East Semitic languages

The East Semitic languages are one of six divisions of the Semitic languages. The East Semitic group is attested by two distinct languages, Akkadian and Eblaite, both of which have been long extinct. They outstand from other Semitic languages, traditionally called West Semitic, in a number of respects. Historically, it is believed that this linguistic situation came about as speakers of East Semitic languages wandered further east, settling in Mesopotamia during the third millennium BCE, as attested by Akkadian texts from this period. By the beginning of the second millennium BCE, East Semitic languages, in particular Akkadian, had come to dominate the region. They were influenced by the non-Semitic Sumerian language and adopted cuneiform writing.

Modern understanding of the phonology of East Semitic languages can only be derived from careful study of written texts and comparison with the reconstructed Proto-Semitic. Most striking is the reduction of the inventory of back consonants, that is velar and pharyngeal fricatives, as well as glottals. Akkadian only preserves *ḫ and (partly) *ḥ as a single phoneme transcribed and usually reconstructed as a voiceless velar or uvular fricative. The sounds , *h, *ʿ, have all been lost. Their elision appears to give rise to the presence of an e vowel, where it is not found in other Semitic languages (for example, Akk. bēl 'master' < PS. *ba‘al, ekallu 'palace/temple' < PS. *haykal). It also appears that the series of interdental fricatives became sibilants (for example, Akk. šalšu 'three' < PS. *ṯalaṯ). However, the exact phonological make-up of the languages is not fully known, and the absence of features may have been the result of the inadequacies of Sumerian orthography to describe the sounds of Semitic languages rather than their real absence.

The word order in East Semitic may also have been influenced by Sumerian, being subject–object–verb rather than the West Semitic verb–subject–object order.

East Semitic
formerly Mesopotamia
Linguistic classificationAfro-Asiatic
Semitic languages
Approximate historical distribution of Semitic languages. East Semitic in green.


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "East Semitic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  • Huehnergard, J. 1995. “Semitic Languages.” Pp. 2117–2134 in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. Jack Sasson (editor). New York.
Ancient Semitic-speaking peoples

Ancient Semitic-speaking peoples were West Asian people who lived throughout the Ancient Near East, including the Levant, Mesopotamia, Arabian peninsula, and Horn of Africa from the third millennium BC until the end of antiquity.

The languages they spoke are usually divided into three branches: East, Central, and South Semitic.

Proto-Semitic was likely spoken in the 4th millennium BC, and the oldest attested forms of Semitic date to the mid-3rd millennium (the Early Bronze Age).

Speakers of East Semitic include the Akkadians and the descended cultures of Assyria and Babylonia. Central Semitic combines Northwest Semitic and Arabic. Speakers of Northwest Semitic were the Canaanites (including the Phoenicians and the Hebrews) and the Aramaeans. South Semitic peoples include the speakers of South Arabian and Ethiopic.

Canaano-Akkadian language

Canaano-Akkadian is an ancient Semitic language which was the written language of the Amarna letters from Canaan. It is a mixed language, with mainly Akkadian vocabulary and Canaanite grammatical features. It used the cuneiform writing system of the Akkadian language.

Central Semitic languages

The Central Semitic languages are a proposed intermediate group of Semitic languages, comprising Arabic, and Northwest Semitic languages (which include Aramaic, Ugaritic, and the Canaanite languages of Hebrew and Phoenician). In this reckoning, Central Semitic itself is one of three divisions of Semitic along with East Semitic (Akkadian and Eblaite) and South Semitic (South Arabian and the Ethiopian Semitic languages).

Eastern Aramaic languages

Eastern Aramaic languages have developed from the varieties of Aramaic that developed in and around Mesopotamia (Iraq, southeast Turkey, northeast Syria and northwest and southwest Iran), as opposed to western varieties of the Levant (modern Levantine Syria and Lebanon). Most speakers are ethnic Assyrians, although there are a minority of Jews and Mandeans who also speak varieties of Eastern Aramaic.

Eblaite language

Eblaite (also known as Eblan ISO 639-3), or Paleo Syrian, is an extinct Semitic language which was used during the third millennium BCE by the populations of Northern Syria. It was named after the ancient city of Ebla, in modern western Syria. Variants of the language were also spoken in Mari and Nagar. According to Cyrus H. Gordon, although scribes might have spoken it sometimes, Eblaite was probably not spoken much, being rather a written lingua franca with East and West Semitic features.

