Introduction to the Semitic languages and their history

Authored by: John Huehnergard , Na‘ama Pat-El

The Semitic Languages

Print publication date:  March  2019
Online publication date:  March  2019

Print ISBN: 9780415731959
eBook ISBN: 9780429025563
Adobe ISBN:


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The Semitic languages have the longest recorded history of any language family, spanning some 4,500 years from the first Akkadian and Eblaite texts in the mid-third millennium bce; through Ugaritic in the second millennium; Hebrew, Aramaic and Sabaic in the first millennium and continuing through the present day with Arabic, one of the most widely spoken of the world’s languages; Amharic, Tigrinya and other related languages in Ethiopia and Eritrea; Hebrew in Israel; Mehri and other South Arabian languages in Yemen and Oman; and vestiges of Aramaic in Iraq, Iran, southeastern Turkey and Europe. The family’s great time-depth, with ample documentation of several of its most ancient members, affords a unique opportunity to explore language change and diversification. Some of the individual languages, too, such as Akkadian and Aramaic, have very long recorded histories, and those histories are also instructive: Akkadian, at least the written version of it, underwent relatively little change in its morphology or syntax during its 2,500-year recorded history; Aramaic, after it ceased to be a lingua franca in the final centuries before the common era, diversified into a range of strikingly different varieties.

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