Semitische talen

Semitische talen
Proto-Semitic Language and Culture
John Huehnergard
The Appendix of Semitic Roots (Appendix II) that follows this essay is designed to allow
the reader to trace English words derived from Semitic languages back to their
fundamental components in Proto-Semitic, the parent language of all ancient and modern
Semitic languages. This introduction to the Appendix provides some basic information
about the structure and grammar of Semitic languages as an aid to understanding the
etymologies of these words. In the text below, terms in boldface are Semitic roots that
appear as entries in Appendix II. Words in small capitals are Modern English derivatives
of Semitic roots. An asterisk (*) is used to signal a word or form that is not preserved in
any written document but that can be reconstructed on the basis of other evidence.
The Semitic Language Family
The Semitic language family has the longest recorded history of any linguistic group. The
Akkadian language is first attested in cuneiform writing on clay tablets from ancient
Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) from the mid-third millennium B.C., and Semitic languages
continue to be spoken in the Middle East and in northeastern Africa today.
Modern Semitic languages include Arabic, spoken in a wide variety of dialects by
nearly 200 million people as the official language of over a dozen nations, and in many
other countries as well; Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia; Hebrew, one of the
official languages of Israel; Tigrinya, the official language of Eritrea; Aramaic, the
language of the Jewish Talmud and of Jesus, first attested in inscriptions written three
thousand years ago and still spoken by several hundred thousand people in the Middle
East and elsewhere.
Ancient Semitic languages include Akkadian, the language of the ancient Babylonians
and Assyrians; Phoenician and its descendant Punic, the language of Carthage, the
ancient enemy of Rome; the classical form of Hebrew as recorded in the Hebrew
Scriptures and later Jewish writings; the languages of the neighbors of the ancient
Israelites, such as the Ammonites and Moabites; many early dialects of Aramaic; the
classical Arabic of the Koran and other Muslim writings; Old Ethiopic texts of the
Ethiopian Christian church; and South Arabian languages attested in inscriptions found in
modern Yemen, such as Sabaean, the language of the ancient Sheba of the Bible.
In the same way that English is a member of the sub-family of Germanic languages
within Indo-European, the Semitic languages constitute a sub-family of a larger linguistic
stock, formerly called Hamito-Semitic but now more often called Afro-Asiatic. Other
branches of Afro-Asiatic include ancient Egyptian (and its descendant, Coptic), the
Berber languages of north Africa, the Cushitic languages of northern East Africa (such as
Somali and Oromo), and the Chadic languages of western Africa (such as Hausa in
Various significant linguistic features allow us to classify the many Semitic languages
in a way that shows the historical branching off of sub-groups. The ancient ancestor of all
the Semitic languages, like Proto-Indo-European a prehistoric, unwritten language, is
called Proto-Semitic or Common Semitic. The earliest branching, which includes most of
the known Semitic languages, is called West Semitic; the part that remained after this
branching, East Semitic, essentially includes only Akkadian. West Semitic comprises
three branches: the modern South Arabian languages; the ancient and modern languages
of Ethiopia; and Central Semitic. Central Semitic is further subdivided into the South
Arabian inscriptional languages; classical, medieval, and modern forms of Arabic; and
the Northwest Semitic languages, which include Hebrew and Aramaic. See the “Chart of
the Semitic Family Tree”.
Semitic Words, Roots, and Patterns
A distinctive characteristic of the Semitic languages is the formation of words by the
combination of a “root” of consonants in a fixed order, usually three, and a “pattern” of
vowels and, sometimes, affixes before and after the root. The root indicates a semantic
field, while the pattern both narrows meaning and provides grammatical information. For
example, if we represent the three root consonants abstractly as X’s, in Arabic the pattern
XaXaXa produces a verb form, called the perfect, in the third person masculine singular.
Applying this pattern to the root -r-m, indicating the notion of “banning, prohibiting”
(see rm), Arabic forms the perfect third person masculine singular arama, “he
prohibited.” Another pattern, XaX X, yields a derived noun, in this case the word ar m,
“forbidden place,” the source of English HAREM, while the pattern iXX X yields a verbal
noun, i r m, “prohibition,” the source of English IHRAM. The pattern muXaXXaX (with
doubling of the middle root consonant) yields a passive participle, mu arram, English
MUHARRAM. This last pattern is also found, for example, in the personal name
Arabic mu ammad, from the root -m-d, “to praise” (see md).
In most Semitic languages, sound changes have obscured some of the underlying
patterns. For example, Arabic k f, the origin of English KIF, is a dialectal variant of
classical Arabic kayf, a form of the Arabic root k-y-f with the pattern XaXX. Hebrew tôrâ
(TORAH) is historically an example of the pattern taXXaXat; the earlier form was
*tawrawat-, from the root that was originally w-r-w in Semitic (“to guide”; see wrw), and
regular sound shifts in the history of the language changed *tawrawat- to tôrâ.
The prominence of the root-and-pattern system makes it relatively easy to determine
both constituents of most Semitic words. This in turn allows the comparison of individual
roots across languages. Thus, for example, Arabic sal m, “peace, well-being” (English
from the Arabic root s-l-m, is clearly cognate with Hebrew
lôm, which has
the same meaning (English SHALOM), from the Hebrew root -l-m; both reflect the same
Proto-Semitic root, lm. The patterns, too, in this case are cognate; the Proto-Semitic
pattern *XaX X, still seen in the Arabic form, regularly develops into X XôX in Hebrew.