Gurage languages

The Gurage languages (Amharic: ጉራጌ Guragē, also known as Guragie) are a group of South Ethiopic languages, which belong to the Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic family. They are spoken by the Gurage people, who inhabit the Gurage Zone within the larger multi-ethnic Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region in southwestern Ethiopia.

Jewish Palestinian Aramaic

Jewish Palestinian Aramaic (abbreviated JPA) was a Western Aramaic language spoken by the Jews during the Classic Era in Judea and the Levant, specifically in Hasmonean, Herodian and Roman Judea and adjacent lands in the late first millennium BCE and later in Syria Palaestina and Palaestina Secunda in the early first millennium CE. A dialect of this language (Galilean Aramaic) was spoken by Jesus. The Son of God Text (4Q246), found in Qumran is written in this language as well.

There were some differences in dialect between Judea and Galilee, and most surviving texts are in the Galilean dialect: Michael Sokoloff has published separate dictionaries of the two dialects.

Judeo-Tripolitanian Arabic

Judeo-Tripolitanian Arabic (also known as Tripolitanian Judeo-Arabic, Jewish Tripolitanian-Libyan Arabic, Tripolita'it, Yudi) is a variety of Arabic spoken by Jews formerly living in Libya. Judeo-Tripolitanian Arabic differs from standard Libyan Arabic in that it closely resembles the original dialect of the sedentary population, whereas much of Libya's population now speaks Bedouin-influenced varieties of Arabic. A reference grammar is available.The vast majority of Libyan Jews have relocated to Israel and have switched to using Hebrew in as their home language. Those in Italy typically use Italian as their first language.

Khorasani Arabic

Khorasani Arabic is a dialect of Arabic spoken in Iran. It is a variety of Central Asian Arabic spoken in the Iranian province of Khorasan. Khorasani Arabic is not taught in school and is not spoken by the majority of Khorosani Arabs.

Maghrebi Arabic

Maghrebi Arabic (Western Arabic; as opposed to Eastern Arabic or Mashriqi Arabic) is an Arabic dialect continuum spoken in the Maghreb region, in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Western Sahara, and Mauritania. It includes Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, Libyan, and Hassaniya Arabic. Speakers of Maghrebi Arabic call their language Derja, Derija or Darija (Arabic: الدارجة‎; meaning "to rise or advance step by step"). This serves to differentiate the spoken vernacular from Modern Standard Arabic. As the Maltese language is believed to have been immediately derived from Siculo-Arabic and ultimately from Tunisian Arabic, it contains some typical Maghrebi Arabic areal characteristics.

Mashriqi Arabic

Mashriqi Arabic (Eastern Arabic), or Mashriqi ʿAmmiya, is the varieties of Arabic spoken in the Mashriq, including the countries of Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Cyprus, Turkey, and Iraq. The variety is sometimes referred to as Eastern Arabic, as opposed to Western Arabic (Maghrebi Arabic or Darija) and includes Mesopotamian Arabic and Gulf Arabic, along with Levantine Arabic. Speakers of Mashriqi call their language ʿAmmiya, which means "dialect" in Modern Standard Arabic.

Modern Standard Arabic (الفصحى al-fuṣḥá) is the primary language used in the government, legislation and judiciary of countries in the Mashreq. Mashriqi Arabic is used for almost all spoken communication, as well as in television dramas and on advertising boards in Egypt and Lebanon, but Modern Standard Arabic is used for written communication. In Lebanon, where Mashriqi Arabic as a colloquial language was taught as a separate subject under French colonization, some textbooks exist.

The varieties of Mashriqi have a significant degree of mutual intelligibility, specially between geographically adjacent ones (such as Lebanese and Syrian or between Iraqi and Kuwaiti). Conversely, Darija is very hard to understand for Arabic-speakers from the Mashriq, as it derives from different substrata.

It is widely spoken in countries west of Iran and east of Saudi Arabia, such as in Iraq and Kuwait. It is somewhat different from Peninsular Arabic or Egyptian Arabic.

Modern South Arabian languages

The Modern South Arabian languages (or Eastern South Semitic languages) are a group of endangered languages spoken by small populations inhabiting the Arabian Peninsula, in Yemen and Oman. Together with the modern Ethiopian Semitic languages, the Western branch, they form the South Semitic sub-branch of the Afroasiatic family's Semitic languages branch.

