The Canaanite languages are a subfamily of the Semitic languages, which were spoken by the ancient peoples of the Canaan region, including Canaanites, Israelites and Phoenicians. All of them became extinct as native languages in the early 1st millennium CE, although Hebrew remained in continuous literary and religious use among Jews, and was revived as an everyday spoken language in the 19th and 20th centuries in an effort spearheaded by Eliezer Ben Yehuda. The Phoenician and Carthaginian expansion spread the Phoenician language and its Punic dialect 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.
- Phoenician – extinct
- Ammonite – extinct
- Moabite – extinct
- Edomite – extinct
- Biblical Hebrew – Jews, literary, poetical, liturgical; also known as Classical Hebrew, the oldest form of the language attested in writing. The original pronunciation of Biblical Hebrew is only accessible through reconstruction. There are different pronunciations traditions associated with different diaspora groups, influenced by vernacular languages spoken locally, which are listed below.
- Samaritan Hebrew – Samaritans, liturgical
- Tiberian Hebrew – Jews, liturgical
- Mizrahi Hebrew – Mizrahi Jews, liturgical
- Yemenite Hebrew – Yemenite Jews, liturgical
- Sephardi Hebrew – Sephardi Jews, liturgical
- Ashkenazi Hebrew language – Ashkenazi Jews, liturgical
- Mishnaic Hebrew (Rabbinical Hebrew) – Jews, liturgical, rabbinical
- Medieval Hebrew – Jews, liturgical, poetical, rabbinical, scientific, literary; lingua franca based on Bible, Mishna and neologisms forms created by translators and commentators
- Haskala Hebrew language – Jews, scientific, literary and journalistic language based on Biblical but enriched with neologisms created by writers and journalists, a transition to the later
- Modern Hebrew language – The transformation and enlargement of the former into a spoken language which in turn emerged as the new contemporary Israeli Hebrew, the main language of the State of Israel, revived
The main sources for study of Canaanite languages are the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), and inscriptions such as:
The Deir Alla Inscription is written in a dialect with Aramaic and South Canaanite characteristics, which is classified as Canaanite in Hetzron.
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 and Ugaritic, 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 'ʼnk' (אנכ – anok(i), versus Aramaic – ʼnʼ/ʼny) – which is similar to Akkadian, Ancient Egyptian and Berber.
- The *ā > ō vowel shift (Canaanite shift).
- The Semitic Languages. Routledge Language Family Descriptions. Edited by Robert Hetzron. New York: Routledge, 1997.