For most words associated with verbal roots, however, the distribution and semantic
function of the various possible patterns are specific to individual languages. The original
patterns of specific words very often shifted to other patterns during the separate histories
of the various languages after they branched off from their ancestral subgroups. For
example, Arabic and Hebrew share a common root, -k-m, “to be wise”; but the attested
form of the adjective meaning “wise” in Arabic has the pattern XaX X, ak m (English
HAKIM1; see km), while in Hebrew it has the pattern X X X (a Hebrew development of
Proto-Semitic *XaXaX), k m.
Because of these pattern shifts, it is usually not possible to reconstruct individual
words back to Proto-Semitic, only individual roots. The Appendix that follows is
therefore a list of Semitic roots rather than of individual words. An important group of
exceptions to this generalization includes words that denote physical objects, such as
“hand,” “rock,” and “house.” While such words may be associated with derived roots of
verbs (as in English to house), the substantives are clearly primary, and it is often possible
to reconstruct them back to Proto-Semitic, or at least to intermediate stages, such as
Proto-Central Semitic or Proto-West Semitic. Such reconstructed forms are given in the
Appendix where appropriate; to facilitate the arrangement of the Appendix, they have
been listed under the consonantal root that can be extracted from the reconstruction,
rather than as entries unto themselves. Thus Proto-Semitic *bayt-, “house,” is listed under
byt. Some of these words have only two consonants, or rarely only one, rather than the
usual three consonants that make up verbal roots; thus, Proto-Semitic * il-, “god,” is
listed under l, Proto-Semitic *yad-, “hand,” under yd, and Proto-Semitic *pi- or *pa-,
“mouth,” under p.
Proto-Semitic Sounds and Their Development in the Languages
The Proto-Semitic sound system had three short vowels, a, i, u, and three corresponding
long vowels, , , ; these vowels are preserved essentially unchanged in classical Arabic
but have undergone numerous developments in most of the other Semitic languages, both
ancient and modern.
Proto-Semitic had 29 consonants. These are shown as the first row of sounds in the
Table of Proto-Semitic Sound Correspondences. There were five triads of homorganic
consonants (pronounced in the same area of the mouth); each triad consisted of a voiced,
voiceless, and emphatic consonant. The emphatic consonants are characteristic of
Semitic; in Proto-Semitic they were probably glottalized, that is, produced with a
simultaneous closing of the glottis in the throat; this is how they are still pronounced in
the Ethiopian Semitic languages. (In Arabic, however, emphatics is the name given to
pharyngealized consonants, that is, those pronounced with a constriction of the pharynx
and a raising of the back of the tongue.) The five triads were: (1) the interdental fricatives
, , and (with and pronounced as th in English then and thin, respectively); (2) the
dental stops t, d, and (with t and d as in English, and , a glottalized t, represented
phonetically as [t’]); (3) the alveolar affricates s, z, , which were pronounced (ts), (dz),
and glottalized (ts’), respectively; (4) the laterals l, , and (with l pronounced as in
English light and as a voiceless l like the Welsh sound written ll); and (5) the velar stops
g, k, q (with g as in English go, k as in kiss, and the q as an emphatic k).
In addition to these triads, there were a number of pairs of consonants that lacked an
emphatic counterpart: two labial stops, voiced b and unvoiced p (the latter becoming f in
Arabic, Ethiopian Semitic languages, and sometimes in Hebrew and Aramaic); two velar
fricatives, voiced , pronounced like a French r, and voiceless , pronounced like the ch
in Scottish loch or German Bach; two distinctively Semitic pharyngeals, voiced “ayin,”
indicated by the raised symbol , and unvoiced , both somewhat like h but formed by
constricting the pharynx; and two glottal consonants, the glottal stop (like the catch in
the voice in the middle of English uh-oh), and glottal fricative, h. Finally, there was a
sibilant, transcribed and pronounced sh in Hebrew but as a simple s in Arabic and in
Proto-Semitic; and five additional resonants besides l: m, n, r, w, and y.
All of the 29 Proto-Semitic consonants are preserved as distinct sounds in the Old
South Arabian languages (such as Sabaean), but in the other Semitic languages various
mergers of the original consonants have occurred. Thus Akkadian, the earliest-attested
Semitic language, has only 18 consonants. The outcomes of the Proto-Semitic consonants
in Akkadian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic are illustrated in the table "ProtoSemitic Sound Correspondences".
Grammatical Forms and Syntax
Semitic nouns exhibit two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine. Masculine
nouns have no special marker, whereas the majority of feminine nouns have an ending
after the masculine stem, usually either -at or -t, as illustrated by the pairs *ba l-, “owner,
lord” (as in BAAL and HANNIBAL) versus *ba lat-, “owner, lady” (see b l), and *bn-,
“son” (as in BENJAMIN) versus *bint- (from *bnt-), “daughter” (as in BAT MITZVAH; see
bn). A few feminine nouns have no such marker, however, such as * imm-, “mother,” and
* ayn-, “eye” (see yn).
