Aramaic language

Aramaic language

Overview
Aramaic is a group of languages belonging to the Afroasiatic language phylum
Language family
A language family is a group of languages related through descent from a common ancestor, called the proto-language of that family. The term 'family' comes from the tree model of language origination in historical linguistics, which makes use of a metaphor comparing languages to people in a...

. The name of the language is based on the name of Aram
Aram (Biblical region)
Aram is the name of a region mentioned in the Bible located in central Syria, including where the city of Aleppo now stands.-Etymology:The etymology is uncertain. One standard explanation is an original meaning of "highlands"...

, an ancient region in central Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

. Within this family, Aramaic belongs to the Semitic
Semitic languages
The Semitic languages are a group of related languages whose living representatives are spoken by more than 270 million people across much of the Middle East, North Africa and the Horn of Africa...

 family, and more specifically, is a part of the Northwest Semitic
Northwest Semitic languages
The Northwest Semitic languages form a medium-level division of the Semitic language family. The languages of this group are spoken by approximately eight million people today. The group is generally divided into three branches: Ugaritic , Canaanite and Aramaic...

 subfamily, which also includes Canaanite languages
Canaanite languages
The Canaanite languages are a subfamily of the Semitic languages, which were spoken by the ancient peoples of the Canaan region, including Canaanites, Israelites and Phoenicians...

 such as Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 and Phoenician. Aramaic script
Aramaic alphabet
The Aramaic alphabet is adapted from the Phoenician alphabet and became distinctive from it by the 8th century BC. The letters all represent consonants, some of which are matres lectionis, which also indicate long vowels....

 was widely adopted for other languages and is ancestral to both the Arabic
Arabic alphabet
The Arabic alphabet or Arabic abjad is the Arabic script as it is codified for writing the Arabic language. It is written from right to left, in a cursive style, and includes 28 letters. Because letters usually stand for consonants, it is classified as an abjad.-Consonants:The Arabic alphabet has...

 and modern Hebrew
Hebrew alphabet
The Hebrew alphabet , known variously by scholars as the Jewish script, square script, block script, or more historically, the Assyrian script, is used in the writing of the Hebrew language, as well as other Jewish languages, most notably Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic. There have been two...

 alphabets.

During its 3,000-year written history, Aramaic has served variously as a language of administration of empires and as a language of divine worship.
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Encyclopedia
Aramaic is a group of languages belonging to the Afroasiatic language phylum
Language family
A language family is a group of languages related through descent from a common ancestor, called the proto-language of that family. The term 'family' comes from the tree model of language origination in historical linguistics, which makes use of a metaphor comparing languages to people in a...

. The name of the language is based on the name of Aram
Aram (Biblical region)
Aram is the name of a region mentioned in the Bible located in central Syria, including where the city of Aleppo now stands.-Etymology:The etymology is uncertain. One standard explanation is an original meaning of "highlands"...

, an ancient region in central Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

. Within this family, Aramaic belongs to the Semitic
Semitic languages
The Semitic languages are a group of related languages whose living representatives are spoken by more than 270 million people across much of the Middle East, North Africa and the Horn of Africa...

 family, and more specifically, is a part of the Northwest Semitic
Northwest Semitic languages
The Northwest Semitic languages form a medium-level division of the Semitic language family. The languages of this group are spoken by approximately eight million people today. The group is generally divided into three branches: Ugaritic , Canaanite and Aramaic...

 subfamily, which also includes Canaanite languages
Canaanite languages
The Canaanite languages are a subfamily of the Semitic languages, which were spoken by the ancient peoples of the Canaan region, including Canaanites, Israelites and Phoenicians...

 such as Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 and Phoenician. Aramaic script
Aramaic alphabet
The Aramaic alphabet is adapted from the Phoenician alphabet and became distinctive from it by the 8th century BC. The letters all represent consonants, some of which are matres lectionis, which also indicate long vowels....

 was widely adopted for other languages and is ancestral to both the Arabic
Arabic alphabet
The Arabic alphabet or Arabic abjad is the Arabic script as it is codified for writing the Arabic language. It is written from right to left, in a cursive style, and includes 28 letters. Because letters usually stand for consonants, it is classified as an abjad.-Consonants:The Arabic alphabet has...

 and modern Hebrew
Hebrew alphabet
The Hebrew alphabet , known variously by scholars as the Jewish script, square script, block script, or more historically, the Assyrian script, is used in the writing of the Hebrew language, as well as other Jewish languages, most notably Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic. There have been two...

 alphabets.

During its 3,000-year written history, Aramaic has served variously as a language of administration of empires and as a language of divine worship. It was the day-to-day language of Israel in the Second Temple period (539 BCE – 70 CE), some speculate was the language spoken
Aramaic of Jesus
It is generally agreed that the historical Jesus primarily spoke Aramaic, perhaps along with some Hebrew and Greek . The towns of Nazareth and Capernaum, where Jesus lived, were primarily Aramaic-speaking communities, although Greek was widely spoken in the major cities of the Eastern Mediterranean...

 by Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

, is the language of large sections of the biblical
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 books of Daniel
Book of Daniel
The Book of Daniel is a book in the Hebrew Bible. The book tells of how Daniel, and his Judean companions, were inducted into Babylon during Jewish exile, and how their positions elevated in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. The court tales span events that occur during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar,...

 and Ezra
Book of Ezra
The Book of Ezra is a book of the Hebrew Bible. Originally combined with the Book of Nehemiah in a single book of Ezra-Nehemiah, the two became separated in the early centuries of the Christian era...

 and is the main language of the Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

. However Jewish Aramaic was different from the other forms both in lettering and grammar. Parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls are in Jewish Aramaic showing the unique Jewish lettering, related to the unique Hebrew language.

Aramaic's long history and diverse and widespread use has led to the development of many divergent varieties which are sometimes called as dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s
, though they are quite distinct languages. Therefore, there is no one singular Aramaic language, but each time and place has had its own variation. Aramaic is retained as a liturgical language by certain Eastern Christian churches, in the form of Syriac
Syriac language
Syriac is a dialect of Middle Aramaic that was once spoken across much of the Fertile Crescent. Having first appeared as a script in the 1st century AD after being spoken as an unwritten language for five centuries, Classical Syriac became a major literary language throughout the Middle East from...

, the Aramaic variety by which Eastern Christianity
Eastern Christianity
Eastern Christianity comprises the Christian traditions and churches that developed in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East, Northeastern Africa, India and parts of the Far East over several centuries of religious antiquity. The term is generally used in Western Christianity to...

 was diffused, whether or not those communities once spoke it or another form of Aramaic as their vernacular
Vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

, but have since shifted to another language as their primary community language.

Modern Aramaic
Neo-Aramaic languages
Neo-Aramaic, or Modern Aramaic, languages are varieties of Aramaic that are spoken vernaculars in the medieval to modern era, evolving out of Middle Aramaic dialects around AD 1200 ....

 is spoken today as a first language by many scattered, predominantly small, and largely isolated communities of differing Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

, Jewish and Mandean ethnic groups of West Asia—most numerously by the Assyrians (also known as Chaldo-Assyrians) in the form of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic is a Neo-Aramaic dialect, spoken by an estimated 220,000 people , formerly in the area between Lake Urmia, north-western Iran, and Siirt, south-eastern Turkey, but now more widely throughout the...

 and Chaldean Neo-Aramaic
Chaldean Neo-Aramaic
Chaldean Neo-Aramaic is a Northeastern Neo-Aramaic dialect. Chaldean Neo-Aramaic is spoken on the plain of Mosul in northern Iraq, as well as by the Chaldean communities worldwide. Most speakers are Chaldean Catholics....

 —that have all retained use of the once dominant lingua franca
Lingua franca
A lingua franca is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both mother tongues.-Characteristics:"Lingua franca" is a functionally defined term, independent of the linguistic...

 despite subsequent language shift
Language shift
Language shift, sometimes referred to as language transfer or language replacement or assimilation, is the progressive process whereby a speech community of a language shifts to speaking another language. The rate of assimilation is the percentage of individuals with a given mother tongue who speak...

s experienced throughout the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

. The Aramaic languages are considered to be endangered
Endangered language
An endangered language is a language that is at risk of falling out of use. If it loses all its native speakers, it becomes a dead language. If eventually no one speaks the language at all it becomes an "extinct language"....

.

Geographic distribution


During the Neo-Assyrian and the Neo-Babylonian
Neo-Babylonian Empire
The Neo-Babylonian Empire or Second Babylonian Empire was a period of Mesopotamian history which began in 626 BC and ended in 539 BC. During the preceding three centuries, Babylonia had been ruled by their fellow Akkadian speakers and northern neighbours, Assyria. Throughout that time Babylonia...

 period, Aramaeans
Aramaeans
The Aramaeans, also Arameans , were a Northwest Semitic semi-nomadic and pastoralist people who originated in what is now modern Syria during the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age...

, the native speakers of Aramaic, began to settle in greater numbers in Upper Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia is a toponym for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran.Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the...

 (modern-day northern Iraq
Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

, northeast Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

, northwest Iran
Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

, and south eastern Turkey
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

). The influx eventually resulted in the Neo Assyrian Empire and Chaldean Dynasty of Babylonia
Babylonia
Babylonia was an ancient cultural region in central-southern Mesopotamia , with Babylon as its capital. Babylonia emerged as a major power when Hammurabi Babylonia was an ancient cultural region in central-southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), with Babylon as its capital. Babylonia emerged as...

 becoming operationally bilingual in written sources, with Aramaic used alongside Akkadian
Akkadian language
Akkadian is an extinct Semitic language that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. The earliest attested Semitic language, it used the cuneiform writing system derived ultimately from ancient Sumerian, an unrelated language isolate...

. As these empires, and the Persian Empire
Achaemenid Empire
The Achaemenid Empire , sometimes known as First Persian Empire and/or Persian Empire, was founded in the 6th century BCE by Cyrus the Great who overthrew the Median confederation...

 that followed, extended their influence in the region, Aramaic gradually became the lingua franca
Lingua franca
A lingua franca is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both mother tongues.-Characteristics:"Lingua franca" is a functionally defined term, independent of the linguistic...

 of most of Western Asia and Egypt. From the late 7th century CE onwards, Aramaic was gradually replaced as the lingua franca of the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

 by Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

. However, Aramaic remains a spoken, literary and liturgical language among indigenous Assyrian
Assyrian people
The Assyrian people are a distinct ethnic group whose origins lie in ancient Mesopotamia...

 Christians, Jews
Jews
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...

, Mandaeans
Mandaeism
Mandaeism or Mandaeanism is a Gnostic religion with a strongly dualistic worldview. Its adherents, the Mandaeans, revere Adam, Abel, Seth, Enosh, Noah, Shem, Aram and especially John the Baptist...

 and some Syriac/Aramean Christians, and is still spoken by small isolated communities throughout its original area of influence, predominantly in northwest Iraq, northeast Syria, southeast Turkey and northern Iran, with diaspora communities in Armenia
Armenia
Armenia , officially the Republic of Armenia , is a landlocked mountainous country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia...

, Georgia
Georgia (country)
Georgia is a sovereign state in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the southwest by Turkey, to the south by Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. The capital of...

, Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan , officially the Republic of Azerbaijan is the largest country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded by the Caspian Sea to the east, Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west, and Iran to...

 and southern Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

. The turbulence of the last two centuries (particularly the Assyrian Genocide
Assyrian genocide
The Assyrian Genocide refers to the mass slaughter of the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac population of the Ottoman Empire during the 1890s, the First World War, and the period of 1922-1925...

) has seen speakers of first-language and literary Aramaic dispersed throughout the world. However, there are a number of sizeable Assyrian towns in northern Iraq such as Alqosh
Alqosh
Alqōsh or Alqūsh is one of the most famous Assyrian towns of the mainly East Syrian rite in Iraq. It is located north of Mosul. The name Alqosh is derived from an Akkadian name Eil-Kushtu, where "Eil" means God and "Kushtu" means righteousness or power...

, Bakhdida
Bakhdida
Bakhdida , also known as Baghdeda, Qaraqosh, Karakosh or Al-Hamdaniya, is an Assyrian town in the northern Iraq Ninawa Governorate, located about 32 km southeast of the city of Mosul amid agricultural lands, close to the ruins of the ancient Assyrian cities Nimrud and Nineveh. It is connected...

, Bartella
Bartella
Bartella is an Assyrian town located less than 13 miles east of Mosul, Iraq. The name Bartella is of Syriac origin, but its meaning is not fully agreed on by the historians...

, Tel Esqof and Tel Keppe
Tel Keppe
Tel Keppe , is one of the largest formerly Assyrian towns in Iraq. It is located in the Ninawa Governorate, less than 8 miles North East of Mosul in northern Iraq.-Etymology:...

, where Aramaic is still the main spoken language.

