|Extinct||merged with Arabic during the early Islamic era.|
|ISO 639-3||None (|
Nabataean Aramaic was the Aramaic variety used in inscriptions by the Nabataeans of the Negev, the east bank of the Jordan River and the Sinai Peninsula.
During the early Islamic Golden Age, Arab historians applied the term "Nabataean" to other, eastern Aramaic languages in the Babylonian alluvial plain of Iraq and the Syrian Desert.
With the collapse of the Achaemenid Empire (330 BC), the Aramaic language also increasingly lost importance as the lingua franca of the Near East. The Greek language now appeared beside it. The formerly unified written culture fell apart into local schools and the old dialects now also increased in importance as written languages. Nabataean Aramaic was one of these local developments. The language of the Nabataean inscriptions, attested from the 2nd century BC, shows a local development of the Aramaic language.
Nabataean Aramaic was an offshoot of Imperial Aramaic. Of its few innovative features compared to Imperial Aramaic, the use of the object marker yt is a Western Aramaic feature.
Scholars used to be divided over the origins of Arabic script. One (contemporarily marginal) school of thought dates the Arabic script to the Syriac script, which also originated in Aramaic. The second school of thought, led by T. Noldeke, traces Arabic script to Nabatean. This thesis was confirmed and fully documented by J. Healey in his work on the Syriac and the Arabic alphabet. An inscription excavated in Umm al Jimal, Jordan, which dates to the 6th century, "confirms the derivation of the Arabic script from the Nabatean and points to the birth of distinctive Arabic writing forms".
The Nabataean language was always linguistically influenced by its historical and geographical context. Nabataean was initially primarily used by Aramaic speakers, and therefore drew much influence from the Aramaic vocabulary and proper names. But from the beginning of the 4th century onwards, it was increasingly used by Arab speakers, and therefore began to draw influence from Arabic. According to Cantineau, marked the beginning of the end of the widespread use of Nabataean Aramaic, as it became merged in Arabic. During this process, "Nabataean seems to have emptied itself little by little of the Aramaic elements it had and to have successively replaced them with Arabic loans".
This theory, while widely acknowledged, is contested. M. O'Connor argues that while Cantineau's theory may be historically true, his method of research to reach such conclusion is lacking, and may be misguided.
Evidence of Nabataean writings can be found in the burial and dedication inscriptions of the cities of Petra, Bosra and Hegra (modern Mada'in Saleh) and there are numerous smaller inscriptions from the southern Sinai Peninsula. There are further Nabataean texts from Qumran.
The first Nabataean inscription was found in Elusa, which is now the Negev area in Israel. The inscription mentions Aretas, king of the Nabataeans. Joseph Naveh argues that this inscription, that can be traced to king Aretas I, an "Arab ruler with whom Jason sought refuge in Petra in 169 BCE", lacks some of the Nabataean features and resembles uniform imperial Aramaic and Jewish script. Therefore, some scholars claim the earliest Nabataean inscription was found in Petra, Jordan, which can be dated back to the late Hellenistic Era in the years 96 or 95 BCE.
Over 4,000 excavated inscriptions have been confirmed to be written in Nabataean Aramaic. Most of the Nabataean inscriptions found are either burial designations or formal designations. The earliest inscription found to be written in cursive Nabataean was unearthed in Horvat Raqiq, close to the city of Beersheba, Israel. This inscription is unique not only because of its age, but also because it was written using ink applied on a large rock.
The vast majority of Nabataean inscriptions are found engraved on stone, like the Aslah inscription from Petra (95 BCE), the dedication to the goddess al-Kutba from Wadi Tumilat (77 BCE) and the inscription of Rabbel I from Petra (66 BCE). Some excavations have unearthed inscriptions on metallic objects. Most of such inscriptions were inscribed on metallic coins. Excavations in Wadi Musa in southern Jordan, unearthed dozens of bronze fragments with Nabataean inscriptions on them, yet the source of these fragments is uncertain. An important bronze inscription is found on a bronze oil burner excavated in Wadi Musa with a dedication from a priest and his son to Obodas, which dates to the reign of the Nabataean king Rabbel II, ruling between the years 70-106 AD.
