How much is known of the Carthaginian language, which as I understand it is called Punic and descended from Phoenician? Google searches show some sketches of alphabet characters and such, but do we know enough to be able to learn it as a viable language today, the way we can with Latin? Are there many samples and fragments available for study? If not, is there a specific reason why the language of such a powerful empire has been lost (e.g. did the Romans try to purge it or something), or was it just the ravages of time?

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    Could you clarify the time frame: are you talking about Punic language circa Pinic Wars and before, or Punic language of Carthage as a major city during late Roman Empire? The latter language was influenced by vulgar Latin and some records have survived I believe; I don't know anything about the former one.
    – Michael
    Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 18:35
  • I'd be curious to learn more about both, as well as how they differ from one another, but I am most interested in the language of the Carthaginians when they were at the height of their independent power, up to the time of the Punic Wars.
    – Nerrolken
    Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 19:13
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    @AlexanderWinn Have you checked out this book? I haven't read it myself, but it seems oft-cited. Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 16:47
  • Why is this not answered by wikipedia? or google
    – MCW
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 14:26
  • @MarkC.Wallace Those sources do seem to predate this question. Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 19:18

4 Answers 4


Some Late Punic texts (ca. 200-400 CE) were written in Latin letters, and so fully vocalized. The best treatment of these is R. M. Kerr, Latino-Punic Epigraphy. FAT ser. 2: 42. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010. Punic certainly had vowels; the writing system didn't fully represent them (because the syllable structure of all Semitic languages makes it easy to know them without writing them).


The reason we can't speak Phoenician today as we can with Latin is that Phoenician original writing has no vowels, so we know many of the words but have no idea how the Carthaginians would have pronounced them.

Also the reason why little of the Carthaginian writing is left today is because it wasn't rewritten. Most of the Latin writings we have stem from manuscripts that where copied during Charlemagne's reign, but in the middle ages no one (to my knowledge) was interested enough to copy the Phoenician scripts. (probably because they couldn't read them: even knowledge of Greek was nearly non-existant). Most of those who did survive only did so because they had been translated to Latin in the classical era.

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    Although we don't know the vowels it's perfectly possible to make educated guesses for this based on other semitic languages. And educated guessing is what we do for other languages like Latin as well. We don't know exactly how romans pronounced things, just how they spelled them. Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 9:10
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    @LennartRegebro You're right of course, but it's one of the things that make it harder to reconstruct Phoenician. Btw i heard one of the leading experts on Phoenician language was unwilling to speculate about the possible vowels they might have used, i can't find a source though.
    – Jeroen K
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 13:01
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    While this answer quite well about why only little is known, it would be better to also try to answer the core question, i.e. what is known.
    – o0'.
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 13:58
  • @Lohoris i'm afraid i don't know enough to do that.
    – Jeroen K
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 16:26
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    Phoenician of course had vowels; you can't pronounce a word without one. However, it is a common feature of Semitic languages (of which Phoenician is one) that vowels are regular and predictable. Thus it isn't nearly as important for a Semitic writing system to represent vowels as it is for other languages, and so many Semitic languages didn't bother. These demi-alphabets are called Abjads
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 11, 2014 at 2:52

Actually, from the little I've seen, Punic (the Canaanite-Phoenician language of ancient Carthage and other phoenician settlements around the Mediterranean) is a lot like Hebrew, and many of its letters are recognizable from Paleo-Hebrew forms that are stilled used by the few hundred Samaritans of today.

  • Which you would expect considering that Hebrew is a Canaanite language, as is Phoenician/Punic. Linguistically they are cousins in the Semitic family of languages.
    – Semaphore
    Commented May 10, 2015 at 13:21
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    How does this answer the question? It's a bit too sparse to be a complete answer. You could improve it by both citing sources and then applying what you do know to the question as asked. Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 15:26

Canaanite/Phoenician is very closely related to Hebrew. Not as in "cousins". More as in dialects of the same language. With some effort and a bit of guidance, a modern Hebrew speaker could read the ancient Canaanite texts and understand. When read out with the Hebrew vowels it is almost fully intelligable. I have not seen any Carthaginian texts so I cannot comment specifically. I imagine the vowels would have been roughly the same.

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    This answer would benefit from sources so that others could follow up.
    – MCW
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 1:45

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