Faculty of PhilosophySemitic Studies

Semitic studies involves linguistic research of the Semitic languages, from the first written records of these languages dated 2600 BC, to the present day. The area in which these languages are spoken extends across three continents, ranging from the Atlantic in the West to Uzbekistan and Afghanistan in the East, and from the Mediterranean to Ethiopia.

The approximate 70 languages and numerous dialects studied include languages representative of major cultures, including Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic, which are closely associated with the monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Research in this field focusses on the history, grammar and vocabulary of these languages. 

Due to its very particular written form and culture, the earliest language in this family –Akkadian – is studied in combination with the non-Semitic, cuneiform script (in particular Sumerian) as part of Egyptology.

Special Features and Characteristics

Semitic studies is the primary field of teaching and research at the Department of Languages and Cultures of the Near East; the subject has commonalities with both other subjects studied within the department – Assyriology and Islamic studies – and acts as a bridge between these two fields.  

Semitic language is central to both of these subject areas: Akkadian is critical to Assyriology, as Arabic is to Islamic studies. Semitic studies also has a strong link to other subjects which have the Middle East as a main, or partial focus. These subjects include:  

  • Jewish studies 
  • Egyptology 
  • Near Eastern Archaeology 
  • Theology 
  • Geography 
  • Anthropology 

General interest in the problems in the Middle East, combined with the fact that many countries in the area have become popular travel destinations, mean a degree in Semitic studies has become particularly attractive.

Research

Aramaic is a particular focus of research at Heidelberg University. This language first developed over 3000 years ago, making it one of the world’s oldest spoken languages. Syriac is a particular prominent form of Aramaic, which became significant as a Christian literary language in the Middle East after the translation of the Bible in 2 AD. Language courses in Syriac are offered on a regular basis, enabling students to access the rich literature written in this language, and providing a foundation for study of other older, and more modern Aramaic dialects which are taught at Heidelberg University.  

Research and teaching also focusses on spoken Arabic, which differs significantly from written forms of Arabic and which covers numerous national and regional dialects which vary greatly. 

Occupational Areas

Graduates of degree programmes in Semitic studies might pursue a career in any of the following:  

  • in the media industry 
  • in communications and translation agencies 
  • in training and consulting institutions for international cooperation 
  • in libraries 
  • in tourism 
  • at universities and research institutes

Insights

I realised I was interested in the Middle East while I was still at school. As languages have always been my passion, I then decided to learn Hebrew and Arabic. After a voluntary social year in Israel, I then decided to study Semitic studies to improve my knowledge of the languages and cultures.

Jonathan Reich, 22, Semitic Studies, 5th semester Bachelor

Contact