Get to Know about Semitic Languages, Afro-Asiatic Predominantly

Semitic languages refer to subfamilies that the speakers stretched from Africa, Asia, and beyond. To clarify, this one can be found in North Africa since South Africa deals with Niger-Congo. A bunch of people think that Arabic is the only one included, but that’s indeed misleading. It is said that for English speakers this language is difficult to learn. Let’s dive in to discover even more!

What are the Semitic Languages?

Semitic languages were once revealed between the 25th to 30th centuries BCE. The written records were based on the Akkadian (ancient Mesopotamia) manuscripts and Eblaite texts used in the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean).

There are about 77 living Semitic languages and 380 million speakers in total with Arabic as the majority (450 million).

The term was initiated by a German Linguist named Johann Gottfried in the late 18th century. Shem, one of Noah’s sons in biblical texts, is called Sem in the Book of Genesis, a holy name of the Greek version. Meanwhile, Eichhorn, a German publisher, through a paper in 1795, discussed Semitische Sprachen which was inspired by it and remains for now by Johann Gottfried.

This one is old, however, nearly 5,000 years doesn’t include the written records. Meanwhile, the system is considered hard to recognize for non-natives. Why is that? A word building is based on three consonants as the root, followed by weaving vowels. Nonconcatenative morphology is the term for identifying the phenomenon. On the other hand, once a language has the same characteristics, it can be categorized as the Semitic languages tree.

For instance, there are K-T-B roots in Arabic. Kataba means ‘he wrote.’ What if you want to express simple presents? Yaktubu is the answer. Prefixes in Semitic languages ​​do play an essential role in word forming. 

How Many Semitic Languages are There?

There are about 77 living Semitic languages and 380 million speakers in total with Arabic as the majority (450 million). It is followed by Amharic (Ethiopian language) and Maltese (Southern Italy). Besides, there are the unique characteristics of Maltese which refers to Arabic as well as Latin features. For non-native speakers, it’s surely confusing. 

Moreover, there are five more languages ​​that have the highest number of speakers after Arabic. What are they?

  • Hebrew

The characteristics are the same as Arabic, which has no vowels, is built by three roots, right to left writing direction, and has an identical grammar system, but the script isn’t that alike. It has 22 letters to understand. Meanwhile, there are 10 million speakers, including Poland and the United States. 

  • Tigrinya

This language has 7 million speakers, including in Italy, Canada, Germany, and the UK. What’s more interesting? There are plenty of borrowed words from other languages, such as pasta (Italy) and computer (English). The script uses Ge’ez which refers to Ethiopia and Eritrea liturgy. It may look uphill to learn, but that’s not totally true. Therefore, there is a tagline, “write as you read, read as you write.”

  • Tigre

Tigre has the correlation with Tigrinya lexical up to 64% and surprisingly 71% from Ge’ez. The speakers are 1 million and used in Eritrea and Sudan. Muslim in this region used to write in Arabic, while Christian preferred Ge’ez. Meanwhile, for the national religious text, it’s usually used Ge’ez. 

  • Aramaic

Aramaic has the similarity to Hebrew for the characterictics, however, it has 22 letters which mostly consists of consonants, and barely represents vowels. It was used by Jews, some Dead Sea Scrolls, and semi-nomadic groups in upper Mesopotamia. To add, it has 3,000 years of development history. For now, the speakers remain 500 thousand.

Enticing Facts about Semitic Languages

Do Semitic languages ​​correlate with each other? Even though there’s a lot of overlap there, it can’t necessarily be said to be the same. For instance, ‘peace’ in English, is translated as salam (Arabic), salom (Hebrew), and sliem (Maltase).

What’s more interesting? Let’s jump into Farsi! Even though 30% of the vocabulary comes from Arabic, in fact, it’s not classified as the Semitic languages. The scientific perspective assesses this one as an Indo-European family like Portuguese.

On the other hand, there is Anti-Semitism or Anti-Semitic language which represents the reciprocal toward Jewish community. The doer would like to express hate speech since they think that their position is superior. In the year 2021, a football coach from Duxbury High School, United States of America, was fired regarding this issue. 

Are you interested in learning a Semitic languages? What’s your first choice? It seems you need to acknowledge the alphabet system, especially consonant roots, and word formation first as it can assist you to proceed to the next level. Or, do you prefer reading its history in more detail?

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