Nabataean Arabic
RegionLevant, Sinai Peninsula and northwestern Arabia
Era4th century BCE to 1st century CE
Language codes
ISO 639-3None (mis)

Nabataean Arabic was the dialect of Arabic spoken by the Nabataeans in antiquity.

In the first century AD, the Nabataeans wrote their inscriptions, such as the legal texts carved on the façades of the monumental tombs at Mada'in Salih, ancient Ḥegrā, in Nabataean Aramaic.

It is probable, however, that some or all of them, possibly in varying proportion depending on the region of the Nabataean Kingdom where they lived, spoke Arabic.[1]



Consonant phonemes of Nabataean Arabic
Labial Dental Denti-alveolar Palatal Velar Pharyngeal Glottal
plain lateral
Nasal [m] m – م [n] n – ن
Stop voiceless [pʰ] p – ف [tʰ] t – ت [kʰ] k – ك [ʔ] ʾ – ء
voiced [b] b – ب [d] d – د [g] g – ج
emphatic [tʼ] ṭ – ط [kʼ] q – ق
Fricative voiceless [θ] ṯ – ث [s] s – س [ɬ] s2ش [x] ẖ – خ [ħ] ḥ – ح [h] h – ه
voiced [ð] ḏ – ذ [z] z – ز [ɣ] ġ – غ [ʕ] ʿ – ع
emphatic 1ظ [sˁ]2ص 1ض
Rhotic [r] r – ر
Approximant [l] l – ل [j] y – ي [w] w – و
^1 These consonants were probably voiceless, in contrast with Old Higazi, where they may have been voiced.[2] It is clear that in southern Syria the two sounds had not merged and that they remained voiceless. The evidence from Nessana, on the other hand, suggests that both reflexes were voiced, and that they had possibly merged to [ɮˁ].[3]
^2 There is evidence that [tsʼ] had deaffricated and pharyngealized to [sˁ].[3]


Monophthong phonemes
Short Long
Front Back Front Back
Mid e o
Open a æː

In contrast with Old Higazi and Classical Arabic, Nabataean Arabic may have undergone the shift [e] < *[i] and [o] < *[u], as evidenced by the numerous Greek transcriptions of Arabic from the area. This may have occurred in Safaitic as well, making it a possible Northern Old Arabic isogloss.

Nabataean א in دوسرا (dwsrʾ) does not signal [aː]; it would seem that *ay# collapsed to something like [æː]. Scribes must have felt that this sound was closer to א when the spelling conventions of Nabataean were fixed. In Greek transcription, this sound was felt to be closer to an e-class vowel, yielding Δουσαρης.[3]


Proto-Arabic (unattested)
Triptote Diptote Dual Masculine plural Feminine plural
Nominative -un -u -āni -ūna -ātun
Accusative -an -a -ayni -īna -ātin
Genitive -in

Proto-Arabic nouns could take one of the five above declensions in their basic, unbound form. The definite article spread areally among the Central Semitic languages and it would seem that Proto-Arabic lacked any overt marking of definiteness.

Pre-Nabataean Arabic (unattested)[4]
Triptote Diptote Dual Masculine plural Feminine plural
Nominative -u - -ān -ūn -ātu
Accusative -a -ayn -īn -āti
Genitive -i

Final short vowels were lost, then nunation was lost, producing a new set of final short vowels. The definite article /ʾal-/ entered the language shortly after this stage.[4]

Nabataean Arabic (ʿEn ʿAvdat, c. 125 CE)
Triptote Diptote Dual Masculine plural Feminine plural
Nominative (ʾal-)...-o - *(ʾal-)...-ān *(ʾal-)...-ūn *(ʾal-)...-āto?
Accusative (ʾal-)...-a *(ʾal-)...-ayn *(ʾal-)...-īn *(ʾal-)...-āte?
Genitive (ʾal-)...-e

The ʿEn ʿAvdat inscription shows that final [n] had been deleted in undetermined triptotes, and that the final short vowels of the determined state were intact. The reconstructed text of the inscription is as follows:[5]

  1. pa-yapʿal lā pedā wa lā ʾaṯara
  2. pa-kon honā yabġe-nā ʾal-mawto lā ʾabġā-h
  3. pa-kon honā ʾarād gorḥo lā yorde-nā[4]

Translation: "And he acts neither for benefit nor favour and if death claims us let me not be claimed. And if an affliction occurs let it not afflict us".[6]

Nabataean Arabic (JSNab 17, 267 CE)
Triptote Diptote Dual Masculine plural Feminine plural
Nominative (ʾal-)...-o - ? ? ?

In JSNab 17, All Arabic triptotes terminate in w regardless of their syntactic position or whether they are defined.

See also


  1. ^ "Arabic in Context | Brill". Archived from the original on 2017-06-21. Retrieved 2017-06-20.
  2. ^ Al-Jallad, Ahmad (2015). "On the Voiceless Reflex of *ṣ́ and *ṯ ̣ in pre-Hilalian Maghrebian Arabic". Journal of Arabic Linguistics (62): 88–95.
  3. ^ a b c Al-Jallad, Ahmad (January 2015). "Graeco-Arabica I: the southern Levant". In F. Briquel-Chatonnet; M. Debié; L. Nehmé (eds.). Le Contexte de Naissance de l'Écriture Arabe. Écrit et écritures Araméennes et Arabes Au 1er Millénaire Après J.-C., Actes du Colloque International du Projet ANR Syrab (in French). Louvain: Peeters (Orientalia Lovaniensa Analecta).
  4. ^ a b c Al-Jallad, Ahmad. "One wāw to rule them all: the origins and fate of wawation in Arabic and its orthography". In Donner, Fred M.; Hasselbach-Andee, Rebecca (eds.). Scripts and Scripture: Writing and Religion in Arabia circa 500–700 CE. Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. ISBN 978-1-61491-073-2.
  5. ^ Al-Jallad, Ahmad (2015). "Echoes of the Baal Cycle in a Safaito-Hismaic Inscription". Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions. 15 (1): 5–19. doi:10.1163/15692124-12341267. Retrieved 2015-12-09.
  6. ^ Fisher, Greg (2015). Arabs and Empires Before Islam. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-965452-9.