Aramaic languages and dialects


Aramaic is often spoken of as a single language. However, it is in reality a group of closely related languages, rather than a single monolithic language—something which it has never been. Some Aramaic languages are more different from each other than the Romance languages are among themselves. Its long history, extensive literature, and use by different religious communities are all factors in the diversification of the language. Some Aramaic dialects are mutually intelligible, whereas others are not. Some Aramaic languages are known under different names; for example, Syriac
Syriac language
Syriac is a dialect of Middle Aramaic that was once spoken across much of the Fertile Crescent. Having first appeared as a script in the 1st century AD after being spoken as an unwritten language for five centuries, Classical Syriac became a major literary language throughout the Middle East from...

is particularly used to describe the Eastern Aramaic of Christian ethnic communities in Iraq, southeastern Turkey northern Syria and northwest Iran. Most dialects can be described as either "Eastern"' or "Western", the dividing line being roughly the Euphrates
Euphrates
The Euphrates is the longest and one of the most historically important rivers of Western Asia. Together with the Tigris, it is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia...

, or slightly west of it. It is also helpful to draw a distinction between those Aramaic languages that are modern living languages (often called Neo-Aramaic), those that are still in use as literary languages, and those that are extinct and are only of interest to scholars. Although there are some exceptions to this rule, this classification gives "Modern", "Middle" and "Old" periods, alongside "Eastern" and "Western" areas, to distinguish between the various languages and dialects that are Aramaic.

Writing system




The earliest Aramaic alphabet was based on the Phoenician alphabet
Phoenician alphabet
The Phoenician alphabet, called by convention the Proto-Canaanite alphabet for inscriptions older than around 1050 BC, was a non-pictographic consonantal alphabet, or abjad. It was used for the writing of Phoenician, a Northern Semitic language, used by the civilization of Phoenicia...

. In time, Aramaic developed its distinctive 'square' style. The ancient Israelites and other peoples of Canaan
Canaan
Canaan is a historical region roughly corresponding to modern-day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, and the western parts of Jordan...

 adopted this alphabet for writing their own languages. Thus, it is better known as the Hebrew alphabet
Hebrew alphabet
The Hebrew alphabet , known variously by scholars as the Jewish script, square script, block script, or more historically, the Assyrian script, is used in the writing of the Hebrew language, as well as other Jewish languages, most notably Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic. There have been two...

 today. This is the writing system used in Biblical Aramaic
Biblical Aramaic
Biblical Aramaic is the form of the Aramaic language that is used in the books of Daniel, Ezra and a few other places in the Hebrew Bible and should not be confused with the Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible known as targumim....

 and other Jewish writing in Aramaic. The other main writing system used for Aramaic was developed by Christian communities: a cursive form known as the Syriac alphabet
Syriac alphabet
The Syriac alphabet is a writing system primarily used to write the Syriac language from around the 2nd century BC . It is one of the Semitic abjads directly descending from the Aramaic alphabet and shares similarities with the Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic, and the traditional Mongolian alphabets.-...

 (one of the varieties of the Syriac alphabet, Serto, is shown to the left). A highly modified form of the Aramaic alphabet, the Mandaic alphabet
Mandaic alphabet
The Mandaic alphabet is based on the Aramaic alphabet, and is used for writing the Mandaic language.The Mandaic name for the script is Abagada or Abaga, after the first letters of the alphabet...

, is used by the Mandaeans
Mandaeism
Mandaeism or Mandaeanism is a Gnostic religion with a strongly dualistic worldview. Its adherents, the Mandaeans, revere Adam, Abel, Seth, Enosh, Noah, Shem, Aram and especially John the Baptist...

.

In addition to these writing systems, certain derivatives of the Aramaic alphabet were used in ancient times by particular groups: Nabataean in Petra
Petra
Petra is a historical and archaeological city in the Jordanian governorate of Ma'an that is famous for its rock cut architecture and water conduits system. Established sometime around the 6th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans, it is a symbol of Jordan as well as its most visited...

, for instance and Palmyrenean in Palmyra
Palmyra
Palmyra was an ancient city in Syria. In the age of antiquity, it was an important city of central Syria, located in an oasis 215 km northeast of Damascus and 180 km southwest of the Euphrates at Deir ez-Zor. It had long been a vital caravan city for travellers crossing the Syrian desert...

. In modern times, Turoyo
Turoyo language
Turoyo/Surayt is a variety of Aramaic traditionally spoken in eastern Turkey and north-eastern Syria by the Assyrian/Syriac people. Turoyo is to a lesser extent mutually intelligible with Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and Chaldean Neo-Aramaic.-Etymology:...

 (see below) has sometimes been written in a Latin alphabet.

History



The history of Aramaic is broken down into three broad periods:
  • Old Aramaic (1100 BCE–200 CE), including:
    • The Biblical Aramaic
      Biblical Aramaic
      Biblical Aramaic is the form of the Aramaic language that is used in the books of Daniel, Ezra and a few other places in the Hebrew Bible and should not be confused with the Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible known as targumim....

       of the Hebrew Bible
      Hebrew Bible
      The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

      .
    • The Aramaic of Jesus
      Aramaic of Jesus
      It is generally agreed that the historical Jesus primarily spoke Aramaic, perhaps along with some Hebrew and Greek . The towns of Nazareth and Capernaum, where Jesus lived, were primarily Aramaic-speaking communities, although Greek was widely spoken in the major cities of the Eastern Mediterranean...

      .
  • Middle Aramaic (200–1200), including:
    • Literary Syriac
      Syriac language
      Syriac is a dialect of Middle Aramaic that was once spoken across much of the Fertile Crescent. Having first appeared as a script in the 1st century AD after being spoken as an unwritten language for five centuries, Classical Syriac became a major literary language throughout the Middle East from...

      .
    • The Aramaic of the Talmud
      Talmud
      The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

      s, Targum
      Targum
      Taekwondo is a Korean martial art and the national sport of South Korea. In Korean, tae means "to strike or break with foot"; kwon means "to strike or break with fist"; and do means "way", "method", or "path"...

      im, and Midrash
      Midrash
      The Hebrew term Midrash is a homiletic method of biblical exegesis. The term also refers to the whole compilation of homiletic teachings on the Bible....

      im.
    • Mandaic
      Mandaic language
      The Mandaic language is the language of the Mandaean religion. Classical Mandaic is used by a section of the Mandaean community in liturgical rites....

      .
  • Modern Aramaic (1200–present), including:
    • Various modern vernaculars.


This classification is based on that used by Klaus Beyer*.

Old Aramaic



The term ‘Old Aramaic’ is used to describe the varieties of the language from its first known use until the point roughly marked by the rise of the Sasanian Empire (224 CE), dominating the influential, eastern dialect region. As such, the term covers over thirteen centuries of the development of Aramaic. This vast time span includes all Aramaic that is now effectively extinct.

The central phase in the development of Old Aramaic was its official use by the Achaemenid Empire
Achaemenid Empire
The Achaemenid Empire , sometimes known as First Persian Empire and/or Persian Empire, was founded in the 6th century BCE by Cyrus the Great who overthrew the Median confederation...

 (500–330 BCE). The period before this, dubbed ‘Ancient Aramaic’, saw the development of the language from being spoken in Aramaean city-states to become a major means of communication in diplomacy and trade throughout Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia is a toponym for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran.Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the...

, the Levant
Levant
The Levant or ) is the geographic region and culture zone of the "eastern Mediterranean littoral between Anatolia and Egypt" . The Levant includes most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and sometimes parts of Turkey and Iraq, and corresponds roughly to the...

 and Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

. After the fall of the Achaemenid Empire, local vernaculars became increasingly prominent, fanning the divergence of an Aramaic dialect continuum
Dialect continuum
A dialect continuum, or dialect area, was defined by Leonard Bloomfield as a range of dialects spoken across some geographical area that differ only slightly between neighboring areas, but as one travels in any direction, these differences accumulate such that speakers from opposite ends of the...

 and the development of differing written standards.

Ancient Aramaic


‘Ancient Aramaic’ refers to the earliest known period of the language, from its origin until it becomes the lingua franca of the Fertile Crescent
Fertile Crescent
The Fertile Crescent, nicknamed "The Cradle of Civilization" for the fact the first civilizations started there, is a crescent-shaped region containing the comparatively moist and fertile land of otherwise arid and semi-arid Western Asia. The term was first used by University of Chicago...

. It was the language of the Aramaean
Aramaeans
The Aramaeans, also Arameans , were a Northwest Semitic semi-nomadic and pastoralist people who originated in what is now modern Syria during the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age...

 city-states of Damascus
Damascus
Damascus , commonly known in Syria as Al Sham , and as the City of Jasmine , is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo, both are part of the country's 14 governorates. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major...

, Hama
Hama
Hama is a city on the banks of the Orontes River in west-central Syria north of Damascus. It is the provincial capital of the Hama Governorate. Hama is the fourth-largest city in Syria—behind Aleppo, Damascus, and Homs—with a population of 696,863...

th and Arpad
Arpad (Syria)
Arpad was an ancient Aramaean city located in north-western Syria, north of Aleppo. In 743 BC, the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III led a military expedition to Syria, defeating there the Uraratian army. But the city of Arpad, which had formed an alliance with Urartu, did not surrender easily...

.


There are inscriptions that evidence the earliest use of the language, dating from the 10th century BCE. These inscriptions are mostly diplomatic documents between Aramaean city-states. The alphabet of Aramaic at this early period seems to be based on Phoenician
Phoenician alphabet
The Phoenician alphabet, called by convention the Proto-Canaanite alphabet for inscriptions older than around 1050 BC, was a non-pictographic consonantal alphabet, or abjad. It was used for the writing of Phoenician, a Northern Semitic language, used by the civilization of Phoenicia...

, and there is a unity in the written language. It seems that, in time, a more refined alphabet, suited to the needs of the language, began to develop from this in the eastern regions of Aram. Oddly, the dominance of Neo Assyrian Empire Empire under Tiglath-Pileser III
Tiglath-Pileser III
Tiglath-Pileser III was a prominent king of Assyria in the eighth century BC and is widely regarded as the founder of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Tiglath-Pileser III seized the Assyrian throne during a civil war and killed the royal family...

 over Aram
Aram Damascus
Aram Damascus was an Aramaean state around Damascus in Syria, from the late 12th century BCE to 734 BCE.Sources for this state come from texts that can be divided into three categories: Assyrian annals, Aramaean texts, and the Hebrew Bible....

 in the middle of the 8th century led to the establishment of Aramaic as a lingua franca
Lingua franca
A lingua franca is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both mother tongues.-Characteristics:"Lingua franca" is a functionally defined term, independent of the linguistic...

 of the empire, rather than it being eclipsed by Akkadian
Akkadian language
Akkadian is an extinct Semitic language that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. The earliest attested Semitic language, it used the cuneiform writing system derived ultimately from ancient Sumerian, an unrelated language isolate...

.

From 700 BCE, the language began to spread in all directions, but lost much of its homogeneity. Different dialects emerged in Assyria
Assyria
Assyria was a Semitic Akkadian kingdom, extant as a nation state from the mid–23rd century BC to 608 BC centred on the Upper Tigris river, in northern Mesopotamia , that came to rule regional empires a number of times through history. It was named for its original capital, the ancient city of Assur...

, Babylonia
Babylonia
Babylonia was an ancient cultural region in central-southern Mesopotamia , with Babylon as its capital. Babylonia emerged as a major power when Hammurabi Babylonia was an ancient cultural region in central-southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), with Babylon as its capital. Babylonia emerged as...

, the Levant
Levant
The Levant or ) is the geographic region and culture zone of the "eastern Mediterranean littoral between Anatolia and Egypt" . The Levant includes most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and sometimes parts of Turkey and Iraq, and corresponds roughly to the...

 and Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

. However, the Akkadian-influenced Aramaic of Assyria, and then Babylon
Babylon
Babylon was an Akkadian city-state of ancient Mesopotamia, the remains of which are found in present-day Al Hillah, Babil Province, Iraq, about 85 kilometers south of Baghdad...

, started to come to the fore. As described in 2 Kings
Books of Kings
The Book of Kings presents a narrative history of ancient Israel and Judah from the death of David to the release of his successor Jehoiachin from imprisonment in Babylon, a period of some 400 years...

 18:26, Hezekiah
Hezekiah
Hezekiah was the son of Ahaz and the 14th king of Judah. Edwin Thiele has concluded that his reign was between c. 715 and 686 BC. He is also one of the most prominent kings of Judah mentioned in the Hebrew Bible....

, king of Judah
Kingdom of Judah
The Kingdom of Judah was a Jewish state established in the Southern Levant during the Iron Age. It is often referred to as the "Southern Kingdom" to distinguish it from the northern Kingdom of Israel....

, negotiates with Assyrian ambassadors in Aramaic so that the common people would not understand. Around 600 BCE, Adon, a Canaan
Canaan
Canaan is a historical region roughly corresponding to modern-day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, and the western parts of Jordan...

ite king, used Aramaic to write to the Egyptian Pharaoh
Pharaoh
Pharaoh is a title used in many modern discussions of the ancient Egyptian rulers of all periods. The title originates in the term "pr-aa" which means "great house" and describes the royal palace...

