Phoenician Language
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Phoenician Language

Dabar?m kana?n?m
Native toCanaan, North Africa, Cyprus, Iberia, Sicily, Malta, and Sardinia
Eraattested in Canaan proper from the 12th century BCE to the 2nd century CE[1]
Phoenician alphabet
Language codes
Phoenician Language.png
Distribution of the Phoenician language
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Phoenician ( f?-NEE-sh?n) is an extinct Canaanite Semitic language originally spoken in the region surrounding the cities of Tyre and Sidon. Extensive Tyro-Sidonian trade and commercial dominance led to Phoenician becoming a lingua-franca of the maritime Mediterranean during the Iron Age. The Phoenician alphabet was spread to Greece during this period, where it became the source of all modern European scripts.

The area in which Phoenician was spoken includes Greater Syria and, at least as a prestige language, Anatolia, specifically the areas now including Lebanon, parts of Cyprus and some adjacent areas of Turkey.[2] It was also spoken in the area of Phoenician colonization along the coasts of the southwestern Mediterranean Sea, including those of modern Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Algeria as well as Malta, the west of Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, the Balearic Islands and southernmost Spain.

In modern times, the language was first decoded by Jean-Jacques Barthélemy in 1758, who noted that the name "Phoenician" was first given to the language by Samuel Bochart.[3][4]


The Phoenicians were the first state-level society to make extensive use of the Semitic alphabet. The Phoenician alphabet is the oldest verified consonantal alphabet, or abjad.[5] It has become conventional to refer to the script as "Proto-Canaanite" until the mid-11th century BCE, when it is first attested on inscribed bronze arrowheads, and as "Phoenician" only after 1050 BCE.[6] The Phoenician phonetic alphabet is generally believed to be at least the partial ancestor of almost all modern alphabets.

The most important Phoenician trade routes and cities in the Mediterranean Basin

From a traditional linguistic perspective, Phoenician was composed of a variety of dialects.[7][8] According to some sources, Phoenician developed into distinct Tyro-Sidonian and Byblian dialects. By this account, the Tyro-Sidonian dialect, from which the Punic language eventually emerged, spread across the Mediterranean through trade and colonization, whereas the ancient dialect of Byblos, known from a corpus of only a few dozen extant inscriptions, played no expansionary role.[9] However, the very slight differences in language and the insufficient records of the time make it unclear whether Phoenician formed a separate and united dialect or was merely a superficially defined part of a broader language continuum. Through their maritime trade, the Phoenicians spread the use of the alphabet to Northwest Africa and Europe, where it was adopted by the Greeks. Later, the Etruscans adopted a modified version for their own use, which, in turn, was modified and adopted by the Romans and became the Latin alphabet.[10] In the east of the Mediterranean region, the language was in use as late as the 1st century BC,[11] when it seems to have gone extinct there.

Punic colonisation spread Phoenician to the western Mediterranean, where the distinct Punic language developed. Punic also died out, but it seems to have survived far longer than Phoenician, until the 6th century, perhaps even into the 9th century CE.[12]

Writing system

Phoenician was written with the Phoenician script, an abjad (consonantary) originating from the Proto-Canaanite alphabet that also became the basis for the Greek alphabet and, via an Etruscan adaptation, the Latin alphabet. The Punic form of the script gradually developed somewhat different and more cursive letter shapes; in the 3rd century BCE, it also began to exhibit a tendency to mark the presence of vowels, especially final vowels, with an aleph or sometimes an ayin. Furthermore, around the time of the Second Punic War, an even more cursive form began to develop,[13] which gave rise to a variety referred to as Neo-Punic and existed alongside the more conservative form and became predominant some time after the destruction of Carthage (c. 149 BCE).[14] Neo-Punic, in turn, tended to designate vowels with matres lectionis ("consonantal letters") more frequently than the previous systems had and also began to systematically use different letters for different vowels,[14] in the way explained in more detail below. Finally, a number of late inscriptions from what is now Constantine, Algeria dated to the first century BCE make use of the Greek alphabet to write Punic, and many inscriptions from Tripolitania, in the third and fourth centuries CE use the Latin alphabet for that purpose.[15]

In Phoenician writing, unlike that of abjads such as those of Aramaic, Biblical Hebrew and Arabic, even long vowels remained generally unexpressed, regardless of their origin (even if they originated from diphthongs, as in bt /be:t/ 'house', for earlier *bayt-; Hebrew spelling has byt). Eventually, Punic writers began to implement systems of marking of vowels by means of matres lectionis. In the 3rd century BCE appeared the practice of using final '?lep Phoenician aleph.svg to mark the presence of any final vowel and, occasionally, of y?d Phoenician yodh.svg to mark a final long [i:].

