The Semitic Programme of the Leiden Summer School in Languages and Linguistics will consist of the following courses:

Time schedule

Timeslot 1 (9.30 - 11.00)
A. Gianto: Introduction to Ugaritic 

Timeslot 2 (11.30 - 13.00)
A. Gianto: Introduction to comparative Semitic

Timeslot 3 (14.00 - 15.30)
H. Gzella: The history of the alphabet: An introduction to Semitic epigraphy

Timeslot 4 (16.00 - 17.30)
H. Gzella: Old Aramaic


Introduction to Ugaritic (9.30 - 11.00)

Agustinus Gianto (Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome)

The indigenous language of Ugarit, a city-state on the northern Syrian coast that flourished in the second millennium BCE., is the oldest independently documented language in the Northwest Semitic group and has a special relevance for the historical-comparative study of the Semitic languages. Its rich literature has also come to provide important context for the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.

Elements of Ugaritic grammar and vocabulary will be presented such that by the end of the course the student will be equipped to work through continuous texts. This working knowledge will serve as a solid basis for further philological studies of the Northwest Semitic languages.

The student will also, among other things, enjoy reading the following poetic passage in the original language while entertaining alternative renderings: "I have a word to tell you, a story to recount to you: the tree's word and the stone's charm, the heavens' whisper to the earth, the deep ocean's to the stars. I understand the lightning which the heavens are not capable of knowing, the word which mankind does not seem to know, and the earth's crowd cannot understand. Come and I will reveal it in the midst of my mountain, the divine Zaphon, in the holy place, the mountain of my inheritance, in the beautiful place, the hill of my might!" (Baal's message to Anat, KTU 1.3:III:21-28).

Brief notes of Ugaritic grammar with exercises and annotated texts prepared by the instructor will be available. This course requires no previous background in Semitic language.

Introductory bibliography

  • KTU / CAT = M. Dietrich - O. Loretz - J. Sanmartín, The Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts from Ugarit, Ras Ibn Hani and Other Places (Münster 1995); this is the second, enlarged edition of Die keilalphabetischen Texte aus Ugarit (AOAT 24/1; Neukirchen-Vluyn 1976). Its numbering system has been widely accepted.
  • G. del Olmo Lete - J. Sanmartín, Diccionario de la lengua ugarítica, vol. I-II (Sabadel 1996, 2000) = A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition, transl. by W.G.E. Watson, vol. I-II (HdO I/67; Leiden 2004).
  • S. B. Parker (ed.), Ugaritic Narrative Poetry (Scholars 1997). The texts are arranged in poetic lines with facing translation and brief explanatory notes by a team of scholars.
  • W. G. E. Watson ­­- N. Wyatt (eds.), Handbook of Ugaritic Studies (HdO I/39; Leiden 1999). This 892-page book provides a serious overview of Ugarit's history, languages, literature, religion, economy and society.
 → Time schedule

Introduction to Comparative Semitic (11.30 - 13.00)

Agustinus Gianto (Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome)  

This course treats the following topics:

  • The historical-geographical distribution of the Semitic languages within the Afro-Asiatic family of languages.
  • The phonology and morphology of Proto-Semitic and their major developments in the main languages such as Akkadian, Ugaritic, Phoenician, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Ethiopic.
  • The basic mechanisms of language change, i.e., reanalysis, analogy, and language contact.
  • An outline of the development of prefix conjugation and definiteness marking in Semitic.
Sample passages will be read and discussed in class. No specific background in Semitic languages is required. Handouts and specific bibliographical information will be distributed during the course.

Introductory reading  

J. Huehnergard, “Afro-Asiatic” in R. D. Woodard (ed.), The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World’s Ancient Languages (Cambridge 2004) 138-159.

Time schedule

The History of the Alphabet: An Introduction to Semitic Epigraphy (14.00 - 15.30)

Holger Gzella (Leiden University)

Most of the major writing systems currently in use derive from the Phoenician script: Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, Arabic, and many others. This script was originally geared towards Phoenician, a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew and used by a civilization which bridged the gap between the Ancient Near East and the Western Mediterranean.

First of all, this course will provide an overview of the background of the long development, beginning in the second millennium B.C.E., which eventually produced the Phoenician writing system in its various early ramifications. In addition to that, some more general issues of writing and literacy in Syria-Palestine during the first half of the first millennium B.C.E. (i.e., the world of the Hebrew Bible) will be treated. For this purpose, we will also look at a number of sample texts, such as letters and royal inscriptions, also including material in the original languages, and briefly discuss the linguistic and historical background against which idioms like Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic evolved.

By the end of this course, participants will have a general understanding of the linguistic situation in ancient Syria-Palestine, its scribal culture, and the evolution of the alphabetic script.

No prior knowledge of any Semitic language is required.

Introductory bibliography:  

  • M. Krebernik, “Buchstabennamen, Lautwerte und Alphabetgeschichte”, in: R. Rollinger, A. Luther und J. Wiesehöfer (eds.), Getrennte Wege? Kommunikation, Raum und Wahrnehmung in der Alten Welt, Frankfurt 2007, 108–175.
  • J.F. Healey, The Early Alphabet, London/Berkeley 1990.
  • A. Millard, “The Knowledge of Writing in Late Bronze Age Palestine”, in: K. Van Lerberghe and G. Voet (eds.), Languages and Cultures in Contact. At the Crossroads of Civlizations in the Syro-Mesopotamian Realm. Proceedings of the 42th RAI, Leuven 1999, 317–326.
  • J. Naveh, Early History of the Alphabet. An Introduction to West Semitic Epigraphy and Palaeography. Jerusalem 21987.
  • R. Wachter, “Zur Vorgeschichte des griechischen Alphabets”, Kadmos 28 (1989), 19–78.

    Time schedule

Old Aramaic (16.00 - 17.30)

Holger Gzella (Leiden University)  

With an uninterrupted history of 3,000 years, Aramaic is the Semitic language group with the longest continuous written attestation. The first textual witnesses, international treaties and royal inscriptions, date back to the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.E. and are commonly subsumed under the label “Old Aramaic”. They were composed shortly after various Aramaean tribes had settled down in Syria and elsewhere in the Fertile Crescent, where they established a number of local kingdoms, soon to engage with their neighbours and the newly- emerging Neo-Assyrian Empire. Hence, the material reflects a considerable amount of cultural interaction from the very beginning.

This course will provide an introduction to the language of these inscriptions and their cultural background. At the same time, it is meant to serve as an introduction to Aramaic in general. No prior knowledge of any Semitic language is mandatory. By the end of this course, participants will have a basic understanding of the grammar of Old Aramaic and thus be able to learn other varieties of this group, such as Official Aramaic, Biblical Aramaic, Qumran Aramaic, Syriac etc. more easily.

Introductory bibliography:

  • K. Beyer, The Aramaic Language. Its Distribution and Subdivision, Göttingen 1986.
  • R. Degen, Altaramäische Grammatik der Inschriften des 10.–8. Jh. v.Chr., Wiesbaden 1969.
  • J.A. Fitzmyer, The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefire, 2nd ed. Rome 1995.
  • A. Gianto, “Lost and Found in the Grammar of First-Millennium Aramaic”, in: H. Gzella and M.L. Folmer (eds.), Aramaic in its Historical and Linguistic Setting, Wiesbaden 2008, 11–25.
  • J. Hoftijzer and K. Jongeling, Dictionary of the North–West Semitic Inscriptions, 2 vols., Leiden 1995.

    Time schedule