Ancient North Arabian

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Ancient North Arabian
Old North Arabian
Region Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Jordan, Syria
Era 8th century BC to 6th century AD
Dadanitic (Dedanite/Lihyanite)
Ancient/Old North Arabian
Language codes
ISO 639-3 xna
Linguist list
Glottolog anci1245[1]

Ancient North Arabian is any of a number of extinct languages and dialects known from fragmentary inscriptions in modern-day Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia, dating to between roughly the 8th century BC and the 6th century AD, all written in scripts derived from Epigraphic South Arabian. Pre-classical Arabic (or Old Arabic), the predecessor of Classical Arabic, seems to have coexisted with these languages in central and north Arabia.[2] However, Arabic remained exclusively a spoken language until it was first attested in an inscription in Qaryat al-Faw (formerly Qaryat Dhat Kahil, near Sulayyil, Saudi Arabia) in the 1st century BC.[2][3]


Ancient North Arabian includes a number of extinct languages and dialects of pre-Islamic Arabia, summarized as Ancient or Old North Arabian:[3][4]

  • Oasis North Arabian
    • Dumaitic: Known from a few inscriptions found at the oasis of Sakakah
    • Taymanitic: Known from hundreds of short inscriptions in and around the oasis of Tayma
    • Dadanitic: Known from inscriptions at the oasis of Dadan (present day Al-`Ula, Saudi Arabia)). This dialect was formerly divided into Dedanite and Lihyanite based on the Dedan and Lihyan kingdoms respectively. Dadanitic is the only Ancient North Arabian dialect with a large numbers of surviving monumental inscriptions.
    • Dispersed Oasis North Arabian: A catch-all category for brief texts from outside of Arabia, principally Mesopotamia, which used varieties of the Oasis North Arabian alphabet
  • Safaitic: Known from tens of thousands of graffiti concentrated in the Harrat Ash Shamah volcanic field in the Syro-Arabian desert
  • Hismaic: Known from inscriptions in the Hisma sand-desert of southern Jordan and northwest Saudi Arabia
  • Thamudic: An interim, catch-all category for inscriptions that don't belong to the categories above but are awaiting classification. These texts are roughly divided into Thamudic B, C, D, and Southern Thamudic. Taymanitic was formerly grouped as Thamudic A. Hismaic was formerly grouped as Thamudic E.
  • Hasaitic: Known from 40 or so inscriptions, mostly gravestones, at sites like Thāj and Qatif in the present day Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.

It is provisionally considered an Ancient North Arabian dialect but unlike the others it used the Ancient South Arabian alphabet with minor adaptations.


The main characteristic differences between Classical Arabic (CA) and Ancient North Arabian:

  • The definite article is h-/hn- (or zero) in Ancient North Arabian and al- in CA. However, the oldest evidence of both articles occurs in the 5th century BC, in the epithet of a goddess which Herodotus (Histories I,131; III,8) quotes in its preclassical Arabic form as Alilat (Ἀλιλάτ, i. e.,ʼal-ʼilat), and which occurs in its Ancient North Arabian form as hn-ʼlt in a number of Aramaic inscriptions. Both mean "the goddess".[5]
  • Verb morphology differences regarding weak roots and roots with a doubled consonant. Ancient North Arabian banaya becomes banā in CA, and bayata becomes bāta and ʼaẓlala becomes ʼaẓalla.
  • In Dedanite, verb stem IV can occur in the form hafʻal(a) (perfect) and yuhafʻil(u) (imperfect). Dedanite also uses the Classical form of verb stem IV (ʼafʻala and yufʻilu).
  • As in Classical Arabic, the common word order in Ancient North Arabian is VSO, but most Dedanite inscriptions show SVO order.
  • Most Ancient North Arabian languages have 28 consonantal phonemes (similar to CA). There are, however, some variations in the s sibilants among Ancient North Arabian languages and Classical Arabic. Taymanite has only 27 phonemes (lacks the (ظ) phoneme).
  • Nasal assimilation of the vowelless "n" occurs in some Ancient North Arabian languages: ʼintaẓar "wait" becomes ʼittaẓar, and bnt "daughter" becomes bt. (The same happens in Hebrew.)
  • Safaitic shows considerable alternations in roots between w and y, e.g. wrḫ which becomes yrḫ "month". (This change is also characteristic of Northwest Semitic languages).
  • Safaitic and Hismaic show a -y where CA has or -āʼ, such as CA samāʼ (which means heaven or sky) which occurs as smy. This y could also indicate a diphthong (ay).
  • Compound (non-construct) names are more frequent in Ancient North Arabian, and occur in a manner similar to that found in Northwest Semitic names.[6] For example:
    • ʼl-rym (ʼil-riyām): which means "high ʼil*"
    • ʼl-ntn (ʼil-natan)
    • ntn-ʼl (natan-ʼil): which means "ʼil has given"; equivalent of Nathaniel.
    • ṣlm-nʻmt
    • ṣlm-ntn
    • yhyṯʻ-nʻmt (yuhayṯiʻ-niʻmat): which means "the one who assists niʻmat*". yuhayṯiʻ being the imperfect aspect of Dedanite verb stem IV (root y-ṯ-ʻ).
    • ḫršt-nʻmt (ḫaršat-niʻmat)
    • mt-nʻmt (this name also occurs in Phoenician inscriptions) [7]

^* ʼil and niʻmat being deity names.