It was suggested that the annexation of Petra by Rome in 106 CE stopped the wide use of Nabataean language in that region, as there are no Nabataean inscriptions found in Petra which can be traced to a date after the annexation. The latest Nabataean inscription found dates back to 356 CE, which was found in the Hijaz, in the north of what is now Saudi-Arabia.
Nabataean handwriting is characterized by a very characteristic cursive style. The Nabataean alphabet itself developed out of the Aramaic alphabet. It became the precursor of the Arabic alphabet, which developed out of cursive variants of the Nabataean script in the 5th century.
According to Cantineau, Nabataean Aramaic had the following consonantal sounds:
[f], [θ], [x], [v], [ð], and [ɣ] may have been allophones of /p/, /t/, /k/, /b/, /d/, and /g/, respectively. If so, the conditioning can no longer be recovered. The voiceless sibilants /s/ and /ʃ/ are sometimes confused in writing. /s/ also interchanges with /ɬ/, which was written with the same sign as /ʃ/ (a practice dating back to the Ancient Aramaic period).
As the Nabataean script does not indicate short vowels, the only information comes from names in foreign transcription. But these are normally of Arabic origin and do not tell us anything about the vocalic phonemes of Nabataean Aramaic.
Proto-Aramaic long *ā is sometimes spelled with a mater lectionis w, as in *ʔināš > ʔnwš 'human', *θamānā > tmwnʔ 'eight (m.)'. This may indicate a shift in pronunciation to a rounded ō.
The attested third person independent personal pronouns are masculine singular hw (rarely hwʔ), feminine singular hy, and masculine plural hm. The third person independent pronouns also function as demonstrative pronouns. The legal documents found in the Dead Sea region also attest the first person singular ʔnh and second person masculine singular ʔnt.
The first person plural suffixed pronoun is -nʔ. Unlike many other dialects of Aramaic which simply have -(a)n, Nabataean preserves the final vowel *-ā here, as indicated by the mater lectionis ʔ.
The third person masculine singular suffixed pronoun is normally -h. After long vowels and diphthongs (both marked by matres lectionis), -hy is used instead, as in ʔbwhy 'his father', ywmwhy 'his days'. In later graffiti, this distribution breaks down and other suffixes, -hw and -w, also appear. The third person feminine singular suffixed pronoun is always -h and the third person plural (used both for masculine and feminine) is -hm.
The most common demonstrative pronouns besides hw, hy, and hm are masculine singular dnh (rarely znh), feminine singular dʔ, and plural ʔlh. Other, rarely attested plural forms are ʔlk and ʔnw. In the later period, the gender distinction in the singular breaks down and both forms occur with both masculine and feminine antecedents.
The relative particle is zy in the oldest inscriptions and dy elsewhere. It does not inflect. It introduces relative clauses, as in dʔ msgdʔ dy ʕbd ʕbydw 'this is the sacred stone which ʕBYDW made', and can express a genitive relation, as in dnʔ ṣlmʔ dy ʕbdt ʔlhʔ 'this is the statue of Obodas the god'.
The interrogative and indefinite pronouns are mn 'who' and mh 'what'.
Like other Semitic languages, Nabataean Aramaic attests various (basic and derived) verb stems. Based on comparison with other varieties of Aramaic, it is likely that active verbs could occur as G-stems (basic stem), D-stems (intensive stem, characterized by different vowels and gemination of the second radical), or C-stems (causative stem, characterized by different vowels and a prefix). Due to the limitations of the Nabataean alphabet, the G- and D-stem are not distinguished in writing: cf. ʕbd 'he made' (G-stem), qrb 'he approached' (D-stem). The suffix conjugation (see below) of the C-stem is marked by a prefixed h-, as in hqym 'he erected', or ʔ-, as in ʔqymw 'they erected'; the prefix conjugation cannot be distinguished in writing from the G- or D-stem.
