South Semitic
Yemen, Oman, Ethiopia, Eritrea
Linguistic classificationAfro-Asiatic

South Semitic is a putative branch of the Semitic languages. Semitic itself is a branch of the larger Afro-Asiatic language family found in (North and East) Africa and Western Asia.


The "homeland" of the South Semitic languages is widely debated, with sources such as A. Murtonen (1967) and Lionel Bender (1997),[1] suggesting an origin in Ethiopia and others suggesting the southern portion of the Arabian Peninsula. A recent study based on a Bayesian model to estimate language change concluded that the latter viewpoint is more probable.[2]


South Semitic is divided into two uncontroversial branches:[3]


The Ethiopian Semitic languages collectively have by far the greatest numbers of modern native speakers of any Semitic language other than Arabic. Eritrea's main languages are mainly Tigrinya and Tigre, which are North Ethiopic languages, and Amharic (South Ethiopic) is the main language spoken in Ethiopia (along with Tigrinya in the northern province of Tigray). Ge'ez continues to be used in Eritrea and Ethiopia as a liturgical language for the Orthodox Tewahedo churches.

Southern Arabian languages have been increasingly eclipsed by the more dominant Arabic (also a Semitic language) for more than a millennium. Ethnologue lists six modern members of the South Arabian branch and 15 members of the Ethiopian branch.[4]

See also


  1. ^ Bender, L (1997), "Upside Down Afrasian", Afrikanistische Arbeitspapiere 50, pp. 19-34
  2. ^ Kitchen, Andrew, Christopher Ehret, et al. 2009. "Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of Semitic languages identifies an Early Bronze Age origin of Semitic in the Near East." Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 276 no. 1665 (June 22)
  3. ^ Alice Faber, "Genetic Subgrouping of the Semitic Languages", in Robert Hetzron (ed.), The Semitic Languages (Routledge, 1997), pp. 3–15.
  4. ^ "South". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2017-07-04.