The declension of the noun in early Semitic is relatively uncomplicated. There were
three cases, a nominative (for subjects of sentences and for predicates of verbless
sentences), genitive (for possession and after all prepositions), and accusative (for the
direct object of the verb and for sundry adverbial forms). A characteristic feature of
Semitic nouns is the so-called bound form or construct form, an endingless form taken by
a noun when it is followed directly by a possessor noun or by a possessive pronoun
suffix. For example, the Arabic word anabun means “tail,” but the ending -n is dropped
in the possessive phrases anabu asadin, “tail of a lion,” and anabu-hu, “his tail.”
Several English words derived from Semitic phrases, such as the star names DENEBOLA
and FOMALHAUT, come from a word in the bound form.
Both Arabic and Hebrew have a definite article (but no indefinite article); in both, the
article is prefixed to its noun. In Hebrew the form of the article is ha-, usually with
doubling of the first consonant of the noun, as in ha - nâ, “the year” (ROSH HASHANAH)
from nâ, “year” (see n). In Arabic the form of the article is al-; the a of al- is omitted
when a preceding word ends in a vowel, and the l assimilates to many of the consonants it
precedes. The article also causes the final n of forms such as anabun, “tail,” and
asadun, “lion,” to be omitted: a - anabu, “the tail,” al- asadu, “the lion.” When a
construct phrase, such as anabu asadin, “the lion’s tail,” is made definite, the article
appears only on the second member of the phrase: anabu l- asadi, “the lion’s tail.” Many
Arabic nouns were borrowed together with the article into European languages, especially
into Spanish; this is the source of the al- in a number of English words of Arabic origin,
such as ALCOHOL, ALEMBIC, and ALGEBRA, as well as other words where the article has
been altered, such as ARTICHOKE and AUBERGINE.
Most Semitic languages exhibit two types of finite verbs. One type, which is usually
called the perfect and is used for completed action, has a set of endings to indicate the
person, gender, and number of the subject, as in Arabic daras-a, “he studied,“ daras-at,
“she studied,” daras-tu, “I studied,“ and Hebrew d ra , “he studied” (with no ending), d
r â, “she studied,” d ra -tî, “I studied” (see dr ). In the other type, the subject is
indicated by prefixes (and, for some forms, endings as well), and the verbal root has a
different pattern of vowels from the perfect, as in Arabic ya-drus-u, “he studies,” ta-drusu, “she studies,” a-drus-u, “I study,” and Hebrew yi-dr , “he studies,” ti-dr , “she
studies,” e-dr , “I study.” The third person masculine singular form of the perfect is
customarily used as the citation form of a verb; traditionally, however, its English
translation is given as an infinitive, and this practice is followed in Appendix I. Thus
under hgr, the Arabic verb hajara is glossed as “to depart,” although the actual meaning
of that form is “he departed.”
In addition to the two forms just noted, Semitic verbs also have a rich variety of
derived stems that variously modify the basic meaning of the verbal root. Thus the Arabic
root k-t-b, expressing the notion of “writing,” forms a verb whose basic (perfect) form is
kataba, “to write”; with a long vowel in the first syllable, k taba, it means “to correspond
(with someone)”; with in- prefixed, it is a passive, inkataba, “it was written”; and with aprefixed, it is causative, aktaba, “to cause to write, to dictate.” For simplicity’s sake,
such derived forms of the verbal root are labeled in the Appendix as “derived stems.”
Lexicon and Culture
As in the case of Indo-European, the reconstruction of Proto-Semitic words and roots
offers us a glimpse of the world and the culture of its speakers.
Several kinship terms can be reconstructed, a number of which suggest that ProtoSemitic society was patriarchal. Although the words for “father,” * ab- ( b), and
“mother,” * imm- ( mm), are distinct, the word for “daughter,” *bint-, is the grammatical
feminine of “son,” *bn- (bn), and “sister,” * a t-, is likewise a feminine of the word for
“brother,” * a - ( ). Separate words for “husband’s father,” * am-, and “father’s
kinsman, clan,” * amm- ( mm), are found, but the feminine equivalents are simply
derived from these. Interestingly, the words for “son-in-law, bridegroom,” * atan-, and
“daughter-in-law,” *kallat-, are unrelated to each other. A word for “widow,” * almanat-,
can be reconstructed, but not one for “widower.”
Other Proto-Semitic words provide more glimpses into the social structure. That it
was stratified is shown by the existence of words for “king” or “prince” (two are found,*
arr- and *malk-, the latter of which is associated with the verbal root mlk, “to rule”),
“lord, owner, master,” *ba l- (and the feminine *ba lat- “lady”; see b l), and “female
slave,” * amat-. (No masculine counterpart is reconstructible; slaves were perhaps
acquired as prisoners of war, the males being killed.) Communities had judges who
adjudicated (dyn) over local disputes.
There is no Proto-Semitic word for “religion,” but several religious terms can be
reconstructed, such as * b , “to sacrifice”; m , “to anoint”; rm, “to ban, prohibit”; qd
, “to be holy, sacred” (as well as ll, “to be clean, pure, holy”); and * alm-, “(cult)
statue.” There is a Proto-Semtic word for “god,” * il- ( l); the names of the earliest
Semitic gods for the most part denoted natural elements or forces, such as the sun, the
moon, the morning and evening stars, thunder, and the like (see under tr, m , wr ).
