The Canaanite languages, or Canaanite dialects, are one of the three subgroups of the Northwest Semitic languages, the others being Aramaic and Ugaritic. They are attested in Canaanite inscriptions throughout the Mediterranean region. Dialects have been labelled primarily with reference to Biblical geography: Hebrew, Phoenician/Carthaginian, Amorite, Ammonite, Ekronite, Moabite and Edomite; the dialects were all mutually intelligible, being no more differentiated than geographical varieties of Modern English. This family of languages has the distinction of being the first historically attested group of languages to use an alphabet, derived from the Proto-Canaanite alphabet, to record their writings, as opposed to the far earlier Cuneiform logographic/syllabic writing of the region.
They were spoken by the ancient Semitic people of the Canaan and Levant regions, an area encompassing what is today Israel, Jordan, Sinai, Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian territories and also some fringe areas of southwestern Turkey, southwestern Iraq and the northern Arabian Peninsula. The Canaanites are broadly defined to include the Hebrews, Amalekites, Ammonites, Amorites, Edomites, Ekronites, Israelites (including Judeans and Samaritans), Phoenicians (including the Carthaginians), Moabites and Suteans. Although the Amorites are included among the Canaanite peoples, their language is sometimes not considered to be a Canaanite language but closely related.
The Canaanite languages continued to be everyday spoken languages until at least the 4th century CE. Hebrew is the only living Canaanite language today. It remained in continuous use by many Jews well into the Middle Ages as both a liturgical and literary language and was used for commerce between disparate diasporic Jewish communities. It has also remained a liturgical language among Samaritans. Hebrew was revived by Jewish political and cultural activists, particularly through the revitalization and cultivation efforts of zionists throughout Europe and in Palestine, as an everyday spoken language in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By the mid-20th century, Modern Hebrew had become the primary language of the Jews of Palestine and was later made the official language of the State of Israel.
The primary reference for extra-biblical Canaanite inscriptions, together with Aramaic inscriptions, is the German-language book Kanaanäische und Aramäische Inschriften, from which inscriptions are often referenced as KAI n (for a number n).
Other possible Canaanite languages:
Some distinctive typological features of Canaanite in relation to Aramaic are:
Modern Hebrew, revived in the modern era from an extinct dialect of the ancient Israelites preserved in literature, poetry, liturgy; also known as Classical Hebrew, the oldest form of the language attested in writing. The original pronunciation of Biblical Hebrew is accessible only through reconstruction. It may also include Ancient Samaritan Hebrew, a dialect formerly spoken by the ancient Samaritans. The main sources of Classical Hebrew are the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), and inscriptions such as the Gezer calendar and Khirbet Qeiyafa pottery shard. All of the other Cannanite languages seem to have become extinct by the early 1st millennium AD.
Slightly varying forms of Hebrew preserved from the first millennium BC until modern times include:
The Phoenician and Carthaginian expansion spread the Phoenician language and its Punic dialect to the Western Mediterranean for a time, but there too it died out, although it seems to have survived slightly longer than in Phoenicia itself.