How did the Ishmaelites lose their Hebrew tongue?

Well, if you take the biblical account literally, Ishmael—the forefathers of all Arabs—moved with his mother, Hagar, southeast into the Arabian peninsula, where over the next two thousand years or so, it evolved into something different, which is known as Arabic.

But that presupposes that Arabia was empty of all human inhabitants at that time, which is highly unlikely, since the Arabian peninsula, along with the Sinai, was the first land that humans spread into from Africa some 250,000 years ago—and again around 70,000 years ago—and has been populated continuously ever since.

In reality, Arabic evolved in parallel with “Hebrew” (which is just the name that we now call the language spoken by all peoples of the Holy Land in the second millennium BCE, but which at the time was simply known as “Canaanite”) from a common Semitic source, somewhere in the Arabia-Mesopotamia-Canaan region.

So if Ishmael moved with his mother to Arabia, he and his descendants would simply have picked up the local lingo within a generation or two.


(Originally written in reply to a question at

1 thought on “How did the Ishmaelites lose their Hebrew tongue?

  1. And in the rush and transit Hagar+son tossed the already- ‘horrible’ character-set and must have spent many drunken nights creating an even-worse method for ‘hinting at phonomes’. The 26 latin letters can be clearly displayed in signage by a 5 X 7 dot matrix, readable at highway speeds in milliseconds. In contrast, even 20 X 30 is inadequate to differentiate between vav and zayin, or heh and chet. For some reason this irks me greatly, and if I live to see it, I shall hear from any sufficiently-advanced space-alien culture: ‘WTF? You call Arabic a script? No wonder we found you, and not the converse!’
    But, as usual, thanks for an informed post, and my best wishes for a nicely satisfying speaking engagement, somewhere…


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