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Ugaritic language

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Title: Ugaritic language  
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Subject: Writing system, Northwest Semitic languages, Praeparatio evangelica, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, Byblos syllabary
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Ugaritic language

Native to ancient Ugarit
Extinct twelfth century BC
Language codes
ISO 639-2 uga
ISO 639-3 uga
Glottolog ugar1238[1]

The Ugaritic language (), a Northwest Semitic language,[2] discovered by French archaeologists in 1929, is known almost only in the form of writings found in the ruined city of Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra), Syria.[3][4] It has been used by scholars of the Hebrew Bible to clarify Biblical Hebrew texts and has revealed ways in which ancient Israelite culture finds parallels in the neighboring cultures.[4]

Ugaritic has been called "the greatest literary discovery from antiquity since the deciphering of the Egyptian hieroglyphs and Mesopotamian cuneiform".[5]


The Ugaritic language is attested in texts from the 14th through the 12th century BC.[6] The city was destroyed in 1180–1170 BC.

Literary texts discovered at Ugarit include the Legend of Keret, the Aqhat Epic (or Legend of Danel), the Myth of Baal-Aliyan, and the Death of Baal – the latter two are also collectively known as the Baal cycle – all revealing aspects of a Canaanite religion.

According to one hypothesis, Ugaritic texts might solve the biblical puzzle of the anachronism of Ezekiel mentioning Daniel at Ezekiel 14:13-16; it is because in both Ugaritic and the Ancient Hebrew texts, it is correctly Danel.[4]

Writing system

Clay tablet of Ugaritic alphabet
Table of Ugaritic alphabet

The Ugaritic alphabet is a cuneiform abjad (alphabet without vowels), used from around 15th century BC. Although it appears similar to Mesopotamian cuneiform (whose writing techniques it borrowed), its symbols and symbol meanings are unrelated (see Ugaritic alphabet). It is the oldest example of the family of West Semitic scripts that were used for Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. The so-called long alphabet has 30 letters, while the short alphabet has 22. Other languages (particularly Hurrian) were occasionally written in it in the Ugarit area, although not elsewhere.

Clay tablets written in Ugaritic provide the earliest evidence of both the Levantine ordering of the alphabet, which gave rise to the alphabetic order of the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin alphabets; and the South Semitic order, which gave rise to the Ge'ez alphabet order. The script was written from left to right.


Ugaritic has 28 consonantal phonemes, including two semivowels, and eight vowel phonemes (three short vowels and five long vowels): a ā i ī u ū ē ō. (The phonemes ē and ō only occur as long vowels and are the result of monophthongization of the diphthongs "ay" and "aw" respectively.)

Ugaritic consonantal phonemes
  Labial Interdental Dental/Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
plain emphatic
Nasal m   n            
Stop voiceless p   t   k q   ʔ
voiced b   d     ɡ      
Fricative voiceless   θ s ʃ x ħ h
voiced   ð z ðˤ ʒ[decimal 1] ɣ[decimal 2] ʕ  
Trill     r            
Approximant     l   j w      
  1. ^ The voiced palatal fricative ʒ occurs as a late variant of the voiced interdental fricative ð.
  2. ^ The voiced velar fricative ɣ, while an independent phoneme at all periods, also occurs as a late variant of the emphatic voiced interdental ðˤ.

The following table shows Proto-Semitic phonemes and their correspondences among Ugaritic, Arabic and Tiberian Hebrew:

