Phoenician language

Phoenician language

Phoenician was a language originally spoken in the coastal region then called "Pūt" in Ancient Egyptian, Canaan in Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic, and Phoenicia in Greek and Latin. Phoenician is a Semitic language of the Canaanite subgroup; its closest living relative is Hebrew. The area where Phoenician was spoken includes modern-day Lebanon, coastal Syria, northern Israel and Malta. Its speakers called their own language "(dabarīm) Pōnnīm/Kana`nīm" "Punic/Canaanite (speech)"Fact|date=April 2007.

Phoenician is known only from inscriptions such as Ahiram's coffin, Kilamuwa's tomb, Yehawmilk's in Byblos, and occasional glosses in books written in other languages; Roman authors such as Sallust allude to some books written in Punic, but none have survived except occasionally in translation (e.g., Mago's treatise) or in snippets (e.g., in Plautus' plays). The Cippi of Melqart, discovered in Malta in 1694, were inscribed in two languages, Ancient Greek and Carthaginian. This made it possible for French scholar Abbe Barthelemy to decipher and reconstruct the Carthaginian alphabet. [ [ The Maltese Language ] ]

Punic and its influences

The significantly divergent later-form of the language that was spoken in the Tyrian Phoenician colony of Carthage is known as Punic; it remained in use there for considerably longer than Phoenician did in Phoenicia itself, arguably surviving into Augustine's time. It may have even survived the Arabic conquest of North Africa: the geographer al-Bakrī describes a people speaking a language that was not Berber, Latin or Coptic in the city of Sirt in northern Libya, a region where spoken Punic survived well past written use. [] . However it is likely that Arabization of the Punics was facilitated by their language belonging to the same group (the Semitic languages group) as that of the conquerors, and thus having many grammatical and vocabulary similarities.

The ancient Lybico-Berber alphabet derived from the Punic script still in irregular use by modern Berber groups such as the Tuareg is known by the native name "tifinaġ", possibly a declined form of the borrowed word "Pūnic". Direct borrowings from Punic appear in modern Berber dialects: one interesting example is "agadir" "wall" from Punic "gader".

Perhaps the most interesting case of Punic influence is that of the name of Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula, comprising Portugal and Spain), which according to one theory among many derived from the Punic "I-Shaphan" meaning "coast of hyraxes", in turn a misidentification on the part of Phoenician explorers of its numerous rabbits as hyraxes.Fact|date=June 2008 Another case is the name of a tribe of hostile "hairy people" that Hanno the Navigator found in the Gulf of Guinea. The name given to these people by Hanno the Navigator's interpreters was transmitted from Punic into Greek as "gorillai" and was applied in 1847 by Thomas S. Savage to the Western Gorilla.

Phonology, grammar and vocabulary

It is difficult to evaluate sound-changes in Phoenician dialects over time because writers continued to use archaic "book-spellings" that did not mark vowels in any way. Punic writers fitfully added a system of "matres lectionis" (vowel letters) at a very late period, but soon thereafter mostly shifted to Latin- or Greek-based scripts, which had their own failings (i.e., the inability to mark emphatic, laryngeal and guttural consonants).

Certain similarities between Phoenician and its related neighbours include the vowel-shifts known "en masse" as the "Canaanite Vowel Shift": Proto-Northwest Semitic "ā" became "ū" (and Hebrew "ō"), while stressed Proto-Semitic "a" became "o" (Hebrew "å") as shown by Latin and Greek transcriptions like "rūs" for "head, cape" (Hebrew ראש "rôš"). Despite this regional-specific name, Ancient Egyptian underwent this same vowel shift, which is evident in the spellings of late dialects of this language, particularly Coptic.

Phoenician dialects also appear to have merged the three proto-Northwest Semitic sibilants "sin", "shin" and "samekh" at a fairly early stage. This process was irregular in Hebrew and Aramaic (see shibboleth), leaving later dialects of those languages with two distinct sounds, "s" and "š". In later Punic, the gutturals seem to have been entirely lost (thus merging "tzade" with unmarked "s" as well). The loss of emphatic and laryngeals was also present in certain Roman-era Hebrew dialects as well as in some Aramaic dialects.

Unique to Punic of all the Northwest Semitic languages was the shift "p">"f" in all environments (as in proto-Arabic).

Phoenician-Punic did "not" undergo the consonantal lenition process that most other Northwest Semitic languages did (such as Hebrew and Aramaic) and it maintained many of the "primitive" Northwest Semitic sounds that were merged in other dialects (such as the merger of laryngeals and gutturals as laryngeals). This lenition is visible in the Hebrew verb conjugations listed below, where the underlying "p">"f" (spelled as "ph") in certain forms because of the phonetic environment in which it appears, whereas in Punic the same verb appears simply with an underlying "f" in all places.

Differences in the grammatical system abound: e.g., the survival of case endings in early Phoenician, the causative Punic verb-form "yifʼil" or "īfʼil" (orthographical "YPʼL" or "ʼYPʼL", Hebrew "hiphʼīl"). There are also interesting vocabulary differences, including the use of the verb "KN" "to be" (as in Arabic) (rather than Aramaic-Hebrew "HYH") and "PʼL" "to do" (as in Arabic fʼl) (rather than "ʼSH") and the (almost) exclusive use of "bal" "not" (Aramaic-Hebrew "lō" < *"lā". Also cf. Arabic "bal" = instead, on the contrary; and Hebrew "belial" (beli- ya'al) "without advantage, gain" = worthless ).

The earliest known inscriptions in Phoenician come from Byblos and date back to ca. 1000 BCE. Phoenician and Punic inscriptions are found in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Cyprus, Sardinia, Sicily, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Malta and other locations such as the Iberian Peninsula as late as the early centuries of the Christian Era.

Knowledge of Hebrew aided the reconstruction of Phoenician inscriptions. One of the earliest essays in Phoenician language studies was Wilhelm Gesenius (1786-1842), "Scripturae linguaeque phoeniciae monumenta", 1837, analyzing texts from coins and monumental inscriptions. Today, it is possible to study Phoenician at most universities in the U.S. and Canada that teach Semitic Philology; in particular, those that have a Department of Near Eastern Studies, such as Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, JHU, Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Michigan, The Catholic University of America, Chicago, and the University of Toronto.


ee also

*Punic language
*Phoenician alphabet
*Extinct language
*Pyrgi Tablets. Golden artifact made circa 500 BCE, found in Italy. It records an Etruscan chief named Thefarie Velianas. The inscription is bilingual, written in both Etruscan and Phoenician, and was made to commemorate the building of a temple to honour the Semitic goddess Ashtarte.


*Krahmalkov Charles R (2001): "A Phoenician-Punic Grammar" (Handbook of Oriental Studies, Section 1, Vol. 54); Brill Publishing (Leiden, Boston & Köln); ISBN 90-04-11771-7

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