Proto-Arabic language

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Reconstruction ofVarieties of Arabic
Erabefore 9th century BC

Proto-Arabic is the name given to the hypothetical reconstructed ancestor of all the varieties of Arabic attested since the 9th century BC.[1][2] There are two lines of evidence to reconstruct Proto-Arabic:

Old Arabic in the Nabataean script is first attested in the Negev desert in the 1st century BC, but it becomes more frequent in the region after the decline of Safaitic and Hismaic. From the 4th century AD, Old Arabic inscriptions are attested from Northern Syria to the Hejaz, in a script that is intermediate between cursive Nabataean and the Kufic script of Islamic times.

The urheimat of Proto-Arabic can thus be regarded as the frontier between northwest Arabia and the southern Levant.[3]


There are several features shared by Classical Arabic, the varieties of Modern Arabic and the Safaitic and Hismaic inscriptions that are unattested in any other Semitic language variety, including the Dadanitic and Taymanitic languages of the northern Hejaz. They are evidence of common descent from a hypothetical ancestor, Proto-Arabic. The following features can be reconstructed with confidence for Proto-Arabic:[4]

  1. negative particles m */mā/; lʾn */lā-ʾan/ > CAr lan
  2. mafʿūl G-passive participle
  3. prepositions and adverbs f, ʿn, ʿnd, ḥt, ʿkdy
  4. a subjunctive in -a
  5. t-demonstratives
  6. leveling of the -at allomorph of the feminine ending
  7. ʾn complementizer and subordinator
  8. the use of f- to introduce modal clauses
  9. independent object pronoun in (ʾ)y
  10. vestiges of nunation

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Owens, Jonathan (1998). "Case and proto-Arabic, Part I". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 61: 51–73. doi:10.1017/S0041977X00015755. S2CID 204970487 – via ResearchGate.
  2. ^ Al-Jallad, Ahmad; Putten, Marijn van (January 2017). "(PDF) Al-Jallad. 2017. The Case for Proto-Semitic and Proto-Arabic Case: A reply to Jonathan Owens, w. Marijn van Putten | Ahmad Al-Jallad and Marijn van Putten -". Romano-Arabica Xvii (2017): Fictional Beings in Middle East Cultures.
  3. ^ Al-Jallad, Ahmad. "Al-Jallad. The earliest stages of Arabic and its linguistic classification (Routledge Handbook of Arabic Linguistics, forthcoming)". Retrieved 2015-12-08.
  4. ^ Al-Jallad, A. (2015). An Outline of the Grammar of the Safaitic Inscriptions. Brill.

Further reading[edit]