.

‘Chaldee’ or ‘Chaldean Aramaic’ used to be common terms for the Aramaic of the Chaldean dynasty of Babylonia
Babylonia
Babylonia was an ancient cultural region in central-southern Mesopotamia , with Babylon as its capital. Babylonia emerged as a major power when Hammurabi Babylonia was an ancient cultural region in central-southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), with Babylon as its capital. Babylonia emerged as...

. It was used to describe Biblical Aramaic
Biblical Aramaic
Biblical Aramaic is the form of the Aramaic language that is used in the books of Daniel, Ezra and a few other places in the Hebrew Bible and should not be confused with the Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible known as targumim....

, which was, however, written in a later style. It is not to be confused with the modern language Chaldean Neo-Aramaic
Chaldean Neo-Aramaic
Chaldean Neo-Aramaic is a Northeastern Neo-Aramaic dialect. Chaldean Neo-Aramaic is spoken on the plain of Mosul in northern Iraq, as well as by the Chaldean communities worldwide. Most speakers are Chaldean Catholics....

.

Imperial Aramaic



Around 500 BCE, following the Achaemenid
Achaemenid Empire
The Achaemenid Empire , sometimes known as First Persian Empire and/or Persian Empire, was founded in the 6th century BCE by Cyrus the Great who overthrew the Median confederation...

 conquest of Mesopotamia under Darius I
Darius I of Persia
Darius I , also known as Darius the Great, was the third king of kings of the Achaemenid Empire...

, Aramaic (as had been used in that region) was adopted by the conquerors as the "vehicle for written communication between the different regions of the vast empire with its different peoples and languages. The use of a single official language, which modern scholarship has dubbed Official Aramaic or Imperial Aramaic, can be assumed to have greatly contributed to the astonishing success of the Achaemenids in holding their far-flung empire together for as long as they did". In 1955, Richard Frye questioned the classification of Imperial Aramaic as an 'official language', noting that no surviving edict expressly and unambiguously accorded that status to any particular language. Frye reclassifies Imperial Aramaic as the lingua franca
Lingua franca
A lingua franca is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both mother tongues.-Characteristics:"Lingua franca" is a functionally defined term, independent of the linguistic...

of the Achaemenid territories, suggesting then that the Achaemenid-era use of Aramaic was more pervasive than generally thought.

Imperial Aramaic was highly standardised; its orthography was based more on historical roots than any spoken dialect, and the inevitable influence of Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

 gave the language a new clarity and robust flexibility. For centuries after the fall of the Achaemenid Empire (in 331 BCE), Imperial Aramaic – or near enough for it to be recognisable – would remain an influence on the various native Iranian languages
Iranian languages
The Iranian languages form a subfamily of the Indo-Iranian languages which in turn is a subgroup of Indo-European language family. They have been and are spoken by Iranian peoples....

. Aramaic script and – as ideograms – Aramaic vocabulary would survive as the essential characteristics of the Pahlavi writing system
Pahlavi scripts
Pahlavi or Pahlevi denotes a particular and exclusively written form of various Middle Iranian languages. The essential characteristics of Pahlavi are*the use of a specific Aramaic-derived script, the Pahlavi script;...

.

One of the largest collections of Imperial Aramaic texts is that of the Persepolis
Persepolis
Perspolis was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire . Persepolis is situated northeast of the modern city of Shiraz in the Fars Province of modern Iran. In contemporary Persian, the site is known as Takht-e Jamshid...

 fortification tablets, which number about five hundred. Many of the extant documents witnessing to this form of Aramaic come from Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, and Elephantine
Elephantine
Elephantine is an island in the River Nile, located just downstream of the First Cataract at the southern border of Ancient Egypt. This region is referred to as Upper Egypt because the land is higher than that near the Mediterranean coast. The island may have received its name because it was a...

 in particular (see Elephantine papyri
Elephantine papyri
The Elephantine Papyri are a collection of ancient Jewish manuscripts dating from the 5th century BC. They come from a Jewish community at Elephantine, then called Yeb, the island in the Nile at the border of Nubia, which was probably founded as a military installation in about 650 BC during...

). Of them, the best known is the Wisdom of Ahiqar
Ahiqar
Ahiqar or Ahikar was an Assyrian sage known in the ancient Near East for his outstanding wisdom.The Story of Ahikar, also known as the Words of Ahikar, has been found in an Aramaic papyrus of 500 B.C. among the ruins of Elephantine...

, a book of instructive aphorisms quite similar in style to the biblical book of Proverbs
Book of Proverbs
The Book of Proverbs , commonly referred to simply as Proverbs, is a book of the Hebrew Bible.The original Hebrew title of the book of Proverbs is "Míshlê Shlomoh" . When translated into Greek and Latin, the title took on different forms. In the Greek Septuagint the title became "paroimai paroimiae"...

. Achaemenid Aramaic is sufficiently uniform that it is often difficult to know where any particular example of the language was written. Only careful examination reveals the occasional loan word from a local language.

A group of thirty Aramaic documents from Bactria
Bactria
Bactria and also appears in the Zend Avesta as Bukhdi. It is the ancient name of a historical region located between south of the Amu Darya and west of the Indus River...

 have been discovered, And an analysis was published in November 2006. The texts, which were rendered on leather, reflect the use of Aramaic in the 4th century BCE Achaemenid administration of Bactria and Sogdiana
Sogdiana
Sogdiana or Sogdia was the ancient civilization of an Iranian people and a province of the Achaemenid Empire, eighteenth in the list on the Behistun Inscription of Darius the Great . Sogdiana is "listed" as the second of the "good lands and countries" that Ahura Mazda created...

.

Post-Achaemenid Aramaic





The conquest by Alexander the Great did not destroy the unity of Aramaic language and literature immediately. Aramaic that bears a relatively close resemblance to that of the 5th century BCE can be found right up to the early 2nd century BCE. The Seleucids
Seleucid Empire
The Seleucid Empire was a Greek-Macedonian state that was created out of the eastern conquests of Alexander the Great. At the height of its power, it included central Anatolia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Persia, today's Turkmenistan, Pamir and parts of Pakistan.The Seleucid Empire was a major centre...

 imposed Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 in the administration of Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

 and Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia is a toponym for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran.Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the...

 from the start of their rule. In the 3rd century BCE, Greek overtook Aramaic as the common language in Egypt and Syria. However, a post-Achaemenid Aramaic continued to flourish from Judaea
Iudaea Province
Judaea or Iudaea are terms used by historians to refer to the Roman province that extended over parts of the former regions of the Hasmonean and Herodian kingdoms of Israel...

, Assyria, Mesopotamia, through the Syrian Desert and into northern Arabia
Arabian Peninsula
The Arabian Peninsula is a land mass situated north-east of Africa. Also known as Arabia or the Arabian subcontinent, it is the world's largest peninsula and covers 3,237,500 km2...

 and Parthia
Parthia
Parthia is a region of north-eastern Iran, best known for having been the political and cultural base of the Arsacid dynasty, rulers of the Parthian Empire....

.

Biblical Aramaic
Biblical Aramaic
Biblical Aramaic is the form of the Aramaic language that is used in the books of Daniel, Ezra and a few other places in the Hebrew Bible and should not be confused with the Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible known as targumim....

 is the Aramaic found in four discrete sections of the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

:
  • Ezra
    Book of Ezra
    The Book of Ezra is a book of the Hebrew Bible. Originally combined with the Book of Nehemiah in a single book of Ezra-Nehemiah, the two became separated in the early centuries of the Christian era...

     4:8–6:18 and 7:12–26 – documents from the Achaemenid period (5th century BCE) concerning the restoration of the temple in Jerusalem.
  • Daniel
    Book of Daniel
    The Book of Daniel is a book in the Hebrew Bible. The book tells of how Daniel, and his Judean companions, were inducted into Babylon during Jewish exile, and how their positions elevated in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. The court tales span events that occur during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar,...

     2:4b–7:28 – five subversive tales and an apocalyptic vision.
  • Jeremiah
    Book of Jeremiah
    The Book of Jeremiah is the second of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, following the book of Isaiah and preceding Ezekiel and the Book of the Twelve....

     10:11 – a single sentence in the middle of a Hebrew text denouncing idolatry.
  • Genesis 31:47 – translation of a Hebrew place-name.

Biblical Aramaic is a somewhat hybrid dialect. Some Biblical Aramaic material probably originated in both Babylonia and Judaea before the fall of the Achaemenid dynasty. During Seleucid
Seleucid Empire
The Seleucid Empire was a Greek-Macedonian state that was created out of the eastern conquests of Alexander the Great. At the height of its power, it included central Anatolia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Persia, today's Turkmenistan, Pamir and parts of Pakistan.The Seleucid Empire was a major centre...

 rule, defiant Jewish propaganda shaped Aramaic Daniel
Book of Daniel
The Book of Daniel is a book in the Hebrew Bible. The book tells of how Daniel, and his Judean companions, were inducted into Babylon during Jewish exile, and how their positions elevated in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. The court tales span events that occur during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar,...

. These stories probably existed as oral traditions at their earliest stage. This might be one factor that led to differing collections of Daniel in the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 Septuagint and the Masoretic Text
Masoretic Text
The Masoretic Text is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible and is regarded as Judaism's official version of the Tanakh. While the Masoretic Text defines the books of the Jewish canon, it also defines the precise letter-text of these biblical books, with their vocalization and...

, which presents a lightly Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

-influenced Aramaic.

Under the category of post-Achaemenid is Hasmonaean Aramaic, the official language of Hasmonaean
Hasmonean
The Hasmonean dynasty , was the ruling dynasty of Judea and surrounding regions during classical antiquity. Between c. 140 and c. 116 BCE, the dynasty ruled semi-autonomously from the Seleucids in the region of Judea...

 Judaea (142–37 BCE). It influenced the Biblical Aramaic of the Qumran
Qumran
Qumran is an archaeological site in the West Bank. It is located on a dry plateau about a mile inland from the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, near the Israeli settlement and kibbutz of Kalia...

 texts, and was the main language of non-biblical theological texts of that community. The major Targum
Targum
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art and the national sport of South Korea. In Korean, tae means "to strike or break with foot"; kwon means "to strike or break with fist"; and do means "way", "method", or "path"...

s, translations of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic, were originally composed in Hasmonaean. Hasmonaean also appears in quotations in the Mishnah
Mishnah
The Mishnah or Mishna is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions called the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism. It was redacted c...

 and Tosefta
Tosefta
The Tosefta is a compilation of the Jewish oral law from the period of the Mishnah.-Overview:...

, although smoothed into its later context. It is written quite differently from Achaemenid Aramaic; there is an emphasis on writing as words are pronounced rather than using etymological forms.

Babylonian Targum
Targum
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art and the national sport of South Korea. In Korean, tae means "to strike or break with foot"; kwon means "to strike or break with fist"; and do means "way", "method", or "path"...

ic is the later post-Achaemenid dialect found in the Targum Onqelos
Targum Onkelos
right|thumb|Interlinear text of [[Hebrew language|Hebrew]] [[Book of Numbers|Numbers]] 6.3–10 with [[Aramaic language|Aramaic]] Targum Onkelos from the [[British Library]]....

 and Targum Jonathan
Targum Jonathan
Targum Jonathan - otherwise referred to as Targum Yonasan/Yonatan is the official eastern targum to the Nevi'im. Its early origins, however, are western i.e. from the Land of Israel, and the Talmudic tradition attributes its authorship to Jonathan ben Uzziel...

, the 'official' targums. The original, Hasmonaean targums had reached Babylon sometime in the 2nd or 3rd century CE. They were then reworked according to the contemporary dialect of Babylon to create the language of the standard targums. This combination formed the basis of Babylonian Jewish literature for centuries to follow.

Galilean Targumic is similar to Babylonian Targumic. It is the mixing of literary Hasmonaean with the dialect of Galilee
Galilee
Galilee , is a large region in northern Israel which overlaps with much of the administrative North District of the country. Traditionally divided into Upper Galilee , Lower Galilee , and Western Galilee , extending from Dan to the north, at the base of Mount Hermon, along Mount Lebanon to the...

. The Hasmonaean targums reached Galilee in the 2nd century CE, and were reworked into this Galilean dialect for local use. The Galilean Targum was not considered an authoritative work by other communities, and documentary evidence shows that its text was amended. From the 11th century CE onwards, once the Babylonian Targum had become normative, the Galilean version became heavily influenced by it.

Babylonian Documentary Aramaic is a dialect in use from the 3rd century CE onwards. It is the dialect of Babylonian private documents, and, from the 12th century, all Jewish private documents are in Aramaic. It is based on Hasmonaean with very few changes. This was perhaps because many of the documents in BDA are legal documents, the language in them had to be sensible throughout the Jewish community from the start, and Hasmonaean was the old standard.