Mediopassive stems derived from the G- and D-stems are attested. These are marked by a prefixed -t-; all the examples known to Cantineau are prefix conjugation forms (see below), such as ytptḥ 'it will be opened' (tG-stem), ytʔlp 'he will compose for himself' (tD-stem). Unlike in some other kinds of Aramaic, verbs with a sibilant first radical prefix the -t- or infix it without voicing or emphatic assimilation: ytzbn and yztbn 'it will be sold'; these kinds of forms also occur in contemporary texts from the Dead Sea region, however. The late form mqtry (for earlier mtqrʔ) 'called (m.sg.)' shows Arabic-like infixation of -t- after a non-sibilant first radical, although the form cannot have been borrowed from Arabic in its entirety.
A purely passive form is marked by a mater lectionis -y- between the second and third radical, as in dkyr 'remembered (be) (m.sg.)'. This is sometimes inflected as an adjective, as in dkyryn 'remembered (m.pl.)' but can also be inflected according to the suffix conjugation, as in ʕbydt 'it (f.) was made'.
Two finite conjugations can be distinguished: the suffix conjugation, which exclusively marks its subject agreement through suffixation, and the prefix conjugation, which uses both suffixes and prefixes. Attested suffix conjugation endings include -t (third person feminine singular and second person masculine singular) and -w (third person plural for both genders); the third person masculine singular is unmarked. Examples include ʕbd 'he made', ʕbdt 'she made', ʕbdw 'they made', and qrʔt 'you (m.sg.) called'. The subject markers for the third person prefix conjugation are y- (third person masculine singular), t- (third person feminine singular), and y-...-wn (third person (masculine?) plural), as in yʕbd 'he will make', tʕbd 'she will make', and yktbwn 'they will write'.
The G-stem infinitive is formed with a prefixed m-, as in mktb 'to write'. The G-stem active participle does not have any special affixes and has a stem like rḥm 'loving (m.sg.)'. As noted above, the G-stem passive participle is formed like dkyr 'remembered (m.sg.)'. In late graffiti, the form mdk(w)r 'remembered (m.sg.)' also occurs, a pattern which is borrowed from Arabic. The participles (both active and passive) of the derived stems are formed by prefixing an m-, but examples are scarce.
Nouns distinguish two genders, masculine and feminine; two numbers, singular and plural; and three states, absolute, construct, and emphatic.
Feminine nouns may be marked by a feminine suffix (-h, -w, -y) or unmarked. The masculine is always unmarked.
Various endings express the combination of number and state:
The full paradigm is thus (example forms are of mlk 'king' and mlkh 'queen'; not all forms are actually attested):
Frequent prepositions include b- 'in', l- 'to, for, of', k- 'according to', mn 'from', and ʕl 'on, about'. These can take pronominal suffixes, as in bh 'in it', lhm 'to them'. ʕl is inflected as a plural before suffixes, as in ʕlwhy over him, ʕlyhm 'over them'.
Cantineau remarks the following about Nabataean Aramaic syntax:
Of the two finite verb conjugations, the suffix conjugation has the following uses:
The prefix conjugation has the following uses:
While the pronominal direct object of a verb is rarely expressed by a suffixed pronoun attached to the verb, normally it is attached to the following object marker yt.
If a sentence includes a verb, the normal word order is verb—subject—object(s), as in lʕnw (V) dwšrʔ wmnwtw wqyšh (S) kl mn dy ... (O) 'may Dushara and Manat and Qayshah curse anyone who ...'.
If a sentence does not include a verb, it is copular. It then consists of two noun phrases which make up the subject and predicate, as in dnh (S) kprʔ ... (P) 'this is the grave ...'.
Clauses can be coordinated by the conjunction w- 'and, but'. Most forms of subordinate clauses are introduced by the particle dy. Conditional clauses are introduced by hn 'if'.