There are many Proto-Semitic terms referring to agriculture, which was a significant
source of livelihood. Words for basic farming activities are well represented: fields (*
aql-) were plowed (* r ), sown (* r ), and reaped ( d); grain was trampled or threshed
(*dy ) and winnowed ( rw) on a threshing floor (*gurn-), and ground ( n) into flour
(*qam -). Words for several specific grains can be reconstructed, including wheat (* in ), emmer (*kun -), barley (* i r-; West Semitic only, related to Proto-Semitic * a r“hair”), and millet (*du n-). The words for many other agricultural products may provide
clues as to the original homeland of the Semites, though this is a matter of conjecture and
dispute: they were acquainted with figs (*ti n-), garlic (* m-), onion (*ba al-, replaced
in Akkadian by a Sumerian word), palm trees (*tamr- or *tamar-; see tmr), date honey
(*dib -), pistachios (*bu n-), almonds (* aqid-), cumin (*kamm n-; see kmn), and groats
or malt (*baql-), as well as oil or fat (* amn-; see mn). The early Semites cultivated
grapes (* inab-) growing on vines (*gapn-) in vineyards (*karm- or *karn-), from which
they produced wine (*wayn-, akin to Indo-European words for wine and probably a
loanword in Proto-Semitic as well). Another alcoholic beverage, * ikar- ( kr), was also
known; it was stronger than *wayn-, perhaps fermented or distilled.
Also of Proto-Semitic antiquity are the names of a number of domesticated animals
and several words denoting products and activities associated with them. We can
reconstruct separate words for “sheep” (* immar-), “ewe” (*la ir-, see l r), and “shegoat” (* inz-), as well as separate words for “flock of sheep” (* aw-) and “mixed flock of
sheep and goats” (* a n-). Sheep were shorn (*gzz) and the flocks “tended” or “herded”
(r y, with the participle *r iy-, “herder”) and given to drink ( qy, a root also meaning “to
irrigate”). A general word for “bovine” was *li - (feminine *li at-), in addition to which
come * alp-, “ox” ( lp) and * awr- “bull” (the latter perhaps a borrowing of IndoEuropean *tauro-, just as Proto-Semitic *qarn-, “horn” may be of Indo-European origin;
see tauro- and ker-1 in Appendix I). The pig (* zr or * nzr) and the dog (*kalb-) were
domesticated, as were donkeys, for which separate words for the male (* im r-; see mr)
and the female (* at n-) can be reconstructed. Dairy production is shown by *la ad-,
“cream,” and * im at-, “curds, butter.”
The level of technology that the reconstructed Proto-Semitic vocabulary points to is
that of the late Neolithic or early Chalcolithic. The early Semites, or at least some of
them, lived in houses (*bayt-; see byt) with doors (*dalt-; see dl), containing at least
chairs (*kussi -) and beds (* ar -) for furniture. They dug (*kry) wells (*bi r-), lit (* rp)
fires (* i -), and roasted (qly) food (*la m-; see l m). A number of words dealing with
mining are found: the Semites had learned to smelt ( rp) ores with coal (*pa am-) to
obtain metals (only “silver,” *kasp-, is Proto-Semitic; words for “gold,” “copper,”
“bronze,” and “iron” are not reconstructible). Bitumen (*kupr-) was used for
waterproofing. They also used antimony (*ku l-; see k l) and naphtha (*nap -; see np ),
and manufactured rope (* abl-). The early Semites made use of bows (*qa t-) and arrows
(* a w-). In transactions, they weighed ( ql), measured (*mdd), and otherwise counted
(mnw) things, and sometimes, at least, found time to play music (zmr).
Of particular interest in the reconstruction of the non-material culture of the ProtoSemites is the structure of personal names. Personal names in most Semitic languages
have traditionally consisted of meaningful phrases or sentences that express a religious
sentiment, usually with reference to a deity. Some names are phrases of the type “X of
god,” as in the Hebrew name y dîdy h (Jedidiah), “beloved of Yah” (Yah being a
shortened form of the name of the god of Israel, Yahweh; see dwd, hwy) and the Arabic
name abdull h (Abdullah), “servant of Allah.” In other Arabic names, an epithet of Allah
appears instead, as in abduljabb r (Abdul-Jabbar), “servant of the Almighty,” from
jabb r, “powerful, almighty.” Many Semitic names constitute a complete sentence. Some
of these contain a verb form, as in Hebrew z kary h (Zechariah), “Yahweh has
remembered” (that is, has remembered the parents; see zkr) and yô n n (John),
“Yahweh has been gracious” (see nn), and in Akkadian Sîn-a -er ba (Sennacherib),
“(the god) Sin has replaced the (lost) brothers for me” (see r b) and A ur-a a-iddin
(Esarhaddon), “(the god) Ashur has given a brother” (see ntn). Other sentence-names are
simply two words juxtaposed to form a nominal sentence with understood verb “to be,” as
in Hebrew lîy h (Elijah), “Yahweh (is) my god” (see l, hwy) and abr h m (Abraham),
“the (divine) father (is) exalted” (see b, rhm); Akkadian tukult -apil-e arra
(Tiglathpileser), “my trust (is) the heir of Esharra” (see wkl); and Amorite ammu-r pi
(Hammurabi), “the (divine) kinsman is a healer” (see rp ).
