West Semitic
Middle East
Linguistic classificationAfro-Asiatic

The West Semitic languages are a proposed major sub-grouping of ancient Semitic languages. The term was first coined in 1883 by Fritz Hommel.[1][2][3]

The grouping[4] supported by Semiticists like Robert Hetzron and John Huehnergard divides the Semitic language family into two branches: Eastern and Western.[5]

The West Semitic languages consist of the clearly defined sub-groups: Modern South Arabian, Old South Arabian, Ethiopic, Arabic, and Northwest Semitic (this including Hebrew, Aramaic, and the extinct Amorite and Ugaritic languages).[5]

The East Semitic languages, meanwhile, consist of the extinct Eblaite and Akkadian languages.[6]

Ethiopic and South Arabian show particular common features, and are often grouped together as South Semitic.[5] The proper classification of Arabic with respect to other Semitic languages is debated.[citation needed] In older classifications, it is grouped with the South Semitic languages.[7] However, Hetzron and Huehnergard connect it more closely with the Northwest Semitic languages, to form Central Semitic.[5] Some Semiticists continue to argue for the older classification, based on the distinctive feature of broken plurals. Some linguists also argue that Eteocypriot was a Northwest Semitic language spoken in ancient Cyprus.[citation needed]


  1. ^ The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook, Chapter V, page 425
  2. ^ Aaron D. Rubin (2008). "The subgrouping of the Semitic languages". Language and Linguistics Compass. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2 (1): 61–84. doi:10.1111/j.1749-818x.2007.00044.x. P. Haupt (1878) first recognized that the qatala past tense found in West Semitic was an innovation, and that the Akkadian prefixed past tense must be archaic. It was F. Hommel, however, who recognized the implications of this for the subgrouping of Semitic; cf. Hommel(1883: 63, 442; 1892: 92–97; 1926: 75–82).
  3. ^ Fritz Hommel, Die semitischen Volker und Sprachen als erster Versuch einer Encyclopadie der semitischen Sprach- und Alterthums-Wissenschaft, (1883)
  4. ^ Hoftijzer, Jacob; Kooij, Gerrit Van der (January 1991). The Balaam Text from Deir ʻAlla Re-evaluated: Proceedings of the International Symposium Held at Leiden, 21–24 August 1989. ISBN 9004093176.
  5. ^ a b c d Huehnergard, John; Pat-El, Na’ama (2013-10-08). The Semitic Languages. Routledge. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-136-11580-6.
  6. ^ Weninger, Stefan (2011-12-23). The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook. Walter de Gruyter. p. 2. ISBN 978-3-11-025158-6.
  7. ^ Huehnergard, John; Pat-El, Na’ama (2013-10-08). The Semitic Languages. Routledge. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-136-11580-6.