in the languages of Arabia and Ethiopia, may be partly of proto-Semitic origin, and partly elaborated from simpler origins.


Verb aspect and tense

All Semitic languages show two quite distinct styles of morphology used for conjugating verbs. ''Suffix conjugations'' take suffixes indicating the person, number and gender of the subject, which bear some resemblance to the pronominal suffixes used to indicate direct objects on verbs ("I saw him") and possession on nouns ("his dog"). So-called ''prefix conjugations'' actually takes both prefixes and suffixes, with the prefixes primarily indicating person (and sometimes number or gender), while the suffixes (which are completely different from those used in the suffix conjugation) indicate number and gender whenever the prefix does not mark this. The prefix conjugation is noted for a particular pattern of ' prefixes where (1) a ''t-'' prefix is used in the singular to mark the second person and third-person feminine, while a ''y-'' prefix marks the third-person masculine; and (2) identical words are used for second-person masculine and third-person feminine singular. The prefix conjugation is extremely old, with clear analogues in nearly all the families of Afroasiatic languages (i.e. at least 10,000 years old). The table on the right shows examples of the prefix and suffix conjugations in Classical Arabic, which has forms that are close to Proto-Semitic. In Proto-Semitic, as still largely reflected in East Semitic, prefix conjugations are used both for the past and the non-past, with different vocalizations. Cf. Akkadian ''niprus'' "we decided" (preterite), ''niptaras'' "we have decided" (perfect), ''niparras'' "we decide" (non-past or imperfect), vs. suffix-conjugated ''parsānu'' "we are/were/will be deciding" (stative). Some of these features, e.g. gemination indicating the non-past/imperfect, are generally attributed to Afroasiatic. Proto-Semitic had an additional form, the jussive, which was distinguished from the preterite only by the position of stress: the jussive had final stress while the preterite had non-final (retracted) stress. The West Semitic languages significantly reshaped the system. The most substantial changes occurred in the Central Semitic languages (the ancestors of modern Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic). Essentially, the old prefix-conjugated jussive or preterite became a new non-past (or imperfect), while the stative became a new past (or perfect), and the old prefix-conjugated non-past (or imperfect) with gemination was discarded. New suffixes were used to mark different moods in the non-past, e.g. Classical Arabic ''-u'' (indicative), ''-a'' (subjunctive), vs no suffix (jussive). (It is not generally agreed whether the systems of the various Semitic languages are better interpreted in terms of tense, i.e. past vs. non-past, or aspect, i.e. perfect vs. imperfect.) A special feature in classical Hebrew is the waw-consecutive, prefixing a verb form with the letter Waw (letter), waw in order to change its grammatical tense, tense or Lexical aspect, aspect. The South Semitic languages show a system somewhere between the East and Central Semitic languages. Later languages show further developments. In the modern varieties of Arabic, for example, the old mood suffixes were dropped, and new mood prefixes developed (e.g. ''bi-'' for indicative vs. no prefix for subjunctive in many varieties). In the extreme case of Neo-Aramaic, the verb conjugations have been entirely reworked under Iranian influence.