Later, mostly after the destruction of Carthage in the so-called "Neo-Punic" inscriptions, that was supplemented by a system in which w?w Phoenician waw.svg denoted [u], y?d Phoenician yodh.svg denoted [i], '?lep Phoenician aleph.svg denoted [e] and [o], ?ayin Phoenician ayin.svg denoted [a][16] and h? Phoenician he.svg and t Phoenician heth.png could also be used to signify [a].[17] This latter system was used first with foreign words and was then extended to many native words as well.

A third practice reported in the literature is the use of the consonantal letters for vowels in the same way as had occurred in the original adaptation of the Phoenician alphabet to Greek and Latin, which was apparently still transparent to Punic writers: h? Phoenician he.svg for [e] and '?lep Phoenician aleph.svg for [a].[18]

Later, Punic inscriptions began to be written in the Latin alphabet, which also indicated the vowels. Those later inscriptions, in addition with some inscriptions in Greek letters and transcriptions of Phoenician names into other languages, represent the main source of knowledge about Phoenician vowels.



The following table presents the consonant phonemes of the Phoenician language as represented in the Phoenician alphabet, alongside their standard Semiticist transliteration and reconstructed phonetic values in the International Phonetic Alphabet.[19][20]:

Phoenician consonants
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Pharyngeal Glottal
Nasal ? m /m/ ? n /n/
voiceless ? p /p/ ? t /t/ ? s /t?s/ ? k /k/ ? ? /?/
emphatic[a] ? ? /t?/ ? ? /t?s?/ ? q /k?/
voiced ? b /b/ ? d /d/ ? z /d?z/ ? g /?/
Fricative ? ? /?/ ? ? /?/ ? h /h/
Approximant ? r /r/ ? l /l/ ? y /j/ ? w /w/ ? ? /?/
  1. ^ As in other Semitic languages, the Phoenician "plain" voiceless obstruent series was aspirated, while the emphatic series was unaspirated. It is likely that the emphatic series was additionally marked by an indeterminate type of secondary articulation, represented here by the cover symbol ???. Phonetically, this may have taken the form of pharyngealization, as in Arabic and Aramaic, or glottalization, as in the Ethiopian Semitic languages.

The system reflected in the abjad above is the product of several mergers. From Proto-Northwest Semitic to Canaanite, *? and *? have merged into *?, and *z have merged into *z, and *?', *?' and *s' have merged into (*s') *. Next, from Canaanite to Phoenician, the sibilants *? and *? were merged as (*?) *s, *? and *? were merged as (?) h, and *? and *? were merged as *?.[21][20] These latter developments also occurred in Biblical Hebrew at one point or another.


The original value of the Proto-Semitic sibilants, and accordingly of their Phoenician counterparts, is disputed. Recent scholarship argues that ? was [s], s was [ts], z was [dz], and ? was [ts'],[22] against the traditional sound values of [?], [s], [z], and [s?] as reflected in the transcription.[23]

On the other hand, it is debated whether n Phoenician sin.svg and s?mek Phoenician samekh.svg, which are mostly well distinguished by the Phoenician orthography, also eventually merged at some point, either in Classical Phoenician or in Late Punic.[24] Krahmalkov suggests that *z may have been [dz] or even [zd] based on Latin transcriptions such as esde for the demonstrative ?z.[20]


In later Punic, the laryngeals and pharyngeals seem to have been entirely lost. Neither these nor the emphatics could be adequately represented by the Latin alphabet, but there is also evidence to that effect from Punic script transcriptions.


There is no consensus on whether Phoenician-Punic ever underwent the lenition of stop consonants that happened in most other Northwest Semitic languages such as Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic (cf. Hackett[21] vs Segert[25] and Lyavdansky).[26] The consonant /p/ may have been generally transformed into /f/ in Punic and in late Phoenician, as it was in Proto-Arabic.[26] Certainly, Latin-script renditions of late Punic include many spirantized transcriptions with ph, th and kh in various positions (although the interpretation of these spellings is not entirely clear) as well as the letter f for the original *p.[27] However, in Neo-Punic, *b lenited to v contiguous to a following consonant, as in the Latin transcription lifnim for ?‎ *lbnm "for his son".[20]


Knowledge of the vowel system is very imperfect because of the characteristics of the writing system. During most of its existence, Phoenician writing showed no vowels at all, and even as vowel notation systems did eventually arise late in its history, they never came to be applied consistently to native vocabulary. It is thought that Phoenician had the short vowels /a/, /i/, /u/ and the long vowels /a:/, /i:/, /u:/, /e:/, /o:/.[21][28] The Proto-Semitic diphthongs /aj/ and /aw/ are realized as /e:/ and /o:/. That must have happened earlier than in Biblical Hebrew since the resultant long vowels are not marked with the semivowel letters (b?t "house" was written bt, in contrast to Biblical Hebrew byt).