One-word names also occur, as in Arabic a mad (Ahmed), mu ammad
(Muhammad), and ma m d (Mahmoud), which reflect different forms of a root meaning
“to praise” (see md), asan (Hasan) and usayn (Hussein), both meaning “handsome,
excellent,” and asad (Asad), “lion” (see d); and in Hebrew d w d (David), “beloved”
(see dwd) and yônâ (Jonah), “dove” (see ywn). Most women’s names are of this type; for
example, Arabic f ima (Fatima), “she who weans,”
(Sarah), “princess” (see rr), and r
i a (Aisha), “living,” Hebrew
l (Rachel), “ewe” (see l r).
Semitic Words in English
Since English is an Indo-European language and therefore not genetically related to the
Semitic family, all words of Semitic origin in English are loanwords. Roughly 700 of the
words listed in this Dictionary have come into English by way of a Semitic language. For
over 90 percent of these, the Semitic language is Arabic (over 400) or Hebrew (over 250).
Not all such words originated in a Semitic language, however. Some of them are
loanwords into Semitic from another source. In the case of several words that have come
through Arabic, for example, the Arabic word is originally Persian, as in the case of
JULEP, borrowed into Middle English from Old French, into Old French from Late Latin,
and into Late Latin from Arabic jul b; but Arabic jul b itself is from Persian gul b,
“rosewater.” Here, the Indo-European English, French, and Latin have borrowed from the
Semitic Arabic, which in turn has borrowed from another Indo-European language,
Persian. Such words will not be found in this Appendix, but if they are derived from an
Indo-European root, may be found in the Appendix of Indo-European roots preceding. A
number of scientific and technical terms borrowed from Arabic were first borrowed by
Arabic from Greek, such as ALEMBIC, from Old French, from Medieval Latin, from
Arabic al- anb q, “still” (with the Arabic article al-), from Greek ambix, “cup.” Still
others have a more remote or ancient source; the common English word ADOBE, which
came into English from Spanish, came into Spanish from Arabic a - ba, “the brick”
(with the article al-, here assimilated to the - of the noun), but the Arabic word is of
ancient Egyptian origin, Coptic t be and classical Egyptian bt, “brick.” The word
TUNIC, from Latin, entered Latin from a Semitic language akin to Hebrew (perhaps
Punic-Phoenician), which in turn had borrowed it from another Semitic language,
Akkadian, which in turn had borrowed it from Sumerian (gada, linen), a non-Semitic
language of ancient Mesopotamia.
Most of the words that have come into English from a Semitic language, however, are
also Semitic in origin. The following Appendix of Semitic roots lists over 550 such
words. Again, the most common language of origin is Arabic, followed by Hebrew. There
are also a few dozen words that originate in other Semitic languages, especially Aramaic
and Akkadian. In most cases, an Aramaic or Akkadian word has first entered Arabic or
Hebrew, whence it then found its way to English; for example, SOUK, a Middle Eastern
market, is borrowed from Arabic s q, which was borrowed from Aramaic q, which in
turn was borrowed from Akkadian s qu, which meant “street,” from a Semitic root
meaning “to be narrow or tight” (see yq).
Many of the Semitic words that have come into English fall into a few important
semantic categories. The names of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are of course
Semitic in origin, though for the most part not Hebrew but Phoenician, a close relative of
Hebrew; also of Phoenician origin are the names of Greek letters, such as ALPHA and
BETA, and the word ALPHABET that is derived from the latter (see lp, byt). Many of the
Semitic words are star names, such as ALTAIR, BETELGEUSE, and VEGA, which derive
originally from Arabic words or phrases (see yr, gwz and yd, wq ). Other large semantic
groups are formed by words having to do with religious customs and practices, such as
ARSENAL, AVERAGE, MINA, SILVER, TARIFF; words for trade goods and similar items,
including plant names such as BALSAM, COTTON, CUMIN, GALBANUM, HASHISH,
HUMMUS, HYSSOP, MYRRH, SAFFLOWER, SESAME, but also many others, such as AMBER,
NAPHTHA, RACKET, REAM, SACK, SEMOLINA, SEQUIN; names of animals, including
ALBACORE, ALBATROSS, BEHEMOTH, CAMEL, GIRAFFE; and, in addition to the star
names mentioned earlier, other scientific terms, such as ALCOHOL, ALGEBRA, ALIDADE,
and ZERO. The names of the months of the
Jewish calendar and the months of the Muslim calendar have naturally entered English
from Hebrew and Arabic, respectively, but it is interesting to note that most of the Jewish
month names were originally at home in ancient Mesopotamia and were borrowed into
Hebrew from Akkadian. The Semitic languages are also the origin of many proper names
in English, such as the names of many of the books of the Bible, as well as given names
such as ABRAHAM, ADAM, ANN, JACOB, JACK, and RACHEL. The name MICHAEL, which
comes from Hebrew mîk l, meaning “who is like God?” (see the Appendix under my1,
l), may be humanity’s oldest continuously used name, for it is found not only in the
Hebrew of the Bible but also in Eblaite, a Semitic language closely related to Akkadian,
from about 2300 B.C.