Morphology: triliteral roots

All Semitic languages exhibit a unique pattern of stems called Semitic roots consisting typically of triliteral, or three-consonant consonantal roots (two- and four-consonant roots also exist), from which nouns, adjectives, and verbs are formed in various ways (e.g., by inserting vowels, doubling consonants, lengthening vowels or by adding prefixes, suffixes, or infixes). For instance, the root k-t-b, (dealing with "writing" generally) yields in Arabic: :''katabtu'' كَتَبْتُ or كتبت "I wrote" (f and m) :''yuktab(u)'' يُكْتَبُ or يكتب "being written" (masculine) :''tuktab(u)'' تُكتَبُ or تكتب "being written" (feminine) :''yatakātabūn(a)'' يَتَكَاتَبُونَ or يتكاتبون "they write to each other" (masculine) :''istiktāb'' اِسْتِكْتابَ or استكتاب "causing to write" :''kitāb'' كِتابٌ or كتاب "book" (the hyphen shows end of stem before various case endings) :''kutayyib'' كُتَيِّبٌ or كتيب "booklet" (diminutive) :''kitābah'' كِتابةٌ or كتابة "writing" :''kuttāb'' كُتّابٌ or كتاب "writers" (broken plural) :''katabah'' كَتَبةٌ or كتبة "clerks" (broken plural) :''maktab'' مَكْتَبٌ or مكتب "desk" or "office" :''maktabah'' مَكْتَبةٌ or مكتبة "library" or "bookshop" :''maktūb'' مَكْتُوبٌ or مكتوب "written" (participle) or "postal letter" (noun) :''katībah'' كَتِيبةٌ or كتيبة "squadron" or "document" :''iktitāb'' اِكْتِتابٌ or اكتتاب "registration" or "contribution of funds" :''muktatib'' مُكتَتِبٌ or مكتتب "subscription" and the same root in Hebrew: (A line under k and b mean a fricative, x for k and v for b.) :''kāṯaḇti'' כָּתַבְתִּי or כתבתי "I wrote" :''kattāḇ'' כַּתָּב or כתב "reporter" (''m'') :''katteḇeṯ'' כַּתָּבֶת or כתבת "reporter" (''f'') :''kattāḇā'' כַּתָּבָה or כתבה "article" :''miḵtāḇ'' מִכְתָּב or מכתב "postal letter" :''miḵtāḇā'' מִכְתָבָה or מכתבה "writing desk" :''kəṯōḇeṯ'' כְּתֹבֶת or כתבת "address" :''kəṯāḇ'' כְּתָב or כתב "handwriting" :''kāṯūḇ'' כָּתוּב or כתוב "written" :''hiḵtīḇ'' הִכְתִּיב or הכתיב "he dictated" :''hiṯkattēḇ'' הִתְכַּתֵּב or התכתב "he corresponded :''niḵtaḇ'' נִכְתָּב or נכתב "it was written" (''m'') :''kəṯīḇ'' כְּתִיב or כתיב "spelling" (''m'') :''taḵtīḇ'' תַּכְתִּיב or תכתיב "prescript" (''m'') :''m''ə''ḵuttāḇ'' מְכוּתָּב or מכותב "addressee" :''kəṯubbā'' כְּתֻבָּה or כתבה "ketubah (a Jewish marriage contract)" (''f'') In Tigrinya and Amharic, this root was used widely but is now seen as an archaic form. Ethiopic-derived languages use different roots for things that have to do with writing (and in some cases counting). The primitive root ṣ-f and the trilateral root stems m-ṣ-f, ṣ-h-f, and ṣ-f-r are used. This root also exists in other Semitic languages, such as Hebrew: ''sep̄er'' "book", ''sofer, sōp̄er'' "scribe", ''mispār'' "number" and ''sippūr'' "story". This root also exists in Arabic and is used to form words with a close meaning to "writing", such as ''ṣaḥāfa'' "journalism", and ''ṣaḥīfa'' "newspaper" or "parchment". Verbs in other non-Semitic Afroasiatic languages show similar radical patterns, but more usually with biconsonantal roots; e.g. Kabyle language, Kabyle ''afeg'' means "fly!", while ''affug'' means "flight", and ''yufeg'' means "he flew" (compare with Hebrew, where ''hap̄lēḡ'' means "set sail!", ''hap̄lāḡā'' means "a sailing trip", and ''hip̄līḡ'' means "he sailed", while the unrelated ''ʕūp̄'', ''təʕūp̄ā'' and ''ʕāp̄'' pertain to flight).


Independent personal pronouns


Cardinal numerals

These are the basic numeral stems without feminine suffixes. Note that in most older Semitic languages, the forms of the numerals from 3 to 10 exhibit polarity of gender (also called "chiastic concord" or "reverse agreement"), i.e. if the counted noun is masculine, the numeral would be feminine and vice versa.


Typology

Some early Semitic languages are speculated to have had weak ergative-absolutive language, ergative features.