Proto-Semitic Ugaritic Arabic Tiberian Hebrew
b b ب b בּ b
p p ف f פּ p
[ð] d;
sometimes [ð]
ذ [ð] ז z
[θ] [θ] ث [θ] שׁ š [ʃ]
[θʼ] [ðˤ];
sporadically ġ [ɣ]
ظ [ðˤ] צ [sˤ]
d d د d דּ d
t t ت t תּ t
[tʼ] [tˤ] ط [tˤ] ט [tˤ]
š [s] š [ʃ] س s שׁ š [ʃ]
z [dz] z ز z ז z
s [ts] s س s ס s
[tsʼ] [sˤ] ص [sˤ] צ [sˤ]
l l ل l ל l
ś [ɬ] š [ʃ] ش š [ʃ] שׂ ś/s [ɬ]→[s]
ṣ́ [(t)ɬʼ] [sˤ] ض [ɮˤ]→[dˤ] צ [sˤ]
g [ɡ] g ج ǧ [ɡʲ]→[d͡ʒ] גּ g
k k ك k כּ k
q [kʼ] q [kˤ] ق q [kˤ] ק q [kˤ]
ġ [ɣ] ġ [ɣ] غ ġ [ɣ] ע ʻ [ʕ]
[x] [x] خ [x] ח [ħ]
ʻ [ʕ] ʻ [ʕ] ع ʻ [ʕ] ע ʻ [ʕ]
[ħ] [ħ] ح [ħ] ח [ħ]
ʼ [ʔ] ʼ [ʔ] ء ʼ [ʔ] א ʼ [ʔ]
h h ه h ה h
m m م m מ m
n n;
total assimilation
before a consonant
ن n נ n
r r ر r ר r
w w;
y [j] initially
و w ו w
y [j] y [j] ي y [j] י y [j]
Proto-Semitic Ugaritic Arabic Tiberian Hebrew


Ugaritic is an inflected language, and as a Semitic language its grammatical features are highly similar to those found in Classical Arabic and Akkadian. It possesses two genders (masculine and feminine), three cases for nouns and adjectives (nominative, accusative, and genitive), three numbers (singular, dual, and plural), and verb aspects similar to those found in other Northwest Semitic languages. The word order for Ugaritic is verb–object–subject (VOS) or subject-object-verb (SOV),[7] possessed–possessor (NG), and nounadjective (NA). Ugaritic is considered a conservative Semitic language, since it retains most of the Proto-Semitic phonemes, the case system, and the word order of the Proto-Semitic ancestor.

See also


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Ugaritic". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Though usually classified as Northwest Semitic (Tropper, Josef "Ugaritic grammar", in Handbuch der Orientalistik, Wilfred G. E. Watson, editor (1999). BRILL, ISBN 90-04-10988-9, ISBN 978-90-04-10988-9), Ugaritic is alternatively classified in a "North Semitic" group (Lipiński, Edward (2001). Semitic languages: outline of a comparative grammar. Peeters Publishers, ISBN 90-429-0815-7, ISBN 978-90-429-0815-4, 780 pages. Volume 80 of Orientalia Lovaniensia analecta).
  3. ^ Schniedewind, William M. and Hunt, Joel H. (2007). A primer on Ugaritic: language, culture, and literature (p. 20). Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-87933-7, ISBN 978-0-521-87933-0, 226 pages.
  4. ^ a b c Edward L. Greenstein, "Texts from Ugarit Solve Biblical Puzzles", BAR 36:06, Nov/Dec 2010, pp. 48-53, 70. Found at Biblical Archaeology Review website. Accessed October 29, 2010.
  5. ^   at p. 99
  6. ^ Quartz Hill School of Theology, Ugarit and the Bible
  7. ^ "Ugaritic Word Order and Sentence Structure in KRT" by Gerald H. Wilson, in Journal of Semitic Studies 27 vol.1 (Spring 1982)


External links

  • Ugarit and the Bible. An excerpt from an online introductory course on Ugaritic grammar (the Quartz Hill School of Theology's course noted in the links hereafter). Includes a cursory discussion on the relationship between Ugaritic and Old Testament/Hebrew Bible literature.
  • "El in the Ugaritic tablets" on the BBCi website gives many attributes of the Ugaritic creator and his consort Athirat.
  • The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic TextAbstract of Mark Smith, .
  • "Introduction to Ugaritic Grammar". Quartz Hill School of Theology.
  • Unicode Chart.
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