Nabataean language

Nabataean language
Inscription Qasiu Louvre AO4988.jpg
Fragment from a dedicatory inscription in Nabataean script to the god Qasiu.[1]
Spoken in Fertile Crescent
Extinct merged with Arabic during the early Islamic era.
Language family
Writing system Nabataean script
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Linguist List qhy

The Nabataean language was a form of Aramaic and was the language of the Nabataeans of Iraq and Syria.

In the early Islamic era and probably before, the Arabians referred to the sedentary Aramaeans of southern Iraq and southern Syria as Nabat (Nabataeans). The sedentary Aramaeans of northern Iraq and northern Syria who spoke the Syriac dialect they called Suryaniyyun (Syrians). The various dialects of Aramaic however (Suryani, Nabati and others) were very similar, and different Arab writers used these terms interchangeably at different times. To make matters more confusing; the Nabati dialect of the southern Levant is not the same as the Nabati dialect of southern Iraq. The name Nabataean as it was used by Arabs essentially just denoted sedentary Aramaic-speakers without much precision, although for some writers it meant the southern Aramaeans.

The Nabataean language either refers to the dialect of Aramaic spoken in the southern Levant (by the Aramaeans of Petra and Bosra and their successors) or the dialect of Aramaic spoken in the Babylonian alluvial plain of Iraq during the 1st millennium AD. These areas became Arabicized during the Caliphate, and partly before in some areas.



With the collapse of the Achaemenid Empire (330 BC), the Aramaic language also increasingly lost importance as the lingua franca of the Near East. The Greek language now appeared beside it. The formerly unified written culture fell apart into local schools and the old dialects now also increased in importance as written languages. The Nabataean language was one of these local developments. The language of the Nabataean inscriptions, attested from the 2nd century BC, shows a local development of the Aramaic language. Since the population of the Nabataean Empire may have predominantly spoken a northern Arabic dialect, the Nabataean language may be regarded as principally a written language.

Linguistic Classification

The Nabatean language was an offshoot of imperial Aramaic language. With increasing immigration of nomadic Arab tribes, the Nabatean language became increasingly influenced by Arabic. From the Islamic era, the Arabic influence became overwhelming, in a way that it may be said the Nabataean language shifted seamlessly from Aramaic to Arabic.


Evidence of Nabataean writings can be found in the Nabataean cities of Petra, Bussra, and Hegra (burial and dedication inscriptions) and there are numerous smaller inscriptions from the southern Sinai peninsula. There are further Nabataean texts from the caves on the Dead Sea.


Nabataean handwriting is characterized by a very characteristic cursive style. The Nabataean alphabet itself developed out of the Aramaic alphabet. It became the precursor of the Arabic alphabet, which developed out of cursive variants of the Nabataean script in the 5th century.


  • al-Khraysheh, Fawwaz: Die Personennamen in den nabatäischen Inschriften des Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum. Marburg 1986. In German
  • Euting, Julius: Nabatäische Inschriften aus Arabien. Berlin 1885. In German
  • Hackl, Ursula/Jenni, Hanna/Schneider, Christoph: Quellen zur Geschichte der Nabatäer. NTOA 51. Fribourg 2003. ISBN 3-7278-1410-1. In German


  1. ^ Basalt, 1st century CE. Found in Sia in the Hauran, Southern Syria.

This article incorporates information from the revision as of January 10, 2008 of the equivalent article on the German Wikipedia.

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