Nabataean Aramaic
Nabataean language
The Nabataean language was a form of Aramaic and was the language of the Nabataeans of Iraq and Syria.In the early Islamic era and probably before, the Arabians referred to the sedentary Aramaeans of southern Iraq and southern Syria as Nabat...

 is the language of the Arameo-Arab kingdom of Petra
Petra
Petra is a historical and archaeological city in the Jordanian governorate of Ma'an that is famous for its rock cut architecture and water conduits system. Established sometime around the 6th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans, it is a symbol of Jordan as well as its most visited...

. The kingdom (c. 200 BCE–106 CE) covered the east bank of the Jordan River, the Sinai Peninsula
Sinai Peninsula
The Sinai Peninsula or Sinai is a triangular peninsula in Egypt about in area. It is situated between the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Red Sea to the south, and is the only part of Egyptian territory located in Asia as opposed to Africa, effectively serving as a land bridge between two...

 and northern Arabia. Perhaps because of the importance of the caravan trade, the Nabataeans began to use Aramaic in preference to Old North Arabic
Ancient North Arabian
Ancient North Arabian is a language known from fragmentary inscriptions in modern day Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia, dating to between roughly the 6th century BC and the 6th century AD, all written in scripts derived from Epigraphic South Arabian...

. The dialect is based on Achaemenid with a little influence from Arabic: 'l' is often turned into 'n', and there are a few Arabic loan words. Some Nabataean Aramaic inscriptions exist from the early days of the kingdom, but most are from the first four centuries CE The language is written in a cursive
Cursive
Cursive, also known as joined-up writing, joint writing, or running writing, is any style of handwriting in which the symbols of the language are written in a simplified and/or flowing manner, generally for the purpose of making writing easier or faster...

 script that is the precursor to the modern Arabic alphabet
Arabic alphabet
The Arabic alphabet or Arabic abjad is the Arabic script as it is codified for writing the Arabic language. It is written from right to left, in a cursive style, and includes 28 letters. Because letters usually stand for consonants, it is classified as an abjad.-Consonants:The Arabic alphabet has...

. The number of Arabic loan words increases through the centuries, until, in the 4th century, Nabataean merges seamlessly with Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

.

Palmyrene Aramaic is the dialect that was in use in the Syriac city state of Palmyra
Palmyra
Palmyra was an ancient city in Syria. In the age of antiquity, it was an important city of central Syria, located in an oasis 215 km northeast of Damascus and 180 km southwest of the Euphrates at Deir ez-Zor. It had long been a vital caravan city for travellers crossing the Syrian desert...

 in the Syrian Desert from 44 BCE to 274 CE. It was written in a rounded script, which later gave way to cursive Estrangela
Syriac alphabet
The Syriac alphabet is a writing system primarily used to write the Syriac language from around the 2nd century BC . It is one of the Semitic abjads directly descending from the Aramaic alphabet and shares similarities with the Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic, and the traditional Mongolian alphabets.-...

. Like Nabataean, Palmyrene was influenced by Arabic, but to a much lesser degree.

Arsacid Aramaic, that in use during the Arsacid empire (247 BCE – 224 CE), represents a continuation of Achaemenid Aramaic, widely spoken throughout the west of the empire. Aramaic continued as the scribal basis for Pahlavi
Pahlavi scripts
Pahlavi or Pahlevi denotes a particular and exclusively written form of various Middle Iranian languages. The essential characteristics of Pahlavi are*the use of a specific Aramaic-derived script, the Pahlavi script;...

 as it developed for the needs of Parthian
Parthian language
The Parthian language, also known as Arsacid Pahlavi and Pahlavanik, is a now-extinct ancient Northwestern Iranian language spoken in Parthia, a region of northeastern ancient Persia during the rule of the Parthian empire....

: using an Aramaic-derived script and incorporating many 'heterograms', or Aramaic words meant to be read as Parthian ones. The Arsacids saw themselves as a continuation of Achaemenid rule, and so Arsacid Aramaic, more than any other post-Achaemenid dialect, continued the tradition of the chancery of Darius I
Darius I of Persia
Darius I , also known as Darius the Great, was the third king of kings of the Achaemenid Empire...

. Over time, however, it came under the influence of contemporary, spoken Aramaic, Georgian
Georgian language
Georgian is the native language of the Georgians and the official language of Georgia, a country in the Caucasus.Georgian is the primary language of about 4 million people in Georgia itself, and of another 500,000 abroad...

 and Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

. After the conquest of the Parthians by the Persian-speaking Sasanids
Sassanid Empire
The Sassanid Empire , known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān in Middle Persian and resulting in the New Persian terms Iranshahr and Iran , was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire, ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty from 224 to 651...

, Arsacid Pahlavi and Aramaic were influential on Sasanian language use.

Late Old Eastern Aramaic



The dialects mentioned in the last section were all descended from Achaemenid Imperial Aramaic. However, the diverse regional dialects of Late Ancient Aramaic continued alongside these, often as simple, spoken languages. Early evidence for these spoken dialects is known only through their influence on words and names in a more standard dialect. However, these regional dialects became written languages in the 2nd century BCE. These dialects reflect a stream of Aramaic that is not dependent on Imperial Aramaic, and shows a clear division between the regions of Mesopotamia, Babylon and the east, and Judah, Syria, and the west.

In the East, the dialects of Palmyrene and Arsacid Aramaic merged with the regional languages to create languages with a foot in Imperial and a foot in regional Aramaic. The written form of Mandaic
Mandaic language
The Mandaic language is the language of the Mandaean religion. Classical Mandaic is used by a section of the Mandaean community in liturgical rites....

, the language of the Mandaean
Mandaeism
Mandaeism or Mandaeanism is a Gnostic religion with a strongly dualistic worldview. Its adherents, the Mandaeans, revere Adam, Abel, Seth, Enosh, Noah, Shem, Aram and especially John the Baptist...

 religion, was descended from the Arsacid chancery script.

In the kingdom of Osroene
Osroene
Osroene, also spelled Osrohene and Osrhoene and sometimes known by the name of its capital city, Edessa , was a historic Syriac kingdom located in Mesopotamia, which enjoyed semi-autonomy to complete independence from the years of 132 BC to AD 244.It was a Syriac-speaking kingdom.Osroene, or...

, centred on Edessa
Edessa, Mesopotamia
Edessa is the Greek name of an Aramaic town in northern Mesopotamia, as refounded by Seleucus I Nicator. For the modern history of the city, see Şanlıurfa.-Names:...

 and founded in 132 BCE, the regional dialect became the official language: Old Syriac
Syriac language
Syriac is a dialect of Middle Aramaic that was once spoken across much of the Fertile Crescent. Having first appeared as a script in the 1st century AD after being spoken as an unwritten language for five centuries, Classical Syriac became a major literary language throughout the Middle East from...

. On the upper reaches of the Tigris
Tigris
The Tigris River is the eastern member of the two great rivers that define Mesopotamia, the other being the Euphrates. The river flows south from the mountains of southeastern Turkey through Iraq.-Geography:...

, East Mesopotamian Aramaic flourished, with evidence from Hatra
Hatra
Hatra is an ancient city in the Ninawa Governorate and al-Jazira region of Iraq. It is currently known as al-Hadr, a name which appears once in ancient inscriptions, and it was in the ancient Iranian province of Khvarvaran. The city lies northwest of Baghdad and southwest of Mosul.-History:Hatra...

, Assur
Assur
Assur , was one of the capitals of ancient Assyria. The remains of the city are situated on the western bank of river Tigris, north of the confluence with the tributary Little Zab river, in modern day Iraq, more precisely in the Al-Shirqat District .Assur is also...

 and the Tur Abdin
Tur Abdin
Tur Abdin is a hilly region of south east Turkey incorporating the eastern half of Mardin Province, and Şırnak Province west of the Tigris, on the border with Syria. The name 'Tur Abdin' is from the Syriac language meaning 'mountain of the servants '. Tur Abdin is of great importance to Syriac...

. Tatian
Tatian
Tatian the Assyrian was an Assyrian early Christian writer and theologian of the 2nd century.Tatian's most influential work is the Diatessaron, a Biblical paraphrase, or "harmony", of the four gospels that became the standard text of the four gospels in the Syriac-speaking churches until the...

, the author of the gospel harmony the Diatessaron
Diatessaron
The Diatessaron is the most prominent Gospel harmony created by Tatian, an early Christian apologist and ascetic. The term "diatessaron" is from Middle English by way of Latin, diatessarōn , and ultimately Greek, διὰ τεσσάρων The Diatessaron (c 160 - 175) is the most prominent Gospel harmony...

 came from Assyria, and perhaps wrote his work (172 CE) in East Mesopotamian rather than Syriac or Greek. In Babylonia, the regional dialect was used by the Jewish community, Jewish Old Babylonian (from c. 70 CE). This everyday language increasingly came under the influence of Biblical Aramaic and Babylonian Targumic.

Late Old Western Aramaic


The western regional dialects of Aramaic followed a similar course to those of the east. They are quite distinct from the eastern dialects and Imperial Aramaic. Aramaic came to coexist with Canaanite dialects, eventually completely displacing Phoenician in the 1st century BCE and Hebrew around the turn of the 4th century CE.

The form of Late Old Western Aramaic used by the Jewish community is best attested, and is usually referred to as Jewish Old Palestinian. Its oldest form is Old East Jordanian, which probably comes from the region of Caesarea Philippi. This is the dialect of the oldest manuscript of Enoch
Book of Enoch
The Book of Enoch is an ancient Jewish religious work, traditionally ascribed to Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah. It is not part of the biblical canon as used by Jews, apart from Beta Israel...

 (c. 170 BCE). The next distinct phase of the language is called Old Judaean into the 2nd century CE. Old Judaean literature can be found in various inscriptions and personal letters, preserved quotations in the Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

 and receipts from Qumran
Qumran
Qumran is an archaeological site in the West Bank. It is located on a dry plateau about a mile inland from the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, near the Israeli settlement and kibbutz of Kalia...

. Josephus
Josephus
Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...

' first, non-extant edition of his Jewish War
The Wars of the Jews
The Jewish War , in full Flavius Josephus's Books of the History of the Jewish War against the Romans , also referred to in English as The Wars of the Jews and The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, is a book written by the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus.It is a description of Jewish...

was written in Old Judaean.

The Old East Jordanian dialect continued to be used into the 1st century CE by pagan communities living to the east of the Jordan. Their dialect is often then called Pagan Old Palestinian, and it was written in a cursive script somewhat similar to that used for Old Syriac. A Christian Old Palestinian dialect may have arisen from the pagan one, and this dialect may be behind some of the Western Aramaic tendencies found in the otherwise eastern Old Syriac gospels (see Peshitta
Peshitta
The Peshitta is the standard version of the Bible for churches in the Syriac tradition.The Old Testament of the Peshitta was translated into Syriac from the Hebrew, probably in the 2nd century AD...

).

Languages during Jesus' lifetime



It is generally believed that in the 1st century CE, Jews in Judaea primarily spoke Aramaic with a dwindling number using Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 as a native language. Many learned Hebrew as a liturgical language. Additionally, Koine Greek
Koine Greek
Koine Greek is the universal dialect of the Greek language spoken throughout post-Classical antiquity , developing from the Attic dialect, with admixture of elements especially from Ionic....

 was an international language of the Roman administration and trade, and was widely understood by those in the urban spheres of influence. Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 was spoken in the Roman army but had almost no impact on the linguistic landscape.

In addition to the formal, literary dialects of Aramaic based on Hasmonaean and Babylonian there were a number of colloquial Aramaic dialects. Seven dialects of Western Aramaic were spoken in the vicinity of Judaea in Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

' time. They were probably distinctive yet mutually intelligible. Old Judaean was the prominent dialect of Jerusalem and Judaea. The region of Engedi
Ein Gedi
Ein Gedi is an oasis in Israel, located west of the Dead Sea, near Masada and the caves of Qumran.-Etymology:The name En-gedi is composed of two Hebrew words: ein means spring and gdi means goat-kid. En Gedi thus means "Kid spring."...

 had the South-east Judaean dialect. Samaria
Samaria
Samaria, or the Shomron is a term used for a mountainous region roughly corresponding to the northern part of the West Bank.- Etymology :...

 had its distinctive Samaritan Aramaic, where the consonants 'he
He (letter)
He is the fifth letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician , Aramaic, Hebrew , Syriac and Arabic . Its sound value is a voiceless glottal fricative ....

', '' and '‘ayin
Ayin
' or ' is the sixteenth letter in many Semitic abjads, including Phoenician, Aramaic, Hebrew and Arabic . It is the twenty-first letter in the new Persian alphabet...

