The Canaanite languages are a subfamily of the Semitic languages, spoken by the ancient peoples of the Canaan region, including Canaanites, Hebrews, Phoenicians, and eventually Philistines. All of them became extinct as native languages in the early first millennium AD, although Hebrew remained in literary and religious use among Jews, and has been revived in the twentieth century. The Phoenician (and especially Carthaginian) expansion spread their Canaanite language to the Western Mediterranean for a time, but there too it died out, although it seems to have survived slightly longer than in Phoenicia itself.
The main sources for study of Canaanite languages are the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), and inscriptions such as:
The extra-biblical Canaanite inscriptions are gathered along with Aramaic inscriptions in editions of the book "Kanaanäische und Aramäische Inschriften ", from which they may be referenced as KAI n (for a number n); for example, the Mesha Stele is "KAI 181".
The Canaanite languages, together with the Aramaic languages, form the Northwest Semitic subgroup. Some distinctive features of Canaanite in relation to Aramaic are:
- The prefix 'h-' used as the definite article (whereas Aramaic has a postfixed -a). This seems to be an innovation of Canaanite.
- The first person pronoun being 'ʾnk' (אנכ - anok(i)) (versus Aramaic - ʾnʾ/ʾny) - which is similiar to Akkadian; this is a common retention from proto-Afro-Asiatic.
Some West Semitic Inscriptions