Why you cannot learn the language of Jesus Christ.

In a few words ,because it is an obscure dialect, very poorly attested.

There are articles,posts,videos all over the internet with pompous titles about 'the language of Jesus Christ' ,the 'Lord's Prayer in Galilean Aramaic'- the dialect Jesus spoke-,'Jesus Christ's Aramaic lives on'  and many other titles of the like.

But such claims are an overstatement out of place and out of time. I will try to explain some facts about the Aramaic language, Jesus's native Galilean Aramaic dialect.

Aramaic -not one but hundreds of dialects.

First off Aramaic in not one monolithic language unchanged through time. Every language undergoes many  changes from the moment it appears. In time it changes in vocabulary,grammar, pronunciation ,it breaks up into dialects and so forth.

The same goes for Aramaic. It has changed a lot since it first appeared in the ancient kingdom of Aram around the city of Edessa. It broke up in two major dialectal branches ,Eastern and Western from which in turn broke off many dialects/languages.

You cannot expect that Aramaic has remained one and the same from the 11nth century BCE since it is thought to first appear among the Arameans til modern days. 

So,when you hear about Aramaic you need to ask yourself what Aramaic? what dialect? what time?

What language did Jesus speak?

It is agreed by linguists and historians that Yeshua Mshiha, Jesus Christ spoke Aramaic as his mother tongue.

His dialect was Galilean Aramaic spoken in the region of Galilea.

Galilean Aramaic was different from the dialect spoken in Jerusalem.

It belonged to the Western Aramaic branch while Jerusalem Aramaic belonged to the Eastern Aramaic branch.

Galilean had many differences from Jerusalem Aramaic.

It was heavily influenced by Greek -a language of prestige at the time- to the point that even  its phonology had changed having Greek like features like the loss of of guttural and ejective sounds unlike its Jerusalem relative. That indicates that speakers of Galilean Aramaic were bilingual in Aramaic and Greek. A Galilean speaker would stick out in Jerusalem. His accent would immediately give him away.

The original Lord's Prayer in Aramaic.

There is no such thing as the Lord's Prayer in Galilean Aramaic.

The 'original' Lord's Prayer in Aramaic most of the time is in Syriac Aramaic. There is no such thing as the Lord's Prayer in Galilean. Not in it's original form anyway. Even the Syriac version is not the original since it's a translation from Greek.

There are though reconstructions of the Lord's Prayer in Galilean Aramaic but these are subject to future modifications since they are a reconstruction.

Why you cannot learn the language of Jesus Christ.

Because Galilean is an obscure, very poorly attested dialect. It is in the process of being reconstructed by linguists during the last 50 years by comparison with changes in other Aramaic dialects, living or dead.

It's closest living relative is the Aramaic of the Syrian village of Maaloula.But there is a huge time span since Galilean Aramaic was spoken and the language of Maaloula in modern-day Syria.

These two have distant similarity both belonging to the Western branch. Maalula Aramaic is a rare specimen of a surviving member of the Western Branch.

Nevertheless studying the Maalula dialect, comparing it with Galilean can help linguists see which changes occurred in phonology, grammar, vocabulary and reconstruct some attributes of Galilean.


Furthermore...


Jesus did not speak Syriac Aramaic. 
Syriac belongs to the Eastern branch and it became the vehicle of Syriac Christianity in the Middle East.

Most Modern Aramaic languages like Assyrian Neo-Aramaic or Turoyo the mountain Aramaic,the two most widely spoken Neo-Aramaic languages, are descendants of Syriac.

So,which Aramaic should one learn?
That depends. Maybe you want to go for a modern spoken dialect of Aramaic. There is a huge variety of Neo-Aramaic languages differing from region to region ,from city to city,from village to village.
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic is the most spoken modern Aramaic dialect with about 1 million speakers.

If you choose an ancient dialect it would be wise to go for a well-documented one like the Imperial Aramaic of the Persian Empire or Classical Syriac to get a thorough grounding in an Aramaic language. Once you got one of these well under your belt you can branch off to obscure dialects
like Galilean Aramaic.

