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Samaritan Hebrew & Aramaic influence on Post-Exilic Hebrew
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Abu Rashid Offline

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Samaritan Hebrew & Aramaic influence on Post-Exilic Hebrew
The existence of the Samaritan people is one of the most interesting remnants of the Israelite culture that has survived (barely) to the present day. Almost like an alternative reality that has shadowed the mainstream Israelite culture, which evolved into the modern Jewish people, the Samaritans remained distinct, yet both Samaritans and Jews see themselves as Bene Yisrael (The Children of Israel).

One of the many ways in which the Samaritans remained distinct was their language. Although the Samaritans preserved a variety of the Hebrew language, the features of their dialect show some quite interesting differences to that of the mainstream Hebrew language. Some of these differences tend to hint at a stronger connection with Pre-exilic Hebrew than Jewish Hebrew, the latter becoming more influenced by Aramaic due to its development in Mesopotamia.

The Hebrew language as a member of the Canaanite sub-branch of the Semitic languages shares many of the same developments as the other Canaanite languages, Phoenician, Moabite, Edomite, Ammonite etc. (and even Ugaritic according to some), but one major area where it seems to differ is in the way the sibilants collapsed together. In the Canaanite languages, s¹ & s² (modern Hebrew's shin & sin respectively) had merged together, presumably prior to the advent of written records, due to the fact there is only one letter to represent them. In mainstream Jewish Hebrew s² merged with s³ (modern Hebrew's sin & samek respectively). However, in Samaritan Hebrew, the situation is exactly the same as in the other Canaanite languages ¹, the s¹ & s² merger is what took place. The situation of Jewish Hebrew on the other hand reflects the situation found in Aramaic, rather than that of the Canaanite languages, as we would expect.

The primary literary text of the Samaritan Hebrew language is the Samaritan Torah. Extensive comparisons have been carried out between this text and the standard Hebrew Torah, and between them there is roughly about 6,000 textual differences, many of them minor spelling variations. The comparisons have also revealed that the Samaritan text contains a greater degree of grammatical consistently than the mainstream Jewish version especially in areas such as gender agreement ².

There are several other aspects of the Jewish Hebrew language that appear to resemble Aramaic more than the standard Canaanite features, whilst Samaritan resembles the presumably Pre-Exilic Canaanite situation. The 1ps pronoun in the Canaanite languages is usually "anuki". In Jewish Hebrew, this form appears in the older portions of the Tanak, but the standard form resembles the Aramaic "ana/ani" ³. In Samaritan it is consistently "anuki". Jewish Hebrew usually exhibits the same spirantised lenition series as Aramaic (b>v g>ɣ d>ð k>x p>f t>θ), whilst Samaritan Hebrew does not.

Of course there are many other areas in which Jewish Hebrew agrees completely with the other Canaanite languages, and these points do not in any way suggest Jewish Hebrew should not be classified as Canaanite. It is quite interesting though, when we consider the Samaritan narrative of how they came to be distinct from the Jews, having been those Hebrews who remained in Israel during the exile.

¹ Samaritan Hebrew, Phonology - Wikipedia (
² The Samaritan Pentateuch - Mark Shoulson (
³ Canaanite Languages - Wikipedia (
01-30-2012 10:33 PM
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Samaritan Hebrew & Aramaic influence on Post-Exilic Hebrew - Abu Rashid - 01-30-2012 10:33 PM

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