The most conspicuous vocalic development in Phoenician is the so-called Canaanite shift, shared by Biblical Hebrew, but going further in Phoenician. The Proto-Northwest Semitic /a:/ and /aw/ became not merely /o:/ as in Tiberian Hebrew, but /u:/. Stressed Proto-Semitic /a/ became Tiberian Hebrew /?:/ (/a:/ in other traditions), but Phoenician /o:/. The shift is proved by Latin and Greek transcriptions like r?s for "head, cape" (Tiberian Hebrew r, ‎), sam? for "he heard" (Tiberian Hebrew m, ‎); similarly the word for "eternity" is known from Greek transcriptions to have been l?m, corresponding to Biblical Hebrew l?m and Proto-Semitic lam. The letter Y used for words such as ys "which" and yth (definite accusative marker) in Greek and Latin alphabet inscriptions can be interpreted as denoting a reduced schwa vowel[18] that occurred in pre-stress syllables in verbs and two syllables before stress in nouns and adjectives,[29] while other instances of Y as in chyl and even chil for /kull/ "all" in Poenulus can be interpreted as a further stage in the vowel shift resulting in fronting ([y]) and even subsequent delabialization of /u/ and /u:/.[29][30] Short /*i/ in originally-open syllables was lowered to [e] and was also lengthened if it was accented.[29]


Stress-dependent vowel changes indicate that stress was probably mostly final, as in Biblical Hebrew.[31] Long vowels probably occurred only in open syllables.[32]


As is typical for the Semitic languages, Phoenician words are usually built around consonantal roots and vowel changes are used extensively to express morphological distinctions. However, unlike most Semitic languages, Phoenician preserved [reverted to a system of] numerous uniconsonantal and biconsonantal roots seen in Proto-Afro-Asiatic: compare the verbs kn "to be" vs Arabic kwn, mt "to die" vs Hebrew and Arabic mwt and sr "to remove" vs Hebrew srr.[33]

Nominal morphology

Nouns are marked for gender (masculine and feminine), number (singular, plural and vestiges of the dual) and state (absolute and construct, the latter being nouns that are followed by their possessors) and also have the category definiteness. There is some evidence for remains of the Proto-Semitic genitive grammatical case as well. While many of the endings coalesce in the standard orthography, inscriptions in the Latin and Greek alphabet permit the reconstruction of the noun endings, which are also the adjective endings, as follows:[34]

Singular Dual Plural
Masculine Absolute ? ?m /-?m/ ?m /-?m/
Construct ? ? /-?/ ? /-?/
Feminine Absolute ?t /-(a/i/o)t/ tm /-t?m/ ?t /-?t/
Construct ?t /-(a/i/o)t/ tn /-t?n/ ?t /-?t/

In late Punic, the final /-t/ of the feminine was apparently dropped: ?mlkt "son of the queen" or '?mlkt "brother of the queen" rendered in Latin as HIMILCO.[30][35] /n/ was also assimilated to following consonants: e.g. ?t "year" for earlier */sant/.[30]

The case endings in general must have been lost between the 9th century BCE and the 7th century BCE: the personal name rendered in Akkadian as ma-ti-nu-ba-'a-li "Gift of Baal", with the case endings -u and -i, was written ma-ta-an-ba'a-al two centuries later. However, evidence has been found for a retention of the genitive case in the form of the first-singular possessive suffix: 'by /'abiya/ "of my father" vs 'b /'ab?/ "my father". If true, this may suggest that cases were still distinguished to some degree in other forms as well.

The written forms and the reconstructed pronunciations of the personal pronouns are as follows:[36][37]

1st: /'an?k?/ 'nk (Punic sometimes 'nky), also attested as /'anek/
2nd masc. /'atta(:)/ 't
2nd fem. /'atti(:)/ 't
3rd masc. /hu'a/ h', also [hy] (?) hy and /hu'at/ h't
3rd fem. /hi'a/ h'

1st: /'ana?n?/ 'n?n
2nd masc. /?attim/ 'tm
2nd fem. unattested, perhaps /?attim/ 'tm
3rd masc. /him?t/ hmt
3rd fem. /him?t/ hmt

Enclitic personal pronouns were added to nouns (to encode possession) and to prepositions, as shown below for "Standard Phoenician" (the predominant dialect, as distinct from the Byblian and the late Punic varieties). They appear in a slightly different form depending on whether or not they follow plural-form masculine nouns (and so are added after a vowel). The former is given in brackets with the abbreviation a.V.

1st: /-?/ ?, also y (a.V. /-ayy/ y)
2nd masc. /-ka(:)/ k
2nd fem. /-ki(:)/ k
3rd masc. /-o:/ ?, Punic ', (a.V. /-?yu(:)/ y)
3rd fem. /-a:/ ?, Punic ' (a.V. /-?ya(:)/ y)

1st: /-on/ n
2nd masc. /-kum/ km
2nd fem. unattested, perhaps /-kin/ kn
3rd masc. /-om/ m (a.V. /-nom/ nm)
3rd fem. /-am/ m (a.V. /-nam/ nm)

In addition, according to some research, the same written forms of the enclitics that are attested after vowels are also found after a singular noun in what must have been the genitive case (which ended in /-i/, whereas the plural version ended in /-?/). Their pronunciation can then be reconstructed somewhat differently: first-person singular /-iya(:)/ y, third-person singular masculine and feminine /-iyu(:)/ y and /-iya(:)/ y. The third-person plural singular and feminine must have pronounced the same in both cases, i.e. /-n?m/ nm and /-n?m/ nm.