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Assyrian Neo-Aramaic.

Assyrian Neo-Aramaic is the most spoken modern Aramaic dialect with about 9 hundred thousand speakers.It's most prestigious dialect is the Urmian dialect.

It is traditionally spoken in Upper Mesopotamia, Northern Iraq, North-northeast Iran , Azerbaijan, North-northeast Turkey and Northern Syria. But due to continuous wars in the region and persecution from the 20th century and onwards the bulk of its speakers have immigrated abroad.

Nowadays it is considered endangered because the second generation does not fully acquire the language being adapted in the language of the country they are living in.

Akkadian

Assyrian Neo-Aramaic is not to be confused with Assyrian , a dialect of the Ancient Akkadian ,another Semitic language,the language of the ancient Assyrians.

The Akkadian at one time adopted Aramaic as their second official language along with Akkadian. Bilingualism was widespread and due to the fact that Aramaic and Akkadian had similar grammar and vocabulary,both being Semitic, Aramaic eventually completely supplanted Akkadian.


Script

Assyrian Neo-Aramaic is written in the Eastern Madnkhaya version of the Syriac script.

Syriac Eastern script (Madnkhaya).


Chaldean

Chaldean is considered a sister dialect of it by some but that is a matter of debate more like political than linguistic..


Modern Assyrians

Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and Turoyo make up the bulk of the modern Assyrian speakers.


Assyrian Neo-Aramaic phrases

Hello (lit. Peace be upon you).

Shmlam'alokh (singular male)

Shlam'alakh (singular female)

Shlam'alokhun (plural)

ܫܠܡ ܐܠܗܘܢ




How are you?

Dakheet(sg)?

Dakheet(oon)? (pl.)


External links

Learnassyrian.com

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Hebrew Niqqud vowels for Aramaic.

Hebrew script for Aramaic.

As I have explained many times the Hebrew alphabet known as ktav ashuri is often used to write Aramaic , Imperial Aramaic, Biblical Aramaic and Judeo-Aramaic dialects mainly.

So,it would be necessary to learn the Hebrew alphabet.


Fff

Development of the Niqqud vowels.

In late Antiquity ,early Medieval Age systems of diacritic dots were devised to denote vowels and teach the correct pronunciation, the so called Niqqud (נִקּוּד) -'diacritics' or Nikud for religious texts in Old Hebrew ,mainly for the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.

Due to phonological changes in Modern Hebrew  young Hebrews do not distinguish between the subtle differences that the various diacritics mark.

Here is a table of the Niqqud vowels.



Niqqud schools.

Various dotting systems appeared during Late Antiquity with the most popular being the Tiberian dotting system from the school of Tiberias devised for the Masoretic texts to denote correct vocalization and accent. 

Jewish scholars from the city of Tiberias in Israel under Arab rule came up with a system of diacritics for the correct reading of the Tanakh.

Other notable diacritics systems are the Babylonian Niqqud and Palestinian Niqqud.

Hebrew scribes were obviously inspired by the East Syriac dotting system (Sassanid Syriac) and came up with a similar system of their own for ancient Hebrew texts.

Basic diacritics

niqqud with אאַאֶאֵאִאָאֹאֻאוּ
namepatahseg
ōl
tzerehiriqqamatzholamqubutzshuruq
value/a//ɛ//e//i//ɔ//o//u/


diacriticnamedescriptionhow to read
ַpatahhorizontal line under letterа
ָqamatza «т»  under letterа
ֵtseretwo dots under letters horizontallyэ
ֶsegōlthree dots under letters like a triangleэ
ִhiriqdot under letterи
י ִhiriq with yoddot under letter followed by yof
ֹholam haserdot over letterо
וֹholam marethe 'waw' letter with a dot aboveо
ָqamatz qatanthe «т» symbol under letter like qumutz, под буквой о
ֻqubbutzthree diagonal dots over lettersу
וּshurukletter 'waw' with a dot on the leftу

Examples

Let's take for example the word 'melek', king in Aramaic.


Here we got three dots, segols,/ɛ/, under the M and L and two dots ,a shewa under the K.


