The most widely spoken Semitic languages today are (numbers given are for native speakers only) Arabic (300 million), Amharic (22 million), Tigrinya (7 million), Hebrew (unknown; 5 million native and non-native L1 speakers), Aramaic (575,000 to 1 million fluent speakers) and Maltese (520,000 speakers).
Semitic languages are attested in written form from a very early historical date, with East Semitic Akkadian and Eblaite texts (written in a script adapted from Sumerian cuneiform) appearing from the 29th century BC and the 25th century BC BC in Mesopotamia and the northern Levant respectively. However, most scripts used to write Semitic languages are abjads – a type of alphabetic script that omits some or all of the vowels, which is feasible for these languages because the consonants in the Semitic languages are the primary carriers of meaning.
Among them are the Ugaritic, Phoenician, Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, and South Arabian alphabets. The Ge'ez script, used for writing the Semitic languages of Ethiopia and Eritrea, is technically an abugida – a modified abjad in which vowels are notated using diacritic marks added to the consonants at all times, in contrast with other Semitic languages which indicate diacritics based on need or for introductory purposes. Maltese is the only Semitic language written in the Latin script and the only official Semitic language of the European Union.
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