Nabataean Arabic

Nabataean Arabic was the dialect of Arabic spoken by the Nabataeans in antiquity. In the 1st century AD, the Nabataeans wrote their inscriptions, such as the legal texts carved on the façades of the monumental tombs at Mada'in Saleh, ancient Ḥegrā, in the Aramaic language. It is probable, however, that some or all of them, possibly in varying proportion depending on the region of the Nabataean Kingdom where they lived, spoke Arabic.


Qahtan redirects here. For other uses, see Qahtan (disambiguation)The terms Qahtanite and Qahtani (Arabic: قَحْطَانِي‎; transliterated: Qahtani) refers to Arabs who originate from the southern region of the Arabian Peninsula, especially from Yemen.According to Arab tradition, the Qahtanites are pure Arabs, unlike the Adnanites who are "Arabized Arabs", descended from Ishmael through Adnan. The Qahtani people are divided into the two sub-groups of Himyar (Himyartes) and Kahlan (Kahlanis).

Shehri language

Shehri, also known as Jibbali ("mountain" language in Omani Arabic), is a Modern South Arabian language. It is spoken by a small native population inhabiting the coastal towns and the mountains and wilderness areas upland from Salalah, located in the Dhofar Governorate in southwestern Oman.

South Semitic languages

South Semitic is a putative branch of the Semitic languages. Semitic itself is a branch of the larger Afro-Asiatic language family found in (North and East) Africa and Western Asia.

South Semitic is divided into two uncontroversial branches:

The Eastern Branch - South Arabian, on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and

The Western Branch - Old South Arabian and Ethiopian Semitic, on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula and found across the Red Sea in the Horn of Africa, mainly in modern Ethiopia and Eritrea.The Ethiopian Semitic languages collectively have by far the greatest numbers of modern native speakers of any Semitic language other than Arabic. Eritrea's main languages are mainly Tigrinya and Tigre, which are North Ethiopic languages, and Amharic (South Ethiopic) is the main language spoken in Ethiopia (along with Tigrinya in the northern province of Tigray). Ge'ez continues to be used in Eritrea and Ethiopia as a liturgical language for the Orthodox Tewahedo churches.

Southern Arabian languages have been increasingly eclipsed by the more dominant Arabic (also a Semitic language) for more than a millennium. Ethnologue lists six modern members of the South Arabian branch and 15 members of the Ethiopian branch.The "homeland" of the South Semitic languages is widely debated, with sources such as A. Murtonen (1967) and Lionel Bender (1997), suggesting an origin in Ethiopia and others suggesting the southern portion of the Arabian Peninsula. A recent study based on a Bayesian model to estimate language change concluded that the latter viewpoint is more probable.

Tihamiyya Arabic

Tihāmiyyah (Arabic: تهامية Tihāmiyyah; also known as Tihamiyya, Tihami) is the variety of Arabic originally spoken by the tribes, that belongs to the historic region of Yemeni Tihamah (Yemeni part only), although the term Tihamah refers to the Red Sea coastal plain of Arabia from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Bab el Mandeb Strait, including the Saudi (Hejazi) Coast.

West Semitic languages

The West Semitic languages are a proposed major sub-grouping of ancient Semitic languages. The term was first coined in 1883 by Fritz Hommel.The grouping, supported by Semiticists like Robert Hetzron and John Huehnergard, divides the Semitic language family into two branches: Eastern and Western. The East Semitic languages consist of the extinct Eblaite and Akkadian languages, while the remaining majority of Semitic languages form the West Semitic languages grouping.

It consists of the clearly defined sub-groups: Modern South Arabian, Old South Arabian, Ethiopic, Arabic and Northwest Semitic (this including Hebrew, Aramaic and the extinct Amorite and Ugaritic languages). Ethiopic and South Arabian show particular common features, and are often grouped together as South Semitic. The proper classification of Arabic with respect to other Semitic languages is debated. In older classifications, it is grouped with the South Semitic languages. However, Hetzron and Huehnergard connect it more closely with the Northwest Semitic languages, to form Central Semitic. Some Semiticists continue to argue for the older classification based on the distinctive feature of broken plurals. Some linguists also argue that Eteocypriot was a Northwest Semitic language spoken in ancient Cyprus.

Western Aramaic languages

Western Aramaic languages is a group of several Aramaic languages developed and once widely spoken throughout the ancient Levant, as opposed to those from in and around Mesopotamia, which make up what is known as the Eastern Aramaic languages, which are still spoken as mother tongues by the Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syriacs and Mandaeans of Iraq, north eastern Syria, south eastern Turkey and north western Iran. All of the Western Aramaic languages are extinct today except Western Neo-Aramaic.

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