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Canaanite languages

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Title: Canaanite languages  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Northwest Semitic languages, Biblical Hebrew, Requests for mediation/Archive 07, Names of the Levant, Modern Hebrew
Collection: Canaanite Languages
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Canaanite languages

Linguistic classification: Afro-Asiatic
Glottolog: cana1267[1]

The Canaanite languages are a subfamily of the Semitic languages, which were spoken by the ancient peoples of the Canaan region, the Canaanites (including the Israelites and Phoenicians), Amorites, Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, and Carthaginians. All of them seem to have become extinct as native languages by the early 1st millennium CE (although it is uncertain how long Punic survived), although distinct forms of Hebrew remained in continuous literary and religious use among Jews and Samaritans. This family of languages has the distinction of being the first group of languages to use an alphabet, derived from the Proto-Canaanite alphabet, to record their writings.

The Phoenician and Carthaginian expansion spread the Phoenician language and its Punic dialect to the Western Mediterranean for a time, but there too it died out, although it seems to have survived slightly longer than in Phoenicia itself.

Modern Hebrew as a spoken language is the result of a revival by Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries in an effort spearheaded by Eliezer Ben Yehuda. It is currently spoken as the colloquial language by the majority of the Israeli population.


  • Classification 1
  • Distinctive features 2
  • Canaanite texts 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


      A part of the Classification of Semitic languages
Hebrew and Phoenician are the two major branches of the subfamily. The Canaanite languages, together with the Aramaic languages and Ugaritic, form the Northwest Semitic genealogical subgroup. Efforts of classification are complicated by the fact that some language varieties thought to be Canaanite or closely related thereto have few or no extant texts written in them, such as the Amorite language.

Distinctive features

Some distinctive typological features of Canaanite in relation to Aramaic are:

  • The prefix h- used as the definite article (whereas Aramaic has a postfixed -a). This seems to be an innovation of Canaanite.
  • The first person pronoun being ʼnk (אנכ anok(i), versus Aramaic ʼnʼ/ʼny) – which is similar to Akkadian, Ancient Egyptian and Berber.
  • The *ā > ō vowel shift (Canaanite shift).

Canaanite texts

The main sources for study of Canaanite languages are the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), and inscriptions such as:

The Deir Alla Inscription is written in a dialect with Aramaic and South Canaanite characteristics, which is classified as Canaanite in Hetzron.

The extra-biblical Canaanite inscriptions are gathered along with Aramaic inscriptions in editions of the book "Kanaanäische und Aramäische Inschriften", from which they may be referenced as KAI n (for a number n); for example, the Mesha Stele is "KAI 181".

See also


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Canaanite".  
  2. ^ Harald Hammarström, Robert Forkel, Martin Haspelmath, and Sebastian Nordhoff (eds.). "Language: Ammonite".  
  3. ^ Harald Hammarström, Robert Forkel, Martin Haspelmath, and Sebastian Nordhoff (eds.). "Language: Moabite".  
  4. ^ Harald Hammarström, Robert Forkel, Martin Haspelmath, and Sebastian Nordhoff (eds.). "Language: Edomite".  
  5. ^ [1]
  • The Semitic Languages. Routledge Language Family Descriptions. Edited by Robert Hetzron. New York: Routledge, 1997.
  • Garnier, Romain; Jacques, Guillaume (2012). "A neglected phonetic law: The assimilation of pretonic yod to a following coronal in North-West Semitic". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 75.1: 135–145.  

External links

  • Some West Semitic Inscriptions
  • How the Alphabet Was Born from Hieroglyphs Biblical Archaeology Review
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