These enclitic forms vary between the dialects. In the archaic Byblian dialect, the third person forms are h and w /-?/ for the masculine singular (a.V. w /-?w/), h /-aha(:)/ for the feminine singular and hm /-hum(ma)/ for the masculine plural. In late Punic, the 3rd masculine singular is usually /-im/ m.

The same enclitic pronouns are also attached to verbs to denote direct objects. In that function, some of them have slightly divergent forms: first singular /-n?/ n and probably first plural /-nu(:)/.

The near demonstrative pronouns ("this") are written, in standard Phoenician, z for the singular and 'l for the plural. Cypriot Phoenician displays 'z instead of z. Byblian still distinguishes, in the singular, a masculine zn / z from a feminine zt / z'. There are also many variations in Punic, including st and zt for both genders in the singular. The far demonstrative pronouns ("that") are identical to the independent third-person pronouns. The interrogative pronouns are /miya/ or perhaps /mi/ my "who" and /m?/ m "what". An indefinite pronoun "anything" is written mnm. The relative pronoun is a ?, either followed or preceded by a vowel.

The definite article was /ha-/, and the first consonant of the following word was doubled. It was written h but in late Punic also ' and ? because of the weakening and coalescence of the gutturals. Much as in Biblical Hebrew, the initial consonant of the article is dropped after the prepositions b-, l- and k; it could also be lost after various other particles and function words, such the direct object marker 'yt and the conjunction w- "and".

Of the cardinal numerals from 1 to 10, 1 is an adjective, 2 is formally a noun in the dual and the rest are nouns in the singular. They all distinguish gender: '?d, ?nm/'?nm[38] (construct state ?n/'?n), ?l?, 'rb?, ?m?, , ?b?, ?mn(h), t, ?sr/r[39][40] vs '?t, unattested, ?l?t, 'rb?t, ?m?t, t, ?b?t, ?mnt,[41] unattested, rt.[42] The tens are morphologically masculine plurals of the ones: ?srm/rm,[40][43] ?l?m, 'rb?m, ?m?m, m, ?b?m, ?mnm, tm. "One hundred" is m't, two hundred is its dual form m'tm, whereas the rest are formed as in ?l? m't (three hundred). One thousand is 'lp. Ordinal numerals are formed by the addition of *iy -y.[44] Composite numerals are formed with w- "and", e.g. ?sr w ?nm for "twelve".

Verbal morphology

The verb inflects for person, number, gender, tense and mood. Like for other Semitic languages, Phoenician verbs have different "verbal patterns" or "stems", expressing manner of action, level of transitivity and voice. The perfect or suffix-conjugation, which expresses the past tense, is exemplified below with the root q-t-l "to kill" (a "neutral", G-stem).[45][46][37]


  • 1st: /qatalti/ qtlty
  • 2nd masc. /qatalta/ qtlt
  • 2nd fem. /qatalt(i)/ qtlt
  • 3rd masc. /qatal/ qtl
  • 3rd fem. /qatala(t)/ qtlt,[47] also qtl, Punic qtl'


  • 1st: /qatalnu/ qtln
  • 2nd masc. /qataltim/ qtltm
  • 2nd fem. unattested, perhaps /qataltin/ qtltn
  • 3rd masc. /qatalu/ qtl, Punic qtl'
  • 3rd fem. /qatalu/ qtl, Punic qtl'

The imperfect or prefix-conjugation, which expresses the present and future tense (and which is not distinguishable from the descendant of the Proto-Semitic jussive expressing wishes), is exemplified below, again with the root q-t-l.

  • 1st: /'aqtul/ 'qtl
  • 2nd masc. /taqtul/ tqtl
  • 2nd fem. /taqtul?/ tqtly
  • 3rd masc. /yaqtul/ yqtl
  • 3rd fem. /taqtul/ tqtl


  • 1st: /naqtul/ nqtl
  • 2nd masc. /taqtul?(n)/ *tqtl, Punic *tqtl'
  • 2nd fem. /taqtulna/ tqtln
  • 3rd masc. /yaqtul?(n)/ yqtl
  • 3rd fem. */yaqtulna/ yqtln

The imperative endings were presumably /-?/, /-?/ and /-?/[47] for the second-person singular masculine, second-person singular feminine and second-person plural masculine respectively, but all three forms surface in the orthography as /qutul/ qtl: -?. The old Semitic jussive, which originally differed slightly from the prefix conjugation, is no longer possible to separate from it in Phoenician with the present data.

