Linguistic Introduction: The Orthography, Morphology and Syntax of Semitic Languages

  • Ray FabriEmail author
  • Michael GasserEmail author
  • Nizar HabashEmail author
  • George KirazEmail author
  • Shuly Wintner
Part of the Theory and Applications of Natural Language Processing book series (NLP)


We present in this chapter some basic linguistic facts about Semitic languages, covering orthography, morphology, and syntax. We focus on Arabic (both standard and dialectal), Ethiopian languages (specifically, Amharic), Hebrew, Maltese and Syriac. We conclude the chapter with a contrastive analysis of some of these phenomena across the various languages.


Noun Phrase Relative Clause Head Noun Definite Article Indirect Object 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. 1.
    Abdel-Massih ET, Abdel-Malek ZN, Badawi ESM (1979) A reference grammar of Egyptian Arabic. Georgetown University Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Alkuhlani S, Habash N (2011) A corpus for modeling morpho-syntactic agreement in Arabic: gender, number and rationality. In: Proceedings of the 49th annual meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL’11), PortlandGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Amberber M (2002) Verb classes and transitivity in Amharic. Lincom, MunichGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Anberbir T, Takara T, Gasser M, Yoon KD (2011) Grapheme-to-phoneme conversion for Amharic text-to-speech system. In: Proceedings of conference on human language technology for development, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, AlexandriaGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Badawi ESM (1973) Mustawayat al-‘Arabiyya al-mu‘asira fi Misr (the levels of modern Arabic in Egypt). Dar al-Ma‘arif, CairoGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Bassiouney R (2009) Arabic sociolinguistics: topics in diglossia, gender, identity, and politics. Georgetown University Press, Washington, DCCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
  8. 8.
    Berman RA (1978) Modern Hebrew structure. University Publishing Projects, Tel AvivGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Borer H (1988) On the morphological parallelism between compounds and constructs. In: Booij G, van Marle J (eds) Yearbook of morphology 1. Foris, Dordrecht, pp 45–65Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Borer H (1996) The construct in review. In: Lecarme J, Lowenstamm J, Shlonsky U (eds) Studies in Afroasiatic grammar. Holland Academic Graphics, The Hague, pp 30–61Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Borg A, Azzopardi-Alexander M (1997) Maltese. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Brincat JM (2011) Maltese and other languages: a linguistic history of Malta. Midsea, MaltaGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Brustad K (2000) The syntax of spoken Arabic: a comparative study of Moroccan, Egyptian, Syrian, and Kuwaiti dialects. Georgetown University Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Buckwalter T (2002) Buckwalter Arabic morphological analyzer. Linguistic Data Consortium (LDC), Philadelphia. Catalog number LDC2002L49 and ISBN 1-58563-257-0Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Buckwalter T (2004) Buckwalter Arabic morphological analyzer version 2.0. LDC, Philadelphia. Catalog number LDC2004L02, ISBN 1-58563-324-0Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Camilleri M (2009) Clitics in Maltese. BA thesis, University of MaltaGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Cowell MW (1964) A reference grammar of Syrian Arabic. Georgetown University Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Daniels PT (1997) Scripts of Semitic languages. In: Hetzron R (ed) The Semitic languages. Routledge, London/New York, chap 2, pp 16–45Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Daniels PT, Bright W (eds) (1996) The World’s writing systems. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Doron E (1983) Verbless predicates in Hebrew. PhD thesis, University of Texas at AustinGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Ebert K (2000) Aspect in Maltese. In: Dahl O (ed) Tense and aspect in the languages of Europe. Mouton de Gruyter, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    El Kholy A, Habash N (2010) Techniques for Arabic morphological detokenization and orthographic denormalization. In: Proceedings of LREC-2010, MaltaGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Erwin W (1963) A short reference grammar of Iraqi Arabic. Georgetown University Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Fabri R (1993) Kongruenz und die Grammatik des Maltesischen. Niemeyer, TübingenCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Fabri R (1995) The tense and aspect system of Maltese. In: Thieroff R (ed) Tempussysteme in Europaeischen Sprachen II. Niemeyer, Tübingen, pp 327–343Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Fabri R (1996) The construct state and the pseudo-construct state in Maltese. Rivista di Linguistica 8(1):229–244Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Fabri R (2001) Definiteness marking