Classical Hebrew vs. other Canaanite languages

sparack

Member
Urdu
Basically my question is the following:

1. How closely related are Phoenician, Punic, Ugaritic, Moabite, Edomite, Ammonite, and Aramite to Classical Hebrew? All of these are, of course, Canaanite languages.
2. What are their origins? (Or perhaps more accurately, how did they develop?)
3. What are their particular linguistic features?

Also: It would be good, if you could refer to me to good resources on this subject, preferably in English.
 
  • WadiH

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    1. Ugaritic is not a Canaanite language, though it is closely related (you can call it an aunt or uncle). I don’t know what you mean by Aramite, but the rest of the languages you mentioned (including Biblical Hebrew) were part of a dialect continuum and were generally mutually intelligible. Punic was descended from the dialects spoken in Phoenicia.

    2. Canaanite, Aramaic, Arabic, Ugaritic, Amorite (if it existed as a single language), Taymanitic (spoken in the Tayma oasis in modern Saudi Arabia) and at least some of the Ancient South Arabian languages (Sabaic) are all thought to belong to a single group called Central Semitic (which is in turn part of ‘West Semitic’, which is basically all Semitic languages other than Akkadian).

    Within the Central Semitic group, the currently most widespread view is that Canaanite, Ugaritic and Aramaic (and possibly Taymanitic!) belong to a sub-branch called Northwest Semitic, but these ‘family trees’ change all the time. Some have argued for a close relationship between Canaanite and Arabic (rather than Aramaic) and I even found a credible scholar of Aramaic recently that has posited a relationship between Aramaic and Sabaic. Others argue (and I tend to agree with them) that these languages were in such close and sustained contact with each other in a relatively small area that trying to draw exact genetic family trees in this group on the model of Indo-European languages is misguided (this Wiki page has a good summary of this view).

    As to where these languages came from, all that can be said is that they originated somewhere in Syria / Northern Mesopotamia. There is a mountain range in the Syrian desert around Palmyra where both Amorite and Aramaic speaking tribes seemed to have settled at various times so that may be the path where the original Central Semitic speakers passed on their way to the Levant and Arabian Peninsula. This is all pretty tentative though, I think, as new inscriptions in the Arabian Peninsula are being discovered every day, some of which are in exotic Semitic-looking languages that are yet to be deciphered, and some like Taymanitic look like the NW languages. Did these languages originate in the Peninsula and spread north or did they originate in the north and spread to the Peninsula? Or did both processes happen at different times? Who knows.

    3. I’ll leave this one to more knowledgeable members, though the Wiki page on the Canaanite languages should be useful.
     
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    Abaye

    Senior Member
    Hebrew
    ,
    This! (excluding farfetched theories about Aramaic-Sabaic relationship and alike).

    Also, the relation of Modern Hebrew and Palestinian-Israeli Arabic is a good example of how languages influence each other. Many Arabisms is Hebrew, many Hebrewisms is Arabic.
     

    WadiH

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    It may be a bit counterintuitive but not really that far-fetched. Sabaic is considered part of Central Semitic after all so it couldn't have branched off from the others too long ago. Yemen seems far from Syria on the map but Carthage is even farther, and ancient and pre-modern people got around much more than we realize.

    The author (Ingo Kottsieper) is an expert on Aramaic and he gives a detailed history of the language. His argument for a link with Sabaic is that they both exhibit the post-positive definite article and the loss of the N-stem, and he argues that Aramaic later acquired features from (and donated others to) the Canaanite group areally, though this again goes to show the difficulty with these classification systems. The argument is of course more detailed than this but it's in his chapter on Aramaic literature in the book I cited above.
     

    Abaye

    Senior Member
    Hebrew
    But isn't Sabaic (Sabaean) a South Semitic language, usually grouped with other Old South Arabian languages and more remotely with Ethiopian?
     

    WadiH

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    But isn't Sabaic (Sabaean) a South Semitic language, usually grouped with other Old South Arabian languages and more remotely with Ethiopian?

    This just shows how unstable these classifications have been. Arabic used to be classed as "South Semitic", then it was moved into "Central". Ancient South Arabian and Modern South Arabian languages were seen as related; now they are placed on separate branches (the latter being viewed as closer to the Ethio-Semitic languages), and some argue that Ancient South Arabian (or at least Sabaic) should be considered "Central". (Here's more on the proposed Aramaic-Sabaic link: 1 and 2.)

    This is a good summary of how classifications have changed over time (see figures 9.1, 9.2 and 9.3 -- "Sayhadic" is another term for Ancient South Arabian). It seems that the category "South Semitic" is becoming obsolete (see footnote 2 in Al-Jallad here -- he does a lot of work on "contact areas" but still believes the genetic relationships can be determined separately from areal features).
     
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    WadiH

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    What about modern languages like Amharic and Tigrinya or historical languages like Ge'ez? I have never encountered any classification other than South Semitic.

    If you look at fig 9.3 in the Huehnergard and Rubin chapter I linked to (or the tree presented by Al-Jallad), they posit Ethio-Semitic (Amharic, Tigriniya, Ge'ez, etc.) and Modern South Arabian (Mahri, etc.) as independent branches of West Semitic. With Ancient South Arabian moved to the Central branch, there is no 'South Semitic' branch left.
     

    Ali Smith

    Senior Member
    Urdu - Pakistan
    No, Aramaic is not a Canaanite language, for it did not undergo the Canaanite shift.
     

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    WadiH

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    No, Aramaic is not a Canaanite language, for it did not undergo the Canaanite shift.

    I think there's more to it than just the 'Canaanite (vowel) shift'. It is grammatically distinct from Canaanite languages in a number of ways.
     
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