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Phoenician languages

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Phoenician languages


𐤃𐤁𐤓𐤉𐤌 𐤊𐤍𐤏𐤍𐤉𐤌
dabarīm Kana`nīm
Native to Formerly spoken in Lebanon, Palestine, Libya, Syria, Israel, Tunisia, Southern Mediterranean Iberia, Malta, Algeria, Morocco, Cyprus, Sicily, and other coastal outposts and islands throughout the Mediterranean.
Extinct Used in the Levant and perhaps spoken till the start of the 4th century AD, continued in its Punic form perhaps as late as the 7th century AD or even later
Language family
Writing system Phoenician alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-2 phn
ISO 639-3 phn
Linguist List Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
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This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Phoenician was a language originally spoken in the coastal (Mediterranean) region then called "Canaan" in Phoenician, Arabic, Greek, and Aramaic, "Phoenicia" in Greek and Latin, and "Pūt" in Ancient Egyptian. Phoenician is a Semitic language of the Canaanite subgroup; its closest living relative is Hebrew, to which it is very similar. The area where Phoenician was spoken includes modern-day Lebanon, coastal Syria, Palestine, northern Israel, parts of Cyprus and, at least as a prestige language, some adjacent areas of Anatolia.[1] It was also spoken in the area of Phoenician colonization along the coasts of the Southwestern Mediterranean, including those of modern Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, as well as Malta, the west of Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and southernmost Spain.

Phoenician is currently known only from brief and unvaried inscriptions of official and religious character 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 Abbé Barthelemy to decipher and reconstruct the Carthaginian alphabet. Further, since a trade agreement was found in 1964 written between Etruscans and a group of Phoenicians, more Etruscan has been deciphered.[2]

Writing system

Main article: Phoenician alphabet

Phoenician was written with the Phoenician script, an abjad (consonantary) that formed the basis for the Greek and hence the Latin alphabets. The Western Mediterranean (Punic) area form of the script gradually developed somewhat different and more cursive letter shapes; in the 3rd century BC, it also began to exhibit a tendency to mark the presence of vowels, especially final vowels, with an aleph or sometimes an ayin. Furthermore, around the time of the Second Punic War, an even more cursive form began to develop[3] and it gave rise to a variety referred to as Neo-Punic, which existed alongside the more conservative form and became predominant some time after the destruction of Carthage (146 BC).[4] Neo-Punic in turn tended to designate vowels with matres lectionis more frequently than the previous systems had and also began to systematically use different letters for different vowels,[4] in the way explained in more detail below. Finally, a number of late inscriptions from El-Hofra (Constantine), in the 1st century BC, make use of the Greek alphabet to write Punic, and many inscriptions from Tripolitania, in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, use the Latin alphabet for that purpose.[5]

In Phoenician writing, unlike that of most later abjads such as those of Aramaic, Biblical Hebrew and Arabic, even long vowels remained generally unexpressed, and that regardless of their origin. Eventually Punic writers did begin to implement systems of marking of vowels by means of consonantal letters (matres lectionis): first, beginning in the 3rd century BC, there appeared the practice of using final ʼ to mark the presence of any final vowel and, occasionally, of y to mark a final long [iː]. Later, mostly after the destruction of Carthage, in the so-called "Neo-Punic" inscriptions, this was supplemented by a system in which w denoted [u], y denoted [i], ʼ denoted [e] and [o], ʿ denoted [a][6] and h and could also be used to signify [a].[7] This latter system was used first with foreign words and was then extended to many native words as well. A third practice reported in the literature is the use of the consonantal letters for vowels in the same way as that had occurred in the original adaptation of the Phoenician alphabet to Greek and Latin, which was apparently still transparent to Punic writers: i.e. h for [e] and ʼ for [a].[8] Later, Punic inscriptions began to be written in the Latin alphabet, which also indicated the vowels. These later inscriptions, in addition with some inscriptions in Greek letters and transcriptions of Phoenician names into other languages, represent the main source for Phoenician vowels.



