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Introduction to the Comparative Study of the Semitic Languages


Admission requirements

Knowledge of a semitic language or background in linguistics.


In this class students will be introduced to the various ancient and modern Semitic languages – including Old Babylonian, Ancient Hebrew, Old Arabic, and Modern Aramaic – through hands-on experience with texts. We will read short excerpts with the help of a glossary and discuss aspects in the development of these languages and their interrelationships. Students will also read academic articles dealing with each of the major language groups of Semitic.

  • Week 1: Introduction to Historical Linguistics
    We will discuss the theoretical underpinnings of language change and the process of
    historical reconstruction.

  • Week 2: East Semitic: Akkadian
    Text Excerpt – Law Codes of Hammurabi
    The Proto-Semitic Verbal System

  • Week 3: West Semitic > Northwest Semitic: Ugaritic
    Text Excerpt – Baal Cycle
    Nominal Inflection

  • Week 4: West Semitic > Northwest Semitic: Aramaic
    Text Excerpt – Elephantine Aramaic
    Definite Article and Demonstratives

  • Week 5: West Semitic > Arabic
    Text Excerpt – Qur’ān
    The Central Semitic Verbal System

  • Week 6: West Semitic > Northwest Semitic: Hebrew
    Text Excerpt – Hebrew Bible

  • Week 7: West Semitic > Ancient South Arabian
    Text Excerpt – MB 2002 I-28
    Subordination and Relativization

  • Week 8: West Semitic > Geʿez
    Text Excerpt – Gospel of John
    Pluralization and Agreement

  • Week 9: West Semitic > Mehri
    Text Excerpt – Fairy Tale

  • Week 10: The Proto-Semitic Lexicon

  • Week 11: Classification of the Semitic languages

  • Week 12: Writing Systems

Course objectives

After this course, students will have a good understanding of the enterprise of historical linguistic, the Semitic language family, and be able to critique academic articles in the field.



Mode of instruction

  • Seminar with mandatory attendance.

Course Load

  • Seminar: 2 contact hours per week = 13×2: 26 hours

  • Reading: 4.5 hours reading for 12 classes: 54 hours

  • 10 home assignments, 10x ca. 3 hours: 30 hours

  • Preparing the presentation: 10 hours

  • Term paper: 20 hours

Assessment method

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average of:

  • assignments (40%) and essay (40%)

  • presentation and participation (20%)

The essay is written in two stages: a first version which will be commented on and a final version. Students who do not meet the deadline for the first version will lose the right to get comments and will only be graded based on their final version.

The first version is due 12 May 2015, the final version 16 June 2015.

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an an overall mark of “6” or higher.

The course is an integrated whole and must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.

Reading list

See Blackboard.


To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis (link) through the activity number which can be found in the time table in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs