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.