The Phoenician orthography (see Phoenician alphabet) distinguishes the consonants conventionally transcribed as follows:

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
Plain Emphatic
Nasal m /m/ n /n/
Stop Voiceless p /p/, later f /f/ t /t/ ṭ // k /k/ q /q/ ʼ /ʔ/
Voiced b /b/ d /d/ g /ɡ/
Fricative Voiceless s /s/ ṣ // š /ʃ/ ḥ /ħ/ h /h/
Voiced z /z/ ʻ /ʕ/
Trill r /r/
Approximant l /l/ y /j/ w /w/

The original value of the Proto-Semitic sibilants, and accordingly of their Phoenician counterparts, is disputed, with many scholars arguing that š was [s], s was [ts], z was [dz] and was [tsʼ],[9] while others stick to the traditional sound values of [ʃ], [s], [z] and [sˤ] as reflected in the transcription.[10] However, Berber loan words from the Punic language like Bẓālīm (onions) reveal a close pronunciation to the Punic/Phoenician Baṣalīm; moreover the Berber pronunciation Bẓālīm fits the Lebanese place name Bṣālīm (بصاليم),[11] which has also the meaning "onions" and it is shown here that Sade in Phoenician and Punic was *ṣ. The letter Sade was not present in ancient Berber and thus the Berber people used a close sound for *ṣ; only later was an additional letter for Arabic loans with the Arabic letter Sad added; there was however an ancient variety of the Libyco-Berber script which had an additional letter for Punic words with *ṣ. Another case is the Berber loan Guzim,Aguzim, meaning walnuts; it matches Punic/Phoenician guzīm ethmylogical *z is shown here.[12] Phoenician *š and Punic *š remained; this is shown by the survival of the Phoenician substrate word 'eš for Jack in the Lebanese basra game;[13] this word comes from Phoenician 'iš meaning man, while Berber loan words such as kšaim meaning cucumber reflect Punic qušūʔim/qišūʔim cucumbers [14] and it also implied that Punic still had *š, the singular of this word is attested in old Greek transliterations as ΚΙΣΣΟΥ from Phoenician Qišūʔ. Another interesting Berber loan from Punic is Amadir which means hoe, it is from Punic Maʕdir which means also hoe, a simple "a" appears instead of the voiced pharyngeal ʕ.[15] However the glottal stop and the voiced pharyngeal seem to be transformed often into "a" in Berber loans from Punic; maybe it was once an attempt to render the voiced pharyngeal and the glottal stop, the ancient Berber script did not possess any letter for the glottal stop and pharyngeals, that is why Berber loans from Punic like defu, meaning apple, lost the original ḥ* for Punic Tefuḥ for apple. Arabic loan words in Tuareg which have a voiced pharyngeal fricative, the voiced pharyngeals fricatives in those words are often presented also as "a" in Latin script or as a vowel indicating letter in the traditional Tuareg script, the same counts for Punic loan words in ancient Libyan script.

The system reflected in the abjad above is the product of several mergers. From Proto-Northwest Semitic to Canaanite, and *ṯ have merged into , *ḏ and *z have merged into *z, and *ṱ, *ṣ́ and *ṣ have merged into * ṣ . Next, from Canaanite to Phoenician, the sibilants and were merged as , *ḫ and *ḥ were merged as , and *ʻ and *ġ were merged as *ʻ.[16] These latter developments also occurred in Biblical Hebrew at one point or another.

On the other hand, it is debated whether šin and samekh, which are mostly well distinguished by the Phoenician orthography, also eventually merged at some point, either in Classical Phoenician or in Late Punic.[17] But Phoenician loanwords in Lebanese Arabic like 'eš (jack, man) and Punic loan words in Berber languages like kšaim (cucumbers) point to a survival of šin. In later Punic, the laryngeals and pharyngeals seem to have been entirely lost. Neither these nor the emphatics could be adequately represented by the Latin alphabet, but there is also evidence to that effect from Punic script transcriptions.

There is no consensus on whether Phoenician-Punic ever underwent the plosive consonantal lenition process that most other Northwest Semitic languages (such as Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic) did (cf. Hackett[18] vs Segert[19] and Lyavdansky[20]) The consonant /p/ may have been generally transformed into /f/ in Punic and in late Phoenician, as it was in Proto-Arabic.[20] Certainly Latin-script renditions of late Punic include many "spirantized" transcriptions with th and kh in various positions but ph only one time attested in Plauto's comedy – although the interpretation of these spellings seems not entirely clear – as well as the letter f for original *p.[21] But Punic loan words in Berber languages and Phoenician substratum in levantine Arabic dialects reveal no spirantization but they show a shift from p to f, seldom to b, where it stays probably an original *p under Arabic influence or a late preservance with the letter Bet.[12][22] While Latin and foreign words with "p" are often rendered with Phoenician "p", there are some exceptions where foreign "p" is rendered as "b" in late Punic inscriptions.[23][24] Also Arabic place names of the levantine reveal Phoenician words and even under the arabized pronunciation they still show the real and late pronunciation of certain consonants of the Phoenician alphabet.[25][26] The shift of Proto-Canaanite () to (š) is verified in the Lebanese place name Hadchit (حدشيت),[27] proto-Canaanite ḥadaṯit>ḥadšit Phoenician, the name is Phoenician and means tiding, news. The attestation of such a place name also seems to indicate that the Phoenicians did not stop using a semitic language, possibly the Phoenician language which could have survived as a known language or even as a spoken language till the start of the 4th century in the Hellenistic and Roman era, as the youngest Phoenician coin is from the midst of the 3rd century with the Phoenician name Pumyaton,[28][29][30] after that as Syriac up to the advent of Islam in the levantine, it seems that they also knew how to pronounce the place names in their semitic form; eventually the pronunciation of the letters was not entirely lost in late Phoenician and could go over to Syriac and ultimately to Arabic.


Our knowledge of the vowel system is very imperfect because of the characteristics of the writing system, which were explained above; during most of its existence, Phoenician writing didn't express any vowels at all, and even as vowel notation systems did eventually arise late in its history, they never came to be applied consistently to the native vocabulary . It is thought that Phoenician had the short vowels /a/, /i/, /u/ and the long vowels /aː/, /iː/, /uː/, /eː/, /oː/.[16][31] The Proto-Semitic diphthongs /aj/ and /aw/ are realized as /eː/ and /oː/; this must have happened earlier than in Biblical Hebrew, because the resultant long vowels are not marked with the semi-vowel letters (bēt "house" was written bt in contrast to Biblical Hebrew byt).

The most conspicuous vocalic development in Phoenician is the so-called Canaanite shift, which is partly shared by Biblical Hebrew but has gone much further than in it: thus, Proto-Northwest Semitic /aː/ and /aw/ became not merely /oː/ as in Tiberian Hebrew, but /uː/. Stressed Proto-Semitic /a/, which rendered Tiberian Hebrew /aː/, became /oː/. The shift is proved by Latin and Greek transcriptions like rūs for "head, cape" (Tiberian Hebrew rōš, ראש), samō for "he heard" (Tiberian Hebrew šāmāʻ, שמע); similarly the word for "eternity" is known from Greek transcriptions to have been ʻūlōm, corresponding to Biblical Hebrew ʻōlām and Proto-Semitic ʻālam. The letter Y used for words such as ys "which" and yth (definite accusative marker) in Greek and Latin alphabet inscriptions can be interpreted as denoting a reduced schwa vowel[8] that occurred in pre-stress syllables in verbs and two syllables before stress in nouns and adjectives,[32] while other instances of Y as in chyl for /küll or kull/ and even chil for /kill/ "all" in Poenulus can be interpreted as a further stage in the vowel shift resulting in fronting ([y]) and even subsequent delabialization of /u/ and /uː/.[32][33] Short /*i/ in originally open syllables was lowered to [e] and was also lengthened if accented.[32]


Judging from stress-dependent vowel changes, stress was probably mostly final, as in Biblical Hebrew.[34] Long vowels probably only occurred in open syllables.[35]


As is typical for the Semitic languages, Phoenician words are usually built around triconsonantal roots and vowel changes are used extensively to express morphological distinctions.