' all became pronounced as 'aleph
Aleph
* Aleph or Alef is the first letter of the Semitic abjads descended from Proto-Canaanite, Arabic alphabet, Phoenician alphabet, Hebrew alphabet, Syriac alphabet-People:*Aleph , an Italo disco artist and alias of Dave Rodgers...

'. Galilean Aramaic, the dialect of Jesus' home region, is only known from a few place names, the influences on Galilean Targumic, some rabbinic literature and a few private letters. It seems to have a number of distinctive features: diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s are never simplified into monophthongs. East of the Jordan, the various dialects of East Jordanian were spoken. In the region of Damascus
Damascus
Damascus , commonly known in Syria as Al Sham , and as the City of Jasmine , is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo, both are part of the country's 14 governorates. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major...

 and the Anti-Lebanon mountains, Damascene Aramaic was spoken (deduced mostly from Modern Western Aramaic). Finally, as far north as Aleppo
Aleppo
Aleppo is the largest city in Syria and the capital of Aleppo Governorate, the most populous Syrian governorate. With an official population of 2,301,570 , expanding to over 2.5 million in the metropolitan area, it is also one of the largest cities in the Levant...

, the western dialect of Orontes Aramaic was spoken.

The three languages influenced one another, especially Hebrew and Aramaic. Hebrew words entered Jewish Aramaic (mostly technical religious words but also everyday words like 'wood'). Vice versa, Aramaic words entered Hebrew (not only Aramaic words like māmmôn 'wealth' but Aramaic ways of using words like making Hebrew rā’ûi, 'seen' mean 'worthy' in the sense of 'seemly', which is a loan translation of Aramaic meaning 'seen' and 'worthy').

The Greek of the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 often preserves non-Greek semiticisms, including transliterations of Semitic
Semitic
In linguistics and ethnology, Semitic was first used to refer to a language family of largely Middle Eastern origin, now called the Semitic languages...

 words:
  • Some are Aramaic like talitha (ταλιθα) that can represent the noun (Mark 5:41).
  • Others can be either Hebrew or Aramaic like Rabbounei (Ραββουνει), which stands for 'my master/great one/teacher' in both languages (John 20:16).


The 2004 film The Passion of the Christ
The Passion of the Christ
The Passion of the Christ is a 2004 American drama film directed by Mel Gibson and starring Jim Caviezel as Jesus. It depicts the Passion of Jesus largely according to the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John...

is notable for its use of much dialogue in Aramaic only, specially reconstructed by a scholar, but not an Aramaic specialist, William Fulco
William Fulco
The Reverend William J. Fulco, S.J. is a Jesuit priest and National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Ancient Mediterranean Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California in the United States....

. Where the appropriate words (in 1st century Aramaic) were no longer known, he used the Aramaic of Daniel, 4th-century Syriac and Hebrew as the basis for his work.

Middle Aramaic


The 3rd century CE is taken as the threshold between Old and Middle Aramaic. During that century, the nature of the various Aramaic languages and dialects begins to change. The descendants of Imperial Aramaic ceased to be living languages, and the eastern and western regional languages began to form vital, new literatures. Unlike many of the dialects of Old Aramaic, much is known about the vocabulary and grammar of Middle Aramaic.

Eastern Middle Aramaic


Only two of the Old Eastern Aramaic languages continued into this period. In the north of the region, Old Syriac moved into Middle Syriac. In the south, Jewish Old Babylonian became Jewish Middle Babylonian. The post-Achaemenid, Arsacid dialect became the background of the new Mandaic language
Mandaic language
The Mandaic language is the language of the Mandaean religion. Classical Mandaic is used by a section of the Mandaean community in liturgical rites....

.

Syriac




Syriac (also "Middle Syriac") is the classical, literary, liturgical and often spoken language of Syriac Christians
Syriac Christianity
Syriac or Syrian Christianity , the Syriac-speaking Christians of Mesopotamia, comprises multiple Christian traditions of Eastern Christianity. With a history going back to the 1st Century AD, in modern times it is represented by denominations primarily in the Middle East and in Kerala, India....

 to this day, particularly the Assyrian church of the East
Assyrian Church of the East
The Assyrian Church of the East, officially the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East ʻIttā Qaddishtā w-Shlikhāitā Qattoliqi d-Madnĕkhā d-Āturāyē), is a Syriac Church historically centered in Mesopotamia. It is one of the churches that claim continuity with the historical...

, Chaldean Catholic Church, Ancient Church of the East
Ancient Church of the East
The Ancient Church of the East was established in 1968. It follows the traditions of one of the oldest Christian churches, the Church of the East, whose origins trace back to the See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in central Mesopotamia...

 and Syriac Orthodox churches. It originated in Sassanid Assyria
Assyria
Assyria was a Semitic Akkadian kingdom, extant as a nation state from the mid–23rd century BC to 608 BC centred on the Upper Tigris river, in northern Mesopotamia , that came to rule regional empires a number of times through history. It was named for its original capital, the ancient city of Assur...

 (Assuristan). Its golden age was the 4th to 6th centuries. This period began with the translation of the Bible into the language: the Peshitta
Peshitta
The Peshitta is the standard version of the Bible for churches in the Syriac tradition.The Old Testament of the Peshitta was translated into Syriac from the Hebrew, probably in the 2nd century AD...

 and the masterful prose and poetry of Ephrem the Syrian
Ephrem the Syrian
Ephrem the Syrian was a Syriac and a prolific Syriac-language hymnographer and theologian of the 4th century. He is venerated by Christians throughout the world, and especially in the Syriac Orthodox Church, as a saint.Ephrem wrote a wide variety of hymns, poems, and sermons in verse, as well as...

. Middle Syriac, unlike its forebear, is a thoroughly Christian language, although in time it became the language of those opposed to the Byzantine
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 leadership of the Church of the East
Church of the East
The Church of the East tāʾ d-Maḏnḥāʾ), also known as the Nestorian Church, is a Christian church, part of the Syriac tradition of Eastern Christianity. Originally the church of the Persian Sassanid Empire, it quickly spread widely through Asia...

. Missionary activity by Assyrian and Nestorian Christians led to the spread of Syriac from Mesopotamia through Persia
Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

 and into Central Asia
Central Asia
Central Asia is a core region of the Asian continent from the Caspian Sea in the west, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south, and Russia in the north...

, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 and China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

.

Jewish Middle Babylonian Aramaic



Jewish Middle Babylonian is the language employed by Jewish writers in Babylonia between the 4th century and the 11th century CE. It is most commonly identified with the language of the Babylonian Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

 (which was completed in the 7th century) and of post-Talmudic (Geonic
Geonim
Geonim were the presidents of the two great Babylonian, Talmudic Academies of Sura and Pumbedita, in the Abbasid Caliphate, and were the generally accepted spiritual leaders of the Jewish community world wide in the early medieval era, in contrast to the Resh Galuta who wielded secular authority...

) literature, which are the most important cultural products of Babylonian Jewry. The most important epigraphic sources for the dialect are the hundreds of Aramaic magic bowls written in the Jewish script.

Mandaic



Mandaic, spoken by the Mandeans of Iraq
Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

, is a sister dialect to Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, though it is both linguistically and culturally distinct. Classical Mandaic is the language in which the Mandaean's Gnostic religious literature was composed. It is characterized by a highly phonetic orthography.

Western Middle Aramaic


The dialects of Old Western Aramaic continued with Jewish Middle Palestinian (in Hebrew 'square script'
Hebrew alphabet
The Hebrew alphabet , known variously by scholars as the Jewish script, square script, block script, or more historically, the Assyrian script, is used in the writing of the Hebrew language, as well as other Jewish languages, most notably Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic. There have been two...

), Samaritan Aramaic (in the old Hebrew script
Phoenician alphabet
The Phoenician alphabet, called by convention the Proto-Canaanite alphabet for inscriptions older than around 1050 BC, was a non-pictographic consonantal alphabet, or abjad. It was used for the writing of Phoenician, a Northern Semitic language, used by the civilization of Phoenicia...

) and Christian Palestinian (in cursive Syriac script
Syriac alphabet
The Syriac alphabet is a writing system primarily used to write the Syriac language from around the 2nd century BC . It is one of the Semitic abjads directly descending from the Aramaic alphabet and shares similarities with the Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic, and the traditional Mongolian alphabets.-...

). Of these three, only Jewish Middle Palestinian continued as a written language.

Jewish Middle Palestinian Aramaic


In 135, after the Bar Kokhba revolt, many Jewish leaders, expelled from Jerusalem, moved to Galilee
Galilee
Galilee , is a large region in northern Israel which overlaps with much of the administrative North District of the country. Traditionally divided into Upper Galilee , Lower Galilee , and Western Galilee , extending from Dan to the north, at the base of Mount Hermon, along Mount Lebanon to the...

. The Galilean dialect thus rose from obscurity to become the standard among Jews in the west. This dialect was spoken not only in Galilee, but also in the surrounding parts. It is the linguistic setting for the Jerusalem Talmud
Jerusalem Talmud
The Jerusalem Talmud, talmud meaning "instruction", "learning", , is a collection of Rabbinic notes on the 2nd-century Mishnah which was compiled in the Land of Israel during the 4th-5th century. The voluminous text is also known as the Palestinian Talmud or Talmud de-Eretz Yisrael...

 (completed in the 5th century), Palestinian targum
Targum
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art and the national sport of South Korea. In Korean, tae means "to strike or break with foot"; kwon means "to strike or break with fist"; and do means "way", "method", or "path"...

im (Jewish Aramaic versions of scripture), and midrash
Midrash
The Hebrew term Midrash is a homiletic method of biblical exegesis. The term also refers to the whole compilation of homiletic teachings on the Bible....

im (biblical commentaries and teaching). The standard vowel pointing for the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

, the Tiberian system (7th century), was developed by speakers of the Galilean dialect of Jewish Middle Palestinian. Classical Hebrew vocalisation, therefore, in representing the Hebrew of this period, probably reflects the contemporary pronunciation of this Aramaic dialect.

Middle Judaean, the descendant of Old Judaean, is no longer the dominant dialect, and was used only in southern Judaea (the variant Engedi dialect continued throughout this period). Likewise, Middle East Jordanian continues as a minor dialect from Old East Jordanian. The inscriptions in the synagogue at Dura-Europos
Dura-Europos
Dura-Europos , also spelled Dura-Europus, was a Hellenistic, Parthian and Roman border city built on an escarpment 90 m above the right bank of the Euphrates river. It is located near the village of Salhiyé, in today's Syria....

 are either in Middle East Jordanian or Middle Judaean.

Samaritan Aramaic



The Aramaic dialect of the Samaritan
Samaritan
The Samaritans are an ethnoreligious group of the Levant. Religiously, they are the adherents to Samaritanism, an Abrahamic religion closely related to Judaism...

 community is earliest attested by a documentary tradition that can be dated back to the 4th century. Its modern pronunciation is based on the form used in the 10th century.

Christian Palestinian Aramaic


The language of Western-Aramaic-speaking Christians is evidenced from the 6th century, but probably existed two centuries earlier. The language itself comes from Christian Old Palestinian, but its writing conventions were based on early Middle Syriac, and it was heavily influenced by Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

. For example, the name Jesus, although Yešû` in Aramaic, is written Yesûs in Christian Palestinian.

Modern Aramaic



Over 400,000 people of various communities from across the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

, and recent emigrants
Emigration
Emigration is the act of leaving one's country or region to settle in another. It is the same as immigration but from the perspective of the country of origin. Human movement before the establishment of political boundaries or within one state is termed migration. There are many reasons why people...

 who have moved out of these communities, speak one of several varieties of Modern Aramaic (also called Neo-Aramaic) natively, including by religious adherence; Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

s, Jews, Mandaeans
Mandaeism
Mandaeism or Mandaeanism is a Gnostic religion with a strongly dualistic worldview. Its adherents, the Mandaeans, revere Adam, Abel, Seth, Enosh, Noah, Shem, Aram and especially John the Baptist...

 and a very small number of Muslim
Muslim
A Muslim, also spelled Moslem, is an adherent of Islam, a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion based on the Quran, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God as revealed to prophet Muhammad. "Muslim" is the Arabic term for "submitter" .Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable...

s. Having lived in remote areas as insulated communities, the remaining modern speakers of Aramaic dialects escaped the linguistic pressures experienced by others during the large scale language shift
Language shift
Language shift, sometimes referred to as language transfer or language replacement or assimilation, is the progressive process whereby a speech community of a language shifts to speaking another language. The rate of assimilation is the percentage of individuals with a given mother tongue who speak...

s that saw the proliferation of other tongues among those who previously did not speak them, most recently the Arabization
Arabization
Arabization or Arabisation describes a growing cultural influence on a non-Arab area that gradually changes into one that speaks Arabic and/or incorporates Arab culture...

 of the Middle East and North Africa by Muslim
Muslim
A Muslim, also spelled Moslem, is an adherent of Islam, a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion based on the Quran, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God as revealed to prophet Muhammad. "Muslim" is the Arabic term for "submitter" .Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable...

