hebr.-aram. Wörterbuchs zum A.T., Lpz. 1886; P. Haupt, 'Assyrian Phonology, &c.,' in Hebraica, Chicago, Jan. 1885, vol. i. 3; Delitzsch, Assyrische Grammatik, 2nd ed., Berlin, 1906.
If the above division into four branches be reduced to two principal groups, No. 1, as South Semitic, will be contrasted with the three North Semitic branches.
[e] All these languages stand to one another in much the same relation as those of the Germanic family (Gothic, Old Norse, Danish, Swedish; High and Low German in their earlier and later dialects), or as the Slavonic languages (Lithuanian, Lettish; Old Slavonic, Serbian, Russian; Polish, Bohemian). They are now either wholly extinct, as the Phoenician and Assyrian, or preserved only in a debased form, as Neo-Syriac among Syrian Christians and Jews in Mesopotamia and Kurdistan, Ethiopic (Geʿez) in the later Abyssinian dialects (Tigre, Tigriña, Amharic), and Hebrew among some modern Jews, except in so far as they attempt a purely literary reproduction of the language of the Old Testament. Arabic alone has not only occupied to this day its original abode in Arabia proper, but has also forced its way in all directions into the domain of other languages.
The Semitic family of languages is bounded on the East and North by another of still wider extent, which reaches from India to the western limits of Europe, and is called Indo-Germanic since it comprises, in the most varied ramifications, the Indian (Sanskrit), Old and New Persian, Greek, Latin, Slavonic, as well as Gothic and the other Germanic languages. With the Old Egyptian language, of which Coptic is a descendant, as well as with the languages of north-western Africa, the Semitic had from the earliest times much in common, especially in grammatical structure; but on the other hand there are fundamental differences between them, especially from a lexicographical point of view; see Erman, 'Das Verhältnis des Aegyptischen zu den semitischen Sprachen,' in the ZDMG. xlvi, 1892, p. 93 ff., and Brockelmann, Grundriss, i. 3.
[f] 3. The grammatical structure of the Semitic family of languages, as compared with that of other languages, especially the Indo-Germanic, exhibits numerous peculiarities which collectively constitute its distinctive character, although many of them are found singly in other languages. These are—(a) among the consonants, which in fact form the substance of these languages, occur peculiar gutturals of different grades; the vowels are subject, within the same consonantal framework, to great changes in order to express various modifications of the same stem-meaning; (b) the word-stems are almost invariably triliteral, i.e. composed of three consonants; (c) the verb is restricted to two tense-forms, with a peculiarly regulated use; (d) the noun has only two genders (masc. and fem.); and peculiar expedients are adopted for the purpose of indicating the case-relations; (e) the
- Hommel, Grundriss der Geogr. und Gesch. des alten Orients, Munich, 1904, p. 75 ff., prefers to distinguish them as Eastern and Western Semitic branches. Their geographical position, however, is of less importance than the genealogical relation of the various groups of dialects, as rightly pointed out by A. Jeremias in Th.LZ. 1906, col. 291.
- First by Klaproth in Asia Polyglotta, Paris, 1823; cf. Leo Meyer in Nachrichien d. Gött. Gesellschaft, 1901, p. 454.