Nominal morphology

Nouns are marked for gender (masculine and feminine), number (singular, plural and vestiges of the dual) and state (absolute and construct, the latter characterizing nouns followed by their possessors) and also have the category definiteness. There is some evidence for remains of the Proto Semitic genitive grammatical case as well. While many of the endings coalesce in the standard orthography, inscriptions in the Latin and Greek alphabet permit the reconstruction of the noun endings (which are also the adjective endings) as follows:[36][37][38][39]

Masculine: absolute singular -∅,dual /-ēm,-eym in the south Phoenician dialect of Akko / ym in the south Phoenician dialect of Akko m, plural /-īm/ m
construct singular -∅, dual /-ē, -ey in the south Phoenician dialect of Akko / ∅,y, plural /-ē/
Feminine: absolute singular /-(o)t/ t, dual /-tēm, -teym/ tm, tym in the south Phoenician dialect of Akko, plural /-ūt/ t
construct singular /-(o)t/ t, dual */- tē, -tey/ t?, plural /-ūt/ t

In late Punic, the final /-t/ of the feminine singular form was seldomly dropped in Latinized nicknames only for stylistic matters: ḥmlkt "brother of the queen" or ʼḥmlkt "brother of the queen" rendered in Latin as HIMILCO.[33][40] While there were also Latin versions which portray the exactwritting with final -t, the final /-t/ of the feminine singular form was never droped in the Phoenician language,such developement cannot be seen, not even in the late Phoenician texts nor in the late Punic texts where many amateur scribers were responsible for the texts. The lack of the final -t in the plural form is attested in very few Latino-Punic texts where we can see SANU instead of SANUTH seems to indicate a scribal error than a grammatical developement, meaning years in Phoenician, it is probably an indication of the decreasing knowledge in Punic and the increasing influence of the Vulgar Latin which was perhaps mixed in. Also the normal correct form SANUTH is attested. /n/ was also assimilated to following consonants: e.g. št "year" for earlier */šant/.[33]

The case endings in general must have been lost between the 9th century BCE and the 7th century BCE: e.g. the personal name rendered in Akkadian as ma-ti-nu-ba-ʼa-li "Gift of Baal", with the case endings -u and -i, was written ma-ta-an-baʼa-al two centuries later. However, we do find evidence of a retention of the genitive case in the form of the first singular possessive suffix: ʼby /ʼabiya/ "of my father" vs ʼb /ʼabī/ "my father".

The written forms and the reconstructed pronunciations of the personal pronouns[41] are as follows:

1st: /ʼanōkī ,ʼanōk, ʼanūkī, ʼenak, ʼanak(ī)/ ʼnk (Punic sometimes ʼnky), also attested in late Punic as /ʼanek/
2nd masc. /ʼatta,ʼetta ,ʼette, it is later often used for both genders (ː)/ ʼt
2nd fem. /ʼatti,ʼetti(ː)/ ʼt
3rd masc. /huʼ, huwo, hü/ hʼ,hw, also [hy] (?) hy and /huʼat/ hʼt
3rd fem. /hiʼ,hya, later hyi/ hʼ, hy

1st: /ʼanaḥnū,naḥnū, niḥnū / ʼnḥn, nḥn
2nd masc. /ʼattum , ʼettom, it is used for both genders/ ʼtm
2nd fem. unattested
3rd masc. /hummat,hommat,hum, it is used for both genders/ hmt,hm,
3rd fem. /himmat/ hmt

Enclitic personal pronouns are added to nouns (to encode possession) and to prepositions, as shown below for "standard Phoenician" (the predominant dialect, as distinct from the Byblian and late Punic varieties). They appear in a slightly different form depending on whether they follow the plural form masculine nouns (and therefore are added after a vowel) or not. The former case is given in brackets with the abbreviation a.V..