Writing system

Ancient North Arabian
Old North Arabian
Languages Ancient North Arabian
Time period
8th century BCE to 6th century CE
Parent systems
Direction Right-to-left
ISO 15924 Narb, 106
Unicode alias
Old North Arabian
U+10A80– U+10A9F

The Ancient North Arabian alphabets are a group of related alphabets used to write all of the Ancient North Arabian dialects except Hasaitic, which used the Ancient South Arabian alphabet.[4][8] The names of the alphabets match the names of the dialects they represent.


Taymanitic had twenty-six or twenty-seven letters while the other alphabets generally used twenty-eight letters. All the letters represent consonants. Vowels were not indicated although some Dadanitic texts make limited use of matres lectionis to mark long vowels.


Dumaitic and Dadanitic were typically written right-to-left. Taymanitic was written right-to-left, left-to-right, or boustrophedon (changing direction from right-to-left to left-to-right with each new line). Thamudic C and D were usually written vertically downwards. Safaitic, Hismaic, and Thamudic B were written in any direction: right-to-left, left-to-right, vertically downwards or upwards, even in circles, coils, and zig-zags. Letter shapes may be reversed in lines running left-to-right but not always in Safaitic and Hismaic inscriptions.


Most dialects were written continuously without spaces between words. Dadanitic monumental texts normally used a word divider which looked like "|". Dumaitic, Taymanitic, and Dadanitic graffiti commonly but inconsistently used a word divider.


Numbers were formed using combinations of three characters: one, ten, and twenty. For example, nine was represented by the character for one repeated nine times. Thirty was represented by the character for twenty followed by the character for ten. They were written right-to-left.


The Ancient North Arabian alphabets were added to the Unicode Standard in June, 2014 with the release of version 7.0.

The Unicode block, called Old North Arabian, is U+10A80–U+10A9F.

Note that U+10A9D OLD NORTH ARABIAN NUMBER ONE (𐪝) represents both the numeral one and a word divider.[8]

Old North Arabian[1]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+10A8x 𐪀 𐪁 𐪂 𐪃 𐪄 𐪅 𐪆 𐪇 𐪈 𐪉 𐪊 𐪋 𐪌 𐪍 𐪎 𐪏
U+10A9x 𐪐 𐪑 𐪒 𐪓 𐪔 𐪕 𐪖 𐪗 𐪘 𐪙 𐪚 𐪛 𐪜 𐪝 𐪞 𐪟
1.^ As of Unicode version 8.0


  1. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Ancient North Arabian". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Woodard, Roger D. (2008), Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia, p. 180
  3. 3.0 3.1 Macdonald, M. C. A. (2000). "Reflections on the linguistic map of pre-Islamic Arabia". Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy. 11. Retrieved 28 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 Macdonald, M. C. A. (2004). "Ancient North Arabian". In Woodard, Roger D. (ed.). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages. Cambridge University Press. pp. 488–533. ISBN 0-521-56256-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Woodard, Roger D. Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia. p 208
  6. Alsaid, Said F. Thamudic Inscriptions from Tayma.Journal of King Saud University. Arts. Volume 17, No 1. (2005)
  7. Alsaid, Said F. Thamudic Inscriptions from Tayma.Journal of King Saud University. Arts. Volume 17, No 1. (2005). p 202
  8. 8.0 8.1 Everson, Michael; Macdonald, M. C. A. "N3937: Proposal to encode the Old North Arabian script in the SMP of the UCS" (PDF). Retrieved 28 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Lozachmeur, H., (ed.), (1995) Presence arabe dans le croissant fertile avant l'Hegire (Actes de la table ronde internationale Paris, 13 novembre 1993) Paris: Éditions Recherche sur les Civilisations. ISBN 2-86538-254-0
  • Macdonald, M.C.A., (2000) "Reflections on the linguistic map of pre-Islamic Arabia" Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 11(1), 28–79
  • Scagliarini, F., (1999) "The Dedanitic inscriptions from Jabal 'Ikma in north-western Hejaz" Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 29, 143-150 ISBN 2-503-50829-4
  • Winnett, F.V. and Reed, W.L., (1970) Ancient Records from North Arabia (Toronto: University of Toronto)
  • Woodard, Roger D. Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia. Cambridge University Press 2008.