The letter Alef with a segōl underneath.


Read also

Syriac vowels

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Write 'our Father in Heaven' in Galilean.

 


'Our father in Heaven' in Galilean Aramaic is:

Hebrew letters

אבנן דבשמייא

transcription 
?bnn dbshmyy?

phonetic
ʔabənan dəvəšᵘmaya


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Handwriting - the Hebrew letter Alef

 

Print form

א

name
Alef

Pronunciation
(?)
('a)
(a)

Handwritten form.

Due to its close resemblance to the square Aramaic alphabet and for ease nowadays the Hebrew alphabet is used to write Imperial, Biblical and Judeo-Aramaic dialects.

So,it would be very useful to learn it.

The handwritten forms of the Hebrew letters differ from their printed variants. They are call ktav (כתב), 'writing' in Hebrew.
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Ezra 6:1

The sixth book of Ezra is written part in Aramaic (6:1-6:18) part in Hebrew  (6:19-6:22).

6:1

א בֵּאדַיִן דָּרְיָוֶשׁ מַלְכָּא, שָׂם טְעֵם; וּבַקַּרוּ בְּבֵית סִפְרַיָּא, דִּי גִנְזַיָּא מְהַחֲתִין תַּמָּה--בְּבָבֶל

ʾ bēʾdayin dārǝyāweš malkāʾ, śām ṭǝʿēm; ûbaqqarû bǝbêt siprayyāʾ, dî ginzayyāʾ mǝhaḥătîn tammâ--bǝbābel

 1 Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house of the scrolls, where the treasures were laid up, in Babylon.

Vocabulary
דָּרְיָוֶשׁ
dārǝyāweš
Darius

מַלְכָּא
malkāʾ
the king

סִפְרַיָּא
bǝbābel
in Babylon

שָׂם טְעֵם
śām ṭǝʿēm
to issue a decree


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The Aramaic monolith.

There are many people who go about the internet sharing stuff,for example the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic ,the Syriac version ,'in the language of Jesus Christ' as they say.

This is utterly wrong and a common misconception among those who know very little about Aramaic if any. They just share links of what they think is in the language of Jesus Christ.

First off Jesus did not speak Syriac but he spoke Galilean Aramaic. Syriac came later. It appeared at about 1 AD in Edessa and it became a major literary language of the Middle East for the Syriac Christianity from 4 to 7 AD.

Furthermore Galilean and Syriac belong to different branches within the Aramaic language family. Galilean belonged to the Western branch of the Aramaic languages while Syriac to the Eastern. 

Text in Galilean ,the Herodian script.



Text in Syriac.

Not only that but they are written in different alphabets ,too. Galilean is written in a square script, the so-called Herodian script is preferred which came from Phoenician and resembles the Hebrew alphabet. While Syriac evolved later and is written in a cursive form which was apparently influenced by  Byzantine Greek minuscule.

Syriac cursive

As you would have noticed I spoke about the Aramaic language family not Aramaic language. And that is true indeed. Aramaic is not a monolithic language but a whole bunch of related dialects-languages from different times too. From antiquity to modern times.

Byzantine Greek minuscule.

So, when you speak about Aramaic you need to clarify which Aramaic. Galilean? Syriac?  Classical Syriac?Assyrian Neo-Aramaic? Mandaic? Turoyo? And these are but a few of the Aramaic bunch.

You also need to know which time you are referring to. Proto-Aramaic ? Aramaic of the Persian Empire? Aramaic of Syriac Christians of classical antiquity?  Modern Neo-Aramaic languages?

So, keep in mind that Aramaic is not one language like a big monolith that stands from ancient times through eternity unchanged. Aramaic is a whole language family with different branches, dialects and from different times,too.

Languages change. They evolve ,break up into dialects,get influenced by other languages. Some survive the test of time ,others disappear. That's the way languages work.

I hope this helped a bit to clear up the Aramaic mess.

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 Bed is Syriac is maḍmho (ܡܰܕܡܟܳܐ). Back to the Aramaic vocabulary alphabetical list.

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