Semitic Languages

North Africa and Southwest Asia Semitic languages

Semitic languages form a branch of the Afro-Asiatic language phylum. Members of the Semitic group are spread throughout North Africa and Southwest Asia and have played preeminent roles in the linguistic and cultural landscape of the Middle East for more than 4,000 years.

All modern languages have evolved from ancient mother language families, which linguists dubbed proto-languages. These mother languages have birthed hundreds of sub-languages spoken worldwide by thousands of native speakers.

The languages families—the Afro-Asiatic, Indo-European, Germanic, Niger-Congo, Austronesian, Trans-New Guinea, and Sino-Tibetan are enormous. Hence it is only standard for them to contain sub-families. The sub-families are peculiar to each family; however, one of these subfamilies stands out.

The Semitic language family is one of the Hamito-Semitic, lately known as Afro-Asiatic family’s subfamilies. They are predominantly spoken in North Africa and Southwest Asia by over 380 million people.

This subfamily is the largest of the sub-families within the Afro-Asiatic languages, with about 77 living languages and millions of native speakers across the Middle East, East, and North Africa.

Hamito-Semitic languages

Introduction of the Semitic Languages

In 1781 A.L. Schloezer used the term to refer to the language family to which Hebrew belongs because the languages then reckoned among this family (except Canaanite) were spoken by peoples included in Genesis 10:21–29 among the sons of Shem. The term “Semitic” was coined by German linguist Johann Gottfried Eichhorn in the late 18th century.

A Brief Introduction of the Semitic Languages by Aaron D. Rubin

A Brief Introduction of the Semitic Languages by Aaron D. Rubin: With a written history of nearly five thousand years, the Semitic languages comprise one of the world’s earliest and longest attested families. This volume provides an overview of this important language family, including both ancient and modern languages. After a brief introduction to the history of the family and its internal classification, subsequent chapters cover topics in phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon. Each chapter describes features that are characteristic of the Semitic language family as a whole, as well as some of the more extraordinary developments that take place in the individual languages.

Syntax of the Semitic Languages

Their syntax is what makes them unique.

Nonconcatenative morphology—their word roots are not syllables or words themselves; instead, they come from isolated sets of consonants. Once a language is analyzed and fits into this category, they are grouped as a part of the Semitic language tree.

List of Semitic languages:


The Arabic language family is by far the most commonly spoken language of the Semitic family. It is the native tongue of over 110 million people spread across Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Qatar, and Kuwait. Egypt holds the largest population of its speakers.


This is the second most spoken on the Semitic language tree and was first spoken by the Amharas. The official language of Ethiopia, speaker base of 30 million people consisting of native speakers and second language speakers worldwide. However, unlike Arabic, Amharic is only spoken in Ethiopia and some parts of Eritrea.


The Tigrinya language is an Ethiopian Semitic language spoken in some parts of Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is the official language of the country Eritrea for business purposes, along with Arabic.


The ancient language of Aramaic lives on in the modern day in the mouth of its native speakers in Iraq, Turkey, Georgia, Syria, Armenia, and Iran, but in very few numbers. The popularity of Aramaic doesn’t lie in its number of speakers; instead, it is in the history of the language, especially in the area of religion.


The Maltese language developed from a dialect of Arabic and a mix of the Sicilian language. This language is spoken by roughly 520,000 native speakers and is the only Arabic form written in the Latin alphabet.


This is another Ethiopic Semitic language having over 800,000 speakers spread across Eritrea and Sudan, where the language goes by a different name, Xasa.


Considered a dead language for almost two thousand years, the Hebrew language made an unprecedented comeback to the world in the 19th and 20th centuries and is now the official language of the State of Israel.


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