Ancient North Arabian

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Ancient North Arabian
Region Arabia
Era marginalized by Classical Arabic from the 7th century[citation needed]
Ancient North Arabian
Language codes
ISO 639-3 xna
Linguist list
Glottolog anci1245[1]

Ancient North Arabian is a language 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 closely related extinct dialects of pre-Islamic Arabia, summarized as Ancient or Old North Arabian (ISO 639-3 xna), including:

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".[4]
  • 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.[5] 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) [6]

^* ʼil and niʻmat being deity names.

Old North Arabian script[edit]

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


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Ancient North Arabian". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ a b Woodard, Roger D. (2008), Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia, p. 180
  3. ^ M. C. A. Macdonald, "Reflections on the Linguistic Map of Pre-Islamic Arabia", Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy, 2000, Volume 11, p. 50 and 61
  4. ^ Woodard, Roger D. Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia. p 208
  5. ^ Alsaid, Said F. Thamudic Inscriptions from Tayma.Journal of King Saud University. Arts. Volume 17, No 1. (2005)
  6. ^ Alsaid, Said F. Thamudic Inscriptions from Tayma.Journal of King Saud University. Arts. Volume 17, No 1. (2005). p 202


  • 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.