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South Semitic languages

South Semitic
Yemen, Oman, Ethiopia, Eritrea
Linguistic classificationAfro-Asiatic
Semitic languages.svg
Approximate historical distribution of South Semitic languages

South Semitic is a putative branch of the Semitic languages, which form a branch of the larger Afro-Asiatic language family, found in (North and East) Africa and Western Asia.


The "homeland" of the South Semitic languages is widely debated, with sources such as A. Murtonen (1967) and Lionel Bender (1997)[1] suggesting an origin in Ethiopia and others suggesting the southern portion of the Arabian Peninsula.[2] A 2009 study based on a Bayesian model to estimate language change concluded that the latter viewpoint is more probable.[3] This statistical analysis could not estimate when or where the ancestor of all Semitic languages diverged from Afroasiatic but it suggested that the divergence of the East, Central, and South Semitic branches occurred in the Levant.[4] According to many scholars nowadays, Semitic originated from an offshoot of a still earlier language in North Africa and desertification made some of its speakers migrate in the fourth millennium BC into what is now Ethiopia, others northwest into West Asia [5]


South Semitic is divided into two uncontroversial branches:[6]


The Ethiopian Semitic languages collectively have by far the greatest numbers of modern native speakers of any Semitic language other than Arabic. Eritrea's main languages are mainly Tigrinya and Tigre, which are North Ethiopic languages, and Amharic (South Ethiopic) is the main language spoken in Ethiopia (along with Tigrinya in the northern province of Tigray). Ge'ez continues to be used in Eritrea and Ethiopia as a liturgical language for the Orthodox Tewahedo churches.

Southern Arabian languages have been increasingly eclipsed by the more dominant Arabic (also a Semitic language) for more than a millennium. Ethnologue lists six modern members of the South Arabian branch and 15 members of the Ethiopian branch.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Bender, L. (1997). "Upside Down Afrasian". Afrikanistische Arbeitspapiere. 50: 19–34.
  2. ^ Hetzron, Robert (1972). Ethiopian Semitic: Studies in Classification. Manchester University Press. p. 122. ISBN 9780719011238.
  3. ^ Kitchen, Andrew; Ehret, Christopher; et al. (22 June 2009). "Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of Semitic languages identifies an Early Bronze Age origin of Semitic in the Near East". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 276 (1665): 2703–2710. doi:10.1098/rspb.2009.0408. PMC 2839953. PMID 19403539.
  4. ^ Kitchen, A.; Ehret, C.; Assefa, S.; Mulligan, C. J. (29 April 2009). "Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of Semitic languages identifies an Early Bronze Age origin of Semitic in the Near East". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 276 (1668): 2703–10. doi:10.1098/rspb.2009.0408. PMC 2839953. PMID 19403539.
  5. ^ The Origin of the Jews: The Quest for Roots in a Rootless Age By Steven Weitzman page 69
  6. ^ Faber, Alice (1997). "Genetic Subgrouping of the Semitic Languages". In Hetzron, Robert (ed.). The Semitic Languages. Routledge. pp. 3–15.
  7. ^ "South". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2017-07-04.
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South Semitic languages
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