1st: /-ī, after a vowel -ya, later -yi/ , also y (a.V. /-ya/ y)
2nd masc. /-ka , later -ok in late Punic ,ak in late Phoenician(ː)/ k
2nd fem. /-ki, later oki in late Punic,aki in late Phoenician(ː)/ k
3rd masc. /-o, -yo,-im in some late Punic dialects, -hu in old Byblian, in late Byblian -aw, -u ː/ ∅,y,-m in some late Punic dialects -h in old Byblian, Punic ʼ, (a.V. /-ēyu(ː)/ y)
3rd fem. /-a, -ya,-ha in Byblianː/ ∅,ʼ in Punic, -h in Byblian, Punic ʼ (a.V. /-ēya(ː)/ y)

1st: /-onu,-nu also seldomly -on in late Punic/ n
2nd masc. /-kōm,also -okōm in late Punic,-akōm in late Phoenician, -kūm,-akūm possibly in Byblian/ km
2nd fem. unattested
3rd masc. /-o(ː)m, -hm in Byblian, it is later used for both genders/ m,hm (a.V. /-nōm, -hūm in Byblian/ nm, hm)
3rd fem. /-e(ː)m, -hm in Byblian/ m (a.V. /-nēm,-hīm in Byblian/ nm, hm)

In addition, according to some research, the same written forms of the enclitics that are attested after vowels are also found after a singular noun in what must have been the genitive case (which ended in /-i/, whereas the plural version ended in /-ē/). In this case, their pronunciation can be reconstructed somewhat differently: 1st singular /-iya(ː)/ y, 3rd singular masculine and feminine /-iyu(ː)/ y and /-iya(ː)/ y. The 3rd plural singular and feminine must have pronounced the same in both cases, i.e. /-nōm/ nm and /-nēm/ nm.

These enclitic forms vary between the dialects. In the archaic Byblian dialect, the third person forms are h and w // for the maculine singular (a.V. w /-aw,-iw/), h /-aha(ː)/ for the feminine singular and hm /-hum(ma)/ for the masculine plural. In late Punic, the 3rd masculine singular is in many dialects /-im/ m.

The same enclitic pronouns are also attached to verbs to denote direct objects. In that function some of them have slightly divergent forms: first singular /-nī/ n and probably first plural /-nu(ː)/.

The near demonstrative pronouns ("this") are written, in standard Phoenician, z for the singular and ʼl for the plural. Cypriot Phoenician displays ʼz instead of z. Byblian still distinguishes, in the singular, a masculine zn / z from a feminine zt / . There are also many variations in Punic, including st and zt for both genders in the singular. The far demonstrative pronouns ("that") are identical to the independent third person pronouns. The interrogative pronouns are /miya/ or perhaps /mi/ my "who" and /mū/ m "what". An indefinite pronoun "anything" is written mnm. The relative pronoun is a š, either followed or preceded by a vowel. Later on late Punic and late Phoenician developed the demonstrative pronoun into a relative pronoun z (zi).[42]

The definite article was /ha-/ and the first consonant of the following word was doubled. It was written h, but in late Punic also ʼ and ʻ, due to the weakening and coalescence of the gutturals. Much as in Biblical Hebrew, the initial consonant of the article is dropped after the prepositions b-, l- and k; it could also be lost after various other particles and function words such the direct object marker ʼyt and the conjunction w- "and".