Common vocabulary

Due to the Semitic languages' common origin, they share some words and roots. Others differ. For example: Terms given in brackets are not derived from the respective Proto-Semitic roots, though they may also derive from Proto-Semitic (as does e.g. Arabic ''dār'', cf. Biblical Hebrew ''dōr'' "dwelling"). Sometimes, certain roots differ in meaning from one Semitic language to another. For example, the root ''b-y-ḍ'' in Arabic has the meaning of "white" as well as "egg", whereas in Hebrew it only means "egg". The root ''l-b-n'' means "milk" in Arabic, but the color "white" in Hebrew. The root ''l-ḥ-m'' means "meat" in Arabic, but "bread" in Hebrew and "cow" in Ethiopian Semitic; the original meaning was most probably "food". The word ''medina'' (root: d-y-n/d-w-n) has the meaning of "metropolis" in Amharic, "city" in Arabic and Ancient Hebrew, and "State" in Modern Hebrew. Of course, there is sometimes no relation between the roots. For example, "knowledge" is represented in Hebrew by the root ''y-d-ʿ'', but in Arabic by the roots ''ʿ-r-f'' and ''ʿ-l-m'' and in Ethiosemitic by the roots ''ʿ-w-q'' and ''f-l-ṭ''. For more comparative vocabulary lists, see Wiktionary appendices:
List of Proto-Semitic stems

Swadesh lists for Afro-Asiatic languages


Classification

There are six fairly uncontroversial nodes within the Semitic languages: East Semitic, Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic, Classification of Arabic languages, North Arabian, Old South Arabian (also known as Sayhadic), Modern South Arabian languages, Modern South Arabian, and Ethiopian Semitic languages, Ethiopian Semitic. These are generally grouped further, but there is ongoing debate as to which belong together. The classification based on shared innovations given below, established by Robert Hetzron in 1976 and with later emendations by John Huehnergard and Rodgers as summarized in Hetzron 1997, is the most widely accepted today. In particular, several Semiticists still argue for the traditional (partially nonlinguistic) view of Arabic as part of South Semitic, and a few (e.g. Alexander Militarev or the German-Egyptian professor Arafa Hussein Mustafa,) see the South Arabian languages, as a third branch of Semitic alongside East and West Semitic, rather than as a subgroup of South Semitic. However, a new classification groups Old South Arabian as Central Semitic instead. Roger Blench notes, that the Gurage languages are highly divergent and wonders whether they might not be a primary branch, reflecting an origin of Afroasiatic in or near Ethiopia. At a lower level, there is still no general agreement on where to draw the line between "languages" and "dialects" an issue particularly relevant in Arabic, Aramaic and Gurage and the strong mutual influences between Arabic dialects render a genetic subclassification of them particularly difficult. A computational phylogenetic analysis by Kitchen et al. (2009), considers the Semitic languages to have originated in the
Levant
Levant
about 5,750 years ago during the Early
Bronze Age The Bronze Age is a historic period, lasting approximately from 3300 BC to 1200 BC, characterized by the use of bronze Bronze is an alloy consisting primarily of copper, commonly with about 12–12.5% tin and often with the addition of ...
, with early Ethiosemitic originating from southern Arabia approximately 2,800 years ago. Evidence for gene movements consistent with this were found in Almarri et al. (2021). The Himyaritic language, Himyaritic and Sutean languages appear to have been Semitic, but are unclassified due to insufficient data. * East Semitic (†) * West Semitic languages, West Semitic ** Central Semitic languages, Central Semitic *** Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic *** Classification of Arabic languages, Arabic ** South Semitic languages, South Semitic *** Western: Ethiopian Semitic languages, Ethiopian Semitic and Old South Arabian *** Eastern: Modern South Arabian languages, Modern South Arabian


Semitic-speaking peoples

The following is a list of some modern and ancient Semitic-speaking peoples and nations:


