Native toYemen
RegionArabian Peninsula
Extinct10th century?
Language codes
ISO 639-3None (mis)

Himyaritic[1] is a Semitic language that was spoken in ancient Yemen, by the Himyarites.[2] It continued to exist even after the demise of the Himyarite period. It was a Semitic language, but did not belong to the Old South Arabian (Sayhadic) languages. The precise position inside Semitic is unknown because of the limited knowledge of the language.[3]

Although the Himyar kingdom was an important power in South Arabia since the 1st century B.C., the knowledge of the Himyaritic language is very limited, because all known Himyarite inscriptions were written in Sabaean, an Old South Arabian language. The three Himyaritic texts appeared to be rhymed (sigla ZI 11, Ja 2353 and the Hymn of Qaniya). Himyaritic is only known from statements of Arab scholars from the first centuries after the rise of Islam. According to their description, it was unintelligible for speakers of Arabic.


Unlike the Old South Arabian languages, which were supplanted by Arabic in the 8th century, if not much earlier,[4] Himyaritic continued to be spoken in the highlands of southwestern Yemen after the rise of Islam. According to Al-Hamdani (893–947), it was spoken in some areas in the highlands of western Yemen in the 10th century, while the tribes at the coast and in eastern Yemen spoke Arabic and most tribes in the western highland spoke Arabic dialects with strong Himyaritic influence.[5] In the following centuries, Himyaritic was completely supplanted by Arabic, but the modern dialects in the highlands seem to show traces of the Himyaritic substrate.

Linguistic features

The most prominent known feature of Himyaritic is the definite article am-/an-. It was shared, though, with some Arabic dialects in the west of the Arabian Peninsula. Furthermore, the suffixes of the perfect (suffix conjugation) in the first person singular and the second person began with k-, while Arabic has t-. This feature is also found in Old South Arabian, Ethiosemitic and Modern South Arabian. Both features are also found in some modern Yemeni Arabic dialects in Yemen, probably through Himyaritic substrate influence. The article am- is also found in other modern dialects of Arabic in the Arabian peninsula and in Central Africa.[6]

Undeciphered-k language

Among inscriptions in the Sayhadic (Old South Arabian) languages of ancient Yemen, there are a few inscriptions that suggest a different, otherwise unknown language or languages. The language was subsequently identified as Ḥimyaritic and closely related to Sabaic. The texts actually represent rhymed poetry,[7] the final -k representing both suffixes of the 2. person singular and pronominal suffixes.


Only a few Himyaritic sentences are known. The following sentence was reportedly uttered in 654/5 A.D. in Dhamar.[8] Since it was transmitted in unvocalized Arabic script, the precise pronunciation is unknown; the reconstruction given here is based on Classical Arabic.



















رايك بنحلم كولدك ابنا من طيب

raʾay-ku bi-n-ḥulm ka-walad-ku ibn-an min ṭīb[8]

saw-1SG in-ART-dream that-gave.birth-1SG son-ACC of gold

"I saw in a dream that I gave birth to a son of gold."

There is also a short song, which seems to show Arabic influence.[8]


  1. ^ http://web.aou.edu.lb/images/stories/lebanon/Research/CALR/issue6/Article%204.pdf
  2. ^ Playfair, Col (1867). "On the Himyaritic Inscriptions Lately brought to England from Southern Arabia". Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London. 5: 174–177. doi:10.2307/3014224. JSTOR 3014224.
  3. ^ Donald Macdonald, Rev; MacDonald, Daniel (1997). The Oceanic Languages, Their Grammatical Structure, Vocabulary, and Origin. ISBN 9788120612709.
  4. ^ Robin, Christian (1998), "Südarabien − eine Kultur der Schrift", in Seipel, Wilfried (ed.), Jemen: Kunst und Archäologie im Land der Königin von Sabaʼ, Milan, p. 79
  5. ^ Rabin 1951, 46
  6. ^ Rabin 1951, 35
  7. ^ Stein, Peter (2008-01-01). "The "Ḥimyaritic" Language in pre-Islamic Yemen. A Critical Re-evaluation". Semitica et Classica. 1: 203–212. doi:10.1484/J.SEC.1.100253. ISSN 2031-5937.
  8. ^ a b c Rabin 1951, 48