Of the cardinal numerals from 1 to 10, 1 is an adjective, 2 is formally a noun in the dual and the rest are nouns in the singular. They distinguish gender: ʼḥd,ḥd, šnm,ʕšnm, šnym in south Phoenician(Akko) (construct state šn, ʼšn), šlš, ʼrbʕ, ḥmš, šš, šbʕ, šmn,šmnʼ), tšʕ, ʕšr, in some dialects ʕsr vs ʼḥt,štm šlšt, ʼrbʕt, ḥmšt, ššt, šbʕt, šmnt, tšʕt, ʕšrt, . The tens are morphologically masculine plurals of the ones: ʕšrm, in some dialects ʕsrm, šlšm, ʼrbʕm, ḥmšm, ššm, šbʕm, šmnm, tšʕm. "One hundred" is mʼt, two hundred is its dual form mʼtm, mʼtym in south Phoenician(Akko), whereas the rest are formed as in šlš mʼt (three hundred). One thousand is ʼlp. Ordinal numerals are formed by the addition of *as yī before vowels, ī -y.[43] Composite numerals are formed with w- "and", e.g. ʕšr wšnm for "twelve".

Verbal morphology

The verb inflects for person, number, gender, tense and mood. Like other Semitic languages, Phoenician verbs have different "verbal patterns" or "stems", expressing manner of action, level of transitivity and voice. The perfect or suffix-conjugation, which expresses the past tense, is exemplified below with the root q-t-l "to kill" (a "neutral", G-stem).[44][45]

1st: /qatōltī ,qatōlt, qetōlt in late punic and in late phoenician / qtlt
2nd masc. /qatōltā ,qatōlt,qetōlt in late punic and in late phoenician/ qtlt
2nd fem. /qatōltī, also later sometimes qatōlt / qtlt
3rd masc. /qatōl, also later qetōl,qitōl / qtl
3rd fem. /qatōlā,also later qetōlā, qatōlat when followed by a suffix / qtlt,[46] also qtl, Punic qtlʼ

1st: /qatōlnū, also later qetōlnū/ qtln
2nd masc. qatōltum, also later qetōltom,qatōltom / qtltm
2nd fem. unattested
3rd masc. qatōlū, also later qetōlū, it is used for both genders / qtl, Punic qtlʼ
3rd fem. unattested

The imperfect or prefix-conjugation, which expresses the present and future tense (and which is not distinguishable from the descendant of the Proto-Semitic jussive expressing wishes), is exemplified below, again with the root q-t-l.

1st: /ʼiqtul/ ʼqtl
2nd masc. /tiqtul/ tqtl
2nd fem. /tiqtulī/ tqtl
3rd masc. /yiqtul, later sometimes iqtul in late punic / yqtl
3rd fem. /tiqtul/ tqtl
Plural: 1st: */niqtul/? *nqtl
2nd masc. /tiqtulū/ *tqtl, Punic *tqtlʼ
2nd fem. /tiqtulna/ tqtln
3rd masc. yiqtulū, it is used for both genders/ yqtl
3rd fem. unattested

The imperative endings were presumably /-∅/, /-ī/ and /-ū/[46] for the second singular masculine, second singular feminine and second plural masculine respectively, but all three forms surface in the orthography as qtl, i.e. -∅. The old Semitic jussive, which originally differed slightly from the prefix conjugation, is no longer possible to separate from it in Phoenician with the present data.

The non-finite forms are the infinitive construct, the infinitive absolute and the active and passive participles. In the G-stem, the infinitive construct would usually be combined with the preposition l- "to" as in /liqtul/ "to kill"; in contrast, the infinitive absolute (qatōl[47]) is mostly used to strengthen the meaning of a subsequent finite verb with the same root: ptḥ tptḥ "you will indeed open!",[46] accordingly /*qatōl tiqtul/ "you will indeed kill!".

The participles had, in the G-stem, the following forms:
Masculine singular /qūtel/[46] or /qōtil/ qtl, plural /qotlim/[46] or /qōtilīm/ qtl
Feminine singular qtlt, plural *qtlt
Masculine singular /qatūl/[46] or /qatīl/[48] qtl, plural /qatūlīm/ qtlm
Feminine singular qtlt, plural /qatūlōt/ qtlt

The missing forms above can be inferred from the correspondences between the Proto-Northwest Semitic ancestral forms and the attested Phoenician counterparts: the PNWS participle forms are */qātil-, qātilīma, qātil(a)t, qātilāt, qatūl, qatūlīm, qatult or qatūlat, qatūlāt/.