The non-finite forms are the infinitive construct, the infinitive absolute and the active and passive participles. In the G-stem, the infinitive construct is usually combined with the preposition l- "to", as in /liqtul/ "to kill"; in contrast, the infinitive absolute (qat?l)[48] is mostly used to strengthen the meaning of a subsequent finite verb with the same root: pt? tpt? "you will indeed open!",[47] accordingly /*qat?l tiqtul/ "you will indeed kill!".

The participles had, in the G-stem, the following forms:

  • Active:
  • Masculine singular /q?til/ later /q?tel/[47] qtl, plural /qotlim/[47] or /q?til?m/ qtl
  • Feminine singular /q?tilat/ qtlt, plural /q?til?t/ qtlt
  • Passive:
  • Masculine singular /qat?l/[47] or /qat?l/[49] qtl, plural /qat?l?m/ qtlm
  • Feminine singular /qat?lat/ qtlt, plural /qat?l?t/ qtlt

The missing forms above can be inferred from the correspondences between the Proto-Northwest Semitic ancestral forms and the attested Phoenician counterparts: the PNWS participle forms are */q?til-, q?til?ma, q?til(a)t, q?til?t, qat?l, qat?l?m, qatult or qat?lat, qat?l?t/.

The derived stems are:

  • the N-stem (functioning as a passive), e.g. /naqtal/ nqtl, the N-formant being lost in the prefix conjugation while assimilating and doubling the first root consonant (yqtl).
  • the D-stem (functioning as a factitive): the forms must have been /qittil/ in the suffix conjugation, /yaqattil/ in the prefix conjugation, /qattil/ in the imperative and the infinitive construct, /qatt?l/ in the infinitive absolute and /maqattil/ in the participle. The characteristic doubling of the middle consonant is only identifiable in foreign alphabet transcriptions.
  • the C-stem (functioning as a causative): the original *ha- prefix has produced *yi- rather than the Hebrew *hi-. The forms were apparently /yiqtil/ in the suffix conjugation (/'iqtil/ in late Punic), /yaqtil/ in the prefix conjugation, and the infinitive is also /yaqtil/, while the participle was probably /maqtil/ or, in late Punic at least, /miqtil/.[50]

Most of the stems apparently also had passive and reflexive counterparts, the former differing through vowels, the latter also through the infix -t-. The G stem passive is attested as qytl, /qytal/ < */qutal/.;[47] t-stems can be reconstructed as /yitqatil/ ytqtl (tG) and /yiqtattil/ (Dt) yqttl.[51]

Prepositions and particles

Some prepositions are always prefixed to nouns, deleting, if present, the initial /h/ of the definite article: such are b- "in", l- "to, for", k- "as" and m- /min/ "from". They are sometimes found in forms extended through the addition of -n or -t. Other prepositions are not like that:?l "upon", .?d "until", '?r "after", t?t "under", b(y)n "between". New prepositions are formed with nouns: lpn "in front of", from l- "to" and pn "face". There is a special preposited marker of a definite object 'yt (/'iyy?t/?), which, unlike Hebrew, is clearly distinct from the preposition 't (/'itt/).

The most common negative marker is bl (/bal/), negating verbs but sometimes also nouns; another one is 'y (/'?/), expressing both nonexistence and the negation of verbs. Negative commands or prohibitions are expressed with 'l (/'al/). "Lest" is lm. Some common conjunctions are w (originally perhaps /wa-?/, but certainly /u-/ in Late Punic), "and" 'm (/'im/), "when", and k (/k?/), "that; because; when". There was also a conjunction (')p (/'ap/"also". l- (/l?, li/) could (rarely) be used to introduce desiderative constructions ("may he do X!"). l- could also introduce vocatives. Both prepositions and conjunctions could form compounds.[52]


The basic word order is verb-subject-object. There is no verb "to be" in the present tense; in clauses that would have used a copula, the subject may come before the predicate. Nouns precede their modifiers, such as adjectives and possessors.

Vocabulary and word formation

Most nouns are formed by a combination of consonantal roots and vocalic patterns, but they can formed also with prefixes (/m-/, expressing actions or their results, and rarely /t-/) and suffixes /-?n/. Abstracts can be formed with the suffix -t (probably /-?t/, /-?t/).[49] Adjectives can be formed following the familiar Semitic nisba suffix /-?y/ y (e.g. ?dny "Sidonian").

Like the grammar, the vocabulary is very close to Biblical Hebrew, but some peculiarities attract attention. For example, the copula verb "to be" is kn (as in Arabic, as opposed to Hebrew and Aramaic hyh) and the verb "to do" is p?l (as in Aramaic p?l and Arabic f?l, as opposed to Hebrew h, though in Hebrew p?l has the similar meaning "to act").