and the structure of the NP in Maltese. Verbum 23(2):153–172Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Fabri R (2009) Stem allomorphy in the Maltese verb. Ilsienna – Our Language 1/2009:1–20Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Fabri R (2009) To agree or not to agree: suspension of formal agreement in Maltese. In: Fabri R (ed) Maltese linguistics: a snapshot; in memory of Joseph A. Cremona (1922–2003). Il-Lingwa Taghna – Our Language. Brockmeyer, Bochum, pp 35–61Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Fabri R (2010) Maltese. Revue Belge de Philologie et d’Histoire 88(3):791–816Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Fabri R, Borg A (2002) Topic, focus and word order in Maltese. In: Abderrahim Y, Benjelloun F, Dahbi M, Iraqui-Sinaceur Z (eds) Aspects of the dialects of Arabic today. Proceedings of the 4th conference of the international Arabic Dialectology Association (AIDA), Amapatril, Rabat, pp 354–363Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Farrugia A (2008) Maltimorph: a computational analysis of the Maltese broken plural. BSc thesis, University of MaltaGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Farrugia G (2010) Il-Ġens grammatikali fil-Malti. PhD thesis, University of MaltaGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Fenech E (1996) Functions of the dual suffix in Maltese. Rivista di Linguistica 8:89–100Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Ferguson CF (1959) Diglossia. Word 15(2):325–340Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Gadish R (ed) (2001) Klalei ha-Ktiv Hasar ha-Niqqud, 4th edn. Academy for the Hebrew Language, Brooklyn (in Hebrew)Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Gasser M (2010) A dependency grammar for Amharic. In: Proceedings of the workshop on language resources and human language technologies for Semitic languages, VallettaGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Glinert L (1989) The grammar of modern Hebrew. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Habash N (2006) On Arabic and its dialects. Multiling Magazi 17(81). Getting Started Guide: Middle East Insert, pp 12–15Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Habash N (2007) Arabic morphological representations for machine translation. In: van den Bosch A, Soudi A (eds) Arabic computational morphology: knowledge-based and empirical methods. Springer, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Habash N (2010) Introduction to Arabic natural language processing. In: Synthesis lectures on human language technologies. Morgan & Claypool, San Rafael. doi:
  42. 42.
    Habash N, Soudi A, Buckwalter T (2007) On Arabic transliteration. In: Soudi A, Neumann G, van den Bosch A (eds) Arabic computational morphology, text, speech and language technology, vol 38. Springer, Dordrecht, chap 2, pp 15–22.
  43. 43.
    Habash N, Diab M, Rabmow O (2012) Conventional orthography for dialectal Arabic. In: Proceedings of the language resources and evaluation conference (LREC), IstanbulGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Harrell R (1962) A short reference grammar of Moroccan Arabic. Georgetown University Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Hetzron R (1970) Towards an Amharic case grammar. Stud Afr Linguist 1:301–354Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Hetzron R (ed) (1997) The Semitic languages. Routledge, London/New YorkGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Holes C (2004) Modern Arabic: structures, functions, and varieties. Georgetown University Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    Horvath J, Wexler P (1997) Relexification in Creole and Non-Creole languages – with special attention to Haitian Creole, Modern Hebrew, Romani, and Rumanian, Mediterranean Language and culture monograph series, vol xiii. Harrassowitz, WiesbadenGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Itai A, Wintner S (2008) Language resources for Hebrew. Lang Resour Eval 42(1):75–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Joosten J (1996) The Syriac language of the Peshitta and Old Syriac versions of Matthew: syntactic structure, inner-Syriac developments and translation technique. In: Studies in Semitic languages and linguistics. Brill, LeidenGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    Kapeliuk O (1988) Nominalization in Amharic. Franz Steiner, StuttgartGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Kapeliuk O (1994) Syntax of the noun in Amharic. O. Harrassowitz, WiesbadenGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    Kaye AS, Rosenhouse J (1997) Arabic dialects and Maltese. In: Hetzron R (ed) The Semitic languages. Routledge, London/New York, chap 14, pp 263–311Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Koptjevskaja-Tamm M (1996) Possessive NPs in Maltese: alienability, iconicity and grammaticalization. Riv di Linguist 8(1):245–274Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Kramer R (2009) Definite markers, Phi features, and agreement: a morphosyntactic investigation of the Amharic DP. PhD thesis, University of CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  56. 56.