The derived stems are:

  • the N-stem (functioning as a passive), e.g. nqtl, the N-formant being lost in the prefix conjugation while assimilating and doubling the first root consonant (yqtl).
  • the D-stem (functioning as a factitive): the forms must have been /qittil/ in the suffix conjugation, /yaqattil/ in the prefix conjugation, /qattil/ in the imperative and the infinitive construct, /qattōl/ in the infinitive absolute and /maqattil/ in the participle. The characteristic doubling of the middle consonant is only identifiable in foreign alphabet transcriptions.
  • the C-stem (functioning as a causative): the original *ha- prefix has produced *yi- rather than the Hebrew *hi-, there are very seldom circumstances were late punic uses *hi-. The forms were apparently /yiqtil/ in the suffix conjugation (/ʼiqtil/ in late Punic), /yaqtil/ in the prefix conjugation, and the infinitive is also /yaqtil/, while the participle was probably /maqtil/ or, in late Punic at least, /miqtil/.[49]

Most of the stems apparently also had passive and reflexive counterparts, the former differing through vowels, the latter also through the infix -t-. The G stem passive is attested as qytl, /qytal/ < */qutal/.;[46] t-stems can be reconstructed as /yitqatil/ ytqtl (tG) and /yiqtattil/ (Dt) yqttl.[50]

Prepositions and particles

Some prepositions are always appended to nouns, deleting the initial /h/ (ha, later he,hi) of the definite article if present: such are b- (bi) and ʼb-(ib) "in", "with","from", l- "to, for"(li,la), k-(ka, ke) "as" and m-,(mi),mn(min),lmn (limin) /min/ "from". They are sometimes found in forms extended through the addition of -n or -t. Other prepositions are not like this, e.g.ʻl "upon" (ʻal,ʻali,ʻale), .ʻd "until" (ʻud), ʼḥr "after" (ʼaḥar), tḥt "under" (taḥt,taḥta), bn "between" (bēna,bēn,bīn). New prepositions are formed with nouns: lpn "in front of", from l- "to" and pn "face" (pane, later fane, fene). There is special preposited marker of a definite object ʼyt (/ʼiyet/), which, unlike Hebrew, is clearly distinct from the preposition ʼt (/ʼitt,ʼittu,ʼitti/). The most common negative marker is bl (/bal/), negating verbs, but sometimes also nouns; another one is ʼy (/ʼey/), expressing both non-existence and negation of verbs. Negative commands / prohibitions are expressed with ʼl (/ʼal/). "Lest, before" is lm (/lam/). Some common conjunctions are w (originally perhaps /wa-?/,/u-/ in middle Phoenician) but certainly /u-/ in Late Punic and in late Phoenician) and also /wu-/ in Late Punic and in late Phoenician), "and" ʼm (/ʼim/), "when", and k (/kī/), "that; because; when". There was also a conjunction (ʼ)p (/ʼap later ʼaf,ʼof in late Punic and in late Phoenician/"also". Beside this conjunction there was another more seldom one (p (/pā later pō in middle Phoenician ,fū in late Punic and in late Phoenician /"also". l- (/lū, li/) could (rarely) be used to introduce desiderative constructions ("may he do X!"). l- (lū) could also introduce vocatives. Both prepositions and conjunctions could form compounds.[51]


The basic word order is VSO. There is no verb "to be" in the present tense; in clauses that would have used a copula, the subject may come before the predicate. Nouns precede their modifiers (such as adjectives and possessors).

Vocabulary and word formation

Nouns are mostly formed by a combination of consonantal roots and vocalic patterns, but they can also be formed with prefixes (/m-/, expressing actions or their results; rarely /t-/) and suffixes /-ūn/. Abstracts can be formed with the suffix -t (probably /-īt/, /-ūt/) and with the suffix -yt /-yot/.[48][52] Adjectives can be formed following the familiar Semitic nisba suffix /-ī/ y (e.g. ṣdny "Sidonian").