Standard Phoenician
Sarcophagus inscription of Tabnit of Sidon, 5th century BCE[53][54]
Text Transliteration
? ?
? ? ? ?
? ?
? ?
? ?
? ?
? ?
? ? ?
? ? ?
?nk tbnt khn trt mlk ?dnm bn
mn?zr khn trt mlk ?dnm ?kb b?rn z
my ?t kl ?dm tpq ?yt h?rn z
?l ?l tpt? ?lty w?l trgzn
k ?y ?rln ksp ?y ?r ln ?r? wkl mnm m?d
blt ?nk ?kb b?rn z
?l ?l tpt? ?lty w?l trgzn
k t?bt trt hdbr h?
w?m pt? tpt? ?lty wrgz trgzn
?l ykn lk zr? b?ym t?t ?m?
wm?kb ?t rp?m
I, Tabnit, priest of Astarte, king of Sidon, the son
of Eshmunazar, priest of Astarte, king of Sidon, am lying in this sarcophagus.
Whoever you are, any man that might find this sarcophagus,
don't, don't open it and don't disturb me,
for no silver is gathered with me, no gold is gathered with me, nor anything of value whatsoever,
only I am lying in this sarcophagus.
Don't, don't open it and don't disturb me,
for this thing is an abomination to Astarte.
And if you do indeed open it and do indeed disturb me,
may you not have any seed among the living under the sun,
nor a resting-place with the Rephaites.
Late Punic
1st century BCE[55]
Text Reconstruction (by Igor Diakonov)[55]

? ?
l?dn lb?l ?mn
wlrbtn tnt pn b?l
ndr S. bn Z.
?m? kl? brk?
To the master Baal Hammon
and to our mistress Tanit, the face of Baal,
[that] which consecrated Sosipatius, son of Zopyrus.
He heard his voice and blessed him.

Survival and influences of Punic

The significantly divergent later form of the language that was spoken in the Tyrian Phoenician colony of Carthage is known as Punic and remained in use there for considerably longer than Phoenician did in Phoenicia itself by arguably surviving into Augustine of Hippo's time. Throughout its existence, Punic co-existed with the Berber languages, which were then native to Tunisia (including Carthage) and North Africa. Punic disappeared some time after the destruction of Carthage by the Romans and the Berbers. It is possible that Punic may have survived the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb in some small isolated area: the geographer al-Bakri describes a people speaking a language that was not Berber, Latin or Coptic in the city of Sirte in rural Ifriqiya, a region in which spoken Punic survived well past its written use.[56] However, it is likely that arabization of the Punics was facilitated by their language belonging to the same group (both being Semitic languages) as that of the conquerors and thus having many grammatical and lexical similarities. Most Punic speakers may have been linguistically Berberized and/or Latinized after the fall of Carthage.

The ancient Libyco-Berber alphabet that is still in irregular use by modern Berber groups such as the Tuareg is known by the native name Tifinagh, possibly a derived form of a cognate of the name "Punic".[] Still, a direct derivation from the Phoenician-Punic script is debated and far from established since the two writing systems are very different. As far as language (not the script) is concerned, some borrowings from Punic appear in modern Berber dialects: one interesting example is agadir "wall" from Punic gader.

Perhaps the most interesting case of Punic influence is that of the name of Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula, comprising Portugal and Spain), which, according to one of the theories, is derived from the Punic I-Shaphan meaning "coast of hyraxes", in turn a misidentification on the part of Phoenician explorers of its numerous rabbits as hyraxes.[] Another case is the name of a tribe of hostile "hairy people" that Hanno the Navigator found in the Gulf of Guinea. The name given to those people by Hanno the Navigator's interpreters was transmitted from Punic into Greek as gorillai and was applied in 1847 by Thomas S. Savage to the western gorilla.

Surviving examples

Phoenician, together with Punic, is primarily known from approximately 10,000 surviving inscriptions,[57] supplemented by occasional glosses in books written in other languages. In addition to their many inscriptions, the Phoenicians are believed to have left numerous other types of written sources, but most have not survived.

The Phoenician alphabetic script was easy to write on papyrus or parchment sheets, and the use of these materials explains why virtually no Phoenician writings - no history, no trading records - have come down to us. In their cities by the sea, the air and soil were damp, and papyrus and leather moldered and rotted away. Thus disappeared the literature of the people who taught a large portion of the earth's population to write. The only written documents of Phoenicians and Carthaginians are monumental inscriptions on stone, a few ephemeral letters or notes on pieces of broken pottery, and three fragmentary papyri. Thus, no Tyrian primary sources dating from Hiram I's time are available.[58]

Roman authors, such as Sallust, allude to some books written in the Punic language, but none have survived except occasionally in translation (e.g., Mago's treatise) or in snippets (e.g., in Plautus' plays). The Cippi of Melqart, a bilingual inscription in Ancient Greek and Carthaginian discovered in Malta in 1694, was the key which allowed French scholar Jean-Jacques Barthélemy to decipher and reconstruct the alphabet in 1758.[59] Even as late as 1837 only 70 Phoenician inscriptions were known to scholars. These were compiled in Wilhelm Gesenius's Scripturae linguaeque Phoeniciae monumenta, which comprised all that was known of Phoenician by scholars at that time.