In spite of the fact that the Semitic languages have been known and studied by
scholars for many hundreds of years, the comparative reconstruction of Proto-Semitic is
in many ways still in its infancy. The historical linguistics of the Semitic languages has
not traditionally focused as much on reconstruction as Indo-European historical
linguistics has, and the philological study of the individual languages has remained rather
insular. This Appendix of Semitic Roots, while by no means the first comparative Semitic
glossary, is the first such work to attempt systematically to give reconstructed forms and
meanings for such a wide variety of roots and words. Time and further discoveries will no
doubt result in the modification of some of the material here; new information on the
ancient Semitic languages is constantly coming to light through archaeological finds, and
ongoing linguistic study of the ancient and modern languages is sure to advance our
knowledge as well.
Semitische talen
De Semitische talen vormen een noordoostelijke subfamilie van de Afro-Aziatische talen. De
meest voorkomende Semitische talen zijn Arabisch, Amhaars, Hebreeuws en Tigrinya. Ook
het Maltees is een Semitische taal.
De naam Semitisch is afgeleid van Sem, één van de zonen van Noach. De term "Semitische
taal" komt als zodanig niet in de Thora voor, maar wordt beschouwd als een academische
In Genesis 10 wordt vermeld dat de zonen van Noach Sem, Cham en Jafeth heten. Onder de
zonen van Sem bevinden zich Asshur en Aram, waar de namen voor het Assyrisch en
Aramees van afgeleid zijn.
Opmerkelijk is daarom dat de Semitische taal Hebreeuws in de Bijbel zelf 'taal van Kanaän'
(sefat Kena'an) wordt genoemd. Hebreeuws is ook daadwerkelijk, net als het Fenicisch, een
taal van de streek Kanaän, en geen geïmporteerd Aramees. Kanaän stamt volgens Genesis af
van Cham, net als Kush en Mitsraim (Egypte). Tot voor kort noemde men de Afrikaanse tak
van de Afro-Aziatische talen dan ook de Hamitische talen. Thans ziet men in dat de vier
afdelingen hiervan onderling zo verschillend zijn dat ze elk als een aparte tak moeten worden
beschouwd, op gelijke hoogte als de Semitische tak.
1 Overzicht van talen binnen de taalfamilie
o 1.1 Oost-Semitische talen
o 1.2 Centraal-Semitische talen
 1.2.1 Noordwest-Semitische talen
 1.2.2 Arabische talen
o 1.3 Zuid-Semitische talen
 1.3.1 Westelijk
 1.3.2 Oostelijk
2 Gedeelde kenmerken
3 Verschillende kenmerken
Overzicht van talen binnen de taalfamilie
Oost-Semitische talen
Akkadisch -- uitgestorven
De taal Akkadisch is geattesteerd van de Faraperiode (ca. 2800 v.Chr.) tot de 1e eeuw na
Chr., al werd het als gesproken taal in de laatste eeuwen voor Christus geleidelijk vervangen
door het Aramees en bleef het hoofdzakelijk als geleerde taal verder leven (vgl. het Latijn in
de Middeleeuwen).
Mesopotamië was het thuisland van deze taal, maar op verschillende tijdstippen werd het ook
ver buiten dit gebied gebruikt, gaande van Perzië in het oosten tot Syrië-Palestina en Egypte,
waar het als diplomatieke taal diende, in het westen.
Gedurende die lange periode en verspreid over zo'n immens gebied onderging het uiteraard
wijzigingen. Men onderscheidt dan ook binnen de term Akkadisch verschillende dialecten.
Een overzicht :
Standaard Babylonisch
(625-75 A.D.)
We zien dat er van het begin van het 2e millennium tot het einde van het Assyrische rijk een
indeling bestaat in twee dialecten, Babylonisch en Assyrisch.
Na de Oud-Babylonische periode loopt parallel naast de gesproken taal een artificieel
geschreven vorm van de taal (Standaard Babylonisch), die sterk aansluit bij het OudBabylonische dialect.
Naast deze centrale dialecten zijn er meerdere perifere dialecten geattesteerd. Dit zijn alle
geschreven varianten van het Akkadisch, beïnvloed door verschillende lokale dialecten (Susa,
Boghazköy, Alalah, Nuzi, Ugarit, Amarna).
De teksten, bewaard in het Akkadisch, zijn van velerlei aard: rituelen, gebeden, hymnen,
voorspellingen, literatuur, brieven, contracten, zakelijke bestanden, verdragen, ...
e-nu-ma e-lish la na-bu-ú shá-ma-mu
enüma elish lä nabû shamämü
'When above heaven was not (yet) named'
shap-lish am-ma-tum shu-ma la zak-rat
shaplish ammatum shuma lä zakrat
'(and) below the earth was not pronounced by name'
zu.ab-ma resh-tu-ú za-ru-shu-un
abzu-ma rështû zärûshun
'and Apsu, the first one/the ancient Apsu, their begetter
mu-um-mu ti-amat mu-al-li-da-at gim-ri-shú-un
Mummu Tiämat mu(w)allidat gimrishun
'(And) maker Tiamat, who bore them all'
ish-te-nish i-hi-qu-ú-ma
mêshunu ishtënish ihïqüma
'(and when they) had mixed their waters together'
gi-pa-ra la ki-isc-scu-ru scu-sca-a la she-'u-ú
gipa(r)ra lä kiscscurü scuscä lä she'û
'(but when) pastures were not (yet) formed , nor reed-beds were made'
e-nu-ma dingir.dingir la shu-pu-u ma-na-ma
enüma ilü lä shüpû manäma
'When none of the gods were (yet) manifest
Eblaïtisch -- uitgestorven, is ofwel Oost-Semitisch ofwel Noordwest-Semitisch.