 Arabians
Arabian Peninsula
The Arabian Peninsula is a land mass situated north-east of Africa. Also known as Arabia or the Arabian subcontinent, it is the world's largest peninsula and covers 3,237,500 km2...

, during their spread of Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

. Most of the people of that region who converted to Islam, and many from the remaining unconverted population, also adopted Arabic as their first language. The Aramaic speaking peoples such as Assyrians have preserved their traditions with schools, printing presses and now with electronic media.

The Neo-Aramaic languages are now farther apart in their comprehension of one another than perhaps they have ever been. The last 200 years have not been good to Aramaic speakers. Instability throughout the Middle East has led to a worldwide diaspora of Aramaic-speakers. The year 1915 is especially prominent for Aramaic-speaking Assyrian Christians who experienced the Assyrian Genocide
Assyrian genocide
The Assyrian Genocide refers to the mass slaughter of the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac population of the Ottoman Empire during the 1890s, the First World War, and the period of 1922-1925...

 (Sayfo or Saypā; literally meaning sword in Syriac
Syriac language
Syriac is a dialect of Middle Aramaic that was once spoken across much of the Fertile Crescent. Having first appeared as a script in the 1st century AD after being spoken as an unwritten language for five centuries, Classical Syriac became a major literary language throughout the Middle East from...

), and all Christian groups living in eastern Turkey
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

 in general (see also Armenian Genocide
Armenian Genocide
The Armenian Genocide—also known as the Armenian Holocaust, the Armenian Massacres and, by Armenians, as the Great Crime—refers to the deliberate and systematic destruction of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire during and just after World War I...

, Greek genocide) who were the subjects of the genocide that marked the end of the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

. For Aramaic-speaking Jews, 1950 is a watershed year: the founding of the state of Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 and consequent Jewish exodus from Arab lands
Jewish exodus from Arab lands
The Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries was a mass departure, flight and expulsion of Jews, primarily of Sephardi and Mizrahi background, from Arab and Muslim countries, from 1948 until the early 1970s...

, including Iraq
Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

, led most Iraqi Jews, both Aramaic-speaking and Arabic-speaking Iraqi Jews, to emigrate to Israel. However, immigration to Israel has led to the Jewish Neo-Aramaic (and Jewish Iraqi Arabic) being replaced by Modern Hebrew (Ivrit) among children of the migrants. The practical extinction of many Jewish dialects seems imminent.

Modern Eastern Aramaic


Modern Eastern Aramaic exists in a wide variety of dialects and languages. There is significant difference between the Aramaic spoken by Jews, Chaldo-Assyrian Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

s, and Mandaeans
Mandaeism
Mandaeism or Mandaeanism is a Gnostic religion with a strongly dualistic worldview. Its adherents, the Mandaeans, revere Adam, Abel, Seth, Enosh, Noah, Shem, Aram and especially John the Baptist...

.

The Christian languages are often called Modern Syriac
Syriac language
Syriac is a dialect of Middle Aramaic that was once spoken across much of the Fertile Crescent. Having first appeared as a script in the 1st century AD after being spoken as an unwritten language for five centuries, Classical Syriac became a major literary language throughout the Middle East from...

 (or Neo-Syriac, particularly when referring to their literature), being deeply influenced by the literary and liturgical language of Middle Syriac. However, they also have roots in numerous, previously unwritten, local Aramaic varieties, and are not purely the direct descendants of the language of Ephrem the Syrian
Ephrem the Syrian
Ephrem the Syrian was a Syriac and a prolific Syriac-language hymnographer and theologian of the 4th century. He is venerated by Christians throughout the world, and especially in the Syriac Orthodox Church, as a saint.Ephrem wrote a wide variety of hymns, poems, and sermons in verse, as well as...

. The varieties are not all mutually intelligible. The principal Christian varieties are Assyrian Neo-Aramaic
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic is a Neo-Aramaic dialect, spoken by an estimated 220,000 people , formerly in the area between Lake Urmia, north-western Iran, and Siirt, south-eastern Turkey, but now more widely throughout the...

 and Chaldean Neo-Aramaic
Chaldean Neo-Aramaic
Chaldean Neo-Aramaic is a Northeastern Neo-Aramaic dialect. Chaldean Neo-Aramaic is spoken on the plain of Mosul in northern Iraq, as well as by the Chaldean communities worldwide. Most speakers are Chaldean Catholics....

 used by the ethnic Assyrians of Iraq, south east Turkey, Iran and north east Syria.

The Jewish Modern Aramaic languages
Judeo-Aramaic language
Judæo-Aramaic is a collective term used to describe several Hebrew-influenced Aramaic and Neo-Aramaic languages.-Early use:Aramaic, like Hebrew, is a Northwest Semitic language, and the two share many features. From the 7th century BCE, Aramaic became the lingua franca of the Middle East...

 are now mostly spoken in Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

, and most are facing extinction. The Jewish varieties that have come from communities that once lived between Lake Urmia
Lake Urmia
Lake Urmia , ancient name: Lake Matiene) is a salt lake in northwestern Iran, near Iran's border with Turkey. The lake is between the Iranian provinces of East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan, west of the southern portion of the similarly shaped Caspian Sea...

 and Mosul
Mosul
Mosul , is a city in northern Iraq and the capital of the Ninawa Governorate, some northwest of Baghdad. The original city stands on the west bank of the Tigris River, opposite the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh on the east bank, but the metropolitan area has now grown to encompass substantial...

 are not all mutually intelligible. In some places, for example Urmia
Urmia
- Demographics :According to official census of 2006, the population of Urmia is about 871,204.- Language :The population of Urmia is mainly Azerbaijani people, with Kurdish, Assyrian Christian, and Armenian minorities...

, Christians and Jews speak mutually unintelligible varieties of Modern Eastern Aramaic in the same place. In others, the Nineveh Plains
Nineveh plains
Nineveh plains is a region in the Ninawa Governorate of Iraq to the north and west of the city Mosul. The area generally consists of three districts; Tel Keppe, Al-Hamdaniya, and Al-Shikhan...

 around Mosul for example, the varieties of the two ethnic and faith communities are similar enough to allow conversation.

Modern Western Syriac (also called Central Neo-Aramaic, being in between Western Neo-Aramaic and Eastern Neo-Syriac) is generally represented by Turoyo
Turoyo language
Turoyo/Surayt is a variety of Aramaic traditionally spoken in eastern Turkey and north-eastern Syria by the Assyrian/Syriac people. Turoyo is to a lesser extent mutually intelligible with Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and Chaldean Neo-Aramaic.-Etymology:...

, the language of the Tur Abdin
Tur Abdin
Tur Abdin is a hilly region of south east Turkey incorporating the eastern half of Mardin Province, and Şırnak Province west of the Tigris, on the border with Syria. The name 'Tur Abdin' is from the Syriac language meaning 'mountain of the servants '. Tur Abdin is of great importance to Syriac...

. A related language, Mlahsô
Mlahsö language
Mlahsô is a Modern West Syriac language, a dialect of Aramaic. It was traditionally spoken in eastern Turkey and north-eastern Syria by members of the Assyrian/Syriac people....

, has recently become extinct.

Mandaeans, living in the Khūzestān Province
Khuzestan Province
Khuzestan Province is one of the 31 provinces of Iran. It is in the southwest of the country, bordering Iraq's Basra Province and the Persian Gulf. Its capital is Ahwaz and covers an area of 63,238 km²...

 of Iran
Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

 and scattered throughout Iraq
Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

, speak Modern Mandaic
Mandaic language
The Mandaic language is the language of the Mandaean religion. Classical Mandaic is used by a section of the Mandaean community in liturgical rites....

. It is quite distinct from any other Aramaic variety.

Modern Western Aramaic



Very little remains of Western Aramaic. It is still spoken in the villages of Ma'loula, Bakh`a and Jubb`adin on Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

's side of the Anti-Lebanon mountains, as well as by some people who migrated from these villages, to Damascus
Damascus
Damascus , commonly known in Syria as Al Sham , and as the City of Jasmine , is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo, both are part of the country's 14 governorates. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major...

 and other larger towns of Syria. All these speakers of Modern Western Aramaic are fluent in Arabic, which has now become the main language in these villages.

Sounds


Each dialect of Aramaic has its own distinctive pronunciation, and it would not be feasible here to go into all these properties. Aramaic has a phonological palette of 25 to 40 distinct phonemes. Some modern Aramaic pronunciations lack the series of 'emphatic' consonants, and some have borrowed from the inventories of surrounding languages, particularly Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

, Azerbaijani
Azerbaijani language
Azerbaijani or Azeri or Torki is a language belonging to the Turkic language family, spoken in southwestern Asia by the Azerbaijani people, primarily in Azerbaijan and northwestern Iran...

, Kurdish, Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

 and Turkish
Turkish language
Turkish is a language spoken as a native language by over 83 million people worldwide, making it the most commonly spoken of the Turkic languages. Its speakers are located predominantly in Turkey and Northern Cyprus with smaller groups in Iraq, Greece, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo,...

.

Vowels

Front Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ (ɔ)
Open a (ɑ)


As with most Semitic languages, Aramaic can be thought of as having three basic sets of vowels:
  • Open a-vowels
  • Close front i-vowels
  • Close back u-vowels

These vowel groups are relatively stable, but the exact articulation of any individual is most dependent on its consonantal setting.

The cardinal open vowel is an open near-front unrounded vowel ('short' a, somewhat like the first vowel in the English 'batter', a). It usually has a back counterpart ('long' a, like the a in 'father', ɑ, or even tending to the vowel in 'caught', ɔ), and a front counterpart ('short' e, like the vowel in 'head', ɛ). There is much correspondence between these vowels between dialects. There is some evidence that Middle Babylonian dialects did not distinguish between the short a and short e. In West Syriac dialects, and possibly Middle Galilean, the long a became the o sound. The open e and back a are often indicated in writing by the use of the letters 'alaph' (a glottal stop
Glottal stop
The glottal stop, or more fully, the voiceless glottal plosive, is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages. In English, the feature is represented, for example, by the hyphen in uh-oh! and by the apostrophe or [[ʻokina]] in Hawaii among those using a preservative pronunciation of...

) or 'he' (like the English h).

The cardinal close front vowel is the 'long' i (like the vowel in 'need', [i]). It has a slightly more open counterpart, the 'long' e, as in the final vowel of 'café' ([e]). Both of these have shorter counterparts, which tend to be pronounced slightly more open. Thus, the short close e corresponds with the open e in some dialects. The close front vowels usually use the consonant y as a mater lectionis
Mater lectionis
In the spelling of Hebrew and some other Semitic languages, matres lectionis , refers to the use of certain consonants to indicate a vowel. The letters that do this in Hebrew are aleph, he, waw and yod...

.

The cardinal close back vowel is the 'long' u (like the vowel in 'school', [u]). It has a more open counterpart, the 'long' o, like the vowel in 'low' ([o]). There are shorter, and thus more open, counterparts to each of these, with the short close o sometimes corresponding with the long open a. The close back vowels often use the consonant w to indicate their quality.

Two basic diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s exist: an open vowel followed by y (ay), and an open vowel followed by w (aw). These were originally full diphthongs, but many dialects have converted them to e and o respectively.

The so-called 'emphatic' consonants (see the next section) cause all vowels to become mid-centralised.

Consonants

Labial Interdental Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
Plain Emphatic
Nasal m n
Stop Voiceless p t k q ʔ
Voiced b d ɡ
Fricative Voiceless f θ s ʃ x ħ h
Voiced v ð z ɣ ʕ
Trill r
Approximant l j w


The various alphabets used for writing Aramaic languages have twenty-two letters (all of which are consonants). Some of these letters, though, can stand for two or three different sounds (usually a plosive
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

 and a fricative
Fricative consonant
Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

 at the same point of articulation). Aramaic classically uses a series of lightly contrasted plosives and fricatives:
  • Labial set: p/f and b/v,
  • Dental set: t/θ and d/ð,
  • Velar set: k/x and g/ɣ.

Each member of a certain pair is written with the same letter of the alphabet in most writing systems (that is, p and f are written with the same letter), and are near allophone
Allophone
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

s.

A distinguishing feature of Aramaic phonology (and that of Semitic languages in general) is the presence of 'emphatic' consonants. These are consonants that are pronounced with the root of the tongue retracted, with varying degrees of pharyngealization and velarisation
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

. Using their alphabetic names, these emphatics are:, a voiceless pharyngeal fricative
Voiceless pharyngeal fricative
The voiceless pharyngeal fricative is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is h-bar .-Features:Features of the voiceless pharyngeal fricative:...

, /ħ/,, a pharyngealized t, /tˤ/, (or in some dialects), a pharyngealized glottal stop
Glottal stop
The glottal stop, or more fully, the voiceless glottal plosive, is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages. In English, the feature is represented, for example, by the hyphen in uh-oh! and by the apostrophe or [[ʻokina]] in Hawaii among those using a preservative pronunciation of...

