The Semites are a group of peoples around the Middle East. The name comes from the biblical character Shem, one of Noah’s sons. The Semites are supposedly descended from him (according to Abrahamic religions anyways…). They are the “biblical people” one thinks about when they read or hear about the Bible. The common association with the word “Semite” are the Jews, but it extends to anyone who speaks a Semitic language, such as Arabic, Amharic, Syriac, and Hebrew included. Some ancient Semitic languages include Phonecian and Aramaic, the language Jesus was thought to have spoken. Some minority groups in the Middle East speak a dialect of Aramaic, but it is largely extinct. Hebrew used to be a dead language up until the 19th century when it was revived into it’s modern form! Many of these languages use abjads, alphabets that don’t include vowel letters. Instead, they’re either omitted, or special marks stand in for vowel sounds. Another unique thing about them, is that their words have special “roots”, usually two or three consonants that gives a clue about what the word means. For example, in Arabic, the corresponding letters for K-T-B means “write”. One adds other letters in to make words relating to that topic, such as kitāb “book”, kutub “books”, kātib “writer”, kuttāb “writers”, kataba “he wrote”,yaktubu “he writes”, etc. (Wikipedia)
A very interesting theory is that words that date back to the paleolithic have only two root letters, while words for materials only found in the neolithic and later have three root letters. The theory surmises that the languages changed simultaneously with the agricultural revolution, or they needed more roots to express words for new technology, or to be more specific in a wider concept. This paper by Bernice Varjick Hecker explains the theory in detail. The Biradical Origin of Semitic Roots Also, another paper by Noam Agmon called Materials and Language: Pre-Semitic Root Structure Change Concomitant with Transition to Agriculture. I think it’s a very fascinating theory, despite it being a bit technical. I guess one has to come up with some word for a new thing!
To explain this picture, here’s an excerpt from Heckner’s paper: Any member of the Pre-S speaking society who grew frustrated by the insufficiency of biradicals alone to express more complicated needs or to give specificity to a general concept could have added a third radical, an innovative step. It sounds to me as if an ancient Semite sat down and thought was in the above picture! Hee, hee :)