The East Semitic languages are one of three divisions
of the Semitic languages
. The East Semitic group is attested by three distinct languages, Akkadian
all of which have been long extinct
. Kishite language is the oldest known Semitic language.
They were influenced by the non-Semitic Sumerian language
and adopted cuneiform
East Semitic languages stand apart from other Semitic languages, traditionally called West Semitic, in a number of respects: historically, it is believed that this linguistic situation came about as speakers of East Semitic languages wandered further east, settling in Mesopotamia
during the third millennium BCE
, as attested by Akkadian texts from this period. By the beginning of the second millennium BCE
, East Semitic languages, in particular Akkadian
, had come to dominate the region.
Modern understanding of the phonology
of East Semitic languages can only be derived from careful study of written texts and comparison with the reconstructed Proto-Semitic
. Most striking is the reduction of the inventory of back consonants, that is velar
and pharyngeal fricatives
, as well as glottals
. Akkadian only preserves and (partly) as a single phoneme
transcribed and usually reconstructed as a voiceless velar
or uvular fricative
. The sounds have all been lost. Their elision
appears to give rise to the presence of an e
vowel, where it is not found in other Semitic languages (for example, Akk.
''bēl'' 'master' < PS.
'', ''ekallu'' 'palace/temple' < PS.
''*haykal''). It also appears that the series of interdental fricatives became sibilants
(for example, Akk.
''šalšu'' 'three' < PS.
''*''). However, the exact phonological make-up of the languages is not fully known, and the absence of features may have been the result of the inadequacies of Sumerian orthography to describe the sounds of Semitic languages rather than their real absence.
The word order in East Semitic may also have been influenced by Sumerian, being subject–object–verb
rather than the West Semitic verb–subject–object
* Huehnergard, J. 1995. “Semitic Languages.” Pp. 2117–2134 in ''Civilizations of the Ancient Near East''. Jack Sasson (editor). New York.
Category:Languages attested from the 3rd millennium BC