Central Semitic

* Ammonite language, Ammonite speakers of Ammon * Amorites 20th century BC * Arabs * Ancient North Arabian-speaking bedouins * Arameans 16th to 8th centuries BC / Akhlames (Ahlamu) 14th century BC. * Canaanite languages, Canaanite-speaking nations of the early Iron Age: *
Chaldea Chaldea () was a small country that existed between the late 10th or early 9th and mid-6th centuries BCE, after which the country and its people were absorbed and assimilated into the indigenous population of Babylonia Babylonia (; Akkadia ...
appeared in southern Mesopotamia c. 1000 BC and eventually disappeared into the general Babylonian population. * Edomites * Hebrews/Israelites founded the nation of History of ancient Israel and Judah, Israel which later split into the Kingdoms of Kingdom of Israel (Samaria), Israel and Kingdom of Judah, Judah. The remnants of these people became the Jews and the Samaritans. * Maltese people, Maltese *
Mandaeans Mandaeans ( ar, المندائيون ), also known as Mandaean Sabians ( ) or simply as Sabians ( ), are an ethnoreligious group who are followers of Mandaeism. They believe that John the Baptist was the final and most important prophet. They ...
* Moab * Nabataeans *
Phoenicia Phoenicia () was an ancient Semitic-speaking peoples, ancient thalassocracy, thalassocratic civilization originating in the Levant region of the eastern Mediterranean, primarily located in modern Lebanon. The territory of the Phoenician city-st ...
founded Mediterranean colonies including Tyre, Lebanon, Tyre, Sidon and ancient Carthage. The remnants of these people became the modern inhabitants of Lebanon. *
Ugarit Ugarit (; uga, 𐎜𐎂𐎗𐎚, ''ʾUgarītu''; ar, أُوغَارِيت ''Ūġārīt'' or ''Ūǧārīt'') was an ancient port city in northern Syria, in the outskirts of modern Latakia, discovered by accident in 1928 together with the Ugariti ...
, 14th to 12th centuries BC * Nasrani (Arabic term for Christian), Nasrani (Syrian Christian)


East Semitic

* Akkadian Empire ancient Semitic speakers moved into Mesopotamia in the fourth millennium BC and settled among the local peoples of Sumer. *Babylonia, Babylonian Empire *Assyria, Assyrian Empire *Ebla 23rd century BC


South Semitic

* Kingdom of Aksum 4th century BC to 7th century AD * Amhara people * Argobba people * Dahalik language, Dahalik people * Gurage people * Harari people * Mehri people * Old South Arabian-speaking peoples * Sabaeans of Yemen 9th to 1st centuries BC * Silt'e people * Tigrigni, Tigrigna People * Tigrayans, Tigray people * Tigre people * Zay people


Unknown

* Suteans 14th century BC * Thamud 2nd to 5th centuries AD


See also

* Proto-Semitic language * Middle Bronze Age alphabets


Notes


References


Bibliography

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Mustafa, Arafa Hussein. 1974. ''Analytical study of phrases and sentences in epic texts of Ugarit.'' (German title: Untersuchungen zu Satztypen in den epischen Texten von Ugarit). Dissertation. Halle-Wittenberg: Martin-Luther-University. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * [2002 edition: ]


External links


Semitic genealogical tree
(as well as the Afroasiatic one), presented by Alexander Militarev at his talk "Genealogical classification of Afro-Asiatic languages according to the latest data" (at the conference on the 70th anniversary of Vladislav Illich-Svitych, Moscow, 2004
short annotations of the talks given there

''Pattern-and-root inflectional morphology: the Arabic broken plural''


* [https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-02113751 '' Alexis Neme and Sébastien Paumier (2019), Restoring Arabic vowels through omission-tolerant dictionary lookup, Lang Resources & Evaluation, Vol 53, 1–65 pages'']
Swadesh vocabulary lists of Semitic languages
(from Wiktionary'
Swadesh-list appendix
{{Use dmy dates, date=April 2017 Semitic languages, Afroasiatic languages Aramaic languages Arabic language Hebrew language Amharic language Ge'ez language Phoenician language Akkadian language