Harman Patil (Editor)

South Semitic languages

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Glottolog  None
Geographic distribution  Yemen, Oman, Ethiopia, Eritrea
Linguistic classification  Afro-Asiatic Semitic South Semitic
Subdivisions  Eastern (Modern South Arabian) Western (Old South Arabian, Ethiopian)

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

South Semitic is divided into two uncontroversial branches: South Arabian, on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and Ethiopian Semitic, found across the Red Sea in the Horn of Africa, mainly in modern Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Ethiopian Semitic languages have by far the greatest numbers of modern native speakers, indeed of any Semitic language other than Arabic. Eritrea's main languages are mainly Tigrinya and Tigre, which are North Ethiopic languages, while 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 Ethiopia as a liturgical language for the Ethiopian Church. Southern Arabian languages have been increasingly eclipsed by the more dominant Arabic (also a Semitic language) for more than a millennium. The Ethnologue lists six modern members of the South Arabian branch and 14 members of the Ethiopian branch.

The "homeland" of the South Semitic languages is widely debated, with sources such as A. Murtonen (1967), and Lionel Bender (1997), suggesting an origin in Ethiopia while others suggest 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.


  • Western
  • Old South Arabian – extinct, formerly believed to be the linguistic ancestors of modern South Arabian Semitic languages, modern South Arabian now being classified as Eastern South Semitic
  • Ethiopian Semitic languages (Ethio-Semitic, Ethiopian Semitic)
  • Eastern: Modern South Arabian. These languages are spoken mainly by small minority populations on the Arabian peninsula in Yemen (Mahra and Soqotra) and Oman (Dhofar).
  • References

    South Semitic languages Wikipedia