Himyaritic is a Semitic language that was spoken in Yemen, according to some by the Himyarites. Others consider it to have existed after the demise of the Himyarite period. It was a Semitic language, but did not belong to the Old South Arabian (Sayhadic) languages. The precise position inside Semitic is unknown because of the limited knowledge of the language.
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Although the Himyar kingdom was an important power in South Arabia since the 1st century B.C., the knowledge of the Himyaritic language is very limited, because all known Himyarite inscriptions were written in Sabaean, an Old South Arabian language. The three Himyaritic texts appeared to be rhymed (sigla ZI 11, Ja 2353 and the Hymn of Qaniya). Himyaritic is only known from statements of Arab scholars from the first centuries after the rise of Islam. According to their description, it was unintelligible for speakers of Arabic. Amharic, the language of the Amhara and official language of Ethiopia is likely an altered form of Himyaritic, according to the "Penny Cyclopaedia of the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge" (p. 451). Dr Steven L. Danver, also wrote in "Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures, and Contemporary Issues"(p. 15), that the name "Amhara" (the Amharic-speaking Ethio-Semitic people inhabiting the Ethiopian plateau) is believed to be derived from Himyarites.
Unlike the Old South Arabian languages, which were supplanted by Arabic in the 8th century, if not much earlier, Himyaritic continued to be spoken in the highlands of southwestern Yemen after the rise of Islam. According to Al-Hamdani (893–947), it was spoken in some areas in the highlands of western Yemen in the 10th century, while the tribes at the coast and in eastern Yemen spoke Arabic and most tribes in the western highland spoke Arabic dialects with strong Himyaritic influence. In the following centuries, Himyaritic was completely supplanted by Arabic, but the modern dialects in the highlands seem to show traces of the Himyaritic substrate.
The most prominent known feature of Himyaritic is the definite article am-/an-. It was shared, though, with some Arabic dialects in the west of the Arabian Peninsula. Furthermore, the suffixes of the perfect (suffix conjugation) in the first person singular and the second person began with k-, while Arabic has t-. This feature is also found in Old South Arabian, Ethiosemitic and Modern South Arabian. Both features are also found in some modern Yemeni Arabic dialects in Yemen, probably through Himyaritic substrate influence. The article am- is also found in other modern dialects of Arabic in the Arabian peninsula and in Central Africa.
Only a few Himyaritic sentences are known. The following sentence was reportedly uttered in 654/5 A.D. in Dhamar. Since it was transmitted in unvocalized Arabic script, the precise pronunciation is unknown; the reconstruction given here is based on Classical Arabic.
|English||"I saw in a dream that I gave birth to a son of gold."|
There is also a short song, which seems to show Arabic influence. Furthermore, Al-Hamdani quotes alleged Old South Arabian Inscriptions, which were probably forged on the basis of the Himyaritic language.
- A. F. L. Beeston (1981), "Languages of Pre-Islamic Arabia", Arabica (in German), Brill, 28 (2/3), pp. 178–186, JSTOR 4056297
- Chaim Rabin: Ancient West-Arabian. London, 1951.
- Peter Stein, The "Himyaritic" Language in pre-Islamic Yemen A Critical Re-evaluation, Semitica et Classica 1, 2008, 203-212.
- Christian Robin, Ḥimyaritic, Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics 2, 2007, 256-261.
- Robin, Christian (1998), "Südarabien − eine Kultur der Schrift", in Seipel, Wilfried (ed.), Jemen: Kunst und Archäologie im Land der Königin von Sabaʼ, Milan, p. 79
- Rabin 1951, 46
- Rabin 1951, 35
- Rabin 1951, 48