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date: 15 November 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The chapter sketches the development of Semitic linguistics. It opens with a presentation of Semitic languages and of the larger Afro-Asiatic phylum, to which Semitic belongs along with ancient Egyptian, Libyco-Berber, Cushitic, and Chadic. After recording the cuneiform lexicographic and grammatical work of the third and second millennia BC, the survey presents grammatical research on Syriac, Aramaic, Arabic, and Hebrew from the medieval period onwards. Ethiopian studies started in the sixteenth century, dealing first with Ge‘ez and Amharic, and in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries other Ethio-Semitic languages. The discovery and study of South Arabian started in the same period. The decipherment first of the Egyptian hieroglyphs and of the Akkadian cuneiform script, then of South Arabian and Ugaritic inscriptions was followed by grammatical studies which had a great impact on the linguistic analysis and perception of the Semitic languages. Ethio-Semitic relations with Cushitic languages extended the research field of Semitics to African languages. The formal similarity of verbal paradigms of Akkadian, Ethio-Semitic, and Libyco-Berber increased the attention paid to the Berber dialects of North Africa and to their affinity with Semitic idioms. There is a much weaker link with the Chadic languages. Polotsky’s studies on Egyptian grammar resulted in a deeper understanding of the difference between ancient Egyptian and Semitic, while Diakonov’s discovery of ergative characteristics in Libyco-Berber led to the perception of similar features in the other Afro-Asiatic languages. Recent Bohas’ studies of the Arabic and Hebrew roots provide a better understanding of the formation of the lexicon.

Keywords: ergative languages, decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs, decipherment of cuneiform scripts, South Arabian, Ethio-Semitic

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