    Leslau W (1995) Reference grammar of Amharic. Harrassowitz, WiesbadenGoogle Scholar
  57. 57.
    Lipiński E (2001) Semitic languages, outline of a comparative grammar. Peeters, LeuvenGoogle Scholar
  58. 58.
    Loos EE, Anderson S, Dwight HJ Day, Jordan PC, Wingate JD (2004) Glossary of linguistic terms.
  59. 59.
    McCarthy JJ (1981) A prosodic theory of nonconcatenative morphology. Linguist Inq 12(3):373–418Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    Mifsud M (1995) Loan verbs in Maltese: a descriptive and comparative study. Brill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  61. 61.
    Moscati S (1969) An introduction to the comparative grammar of the Semitic langauges, phonology and morphology. Otto Harrassowitz, WiesbadenGoogle Scholar
  62. 62.
    Ordan N, Wintner S (2005) Representing natural gender in multilingual lexical databases. Int J Lexicogr 18(3):357–370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. 63.
    Ornan U (2003) The final word. University of Haifa Press, Haifa (in Hebrew)Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    Puech G (Forthcoming) Syllabic structure and stress in Maltese. In: Caruana S, Fabri R, Stolz T (eds) Variation and change: the dynamics of Maltese in space, time, and society. Akademie Verlag, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  65. 65.
    Rogers H (2005) Writing systems: a linguistic approach. Blackwell Publishing, MaldenGoogle Scholar
  66. 66.
    Schembri T (2006) The broken plural in Maltese – an analysis. B.A. thesis, University of MaltaGoogle Scholar
  67. 67.
    Shimron J (ed) (2003) Language processing and acquisition in languages of semitic, root-based, morphology. In: Language acquisition and language disorders, vol 28. John Benjamins, Amsterdam/PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  68. 68.
    Smrž O (2007) Functional Arabic morphology. Formal system and implementation. PhD thesis, Charles University in PragueGoogle Scholar
  69. 69.
    Teferra A, Hudson G (2007) Essentials of Amharic. Rüdiger Köppe Verlag, KölnGoogle Scholar
  70. 70.
    Twist AE (2006) A psycholinguistic investigation of the verbal morphology of Maltese. PhD thesis, University of ArizonaGoogle Scholar
  71. 71.
    Ussishkin A, Twist A (2009) Auditory and visual lexical decision in Maltese. In: Comrie B, Fabri R, Mifsud M, Hume E, Mifsud M, Stolz T, Vanhove M (eds) Introducing Maltese linguistics. Benjamins, Amsterdam, pp 207–231Google Scholar
  72. 72.
    Williams PJ (2001) Studies in the Syntax of the Peshitta of 1 kings. In: Monographs of the Peshita institute. Brill, LeidenGoogle Scholar
  73. 73.
    Wintner S (2000) Definiteness in the Hebrew noun phrase. J Linguist 36:319–363CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. 74.
    Wintner S (2009) Language resources for Semitic languages: challenges and solutions. In: Nirenburg S (ed) Language engineering for lesser-studied languages. IOS, Amsterdam, pp 277–290Google Scholar
  75. 75.
    Zuckermann G (2003) Language contact and lexical enrichment in Israeli Hebrew. Palgrave Macmillan, London/Ney YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. 76.
    Zwicky AM (1985) Clitics and particles. Language 61(2):283–305CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. 77.
    Zwicky AM, Pullum GK (1983) Cliticization vs. inflection: English n’t. Language 59(3):502–513CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MaltaMsidaMalta
  2. 2.Indiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  3. 3.Columbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  4. 4.Beth Mardutho: The Syriac InstitutePiscatawayUSA
  5. 5.University of HaifaHaifaIsrael

Personalised recommendations