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Semitic Studies

Degree Master of Arts
Application required access-restricted
Course commences winter semester / summer semester (see below)
Standard course duration 4 semesters
Format options full-time only
Language requirements Arabic and/or Aramaic
Language of instruction German
Other features postgraduate / consecutive

Faculty of Philosophy


Course outline

Semitic Studies focuses on Semitic languages and cultures from the first written records (ca. 2600 BC) to the present. The language area extends across three continents, ranging from the Atlantic in the west to Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, and from the Mediterranean to Ethiopia. Among the approx. 70 Semitic languages and their countless dialects are languages representative of major cultures, among them Phoenician (the source of our alphabet) and the Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic languages closely associated with the monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Because of the special features of its script and culture, Akkadian is studied in conjunction with the non-Semitic cuneiform languages (notably Sumerian) by scholars in Assyriology, which was originally part of Semitic Studies but has now established itself as a discipline in its own right.

Despite the efforts undertaken over the last few decades (in which numerous languages were identified for the first time), the status of research on the various Semitic languages still varies considerably. All in all, it is fair to say that the Semitic languages that are no longer extant have been investigated more thoroughly than those that are still spoken. In the recent past, gratifying progress has been made in our knowledge of modern Aramaic and of Arabic dialects, but major areas still await investigation. Least well-known are the New South Arabic languages and the minor Semitic languages of Ethiopia. For a true understanding of the development the Semitic languages have gone through, the languages spoken in the peripheral areas are of crucial importance. In the years to come, ongoing investigation of these languages can safely be expected to advance our understanding of the older Semitic tongues. On the other hand, sound knowledge of the older language forms is essential for research into modern Semitic languages and dialects. To produce the very best research results, it is no longer possible for Semitic Studies to concentrate exclusively on the older Semitic languages or on one modern Semitic tongue.

Semitic Studies is central to the endeavours of the Department of Languages and Cultures of the Near East because it links the two other subjects taught at the Department: Assyriology (mid-third to mid-first millennium BC) and Islamic Studies, which focuses on the history of Islam from its beginnings around 600 AD to the present. For both these subjects, a Semitic language is of central significance, Akkadian for Assyriology and Arabic for Islamic Studies. Accordingly, for students of these two subjects Semitic Studies is an ideal subsidiary (minor) subject as it imparts sound linguistic knowledge and also draws attention to the frequently similar cultures of the neighbouring Semitic peoples. Vice versa, Assyriology and Islamic Studies are highly recommendable subsidiary subjects for students focusing on Semitic Studies.

Naturally, there are also close links with the other subjects concentrating centrally or partly on the Near East: Jewish Studies, Egyptology, Near Eastern Archaeology, Theology, Geography and Anthropology. Flashpoints in the Near East and the fact that many Near Eastern countries have become popular tourist destinations are factors ensuring consistent interest in the languages of the area.

Course structure

The M.A. course takes 4 semesters and closes with the (oral) M.A. examination and an M.A. thesis (for students majoring in Semitic Studies). Attendance of advanced classes (seminars) enables students to deepen and extend the linguistic and factual knowledge acquired in the B.A. course. Language proficiency is also an ongoing concern, Arabic and Aramaic being of central significance. In the course of the programme, students are expected to attend seminars and courses on these two languages (one only for subsidiary students). Alongside language acquisition, evidence must be produced of successful participation in seminars on selected topics in Semitic Studies, Arabic and/or Aramaic dialectology, and research in Semitic Studies. These classes take up the first three semesters. The fourth semester is normally reserved for examinations (oral exam and M.A. thesis).

For admission to the Semitic Studies course as a subsidiary (minor) subject, no previous knowledge of Arabic or Aramaic is required.

Admission to Semitic Studies as a main subject is conditional upon prior knowledge of at least one of these two languages (B.A. level).

Main research interests

Arabic is the most important language spoken in the present-day Near East. Knowledge of Arabic is invaluable for anyone visiting the Orient to learn other languages, consult the libraries of the Arab world or take part in excavations.

The Heidelberg Department has a research focus on Aramaic. Study of this culture can look back on a long tradition at the University, dating back to the year 1527, when Sebastian Münster published the first Aramaic-Latin dictionary. Aramaic has been spoken for over 3,000 years, which makes it one of the oldest living languages in the world. As such, it is more or less unrivalled in the opportunities it offers for detailed study of language change over a vast period of time.

Apart from Akkadian and Hebrew, which are taught at the Department of Assyriology and the College of Jewish Studies respectively, classes on the many other Semitic languages, such as Ethiopian, can only be offered at fairly lengthy intervals.

Subsidiary (minor) subject

Students of this M.A. course are required to obtain 20 credit points in a subsidiary (minor) subject. Click here for a list of all subsidiary subjects on offer.

The M.A. course in Semitic Studies can also be studied as a subsidiary (minor) subject accounting for 20 CP.

Formal requirements

Access to the course is restricted. The current Admission Regulations are available here.

Prospective students from Germany

Prospective students from Germany can enrol without prior application at the Central University Administration building by the beginning of the lecture period. To matriculate, they are required to show a written statement of admission issued by the representative of the Master’s programme they wish to attend, confirming that the requirements set out in the Admission Regulations have been met. Please apply to the Department of Languages and Cultures of the Near East for further information on how to proceed.

International prospective students

Prospective students from other countries must apply in writing, so that their previous academic record can be verified. The deadlines for international applicants are 15 June for the winter semester and 15 November for the summer semester. Applications must be addressed directly to the International Relations Office. Please use the M.A. application form here and enclose the necessary documents.

Further information

Current information on procedure

Study and examination regulations

Examination regulations M.A. (30 September 2008)

Module Handbook

Please click here to find the latest Module Handbook.

Examinations board

Issues arising in connection with examinations, credit transfer and academic credential recognition are dealt with by the relevant examinations board/office. For more information, consult the academic advisor(s) indicated below.


Tuition fees at Heidelberg University are payable at the beginning of each semester.

Academic advisor

Andreas Fink
Schulgasse 2
D-69117 Heidelberg
office hours by arrangement
phone: +49 (0)6221 542960


Department of Languages and Cultures of the Near East

Semitic Studies
Schulgasse 2
D-69117 Heidelberg

phone: +49 (0)6221 542961
fax: +49 (0)6221 543401


Student representation:

E-Mail: Seitenbearbeiter
Letzte Änderung: 2017-11-27
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