The Canaanite languages
, or Canaanite dialects
are one of the three subgroups
of the Northwest Semitic languages
, the others being Aramaic
. They are attested in Canaanite inscriptions
throughout the Mediterranean region. Dialects have been labelled primarily with reference to Biblical geography: Hebrew, Phoenician/Carthaginian, Amorite, Ammonite, Ekronite, Moabite and Edomite; the dialects were all mutually intelligible, being no more differentiated than geographical varieties of Modern English.
This family of languages has the distinction of being the first historically attested group of languages to use an alphabet
, derived from the Proto-Canaanite alphabet
, to record their writings, as opposed to the far earlier Cuneiform logographic
writing of the region.
They were spoken by the ancient Semitic people
of the Canaan
regions, an area encompassing what is today Israel
, the Palestinian territories
and also some fringe areas of southwestern Turkey
, southwestern Iraq
and the northern Arabian Peninsula
. The Canaanites
are broadly defined to include the Hebrews
(including the Carthaginians
. Although the Amorites are included among the Canaanite peoples, their language is sometimes not considered to be a Canaanite language but closely related.
The primary reference for extra-biblical Canaanite inscriptions, together with Aramaic inscriptions, is the German-language book Kanaanäische und Aramäische Inschriften
, from which inscriptions are often referenced as KAI n
(for a number n
Classification and sources
The Canaanite languages or dialects can be split into the following:
- Ammonite – an extinct Hebraic dialect of the Ammonite people mentioned in the Bible.
- Edomite – an extinct Hebraic dialect of the Edomite people mentioned in the Bible and Egyptian texts.
- Hebrew died out as an everyday spoken language between 200 and 400 AD, but remained in continuous use by many Jews since that period, as a written language, a read language and by many people a spoken language as well. It was primarily used in liturgy, literature, and commerce well into modern times. Beginning in the late 19th century, it was revived as an everyday spoken language by Jews in Palestine and Europe as Zionism emerged as a political movement and Jews began moving to Palestine in increasing numbers, and it became the lingua franca of the growing Jewish community there. After the State of Israel was established, it became the main language of the country. Although different dialects of the language were used in earlier times, mostly it is the same Hebrew language. Hebrew is the only Canaanite language that is a living language, and the most successful example of a revived dead language.
- Moabite – an extinct Hebraic dialect of the Moabite people mentioned in the Bible. The main sources are the Mesha Stele and El-Kerak Stela.
Other possible Canaanite languages:
Comparison to Aramaic
Some distinctive typological
features of Canaanite in relation to Aramaic are:
- The prefix h- used as the definite article (Aramaic has a postfixed -a). That 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).
, revived in the modern era from an extinct dialect of the ancient Israelites
preserved in literature, poetry, liturgy; also known as Classical Hebrew, the oldest form of the language attested in writing. The original pronunciation of Biblical Hebrew is accessible only through reconstruction. It may also include Ancient Samaritan Hebrew
, a dialect formerly spoken by the ancient Samaritans
. The main sources of Classical Hebrew are the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh
), and inscriptions such as the Gezer calendar
and Khirbet Qeiyafa pottery shard
. All of the other Cannanite languages seem to have become extinct by the early 1st millennium AD.
Slightly varying forms of Hebrew preserved from the first millennium BC until modern times include:
- Tiberian Hebrew – Masoretic scholars living in the Jewish community of Tiberias in Palestine c. 750–950 AD.
- Mizrahi Hebrew – Mizrahi Jews, liturgical
- Yemenite Hebrew – Yemenite Jews, liturgical
- Sephardi Hebrew – Sephardi Jews, liturgical
- Ashkenazi Hebrew – Ashkenazi Jews, liturgical
- Mishnaic Hebrew (Rabbinical Hebrew) – Jews, liturgical, rabbinical, any of the Hebrew dialects found in the Talmud.
- Medieval Hebrew – Jews, liturgical, poetical, rabbinical, scientific, literary; lingua franca based on Bible, Mishna and neologisms forms created by translators and commentators
- Haskala Hebrew – Jews, scientific, literary and journalistic language based on Biblical but enriched with neologisms created by writers and journalists, a transition to the later
- Modern Hebrew used in Israel today
- Samaritan Hebrew – Samaritans, liturgical
- ^ For example, the Mesha Stele is "KAI 181".
- ^ Waltke & O'Connor (1990:8): "The extrabiblical linguistic material from the Iron Age is primarily epigraphic, that is, texts written on hard materials (pottery, stones, walls, etc.). The epigraphic texts from Israelite territory are written in Hebrew in a form of the language which may be called Inscriptional Hebrew; this 'dialect' is not strikingly different from the Hebrew preserved in the Masoretic text. Unfortunately, it is meagerly attested. Similarly limited are the epigraphic materials in the other South Canaanite dialects, Moabite and Ammonite; Edomite is so poorly attested that we are not sure that it is a South Canaanite dialect, though that seems likely. Of greater interest and bulk is the body of Central Canaanite inscriptions, those written in the Phoenician language of Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos, and in the offshoot Punic and Neo-Punic tongues of the Phoenician colonies in North Africa. "An especially problematic body of material is the Deir Alla wall inscriptions referring to a prophet Balaam (c. 700 BC), these texts have both Canaanite and Aramaic features. W. R. Garr has recently proposed that all the Iron Age Canaanite dialects be regarded as forming a chain that actually includes the oldest forms of Aramaic as well."
Last edited on 6 May 2021, at 20:54
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