 (sometimes considered to be a voiced pharyngeal approximant), [ʕ] or [ʔˤ],, a pharyngealized s, /sˤ/,, an uvular
Uvular consonant
Uvulars are consonants articulated with the back of the tongue against or near the uvula, that is, further back in the mouth than velar consonants. Uvulars may be plosives, fricatives, nasal stops, trills, or approximants, though the IPA does not provide a separate symbol for the approximant, and...

 k (a voiceless uvular plosive), /q/.
Ancient Aramaic may have had a larger series of emphatics, and some Neo-Aramaic languages definitely do. Not all dialects of Aramaic give these consonants their historic values.

Overlapping with the set of emphatics are the 'guttural' consonants. They include and from the emphatic set, and add (a glottal stop
Glottal stop
The glottal stop, or more fully, the voiceless glottal plosive, is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages. In English, the feature is represented, for example, by the hyphen in uh-oh! and by the apostrophe or [[ʻokina]] in Hawaii among those using a preservative pronunciation of...

) and (as the English 'h').

Aramaic classically has a set of four sibilants
Sibilant consonant
A sibilant is a manner of articulation of fricative and affricate consonants, made by directing a stream of air with the tongue towards the sharp edge of the teeth, which are held close together. Examples of sibilants are the consonants at the beginning of the English words sip, zip, ship, chip,...

 (Ancient Aramaic may have had six): (as in English 'sea'), (as in English 'zero'), (as in English 'ship'), (the emphatic listed above).

In addition to these sets, Aramaic has the nasal consonant
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

s m and n, and the approximants
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

 r (usually an alveolar trill
Alveolar trill
The alveolar trill is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents dental, alveolar, and postalveolar trills is , and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is r. It is commonly called the rolled R, rolling R, or trilled R...

), l, y and w.

Historical sound changes


Six broad features of sound change can be seen as dialect differentials:
  1. Vowel change – This occurs almost too frequently to document fully, but is a major distinctive feature of different dialects.
  2. Plosive/fricative pair reduction – Originally, Aramaic, like Tiberian Hebrew
    Tiberian vocalization
    The Tiberian vocalization is a system of diacritics devised by the Masoretes to add to the consonantal Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible; this system soon became used to vocalize other texts as well...

    , had fricatives as conditioned allophone
    Allophone
    In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

    s for each plosive. In the wake of vowel changes, the distinction eventually became phonemic; still later, it was often lost in certain dialects. For example, Turoyo
    Turoyo language
    Turoyo/Surayt is a variety of Aramaic traditionally spoken in eastern Turkey and north-eastern Syria by the Assyrian/Syriac people. Turoyo is to a lesser extent mutually intelligible with Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and Chaldean Neo-Aramaic.-Etymology:...

     has mostly lost /p/, using /f/ instead; other dialects (for instance, standard Assyrian Neo-Aramaic
    Assyrian Neo-Aramaic
    Assyrian Neo-Aramaic is a Neo-Aramaic dialect, spoken by an estimated 220,000 people , formerly in the area between Lake Urmia, north-western Iran, and Siirt, south-eastern Turkey, but now more widely throughout the...

    ) have lost /θ/ and /ð/ and replaced them with /t/ and /d/. In most dialects of Modern Syriac, /f/ and /v/ become /w/ after a vowel.
  3. Loss of emphatics – Some dialects have replaced emphatic consonants with non-emphatic counterparts, while those spoken in the Caucasus
    Caucasus
    The Caucasus, also Caucas or Caucasia , is a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia, and situated between the Black and the Caspian sea...

     often have glottalized
    Glottalic consonant
    A glottalic consonant is a consonant produced with some important contribution of the glottis ....

     rather than pharyngealized emphatics.
  4. Guttural assimilation – This is the main feature of Samaritan pronunciation, also found in the Samaritan Hebrew language
    Samaritan Hebrew language
    Samaritan Hebrew , is a reading tradition for Biblical Hebrew as used by the Samaritans for reading the Samaritan Pentateuch. Its pronunciation is highly similar to that of Samaritan Arabic, used by the Samaritans in prayer.-Orthography:...

    : all the gutturals are reduced to a simple glottal stop. Some Modern Aramaic dialects do not pronounce h in all words (the third person masculine pronoun 'hu' becomes 'ow').
  5. Proto-Semitic */θ/ */ð/ are reflected in Aramaic as */t/, */d/, whereas they became sibilants in Hebrew (the number three in Hebrew is 'šālôš', but '' in Aramaic). Dental/sibilant shifts are still happening in the modern dialects.
  6. New phonetic inventory – Modern dialects have borrowed sounds from the surrounding, dominant languages. The usual inventory is [ʒ] (as the first consonant in 'azure'), [d͡ʒ] (as in 'jam') and [t͡ʃ] (as in 'church'). The Syriac alphabet
    Syriac alphabet
    The Syriac alphabet is a writing system primarily used to write the Syriac language from around the 2nd century BC . It is one of the Semitic abjads directly descending from the Aramaic alphabet and shares similarities with the Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic, and the traditional Mongolian alphabets.-...

     has been adapted for writing these new sounds.

Grammar



As with other Semitic languages, Aramaic morphology
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

 (the way words are formed) is based on the triliteral root. The root consists of three consonants and has a basic meaning, for example, k-t-b has the meaning of 'writing'. This is then modified by the addition of vowels and other consonants to create different nuances of the basic meaning:
  • , handwriting, inscription, script, book.
  • , the Scriptures.
  • , secretary, scribe.
  • , I wrote.
  • , I shall write.

Nouns and adjectives


Aramaic nouns and adjectives are inflected to show gender, number and state. The latter somewhat akin to case in Indo-European languages
Indo-European languages
The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...

.

Aramaic has two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine. The feminine absolute singular is usually marked by the ending , which is usually written with an aleph
Aleph
* Aleph or Alef is the first letter of the Semitic abjads descended from Proto-Canaanite, Arabic alphabet, Phoenician alphabet, Hebrew alphabet, Syriac alphabet-People:*Aleph , an Italo disco artist and alias of Dave Rodgers...

. Jewish varieties, however, often use he
He (letter)
He is the fifth letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician , Aramaic, Hebrew , Syriac and Arabic . Its sound value is a voiceless glottal fricative ....

 instead, following Hebrew orthography.

Nouns can be either singular or plural, but an additional 'dual' number exists for nouns that usually come in pairs. The dual number gradually disappeared from Aramaic over time and has little influence in Middle and Modern Aramaic.

Aramaic nouns and adjectives can exist in one of three states; these states correspond in part to the role of cases in other languages.
  1. The absolute state is the basic form of a noun (for example, , 'handwriting'). The absolute state can be used in most syntactical roles. However, by the Middle Aramaic period, its use for nouns, but not adjectives, had been widely replaced by the emphatic state.
  2. The construct
    Status constructus
    The construct state or status constructus is a noun form occurring in Afro-Asiatic languages. It is particularly common in Semitic languages , Berber languages, and in the extinct Egyptian language...

    state is a form of the noun used to make possessive phrases (for example, , 'the handwriting of the queen). In the masculine singular it is often the same as the absolute, but may undergo vowel reduction in longer words. The feminine construct and masculine construct plural are marked by suffixes. Unlike a genitive case
    Genitive case
    In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun...

    , which marks the possessor, the construct state is marked on the possessed. This is mainly due to Aramaic word order: possessed[const.] possessor[abs./emph.] are treated as a speech unit, with the first unit (possessed) employing the construct state to link it to the following word. In Middle Aramaic, the use of the construct state for all but stock phrases (like bar-nāšâ, 'son of man') begins to disappear.
  3. The emphatic or determined state is an extended form of the noun that functions a bit like a definite article
    Article (grammar)
    An article is a word that combines with a noun to indicate the type of reference being made by the noun. Articles specify the grammatical definiteness of the noun, in some languages extending to volume or numerical scope. The articles in the English language are the and a/an, and some...

     (which Aramaic lacks; for example, , 'the handwriting'). It is marked with a suffix. Although its original grammatical function seems to have been to mark definiteness, it is used already in Imperial Aramaic to mark all important nouns, even if they should be considered technically indefinite. This practice developed to the extent that the absolute state became extraordinarily rare in later varieties of Aramaic.


Whereas other Northwest Semitic languages
Northwest Semitic languages
The Northwest Semitic languages form a medium-level division of the Semitic language family. The languages of this group are spoken by approximately eight million people today. The group is generally divided into three branches: Ugaritic , Canaanite and Aramaic...

, like Hebrew, have the absolute and construct states, the emphatic/determined state is a unique feature to Aramaic. Case endings
Inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

, as in Ugaritic, probably existed in a very early stage of the language, and glimpses of them can be seen in a few compounded proper names. However, as most were short final vowels, they were never written, and the few characteristic long vowels of the masculine plural accusative and genitive are not clearly evidenced in inscriptions. Often, the direct object
Object (grammar)
An object in grammar is part of a sentence, and often part of the predicate. It denotes somebody or something involved in the subject's "performance" of the verb. Basically, it is what or whom the verb is acting upon...

 is marked by a prefixed l- (the preposition 'to') if it is definite.

Adjectives agree with their nouns in number and gender but agree in state only if attributive. Predicative adjectives are in the absolute state regardless of the state of their noun (a copula may or may not be written). Thus, an attributive adjective to an emphatic noun, as in the phrase 'the good king', is written also in the emphatic state — king[emph.] good[emph.]. In comparison, the predicative adjective, as in the phrase 'the king is good', is written in the absolute state — good[abs.] king[emph.].
‘good’ masc. sg. fem. sg. masc. pl. fem. pl.
abs. ṭāḇ ṭāḇâ ṭāḇîn ṭāḇān
const. ṭāḇ ṭāḇaṯ ṭāḇê ṭāḇāṯ
det./emph. ṭāḇâ ṭāḇtâ ṭāḇayyâ ṭāḇāṯâ


The final in a number of these suffixes is written with the letter aleph
Aleph
* Aleph or Alef is the first letter of the Semitic abjads descended from Proto-Canaanite, Arabic alphabet, Phoenician alphabet, Hebrew alphabet, Syriac alphabet-People:*Aleph , an Italo disco artist and alias of Dave Rodgers...

. However, some Jewish Aramaic texts employ the letter he
He (letter)
He is the fifth letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician , Aramaic, Hebrew , Syriac and Arabic . Its sound value is a voiceless glottal fricative ....

 for the feminine absolute singular. Likewise, some Jewish Aramaic texts employ the Hebrew masculine absolute singular suffix -îm instead of -în. The masculine determined plural suffix, -ayyâ, has an alternative version, . The alternative is sometimes called the 'gentilic plural' for its prominent use in ethnonyms (yəhûḏāyê, 'the Jews', for example). This alternative plural is written with the letter aleph
Aleph
* Aleph or Alef is the first letter of the Semitic abjads descended from Proto-Canaanite, Arabic alphabet, Phoenician alphabet, Hebrew alphabet, Syriac alphabet-People:*Aleph , an Italo disco artist and alias of Dave Rodgers...

, and came to be the only plural for nouns and adjectives of this type in Syriac and some other varieties of Aramaic. The masculine construct plural, , is written with yodh
Yodh
Yodh is the tenth letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Aramaic, Hebrew Yud , Syriac and Arabic...

. In Syriac and some other variants this ending is diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

ized to -ai.

Possessive phrases in Aramaic can either be made with the construct state or by linking two nouns with the relative particle d[î]-. As use of the construct state almost disappears from the Middle Aramaic period on, the latter method became the main way of making possessive phrases.
For example, the various forms of possessive phrases (for 'the handwriting of the queen') are:
  1. — the oldest construction: the possessed object(kṯāḇâ, 'handwriting') is in the construct state (kṯāḇaṯ); the possessor (malkâ, 'queen') is in the emphatic state (malkṯâ)
  2. — both words are in the emphatic state and the relative particle d[î]- is used to mark the relationship
  3. — both words are in the emphatic state, and the relative particle is used, but the possessed is given an anticipatory, pronominal ending (kṯāḇt[â]-āh, 'handwriting-her'; literally, 'her writing, that (of) the queen').

In Modern Aramaic, the last form is by far the most common. In Biblical Aramaic, the last form is virtually absent.

Verbs


The Aramaic verb has gradually evolved in time and place, varying between varieties of the language. Verb forms are marked for person
Grammatical person
Grammatical person, in linguistics, is deictic reference to a participant in an event; such as the speaker, the addressee, or others. Grammatical person typically defines a language's set of personal pronouns...

 (first, second or third), number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

 (singular or plural), gender
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

 (masculine or feminine), tense
Grammatical tense
A tense is a grammatical category that locates a situation in time, to indicate when the situation takes place.Bernard Comrie, Aspect, 1976:6:...

 (perfect or imperfect), mood
Grammatical mood
In linguistics, grammatical mood is a grammatical feature of verbs, used to signal modality. That is, it is the use of verbal inflections that allow speakers to express their attitude toward what they are saying...