Like the grammar, the vocabulary is very close to Biblical Hebrew, though some peculiarities attract attention. For example, the copula verb "to be" is kn (as in Arabic,"kn" means also to be, to exist in Syriac,[53] an Aramaic dialect which was influenced by Arabic and Phoenician, as opposed to Hebrew and Aramaic hyh) and the verb "to do" is pʿl (in Syriac pʿl,[54] because Syriac is an Aramaic dialect which was influenced by Arabic and Phoenician, Arabic fʿl, as opposed to Hebrew ʿśh). In old Hebrew poetry of the first parts of the Old Testament pʿl is attested, philogist think that pʿl could be a very early substratum of the original Pre-Israelite Canaanite language or stems from a copy of an original text in the original Pre-Israelite Canaanite language which was very closely related to Phoenician [55] and to the Canaanite language of the Canaanites in the Philistine [56] part in the southern Levant under the Philistine rule, the Canaanite language attested in the Philistine City Ekron is closely related to the Byblian dialect of Phoenician.

Sample text

Standard Phoenician (sarcophagus inscription of Tabnit of Sidon, 5th century BC):[57]
ʼnk tbnt khn ʻštrt mlk ṣdnm bn ʼšmnʻzr khn ʻštrt mlk ṣdnm škb bʼrn z
my ʼt kl ʼdm ʼš tpq ʼyt hʼrn z
ʼl ʼl tptḥ ʻlty wʼl trgzn
k ʼy ʼrln ksp ʼy ʼr ln ḥrṣ wkl mnm mšd
blt ʼnk škb bʼrn z
ʼl ʼl tptḥ ʻlty wʼl trgzn
k tʻbt ʻštrt hdbr hʼ
wʼm ptḥ tptḥ ʻlty wrgz trgzn
ʼl ykn lk zrʻ bḥym tḥt šmš
wmškb ʼt rpʼm

I, Tabnit, priest of Astarte, king of Sidon, the son of Eshmunazar, priest of Astarte, king of Sidon, am lying in this sarcophagus.
Whoever you are, any man that might find this sarcophagus,
don't, don't open it and don't disturb me,
for no silver is gathered with me, no gold is gathered with me, nor anything of value whatsoever,
only I am lying in this sarcophagus.
Don't, don't open it and don't disturb me,
for this thing is an abomination to Astarte.
And if you do indeed open it and do indeed disturb me,
may you not have any seed among the living under the sun,
nor a resting-place with the Rephaites.

Late Punic (1st century BC):
Greek alphabet text:

Reconstructed Neo-Punic script counterpart (by Igor Diakonoff[58]):
lʼdn lbʻl ḥmn
wlrbtn tnt pn bʻl
ʼš ndr S. bn Z.
šmʻ klʼ brkʼ

To the master Baal Hammon and
to our mistress Tanit, the face of Baal,
[the thing] which consecrated Sosipatius, son
of Zopyrus. He heard his voice and blessed him.

Survival and influences of Punic

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 Sirte in northern Libya, a region where spoken Punic survived well past written use.[59] 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 lexical similarities.

The ancient Lybico-Berber alphabet still in irregular use by modern Berber groups such as the Tuareg is known by the native name tifinaġ, possibly a derived form of a cognate of the name "Punic". Still, a direct derivation from the Phoenician-Punic script is debated and far from established, since both writing systems are very different. As far as language (not the script) is concerned, some 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 Ay-Shapan meaning "island of hyraxes", in turn a misidentification on the part of Phoenician explorers of its numerous rabbits as hyraxes. 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.

Surviving examples

See also


Further reading

  • .
  • J. Friedrich – W. Röllig (1999). Phönizisch-punische Grammatik (III ed., neu bearbeitet von M.G. Amadasi Guzzo unter Mitarbeit von W.R. Meyer)
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