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Northwest Semitic languages: Wikis

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Northwest Semitic
Levantine
Geographic
distribution:
concentrated in the Middle East
Genetic
classification
:
Afro-Asiatic
 Semitic
  West Semitic
   Central Semitic
    Northwest Semitic
Subdivisions:

The Northwest Semitic languages form a medium-level division of the Semitic language family. The languages of this group are spoken by approximately eight million people today. The group is generally divided into three branches: Ugaritic (extinct), Canaanite (including Hebrew) and Aramaic. Semiticists now group the Northwest Semitic languages together with Arabic to form the larger Central Semitic group.[1]

The extinct Ugaritic language is the earliest witness to Northwest Semitic. Phonologically, Ugaritic has lost the sound /dˤ/ (), replacing it with /sˤ/ () (the same shift occurred in Akkadian). That this same sound became /ʕ/ in Aramaic (although in Ancient Aramaic, it was written with qoph), suggests that Ugaritic is not the parent language of the group. An example of this sound shift can be seen in the word for earth: Ugaritic /ʔarsˤ/ (’arṣ), Hebrew /ʔɛrɛsˤ/ (’ereṣ) and Aramaic /ʔarʕaː/ (’ar‘ā’).

They were originally spoken throughout the area that is covered by modern-day Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Sinai. The vowel shift from /aː/ to /oː/ distinguishes Canaanite from Ugaritic. Also, in the Canaanite group, the series of Semitic interdental fricatives become sibilants: /ð/ (), /θ/ () and /zˤ/ () became /z/, /ʃ/ (š) and /sˤ/ () respectively. The effect of this sound shift can be seen by comparing the following words:

shift Ugaritic Aramaic Biblical Hebrew Modern Hebrew translation
/ð/ ()→/z/ ḏhb דהב /dəhab/ - [dəhav] (dəhaḇ) זהב /zaːˈhaːb/ - [zaːˈhaːv] (zāˈhāḇ) זהב /zaˈhav/ gold
/θ/ ()→/ʃ/ (š) ṯlṯ תלת /təlaːt/ - [təlaːθ] (təlāṯ) שלש /ʃaːˈloːʃ/ (šāˈlōš) שלוש /ʃaˈloʃ/ three
/zˤ/ ()→/sˤ/ () ṱw טור /tˤuːr/ (ṭûr) צור /sˤuːr/ (ṣûr) צור /tsur/ mountain

Notes

  1. ^ Linguist List Central Semitic composite tree (with Aramaic and Canaanite grouped together in Northwest Semitic, and Arabic and Old South Arabian as sisters)
    Linguist List bibliography of sources for composite tree
    Rubin, Aaron D. 2007. The Subgrouping of the Semitic Languages, Language and Linguistics Compass, vol. 1.
    Huehnergard, John. 2004. "Afro-Asiatic," The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages (Cambridge, pp. 138-159).
    Faber, Alice. 1997. "Genetic Subgrouping of the Semitic Languages," The Semitic Languages (Routledge, pp. 3-15)
    Huehnergard, John. 1991. "Remarks on the Classification of the Northwest Semitic Languages," The Balaam Text from Deir 'Alla Re-evaluated (Brill, pp. 282-293).
    Huehnergard, John. 1992. "Languages of the Ancient Near East," The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 4, pp. 155-170.
    Voigt, Rainer M. 1987. "The Classification of Central Semitic," Journal of Semitic Studies 32:1-19.
    Goldenberg, Gideon. 1977. "The Semitic Languages of Ethiopia and Their Classification," Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 40:461-507.
    Ethnologue Central Semitic entry (with Arabic and Canaanite grouped together against Aramaic)
    The Ethnologue classification is based on Hetzron, Robert. 1987. "Semitic Languages," The World's Major Languages (Oxford, pp. 654-663).
    The older grouping of Arabic with South Semitic was "based on cultural and geographical principles", not on principles of empirical historical linguistics (Faber, 1997, pg. 5). "However, more recently, [Arabic] has been grouped instead with Canaanite and Aramaic, under the rubric Central Semitic..., and this classification is certainly more appropriate for Ancient North Arabian" (Macdonald, M.C.A. 2004. "Ancient North Arabian," The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages Cambridge, pp. 488-533. Quote on pg. 489).