 (indicative, imperative, jussive or infinitive) and voice
Voice (grammar)
In grammar, the voice of a verb describes the relationship between the action that the verb expresses and the participants identified by its arguments . When the subject is the agent or doer of the action, the verb is in the active voice...

 (active, reflexive or passive). Aramaic also employs a system of conjugation
Grammatical conjugation
In linguistics, conjugation is the creation of derived forms of a verb from its principal parts by inflection . Conjugation may be affected by person, number, gender, tense, aspect, mood, voice, or other grammatical categories...

s, or verbal stems, to mark intensive and extensive developments in the lexical meaning of verbs.

Aspectual tense


Aramaic has two proper tenses
Grammatical tense
A tense is a grammatical category that locates a situation in time, to indicate when the situation takes place.Bernard Comrie, Aspect, 1976:6:...

: perfect
Perfective aspect
The perfective aspect , sometimes called the aoristic aspect, is a grammatical aspect used to describe a situation viewed as a simple whole, whether that situation occurs in the past, present, or future. The perfective aspect is equivalent to the aspectual component of past perfective forms...

 and imperfect
Imperfective aspect
The imperfective is a grammatical aspect used to describe a situation viewed with internal structure, such as ongoing, habitual, repeated, and similar semantic roles, whether that situation occurs in the past, present, or future...

. These were originally aspectual
Grammatical aspect
In linguistics, the grammatical aspect of a verb is a grammatical category that defines the temporal flow in a given action, event, or state, from the point of view of the speaker...

, but developed into something more like a preterite
Preterite
The preterite is the grammatical tense expressing actions that took place or were completed in the past...

 and future
Future tense
In grammar, a future tense is a verb form that marks the event described by the verb as not having happened yet, but expected to happen in the future , or to happen subsequent to some other event, whether that is past, present, or future .-Expressions of future tense:The concept of the future,...

. The perfect is unmarked
Markedness
Markedness is a specific kind of asymmetry relationship between elements of linguistic or conceptual structure. In a marked-unmarked relation, one term of an opposition is the broader, dominant one...

, while the imperfect uses various preformative
Prefix
A prefix is an affix which is placed before the root of a word. Particularly in the study of languages,a prefix is also called a preformative, because it alters the form of the words to which it is affixed.Examples of prefixes:...

s that vary according to person, number and gender. In both tenses the third-person singular masculine is the unmarked form from which others are derived by addition of afformative
Suffix
In linguistics, a suffix is an affix which is placed after the stem of a word. Common examples are case endings, which indicate the grammatical case of nouns or adjectives, and verb endings, which form the conjugation of verbs...

s (and preformatives in the imperfect). In the chart below (on the root K-T-B, meaning 'to write'), the first form given is the usual form in Imperial Aramaic, while the second is Classical Syriac
Syriac language
Syriac is a dialect of Middle Aramaic that was once spoken across much of the Fertile Crescent. Having first appeared as a script in the 1st century AD after being spoken as an unwritten language for five centuries, Classical Syriac became a major literary language throughout the Middle East from...

.
Person & gender Perfect Imperfect
Singular Plural Singular Plural
3rd m. kəṯaḇ ↔ kəṯaḇ kəṯaḇû ↔ kəṯaḇ(w)/kəṯabbûn yiḵtuḇ ↔ neḵtoḇ yiḵtəḇûn ↔ neḵtəḇûn
3rd f. kiṯbaṯ ↔ keṯbaṯ kəṯaḇâ ↔ kəṯaḇ(y)/kəṯabbên tiḵtuḇ ↔ teḵtoḇ yiḵtəḇān ↔ neḵtəḇān
2nd m. kəṯaḇt ↔ kəṯaḇt kəṯaḇtûn ↔ kəṯaḇton tiḵtuḇ ↔ teḵtoḇ tiḵtəḇûn ↔ teḵtəḇûn
2nd f. kəṯaḇtî ↔ kəṯaḇt(y) kəṯaḇtēn ↔ kəṯaḇtên tiḵtuḇîn ↔ teḵtuḇîn tiḵtəḇān ↔ teḵtəḇān
1st m./f. kiṯḇēṯ ↔ keṯḇeṯ kəṯaḇnâ ↔ kəṯaḇn eḵtuḇ ↔ eḵtoḇ niḵtuḇ ↔ neḵtoḇ

Conjugations or verbal stems


Like other Semitic languages, Aramaic employs a number of conjugations, or verbal stems, to extend the lexical coverage of verbs. The basic conjugation of the verb is called the ground stem, or G-stem. Following the tradition of mediaeval Arabic grammarians, it is more often called the Pə‘al (also written Pe‘al), using the form of the triliteral root P-‘-L, meaning ‘to do’. This stem carries the basic lexical meaning of the verb.

By doubling of the second radical, or root letter, the D-stem or Pa‘‘el is formed. This is often an intensive development of the basic lexical meaning. For example, means ‘he killed’, whereas means ‘he slew’. The precise relationship in meaning between the two stems differs for every verb.

A preformative, which can be ha-, a- or ša-, creates the C-stem or variously the Hap̄‘el, Ap̄‘el or Šap̄‘el (also spelt Haph‘el, Aph‘el and Shaph‘el). This is often an extensive or causative development of the basic lexical meaning. For example, means ‘he went astray’, whereas means ‘he deceived’. The Šap̄‘el is the least common variant of the C-stem. Because this variant is standard in Akkadian
Akkadian language
Akkadian is an extinct Semitic language that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. The earliest attested Semitic language, it used the cuneiform writing system derived ultimately from ancient Sumerian, an unrelated language isolate...

, it is possible that its use in Aramaic represents loanword
Loanword
A loanword is a word borrowed from a donor language and incorporated into a recipient language. By contrast, a calque or loan translation is a related concept where the meaning or idiom is borrowed rather than the lexical item itself. The word loanword is itself a calque of the German Lehnwort,...

s from that language. The difference between the variants Hap̄‘el and Ap̄‘el appears to be the gradual dropping of the initial h sound in later Old Aramaic. This is noted by the respelling of the older he
He (letter)
He is the fifth letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician , Aramaic, Hebrew , Syriac and Arabic . Its sound value is a voiceless glottal fricative ....

 preformative with aleph
Aleph
* Aleph or Alef is the first letter of the Semitic abjads descended from Proto-Canaanite, Arabic alphabet, Phoenician alphabet, Hebrew alphabet, Syriac alphabet-People:*Aleph , an Italo disco artist and alias of Dave Rodgers...

.

These three conjugations are supplemented with three derived conjugations, produced by the preformative hiṯ- or eṯ-. The loss of the initial h sound occurs similarly to that in the form above. These three derived stems are the Gt-stem, Hiṯpə‘el or Eṯpə‘el (also written Hithpe‘el or Ethpe‘el), the Dt-stem, Hiṯpa‘‘al or Eṯpa‘‘al (also written Hithpa‘‘al or Ethpa‘‘al), and the Ct-stem, Hiṯhap̄‘al, Ettap̄‘al, Hištap̄‘al or Eštap̄‘al (also written Hithhaph‘al, Ettaph‘al, Hishtaph‘al or Eshtaph‘al). Their meaning is usually reflexive
Reflexive verb
In grammar, a reflexive verb is a verb whose semantic agent and patient are the same. For example, the English verb to perjure is reflexive, since one can only perjure oneself...

, but later became passive
Passive voice
Passive voice is a grammatical voice common in many of the world's languages. Passive is used in a clause whose subject expresses the theme or patient of the main verb. That is, the subject undergoes an action or has its state changed. A sentence whose theme is marked as grammatical subject is...

. However, as with other conjugations, actual meaning differs from verb to verb.

Not all verbs utilise all of these conjugations, and, in some, the G-stem is not used. In the chart below (on the root K-T-B, meaning ‘to write’), the first form given is the usual form in Imperial Aramaic, while the second is Classical Syriac
Syriac language
Syriac is a dialect of Middle Aramaic that was once spoken across much of the Fertile Crescent. Having first appeared as a script in the 1st century AD after being spoken as an unwritten language for five centuries, Classical Syriac became a major literary language throughout the Middle East from...

.
Stem Perfect active Imperfect active Perfect passive Imperfect passive
Pə‘al (G-stem) kəṯaḇ ↔ kəṯaḇ yiḵtuḇ ↔ neḵtoḇ kəṯîḇ
Hiṯpə‘ēl/Eṯpə‘el (Gt-stem) hiṯkəṯēḇ ↔ eṯkəṯeḇ yiṯkəṯēḇ ↔ neṯkəṯeḇ
Pa‘‘ēl/Pa‘‘el (D-stem) kattēḇ ↔ katteḇ yəḵattēḇ ↔ nəkatteḇ kuttaḇ
Hiṯpa‘‘al/Eṯpa‘‘al (Dt-stem) hiṯkattaḇ ↔ eṯkattaḇ yiṯkattaḇ ↔ neṯkattaḇ
Hap̄‘ēl/Ap̄‘el (C-stem) haḵtēḇ ↔ aḵteḇ yəhaḵtēḇ ↔ naḵteḇ huḵtaḇ
Hiṯhap̄‘al/Ettap̄‘al (Ct-stem) hiṯhaḵtaḇ ↔ ettaḵtaḇ yiṯhaḵtaḇ ↔ nettaḵtaḇ


Aramaic also has two proper tenses
Grammatical tense
A tense is a grammatical category that locates a situation in time, to indicate when the situation takes place.Bernard Comrie, Aspect, 1976:6:...

: the perfect and the imperfect. In Imperial Aramaic, the participle
Participle
In linguistics, a participle is a word that shares some characteristics of both verbs and adjectives. It can be used in compound verb tenses or voices , or as a modifier...

 began to be used for a historical present
Historical present
In linguistics and rhetoric, the historical present refers to the employment of the present tense when narrating past events...

. Perhaps under influence from other languages, Middle Aramaic developed a system of composite tenses (combinations of forms of the verb with pronouns or an auxiliary verb
Auxiliary verb
In linguistics, an auxiliary verb is a verb that gives further semantic or syntactic information about a main or full verb. In English, the extra meaning provided by an auxiliary verb alters the basic meaning of the main verb to make it have one or more of the following functions: passive voice,...

), allowing for narrative that is more vivid. The syntax of Aramaic (the way sentences are put together) usually follows the order verb–subject–object (VSO). Imperial (Persian) Aramaic, however, tended to follow a S-O-V pattern (similar to Akkadian), which was the result of Persian syntactic influence.

Aramaic word processors


The World's first Aramaic language word processing software
Word processor
A word processor is a computer application used for the production of any sort of printable material....

 was developed in 1986–1987 in Kuwait
Kuwait
The State of Kuwait is a sovereign Arab state situated in the north-east of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the south at Khafji, and Iraq to the north at Basra. It lies on the north-western shore of the Persian Gulf. The name Kuwait is derived from the...

 by a young information technology professional named Sunil Sivanand
Sunil Sivanand
Sunil Sivanand, is the co-founder, Chief Technology Architect and Managing Director of Acette Technologies, a system integration and consulting firm operating across the Middle East region...

, who is now Managing Director and Chief Technology Architect at Acette
Acette
Acette is an Information Technology System Integrator, Software Engineering and Consulting firm headquartered in Dubai Internet City. Acette provides technology strategy consulting services, enterprise application integration services, Information technology enabled services and Value-added...

. Sunil Sivanand did most of the character generation and programming work on a first generation, twin disk drive IBM Personal Computer. The project was sponsored by Daniel Benjamin, who was a patron of a group of individuals working worldwide to preserve and revive the Aramaic language.

See also


  • Arabic alphabet
    Arabic alphabet
    The Arabic alphabet or Arabic abjad is the Arabic script as it is codified for writing the Arabic language. It is written from right to left, in a cursive style, and includes 28 letters. Because letters usually stand for consonants, it is classified as an abjad.-Consonants:The Arabic alphabet has...

  • Aramaic of Hatra
    Aramaic of Hatra
    In 1912, W. Andrae published some inscriptions from the site of Hatra, which were studied by S. Ronzevalle and P. Jensen. The excavations undertaken by the Iraqi Department of Antiquities brought to light more than 100 new texts, the publication of which was undertaken by F. Safar in the journal...

  • Ephrem the Syrian
    Ephrem the Syrian
    Ephrem the Syrian was a Syriac and a prolific Syriac-language hymnographer and theologian of the 4th century. He is venerated by Christians throughout the world, and especially in the Syriac Orthodox Church, as a saint.Ephrem wrote a wide variety of hymns, poems, and sermons in verse, as well as...

  • Peshitta
    Peshitta
    The Peshitta is the standard version of the Bible for churches in the Syriac tradition.The Old Testament of the Peshitta was translated into Syriac from the Hebrew, probably in the 2nd century AD...

  • The Gospel of Matthew

External links