Basically, its core consists of the comprehensive edition, or re-edition of 70 Phoenician and some more non-Phoenician inscriptions... However, just to note the advances made in the nineteenth century, it is noteworthy that Gesenius' precursor Hamaker, in his Miscellanea Phoenicia of 1828, had only 13 inscriptions at his disposal. On the other hand only 30 years later the amount of Phoenician inscribed monuments had grown so enormously that Schröder in his compendium Die phönizische Sprache. Entwurf einer Grammatik nebst Sprach- und Schriftproben of 1869 could state that Gesenius knew only a quarter of the material Schröder had at hand himself.[60]

Some key surviving inscriptions of Phoenician are:

Since bilingual tablets with inscriptions in both Etruscan and Phoenician dating from around 500 BCE were found in 1964, more Etruscan has been deciphered through comparison to the more fully understood Phoenician.

See also


  1. ^ Holmstedt, Robert (2017), "Phoenician" in A Companion to Ancient Phoenicia, London: Wiley-Blackwell, p. 1
  2. ^ Lipi?ski, Edward (2004). Itineraria Phoenicia. pp. 139-41. ISBN 9789042913448.
  3. ^ [1]: "Les anciennes lettres Grecques, suivant Hérodote, et les monumens que nous avons fous les yeux, venoient de Phénicie: or les lettres Samaritaines ne diffèrent pas des anciennes lettres Grecques; par conséquent les lettres Phéniciennes ne doivent pas, différer des Samaritaines. Ils voyoient for des médailles frappées en Phénicie, des lettres qui reflémbloient aux Samaritaines; nouvelle preuve, disoit-on, que les unes etc les autres font les mêmes. Sur un pareil fondement , Scaliger et Bochart ont donné le nom dé Samaritain et de Phénicien au même alphabet; d'autres, comme Edouard Bernard et le P. de Montfaucon, pour rendre' leur alphabet plus riche et plus général, ont joint aux caractères Samaritains des formes de lettres tirées des médailles Phéniciennes ou Puniques ; mais l'explication qu'on avoit donnée de ces médailles, étant fouvent arbitraire, il eft aifé de voir à quelle erreur s'expofent ceux qui, au lieu de travailler sur les monumens mêmes, ne confoltent que les alphabets publiés jusqu a présent"
  4. ^ Bochart, Phaleg, p.451
  5. ^ Fischer, Steven Roger (2004). A history of writing. Reaktion Books. p. 90.
  6. ^ Markoe, Glenn E., Phoenicians. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22613-5 (2000) (hardback) p. 111.
  7. ^ Glenn Markoe.Phoenicians. p. 108. University of California Press, 2000.
  8. ^ Zellig Sabbettai Harris. A grammar of the Phoenician language. p. 6. 1990.
  9. ^ Charles R. Krahmalkov. Phoenician-Punic Dictionary. p. 10. 2000.
  10. ^ Edward Clodd, Story of the Alphabet (Kessinger) 2003:192ff
  11. ^ Segert, Stanislav (1997). "10. Phoenician and the Eastern Canaanite Languages". In Hetzron, Robert (ed.). The Semitic Languages. London: Routledge. p. 174. ISBN 0-415-05767-1. Retrieved 2021. In the Eastern Mediterranean, Phoenician was used until the first century BCE. In North Africa it survived until the fifth century CE.
  12. ^ Caruana, A. A. (1852). Report on the Phoenician and Roman Antiquities in the Group of the Islands of Malta. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 50.
  13. ^ Jongeling, K. and Robert Kerr. Late Punic epigraphy. P.10.
  14. ^ a b Benz, Franz L. 1982. Personal Names in the Phoenician and Punic Inscriptions. P.12-14
  15. ^ Jongeling, K. and Robert Kerr. Late Punic epigraphy. P.2.
  16. ^ Hackett 2008, p. 85.
  17. ^ Jongeling, K., Robert M. Kerr. 2005. Late Punic epigraphy: an introduction to the study of Neo-Punic and Latino-Punic Inscriptions
  18. ^ a b Segert 1997, p. 175. sfn error: multiple targets (3×): CITEREFSegert1997 (help)
  19. ^ Krahmalkov, Charles R. (2001). A Phoenician Punic grammar. Brill. pp. 20-27. ISBN 9004117717. OCLC 237631007.
  20. ^ a b c d Krahmalkov, Charles R. (2000-11-28). A Phoenician-Punic Grammar. BRILL. p. 21. ISBN 9789004294202.
