Central Semitic languages

The Central Semitic languages[2][3] are a proposed intermediate group of Semitic languages, comprising Arabic and the Northwest Semitic languages: Aramaic, Ugaritic, and the Canaanite languages of Hebrew and Phoenician. In this reckoning, Central Semitic itself is one of three divisions of Semitic along with East Semitic (Akkadian and Eblaite) and South Semitic (Modern and Old South Arabian, and the Ethiopian Semitic languages).

Central Semitic
Middle East
Linguistic classificationAfro-Asiatic


Distinctive features of Central Semitic languages include the following:[4]

  • The realization of the common Semitic emphatic consonants as pharyngealized rather than ejectives:
    • For example, Proto-Semitic *ṭ [tʼ] and *ṣ [tsʼ] are realized as [tˤ] and [sˤ] in Arabic and Neo-Aramaic, in contrast to remaining ejectives in South Arabian and in Ethiopian Semitic.
    • Additionally, Proto-Semitic *ḳ [kʼ] becomes a uvular stop [q].
  • An innovative negation marker *bal, of uncertain origin.
  • The generalization of t as the suffix conjugation past tense marker, levelling an earlier alternation between *k in the first person and *t in the second person.
  • A new prefix conjugation for the non-past tense, of the form ya-qtulu, replacing the inherited ya-qattal form (they are schematic verbal forms, as if derived from an example triconsonantal root q-t-l).

Different classification systems disagree on the precise structure of the group. The most common approach divides it into Arabic and Northwest Semitic, while SIL Ethnologue has South Central Semitic (including Arabic and Hebrew) vs. Aramaic.

The main distinction between Arabic and the Northwest Semitic languages is the presence of broken plurals in the former. The majority of Arabic nouns (apart from participles) form plurals in this manner, whereas virtually all nouns in the Northwest Semitic languages form their plurals with a suffix. For example, the Arabic بَيْت bayt ("house") becomes بُيُوت buyūt ("houses"); the Hebrew בַּיִת bayit ("house") becomes בָּתִּים bāttīm ("houses").


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Central Semitic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. Bennett, Patrick R. (1998). Comparative Semitic Linguistics: A Manual. ISBN 9781575060217.
  3. The Semitic Languages. 2013-10-08. ISBN 9781136115882.
  4. Faber, Alice (1997). "Genetic Subgrouping of the Semitic Languages". In Hetzron, Robert (ed.). The Semitic Languages. London: Routledge. pp. 3–15. ISBN 0-415-05767-1.
  • Sabatino Moscati (1980). An Introduction to Comparative Grammar of Semitic Languages Phonology and Morphology. Harrassowitz Verlag. ISBN 3-447-00689-7.

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