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South Semitic
Yemen, Oman, Ethiopia, Eritrea
  South Semitic

South Semitic is one of the three macro-classifications in Semitic linguistics, the other two being East Semitic (e.g. Akkadian) and West Semitic (e.g. Arabic, Aramaic, Hebrew). Semitic itself is considered a branch of the larger Afro-Asiatic language family found, as indicated in the name, both in (northern and eastern) Africa and (southwestern) Asia. (See Joseph Greenberg's classification of African languages.)

South Semitic is again divided into two main branches: South Arabian, on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and Ethiopian Semitic, found across the Red Sea in the Horn of Africa, mainly in modern Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Ethiopian Semitic languages have by far the greatest numbers of modern native speakers. Eritrea's main languages are mainly Tigrinya and Tigre which are North Ethiopic languages while Amharic (South Ethiopic) is the main language spoken in Ethiopia (along with Tigrinya in the northern province of Tigray). Southern Arabian languages have withered at the expense of the more dominant Arabic (also a Semitic language) for more than a millennium. The Ethnologue lists six modern members of the South Arabian branch and 14 members of the Ethiopian branch.

The "homeland" of the South Semitic languages is widely debated, but is no longer believed to have been Northern Ethiopia and Eritrea or the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula. The modern and historic presence of South Semitic Ethiopian languages (and Ethiopic script) in Africa is believed by some to be due to a migration of South Arabian speakers from Yemen within the last few thousand years. Such a migration is a "backwards" one in that Afro-Asiatic languages arose in Africa originally and moved into the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula in the form of Proto-Semitic, since all major branches of the larger Afro-Asiatic are found in Africa. Older research, such as A. Murtonen (1967), and Lionel Bender (1997)[1], suggesting that Semitic may have originated in Ethiopia, has been disproven by more recent research by some of its earliest defenders.[2]




Western South Semitic

Eastern South Semitic

These languages are spoken mainly by small minority populations on the Arabian peninsula in Yemen and Oman.

See also


  1. ^ Bender, L (1997), "Upside Down Afrasian", Afrikanistische Arbeitspapiere 50, pp. 19-34
  2. ^ Kitchen, Andrew, Christopher Ehret, et al. 2009. "Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of Semitic languages identifies an Early Bronze Age origin of Semitic in the Near East." Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 276 no. 1665 (June 22)


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