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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: September 2009

5 - Canaanite dialects

Summary

HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL CONTEXTS

The term Canaanite has two primary usages: (i) to designate the dialects of Northwest Semitic spoken in the region called Canaan in the second half of the second millennium BC; and (ii) to differentiate the “Canaanite” dialects of the first millennium, primarily Phoenician and Hebrew, from other Northwest Semitic languages spoken in Canaan after c. 1000 BC, primarily the Aramaic dialects. The principal feature defining Canaanite is the so-called Canaanite shift, that is, Proto-Semitic *ā realized as ō (e.g., Hebrew ṭōb “good” corresponds to Aramaic ṭāb).

For the Canaanite of the second millennium BC, there are two primary sources: (i) the texts written in Akkadian, the lingua franca of the time, by Canaanite scribes and which contain both Canaanitisms and explicit glosses, i.e., words written in cuneiform script as a gloss in the local language on a preceding Akkadian word; (ii) the Proto-Canaanite inscriptions, that is, inscriptions written in archaic linear script and apparently recording the local language.

Some controversy surrounds what “Canaan” meant, both politically and geographically, in the second millennium BC (Na'aman 1994). In the second half of the millennium, the term was used to designate the area of Asia under Egyptian control, including a number of city-states. It comprised an area stretching roughly from what is today northern Lebanon to the border of Egypt, perhaps including some of the arable lands of Transjordan.

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