Eblaite language
Eblaite is an extinct, perhaps East Semitic language, which was spoken in the 3rd millennium
BCE in the ancient city of Ebla, in modern Syria. It is considered to be the oldest written
Semitic language.
The language, closely related to Akkadian, is known from about 17,000 tablets written with
cuneiform script which were found between 1974 and 1976 in the ruins of the city of Ebla
(Tell Mardikh). The tablets were first translated by Giovanni Pettinato.
Centraal-Semitische talen
Fragment uit een twaalfde eeuwse Koran in het Arabisch
Noordwest-Semitische talen
Kanaänitische talen
o Hebreeuws
o Moabitisch -- uitgestorven
o Edomitisch -- uitgestorven
o Ammonitisch -- uitgestorven
o Fenicisch (en het jongere Punisch) -- uitgestorven
o Syrisch
o Mandees
Het Mandaïsch of Mandees is de klassieke taal van de mandaeërs, een religieuze minderheid
die voornamelijk in het grensgebied tussen Iran en Irak woont. Hun aantal is kleiner dan
Mandaïsch is een dialect van het Aramees, met sterke invloeden van het Perzisch. Het wordt
voornamelijk als liturgische taal gebruikt. De religieuze geschriften van de mandaeërs zijn
opgesteld in deze taal.
Daarnaast heeft zich een moderne, levende neo-Mandaïsche taal ontwikkeld, die door een
kleine groep mandaeërs in en rond Ahvaz (Iran) gesproken wordt.
Ugaritisch -- uitgestorven
Amoritisch -- uitgestorven
Amorite language
The Amorite language is the term used for the early (North-)West Semitic language, spoken
by the north Semitic Amorite tribes prominent in early Middle Eastern history. It is known
exclusively from non-Akkadian proper names recorded by Akkadian scribes during periods of
Amorite rule in Babylonia (end of the 3rd and beginning of the 1st millennium), notably from
Mari, and to a lesser extent Alalakh, Harmal, and Khafaya. Occasionally such names are also
found in early Egyptian texts; and one place-name — "Snir" (‫)רִנ ְׂש‬
‫ י‬for Mount Hermon — is
known from the Bible (Deut. 3:9).
Arabische talen
Zuid-Semitische talen
Ethiopische talen
o Noorden
 Ge'ez of Klassiek Ethiopisch -- uitgestorven
Ge'ez (ግግግ, /gē-ĕz'/, /gŭ'əz/), ook Gi'iz of Ethiopisch genoemd, is een oude AfroAziatische taal die verwant is met het Amhaars en andere moderne Semitische talen die
worden gesproken in Ethiopië en Eritrea. Ge'ez wordt als liturgische taal in de Ethiopischkoptische Kerk nog gebruikt. De taal is echter als spreektaal uitgestorven. In Ethiopië spreekt
men tegenwoordig het Amhaars en het Tigrinya, waarvan het gebruikte schrift een aanpassing
is van het Ge'ez schrift.
Ethiopisch schrift
Genesis in Ge'ez
Het Ethiopisch schrift of het Ge'ez schrift is een abugida schrift en oorspronkelijk
ontwikkeld om het Ge'ez te schrijven, een antieke Semitische taal. In talen die het schrift
gebruiken wordt het "Fidäl" (ግግግ) genoemd, wat "schrift" of "alfabet" betekend.
De belangrijkste talen die het schrift gebruiken zijn het Amhaars in Ethiopië en het Tigrinya
in Eritrea en de Ethiopische regio Tigray. De talen, en dan vooral het Amhaars, gebruiken
gewijzigde vormen van het oorspronkelijke schrift.
Het schrift wordt ook door andere talen in Ethiopië en Eritrea gebruikt, zoals het Tigre,
Harari, Bilin en het Me'en. Enkele andere talen in de Hoorn van Afrika, zoals het Afaan
Oromo werden vroeger ook in het Ethiopisch schrift geschreven, maar zikn op een ander
schriftsysteem over gestapt. Het Afaan Oromo bijvoorbeeld is overgegaan op het Latijns
Tigrinya of Tigriñña
 Amhaars
 Argobba
 Harari
 Oost-Gurage-talen
 Selti
 Wolane
 Zway
 Ulbare
 Inneqor
 Outer
 Soddo
 Goggot
 Muher
 Westelijke Gurage-talen
 Masqan
 Ezha
 Gura
 Gyeto
 Ennemor
 Endegen
Oud-Zuid-Arabische talen -- uitgestorven
o Sabees -- uitgestorven
o Minees -- uitgestorven
o Qatabaans -- uitgestorven
o Hadramitisch -- uitgestorven
o Oud Arabisch
 [[Dedanitisch]
 Lihyanitisch
 Thamudisch
 Safaïtisch
o Oud Literair Arabisch: oudste inscriptie: 328 na Christus.
Standaard Arabisch + dialecten: vanaf 500
Het Arabisch kent 4 taalperioden:
1. het Oud of Epigrafisch Zuid-Arabisch (afgekort ESA)
2. het Pre-Klassiek Noord-Arabisch
3. het Klassiek Noord-Arabisch, dat "hèt" Arabisch is en dat vanaf de vierde eeuw van de
gewone jaartelling wordt geschreven. Het is een hoogstaand, literair Arabisch. De Koran is in
deze taal geschreven.
4. de Moderne Arabische dialecten die zich hebben ontwikkeld uit het Klassiek Arabisch.
Elk Arabisch land heeft nu zijn eigen Arabisch dialect en de verschillen zijn zo groot dat de
mensen uit de verschillende Arabische landen en regio's elkaar niet of heel moeilijk kunnen
verstaan. Die verschillende dialecten worden (bijna) alleen gesproken en niet geschreven.
Voor het schrijven gebruikt men een soort kunstmatig Arabisch dat Modern Standaard
Arabisch wordt genoemd. Dit is de officiële taal in de gehele Arabische wereld.
Deze taal is afgeleid van het Arabisch van de Koran en wordt in alle Arabische landen op
dezelfde manier geschreven en gesproken. Niemand heeft het MSA als moedertaal. Het is een
taal die op school geleerd wordt. Zodra er Arabisch geschreven moet worden, doet men dit in
het MSA. Wie MSA kan lezen, heeft dus toegang tot kranten, tijdschriften, boeken etc. uit de
hele Arabische wereld. Gesproken wordt het MSA eigenlijk alleen in formele situaties, soms
op TV, bij officiële toespraken etc. Het spreken van MSA is erg moeilijk en slechts een
enkeling beheerst het perfect.
Het Arabische alfabet bestaat uit 28 letters. De schrijfwijze van een letter hangt af van de
plaats waar hij in een woord voorkomt.
Gedeelde kenmerken
Deze talen laten allemaal een patroon van woorden bestaande uit drie medeklinkers zien, met
klinkerveranderingen, voorvoegsels en achtervoegsel om ze te verbuigen. Bij voorbeeld, in
het Hebreeuws:
gdl betekent "groot" geen woordklasse of woord, enkel een stam
gadol betekent "groot" en is een mannelijk bijvoeglijk naamwoord
gdola betekent "groot" (vrouwelijk bijvoeglijk naamwoord)
giddel betekent "hij groeide" (overgankelijk werkwoord)
gadal betekent "hij groeide" (onovergankelijk werkwoord)
higdil betekent "hij vergrootte" (overgankelijk werkwoord)
magdelet betekent "vergroter" (lens)
spr is de stam voor "tellen" of "vertellen"
sefer betekent "boek" (bevat verhalen die verteld worden) (' f ' en ' p ' worden in het
Hebreeuws door dezelfde letter weergegeven)
sofer betekent "schrijver" (Masoretische schrijvers vertelden verzen) of "hij telt"
mispar betekent "getal".
Vele stammen worden gedeeld door meer dan een Semitische taal. Bijvoorbeeld, de stam ktb,
een stam die "schrijven" betekent, bestaat zowel in het Hebreeuws als in het Arabisch ("hij
schreef" wordt katav in het Hebreeuws en kataba in Klassiek Arabisch) (ook hier: ' v ' en ' b '
worden door dezelfde letter weergegeven in het Hebreeuws).
De volgende lijst laat een aantal equivalente woorden zien in Semitische talen.
Akkadisch Aramees Arabisch Hebreeuws Nederlandse vertaling
land, aarde
Andere Afro-Aziatische talen laten vergelijkbare patronen zien, maar meestal met stammen
bestaande uit slechts twee medeklinkers. In bijvoorbeeld het Kabylisch betekent afeg "vlieg!",
terwijk affug "vlucht" betekent, en yufeg "hij vloog".
Verschillende kenmerken
Sommige stammen variëren tussen de verschillende Semitische talen. De stam b-y-ḍ
betekent bijvoorbeeld zowel "wit" als "ei" in het Arabisch, terwijl het in het
Hebreeuws alleen "ei" betekent. De stam l-b-n betekent "melk" in het Arabisch, maar
"wit" in het Hebreeuws.
Vanzelfsprekend is er soms geen relatie tussen de stammen. Bijvoorbeeld, "kennis"'
wordt in het Hebreeuws gepresenteerd met de stam y-d-ʿ maar in het Arabisch met de
stammen ʿ-r-f en ʿ-l-m.
De oud-semitische klank [p] bleef behouden in de noordelijke groep, in de zuidelijke
groep evolueerde deze klank tot [f].
In de Noord-Semitische talen worden gezonde meervouden gebruikt, dat wil zeggen
dat de structuur van het woord behouden blijft, en dat het meervoud gevormd wordt
door het toevoegen van een achtervoegsel. In de Zuid-Semitische talen daarentegen
overheersen de gebroken (interne) meervouden. Hierbij verandert de interne
klankstructuur van het woord wel bij het vormen van een meervoud, daarom wordt er
geen achtervoegsel meer aan toegevoegd.
De [w] in het Zuid-Semitisch is in het Noord-Semitisch een [y]. Bv.: "jongen":
[walad] (Arabisch) en [yeled] (Hebreeuws).
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