  21. ^ a b c Hackett 2008, p. 87.
  22. ^ Hackett 2008, p. 86.
  23. ^ Segert 1997, p. 59. sfn error: multiple targets (3×): CITEREFSegert1997 (help)
  24. ^ Kerr, Robert M. 2010. Latino-Punic Epigraphy: A Descriptive Study of the Inscriptions. P.126
  25. ^ Segert 1997. sfn error: multiple targets (3×): CITEREFSegert1997 (help)
  26. ^ a b ?, ?.?. 2009. ?. ?: . ?. ? . . , ?.?. ? . P.283
  27. ^ Kerr, Robert M. 2010 Latino-Punic Epigraphy: A Descriptive Study of the Inscriptions. P.105 ff.
  28. ^ Segert 1997, p. 60. sfn error: multiple targets (3×): CITEREFSegert1997 (help)
  29. ^ a b c Hackett 2008, p. 88.
  30. ^ a b c Segert 1997, p. 61. sfn error: multiple targets (3×): CITEREFSegert1997 (help)
  31. ^ Hackett 2008, p. 89.
  32. ^ Segert 1997, p. 63. sfn error: multiple targets (3×): CITEREFSegert1997 (help)
  33. ^ Stade, Bernhard; Marti, Karl (1970). Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft (in German). Walter de Gruyter. p. 272.
  34. ^ Segert, Stanislav. 2007. Phoenician and Punic Morphology. In Morphologies of Asia and Philippines Morphologies of Asia and Africa. ed. by Alan S. Kaye. P.79
  35. ^ Hackett 2008, p. 90.
  36. ^ Hackett 2008, p. 85, The description of the pronouns follows Hackett.
  37. ^ a b Hasselbach-Andee, Rebecca (2020-02-25). A Companion to Ancient Near Eastern Languages. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 315-316. ISBN 978-1-119-19380-7.
  38. ^ Dictionary of the North-West Semitic Inscriptions: M-T Front Cover Jacob Hoftijzer, Karel Jongeling, Richard C. Steiner, Bezalel Porten, Adina Mosak Moshavi P.1176
  39. ^ Ugaritische Grammatik, Josef Tropper P.73-80, ISBN 3927120901
  40. ^ a b Die Keilalphabete: die phönizisch-kanaanäischen und altarabischen Alphabete in Ugarit P.162, ISBN 3927120006
  41. ^ P.994,
  42. ^ Dictionary of the North-West Semitic Inscriptions: M-T Front Cover Jacob Hoftijzer, Karel Jongeling, Richard C. Steiner, Bezalel Porten, Adina Mosak Moshavi P.893
  43. ^ Phönizisch-Punische Grammatik 3. Auflange P.171, ISBN 978-8876532597
  44. ^ Segert, Stanislav. 2007. Phoenician and Punic Morphology. In Morphologies of Asia and Africa. Morphologies of Asia and Africa. ed. by Alan S. Kaye. P.80
  45. ^ Hackett 2008, p. 90, The vocalized reconstructions in the schemes below follow chiefly Hackett.
  46. ^ The spellings are based mostly on Segert, Stanislav. 2007. Phoenician and Punic Morphology. In Morphologies of Asia and Africa. Morphologies of Asia and Africa. ed. by Alan S. Kaye. P.82
  47. ^ a b c d e f g Segert, Stanislav. 2007. Phoenician and Punic Morphology. In Morphologies of Asia and Africa. Morphologies of Asia and Africa. ed. by Alan S. Kaye. P.82
  48. ^ Hackett 2008, p. 96.
  49. ^ a b ?, ?.?. 2009. ?. ?: . ?. ? . . , ?.?. ? . P.293
  50. ^ Hackett 2008, p. 97.
  51. ^ Hackett 2008, p. 99.
  52. ^ Hackett 2008, p. 98.
  53. ^ Booth, Scott W. (2007). "Using corpus linguistics to address some questiongs of Phoenician grammar and syntax found in the Kulamuwa inscription" (PDF). p. 196. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 12, 2011.
  54. ^ "Alfabeto fenicio". Proel (Promotora Española de Lingüística) (in Spanish). Retrieved 2011.
  55. ^ a b ?. ? (1967). ? ?. : .
  56. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-11-09. Retrieved .CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  57. ^ Lehmann 2013, p. 209:Nearly two hundred years later the repertory of Phoenician-Punic epigraphy counts about 10.000 inscriptions from throughout the Mediterranean and its environs. Nevertheless, almost 150 years after Gesenius, Wolfgang Röllig bewailed once more that "notwithstanding the welcome increase of textual material in the past decades, Phoenician probably remains the worst transmitted and least known of all Semitic languages.
  58. ^ Lipi?ski (1995), p.1321-1322
  59. ^ Lehmann 2013.
  60. ^ Lehmann 2013, p. 240.

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