The New International Encyclopædia/Phœnician Language

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PHŒNICIAN LANGUAGE. The language spoken by the inhabitants of Phœnicia. It belonged to the Hebræo-Phœnician division of the Semitic family of languages, and represents in general an archaic stage of Hebrew and Moabitic, although it differs from the North Semitic group in certain particulars, such as having kūn (like the Arabic kāna) for the copula instead of hāyā, as in Hebrew. Phœnician spread widely from its home as Punic colonies were founded in the islands of the Mediterranean and Ægean, in Southern and Western Asia Minor, Southern France, and especially in Northern Africa. The diffusion gave rise to variations both of dialect and script, which were, however, comparatively slight. The sources of our knowledge are the inscriptions, coins, and seals, the transliteration of Phœnician phrases in Plautus's comedy of the Pœnulus, and the proper names and words found in the Old Testament, in the inscriptions of Assyria and Egypt, and in classical writers. The inscriptions are by far the most important source. Although they are very numerous, the vocabulary is relatively scanty on account of their monotonous content. They cover the period from about B.C. 600 to A.D. 200. The longest are the inscriptions found at Sidon in 1855 of twenty-two lines, at Marseilles in 1845 of twenty-one lines, and at Larnaka in 1879 of twenty-nine lines. The passage in the Pœnulus and the words and names in other foreign sources are of value in fixing the vocalization and pronunciation of Phœnician, since the alphabet, like all the Semitic scripts, excepting the Assyro-Babylonian and Ethiopic, writes only the consonants. The alphabet, which itself seems derived from the South Arabian script, is of importance as the ancestor of the Græco-Roman family of alphabets. (See Plate of Alphabets.) Phœnician literature seems to have been very scanty, consisting chiefly of annals, and at least one work, by Mago, on agriculture, and has been entirely lost with the exception of Greek translations of the voyage of Hanno (q.v.) and fragments asserted to be translations of the histories of Sanchuniathon (q.v.). Consult: Schröder, Die phönizische Sprache (Halle, 1869); Bloch, Phönizisches Glossar (Berlin, 1891); Gesenius, Scripturæ Linguæque Phœniciæ Monumenta Quotquot Supersunt Edita et Inedita (3 vols., Leipzig, 1887); Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum (Paris, 1881-87). See Semitic Languages.