Department of Linguistics and Philology

Semitic Languages

The Semitic languages are a family of several closely related languages spoken by more than 330 million people in large parts of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as by large minority populations in both Europe and North America. With a written history extending nearly 5,000 years, the Semitic languages are among the earliest documented languages in the world. Courses at the first and second cycle are offered in Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic/Syriac and Assyriology.

Arabic

Arabic is the largest Semitic language if size is determined by the number of speakers. Arabic is found in two functional variants: Modern Standard Arabic and Arabic dialect. Modern Standard Arabic is the official written- and mass media language used throughout the Arab world, and it is also an official second language in several countries, such as Israel. Apart from various pronunciation differences, Standard Arabic is unified throughout the Arab world and the majority of modern day Arabic fiction and non-fiction books are written in this language. This form of Arabic plays a central role in education. Apart from Modern Standard Arabic there are various specific dialects. Dialects are the typical spoken language used by the 200 million people in the Arab world, not including the minorities living in Iran and Turkey, among other countries. Arabic is also the liturgical language of the religion Islam.

First cycle courses in Arabic are designed to provide students with knowledge and skills in Modern Standard Arabic, though students are also exposed to other registers of the Arabic language such as Classical Arabic and even modern Arabic dialects. In addition to language courses, students also learn about the modern history and literature of the Arab World.

Hebrew

Hebrew has its roots in the Jewish history in the Land of Israel with texts dating back more than a thousand years before the Common Era. After the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile in the sixth-century BCE, other forms of Hebrew began to develop, in particular the dialects that came to form Mishnaic Hebrew, the language of the rabbis. Throughout the Middle Ages, Hebrew continued as a written language of educated Jews and even played a part in Spanish-Jewish poetry. During the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskala) during the 1700’s, some scholars began using Hebrew even to discuss secular subjects, and a spoken language was revived during the end of the 19th-century under the leadership of the Russian Jew Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. Nowadays one can find a wealth of literature composed in Modern Hebrew, and many works within Judaic Studies are published solely in Modern Hebrew. The living, innovative language spoken in the nation of Israel today can be traced throughout history: from renowned texts such as the Bible, Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Mishna through the Middle Ages where it was found mainly within the Yiddish-, Latino-, and Judeo-Arabic cultures until it was finally revived as a national language in modern times.

First cycle courses in Classical Hebrew are designed to provide students with knowledge and skills in the grammar of Classical Hebrew but students also get to look at texts produced after the Bible. Students are taught to understand and analyze texts within the context of the history of the Near East. Included in the courses at the first cycle level are also introductions to Aramaic and other Northwestern languages including Ugaritic.

First cycle courses in Modern Hebrew are designed to provide students with knowledge of Modern Hebrew grammar and training in reading, understanding and linguistically analyzing Modern Hebrew fiction and nonfiction, as well as literature from various genres and time periods. Included in the courses at the first cycle level are also courses relating to Jewish history.

Aramaic/Syriac

Syriac is an Eastern Aramaic language with a 2000 year-history including a rich and varied literary tradition. Syriac Aramaic has played a major role within Syriac Christendom that can be compared to Arabic within Islam and Hebrew within Judaism. Among members of the Syriac Orthodox Church, the language is used as a living means of communication; the same is true for the Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church. Students who continue to our C-level course will also come in contact with the dialects of Turoyo and Urmia, the two main spoken dialects of the Neo-Aramaic group used within Syriac Christendom today.

The study of Syriac language and culture constitutes important aspects of the field of Semitic languages, not only with regard to linguistics and philology but also because of the contact with other disciplinary fields such as history and religious and literature studies. The study of Syriac in a broad sense is also important for the communication with immigrants that today are representatives of a living Syriac tradition.

First cycle courses in Aramaic/Syriac focus on the grammar and form of classical Syriac as well as learning to read, understand, and linguistically analyze classical Syriac texts. There is also an introduction to the Aramaic language and its historical development and other Aramaic dialects. There is also an introduction to Near Eastern cultures and the Syriac literary development within its historical context.

Assyriology

Assyriology is the study of ancient Mesopotamia and of related cultures that used cuneiform writing. Primary focus is placed on the Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian cultures that played a dominating role during the period 3200-600 BCE. With hundreds of thousands of clay tablets containing the cuneiform script, these cultures are the best documented of any of the ancient cultures. There are two main aspects covered in the program: the first part is the linguistic study of Akkadian (Assyrian-Babylonian) and Sumerian cuneiform texts from various time periods and genres and the second part examines the archaeology, ancient history, and the history of civilization and religions of the ancient Near East. With the interdisciplinary perspectives of history and linguistics, studying Assyriology provides a foundation for continued studies in other linguistic, historical or cultural studies. The course Ancient Near East: Introduction presents a survey of ancient Near Eastern archaeology, ancient history and the history of civilization and religions; this overview is also included in the larger course, Assyriology A. Additional survey courses are available which specifically highlight features of ancient Near Eastern History, Archaeology and Art, or Religion.

Courses

First cycle studies

Courses in Semitic Languages at the first cycle level are offered in Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic/Syriac and Assyriology.

Arabic
Aramaic/Syriac
Assyriology
Hebrew

Second cycle studies

At the second cycle level, you can focus on Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic within the framework of the main field of Semitic Languages. You can also choose to study Classical Ethiopic (Ge'ez), Epigraphic South Arabian, and Akkadian.

Semitic Languages

Contact

Departmental Office