Facts about Semitic Languages

semetic origin
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We listen to many languages on daily basis but have you ever wondered how many languages exist in the world? Do you know that lingos also have family groups? Do you know which language group we are going to explore today? Probably, one of the largest groups is also the branch of the Afro-Asiatic languages family and it originated in the Middle East. There are way too many lingos to be guessed. And you might have guessed already. Yes, we are going to explore Semetic languages today. The most interesting and unique thing about Semitic languages is that they have the longest recorded history among all other language families. Let’s explore this huge language group!

semetic tree

Semitic History

The possible locations for prehistoric origins of Semitic-speaking people include Mesopotamia, East Mediterranean, the Levant, the Arabian Peninsula, and North Africa. According to the most recent Bayesian studies, the Semitic language has origin in the Levant Circa during 3800 BC. And then later it was introduced in the Horn of Africa, in approximately 800 BC from the southern Arabian Peninsula and also to North Africa at approximately the same time. It can be noted that the earliest record of examples of these lingos was found in Western Asia.

These lingos are a family of different languages which more than 500 million people speak. Some of the individual languages also have the earliest records. People speak it mostly, in the larger parts of the Middle East and North Africa as well as by large minority populations in both Europe and North America. In history, it is its writing system was spanning 5000 years ago. And even today, it has lots of speakers throughout the world.

Why people call it ‘Semitic Languages’?

The term ‘Semitic’ was first introduced by a German linguist named Johann Gottfried Eichhorn in the late 18th century. He extracted the term from biblical texts, where Shem is one of Noah’s three sons from the Book of Genesis, and its Greek version was of his name i.e., Sēm. In 1795, Eichhorn published a paper called Semitische Sprachen (which means: “Semitic languages”). It was launched back in that century and the later linguists converted it into modern scholarship. And since then, this large group of languages that people of the Middle East and North Africa speak is Semitic Languages.


Though the classification of this lingo has always been a controversial topic, broadly it has six fairly uncontroversial nodes which are following:

  • East Semitic
  • Northwest Semitic
  • North Arabian
  • Old South Arabian
  • Modern South Arabian
  • Ethiopian Semitic
  • Languages of Current Use

In the early 21st century, the most important Semitic lingo in terms of the number of speakers was Arabic. More than 200 million people speak standard Arabian languages living in a broader area stretching from the Atlantic coast of Northern Africa to Western Iran. Moreover, additional 250 million people speak Standard Arabic as a secondary language. In the Arab world, most of the written and communication broadcast is conducted in this lingo.

In addition to that, it consists of numerous local Arabic dialects which are often distinct from each other. People are using it for day-to-day communication. Among all the various Semitic dialects, Maltese originated as a national language of Malta and it has more than 370,000 speakers. During the 19th Century, because of the revival of Hebrew, about 6 to 7 million people still speak Modern Hebrew Letters. Furthermore, numerous lingos of Ethiopia including Amharic, Tigrinya, and Tigre are also part of Semitic lingos. Check out our latest blog on the Piraha language.

semetic language
semetic language tree

Language of Past

There are written records of this lingo that date back to the middle of the 3rd millennium. The proof of Old Akkadian is still present in the Sumerian literary tradition. The dialects of Akkadian acquired the cuneiform writing system in Babylonia and Assyria during the early 2nd millennium. Sumerians were using this dialect to make Akkadian the chief language of Mesopotamia.

From the end of the 2nd millennium, languages of the Canaanite group began to vanish from the records in Syro-Palestine. Moreover, when the ancient city of Ebla came on the world map, the archives written in Eblaite that date back from the middle of the 3rd millennium BCE came into existence. During the early 1st millennium, documents in the Aramaic languages appeared. The list of all the Semitic lingos is pretty lengthy to count.

Anti-Semitic language

Anti-Semitism or Anti-Semitic language is the belief or behavior which shows hostility towards Jewish communities through inappropriate language and hateful speech. It involves bashing Jewish people and considering them inferior only because of their religion. Recently, according to the investigation at Duxbury High School, the school district has announced that the high school football coach was fired from the school football team because he used Anti-Semitic language which is a very offensive language in the Duxbury High School. The school district made a report of this incident.

The varsity football game of the schools as well as the investigation faces extension because of systemic failure. The school officials will decide the future games after proper investigation. Till then, the school officials will continue to work with the anti-defamation league. And as the news is coming out, it has become clear that members of the Duxbury School Committee did use anti-Semitic and potentially other inappropriate and derogatory languages. In letters addressed to families Monday, the principal of Plymouth North High School said that they could hear the players using offensive language and demonstrating poor judgment.

Facts about Semitic languages

Among the language families, Semitic lingos have quite important because it is the most populous branch of the Afro-Asiatic family. Some of the facts about this large family group include:

It has the longest record and widest background in history out of all other lingos.

Due to its long complex history, and ample documentation, the lingo provides a unique opportunity to most of its ancient members to explore language change and diversification.

The name Semitic is taken from Shem, a son of Noah in Genesis.

In terms of speakers, it has more than 500 million speakers who speak different languages given in its classification.

Though it constitutes a lot of languages, its drawback is that if an Arabian speaker tries to communicate with a Hebrew speaker, they will not be able to communicate successfully. It proves that these lingos are not mutually intelligible.


Being one of the largest language families, Semitic has covered millions of people as its speakers. It involves about 77 lingos which are currently operating throughout the world. Both modern and ancient nations together constitute the number of people speaking Semitic. Some of the words and roots used in different lingos of Semitic are the same whereas others differ. Sometimes, certain roots differ in meaning from another Semitic language. But on the contrary, there is sometimes no relation between the roots. Judging from this, the vocabulary of this lingo can be tricky for some people.

Moreover, Anti-Semitism is highly contagious in today’s life. No one should have the right to violate the privacy of another person or to make him feel inferior. Therefore, anyone who uses this offensive language faces punishment from the schools. The Semitic lingos which people used in the past and current era are both different. And they have their significance. Hope this article helps you in exploring this diverse language group. For any queries, feel free to contact us!


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