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Before 2600-middle 17th century BCEBefore 2600-middle 17th century BCE


Dead languages / Semitic /
Ancient World / Phoenicia /
Phoenician language




Phoenician alphabet
Phoenician alphabet

Language of the Phoenicians, a Semitic language of the Northwestern group, as well as of the Canaanite group. It was in use along the coast of Syria, Lebanon and Israel, as well as in Phoenician colonies all over the Mediterranean Sea, as west as in northern Morocco.
Phoenician language was very close to Hebrew and Moabite.
The oldest archaeological traces of Phoenician dates back to 11th century BCE, and the newest to 1st century BCE. By then Phoenician would be superseded by Aramaic.
In one of the colony areas, Phoenician would develop into the Punic language. The centre of this was in Carthage, in today's northern Tunisia. Punic language would be strongly influenced by the original Berber languages of the region, and would survive as language long after the decline of the Punic cities as a language in the rural areas until 6th century CE.
While Phoenician died out as a language, words from it survived in Greek and Latin, as well as in Egyptian (now also extinct), Akkadian (also extinct) and Hebrew (extinct as a spoken language until its revival in the 19th century).
In most cases, the Phoenicians used cuneiform script, but at Byblos they developed what for long was considered to be the very first alphabet in the 15th century BCE. The alphabet had 22 letters, and would later be adopted by the Greeks, and then by the Romans, who developed the script used in the Western world today. The first traces of the technique of writing letters compared to syllables, has however been found among the Canaanites, dating to between 1900 and 1700 BCE.




By Tore Kjeilen