Section from Chapter 5 of John Heise's `Akkadian language', about Semitic languages in general.

Akkadian, the oldest Semitic language

The following is adopted (in abbreviated form) from Egyptian and the Afro-Asiatic Languages.

Afro-Asiatic languages

Akkadian is a Semitic language, belonging to the family of Afro-Asiatic languages, also called Hamito-semitic language.

The AFRO-ASIATIC FAMILY, or the HAMITO-SEMITIC FAMILY of languages encompasses nearly all the languages of the Near East and northern Africa. The Afro-asiatic family consists of six coordinate branches, each branch with its own set languages.
Egyptian (ancient Egypt): Old Egyptian, Middle Egyptian, Late Egyptian, Demotic, Coptic
Cushitic (East Africa south of the Sahara): Galla, Somali, Oromo, Bedawiye, Hadya
Semitic (western Asia): Akkadian, Aramaic, South Arabic, Arabic, Hebrew, Eblaite, Amorite, Maltese, Ugaritic, Amharic, Canaanite, Phoenician
Chadic (West Africa south of the Sahara): Hausa, etc.
Berber (North Africa west of Egypt): Numidian, Tuareg, Riff
Omotic (southern Ethiopia): Omotic

Geographical classification of Semitic languages
Akkadian Babylonian-Assyrian
Eblaite recently discovered language from Ebla, Syria, 2400 BC
language from
Some documents with
pseudo hieroglyphic inscriptions
14th cent. BC
Proto-Sinaite inscriptions with
the oldest alphabet,
15th cent. BC
language from
Ancient texts from the Palistine city Lachis
Amorite Only known from proper names, 2000-1600
Ugaritic City of Ugarit
in N.W.Syria,
discovered in 1928,
15th-13th cent. BC
language from
from 12th cent. BC
Canaanite group Hebrew (Old Testament and Talmud)
modern Hebrew (Ivrite)
Phoenician and Punic (Punic language from Carthago; from 9th cent. BC)
Aramaic group
Old Aramaic (inscriptions in Syria, 10-8th cent. BC)
Aramaic (language of the New Assyrian empire, 7-4th cent. BC)
Western Aramaic
Nabatean (Qunran-rolls; Arabic population of Petra, Jordan)
Palmyrene (Arabic population of Palmyra)
Jewish-Palestine Aramaic
(language of Jezus)
Samaritan Aramaic (4th cent. BC)
Chr. Palestinian Aramaic (Chr. Melkieten, 5th-8th cent. AD)
present-day Aramaic in villages near Damascus
Eastern Aramaic
Syrisch of the city Edessa (3rd-13th cent. AD)
Babylonian Syriac from the Bab. talmud (4th-6th cent. AD)
Mandaean, gnostic religious communities (3th-8th cent. AD)
present day Aramaic in villages in Z.O.Turkey
Arabian Pre-classical Arabian (5th-4th cent. AD)
classical North Arabian (4th-10th cent. AD)
modern Arabian dialects
Old South Arabian (8th-6th cent. BC)
modern South Arabic dialects
Old Ethiopian
modern Ethiopian languages (many)

See elsewhere on the net:

  1. A quick guide to the Semitic languages and people
  2. Afro-asiatic languages, Root system,

The root system

In addition to a common source for their most ancient vocabulary, as well as other syntactic similarities, what binds the branches of the Afro-asiatic family together is their consonantal root system. In this system most words consist of three consonants, while a lesser number have two or (to an even lesser extent) four consonants. In any one word, these consonants are called the "root," and the root relates to the general concept behind the meaning of the word. Usually, the root is unalterable, although it can be inflected by the use of infixes (elements which are inserted within the root) and by prefixes and suffixes, all of which denote grammatical changes and which form new words with related meanings.

Most significantly, the vowels of the root--and hence its vocalization--change depending upon how the root is used in any given part of speech, e.g., as a noun, a verb, or in a certain mood, case or verb tense, etc. The pattern of vowel usage and change is called the "scheme." Thus, root and scheme are the two major elements which constitute the word in the Afro-asiatic languages. For example, in Arabic the root pertaining to the concept of teaching and learning is d-r-s. While the consonants drs will always remain the same, the scheme and vocalization will change depending upon usage, e.g.:

darasa, "to study, learn"
darrasa, "to teach"
dars, "lesson, class"
durus, "lessons"
mudaaris, "teacher (male)"/mudaarisa, "teacher (female)"
madrasa, "school"

The same system holds for Akkadian. The consonants would remain the same, while the vowels and vocalization changed according to use. With the use of the cuneiform writing system (borrowed from the Sumerians, a non-Semitic language), with signs values that stand for syllables, Akkadian is the only Semitic language in which the vowels are explicitly spelled.

These pages are under (slow) development.
Maintained and updated by John Heise
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