From Academic Kids

Semitic is an adjective referring to the peoples who have traditionally spoken Semitic languages or to things pertaining to them. Genetic analysis suggests that the Semitic peoples share a significant common ancestry, despite important differences and contributions from other groups. There is much debate about the scope of the word's "racial" use in the context of population genetics and history, but as a linguistic term it is well-defined, referring to a largely Middle Eastern family of languages including Arabic, Aramean, Assyrian, Maltese, Amharic and Hebrew languages.

The negative form anti-Semitic, however, is almost always used to mean "anti-Jewish" specifically. The word derives from Shem, one of the three sons of Noah. The Proto-Semitic peoples, ancestors of the Semites in the Middle East, are thought to have been originally from the Arabian Peninsula.



The concept of a "Semitic" people is derived from Biblical accounts of the origins of the cultures known to the ancient Hebrews. Those closest to them in culture and language were generally deemed to be descended from Shem. Enemies were often said to be descendents of his cursed brother Ham. In Genesis Shem is described as the father of Aram, Asshur, and others: the Biblical ancestors of the Aramaeans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Phoenicianss, Punians, Chaldeans, Sabaeans, and Hebrews, etc., all of whose languages are closely related; the linguistic family containing them was therefore named Semitic by linguists. However, the Canaanites and Amorites also spoke a language belonging to this family, and are therefore also termed Semitic in linguistics despite being described in Genesis as sons of Ham (See Sons of Noah). Shem is also described in Genesis as the father of the Elamites and the far-eastern descendants of Lud, whose languages were not Semitic.


The modern linguistic meaning of "Semitic" is therefore derived from, but not identical to Biblical usage. In a linguistic context the Semitic languages include, among others, Arabic, Aramean, Assyrian, Babylonian, Phoenician Canaanite, Akkadian, Amharic, Hebrew. Some of the peoples who spoke these languages were descendants of the Phoenicians, which was the Greek name for the Canaanites. At the height of the Carthaginian empire, Semitic languages would have been widely spoken all the way along the southern Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean as Carthage was originally a Phoenician colony. Semitic languages are also spoken in Malta and on Socotra in the Indian Ocean. Additionally, millions of Muslims speak Classical (Qur'anic) Arabic as a second language, and many Jews all over the world speak Hebrew as a second language. It should be noted that Coptic, Berber, Somali, and many other related Afro-Asiatic languages within this area do not belong to the Semitic subgroup.


In a religious context, the term Semitic can refer to the religions associated with the speakers of these languages: thus Judaism Christianity and Islam are often described as "Semitic religions", though the term Abrahamic religions is more common today. A truly comprehensive account of "Semitic" religions would equally include the polytheistic religions (such as the religions of Adad) that flourished in the Middle East before the Abrahamic religions.


In Medieval Europe all Asian peoples were thought of as descendents of Shem. By the nineteenth century the term Semitic was confined to the ethnic groups who have historically spoken Semitic languages. These peoples were often considered to be a distinct race. However, some anti-Semitic racial theorists of the time argued that the Semitic peoples arose from the blurring of distinctions between previously separate races. This supposed process was referred to as Semiticization by the race-theorist Arthur de Gobineau. The notion that Semitic identity was a product of racial "confusion" was later taken up by the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg.

Modern science, in contrast, identifies an ethnic group's common physical descent through genetic research. Though in genetic research no significant common mitochondrial results have been yielded, genetic Y-chromosome links between Near-Eastern peoples like the Palestinians, Syrians and ethnic Jews have proved fruitful (see Y-chromosomal Aaron). While population genetics is still a young science, it seems to indicate that a significant proportion of these peoples' ancestry comes from a common Near-Eastern population to which (despite the differences with the Biblical genealogy) the term Semitic has been applied.

External links

  • Semitic genetics (

bg:Семити de:Semiten es:Semita fr:Smite nl:Semieten pl:Ludy semickie pt:Semita


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