Bibliography

  • Blau, J. 1968. "Some Difficulties in the Reconstruction of 'Proto-Hebrew' and 'Proto-Canaanite'," in In Memoriam Paul Kahle. BZAW, 103. Pp. 29-43
  • Cross, F. M. 1965. “The Development of the Jewish Scripts,” in The Bible and the Ancient Near East: Essays in Honor of W. F. Albright, ed. G. E. Wright. New York. Reprinted 1965, Anchor Book Edition; New York, pp. 133-202.
  • Cross, F. M. 1967. “The Origin and Early Evolution of the Alphabet,” EI 5: 8*-24*.
  • Cross, F. M. 1982. “Alphabets and pots: Reflections on typological method in the dating of human artifacts,” MAARAV 3: 121-136.
  • Cross, F. M. 1989. “The Invention and Development of the Alphabet,” in The Origins of Writing (ed. W. M. Senner; Lincoln: University of Nebraska), pp. 77-90.
  • Cross, F. M. and Freedman, D. N. 1952. Early Hebrew Orthography: A Study of the Epigraphic Evidence (New Haven: American Oriental Society.
  • Daniels, Peter. 1996. The World’s Writing Systems. New York: Oxford.
  • de Moor, Johannes C. 1988. "Narrative Poetry in Canaan," UF 20:149-171.
  • Donner, H. and Rollig, W. 1962-64. Kanaanäische und aramäische Inschriften. 3 volumes. Wiesbaden. (5th ed.)
  • Driver, G. R. 1976. Semitic Writing: From Pictograph to Alphabet. 3rd edition. London.
  • Garbini, G. 1960. Il Semitico di nord-ovest. (And a critique by E.Y. Kutscher, JSS 10 (1965):21-51.)
  • Garr, R. 1985. Dialect Geography of Syria-Palestine, 1000-586 B.C.E. Philadelphia: UPenn.
  • Gelb, I. J. 1961. “The Early History of the West Semitic Peoples,” JCS 15:27-47.
  • Gelb, I. J. 1963. A Study of Writing. 2nd edition. Chicago.
  • Gibson, J. C. L. 1971-87. Textbook of Syrian Semitic Inscriptions. 3 Vols. Oxford: Clarendon.
  • Ginsberg, H. L. 1970. “The Northwest Semitic Languages,” in The World History of the Jewish People, volume 1/2: Patriarches. Tel Aviv.
  • Greenfield, J. C. 1969. “Amurrite, Ugaritic and Canaanite,” in Proceedings of the International Conference of Semitic Studies. Jerusalem. Pp. 92-101.
  • Halpern, B. 1987. “Dialect Distribution in Canaan and the Deir Alla Inscriptions,” in “Working with No Data”: Semitic and Egyptian Studies Presented to Thomas O. Lambdin. Ed. D. M. Golomb. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns. Pp. 119-39.
  • Harris, Z. 1939. Development of the Canaanite Dialects. AOS, 16. New Haven: AOS.
  • Herr, Larry G. 1980. "The Formal Scripts of Iron Age Transjordan," BASOR 238:21-34.
  • Hoftijzer, J. and Jongeling, K. 1995. Dictionary of the North-West Semitic inscriptions. 2 volumes. Leiden/New York: Brill. Not including Ugaritic.
  • Huehnergard, J. 1990. "Remarks on the Classification of the Northwest Semitic Languages," in The Balaam Text from Deir Alla Re-evaluated: proceedings of the international symposium held at Leiden, 21-24 August 1989. Pp.282-93.
  • Kaufman, S. A. 1988. “The Classification of North West Semitic Dialects of the Biblical Period and Some Implications Thereof,” in Proceedings of the Ninth World Congress of Jewish Studies (Panel Sessions: Hebrew and Aramaic Languages). Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies. Pp. 41-57.
  • Moran, William L. 1961. “The Hebrew Language in its Northwest Semitic Background,” in The Bible and the Ancient Near East: Essays in Honor of W. F. Albright, ed. G. E. Wright. New York. Reprinted 1965, Anchor Book Edition; New York, pp. 59-84.
  • Moran, William L. 1975. “The Syrian Scribe of the Jerusalem Amarna Letters,” in Unity and Diversity: Essays in the History, Literature, and Religion of the Ancient Near East (ed. H. Goedicke and J. J. M. Roberts; Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins University Press) 146-166.
  • Moscati, Sabatino, ed. 1969. An Introduction to the Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages: Phonology and Morphology. Porta Linguarum Orientalium, ns, 6. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.
  • Naveh, J. 1987. Early History of the Alphabet: An Introduction to West Semitic Epigraphy and Palaeography. 2nd edition. Jerusalem: Magnes. Especially sections on West Semitic.
  • Parker, Simon B. 1997. Stories in Scripture and Inscriptions: Comparative Studies on Narratives in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions and the Hebrew Bible. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Rabin, C. 1971. "Semitic Languages," Encyclopedia Judaica, volume 14, pp. 1149-57.
  • Rabin, C. 1991. Semitic Languages (Jerusalem: Bialik). [in Hebrew]
  • Rainey, A. F. 1986 “The Ancient Hebrew Prefix Conjugation in the Light of Amarnah Canaanite,” Hebrew Studies 27:1-19.
  • Rainey, A. F. 1990. “The Prefix Conjugation Patterns of Early Northwest Semitic,” pp. 407-420 in Abusch, Tz., Huehnergard, J. and Steinkeller, P., eds. Lingering over Words, Studies in Ancient Near Eastern Literature in Honor of William L. Moran. Atlanta: Scholars.
  • Renz, J. 1995. Handbuch der althebräischen Epigraphik. 3 volumes. Darmstadt.
  • Vaughn, A. 1999 “Palaeographic Dating of Judean Seals and Its Significance for Biblical Research,” BASOR 313:43-64.

See also

The Northwest Semitic abjad
ʾ b g d h w z y k l m n s ʿ p q r š t
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 200 300 400
historyPhoenicianAramaicHebrewSyriacArabic
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