In the modern world, the Aramaic languages are threatened by extinction. But with funding from the EU’s Erasmus programme the project Aramaic Online will provide future generations with an option of online training in Turoyo.
The world is full of languages such as Turoyo. Some of which will be gone only a few years from now, whereas other will hang on for maybe another generation or two before becoming extinct. But for languages such as Turoyo there is still hope of survival, which underlines the urgency of the Aramaic Online project.
Today, Turoyo is primarily an oral language. It is one of the successors of the ancient Aramaic tongue, which once was widespread in large areas of the Middle East. Now, only small pockets remain where the successor language is still in use.
Back in 2009, Dr. Yona Sabar of UCLA wrote an article in The Jewish Week about his experiences as an Aramaic speaker. In recent light of the troubles facing Neo-Aramaic speakers in the Middle East it’s been circulating again, so I figured that I should re-share it.
“Burying My Mother Tongue”
Aramaic is my first language. I don’t get to speak it much with fellow native speakers in Los Angeles, where I live now. The number of Jewish Aramaic speakers has dwindled so much that we now quixotically call ourselves “The Worldwide Federation of Aramaic Speakers.” The group would fit in a small room.
Aramaic is considered the second holiest language after Hebrew. A language usually is not born holy. It becomes holy when it ceases being spoken and is mainly used as the language of scriptures, rituals and prayers. That is how Hebrew came to be called leshon ha-kodesh. After Hebrew faded as a spoken language around 200 BCE, myriads of Jews and Christians in Babylonia, Persia and the land of Israel picked up Aramaic, its Semitic sister. Two late books in the Bible, Daniel and Ezra, contain large sections in literary Aramaic. When Hebrew was waning as a spoken language, almost the entire Bible was translated into Aramaic for the benefit of the masses who couldn’t understand the original Hebrew. Aramaic became a part of the synagogue ritual for many centuries.
A letter, started by Eleanor Coghill and Alessandro Mengozzi has been published in severalplaces and signed by about 50 Neo-Aramaic scholars. Even as someone who works predominantly in classical Aramaic dialects, I would put my own signature to this statement.
A genocide was perpetrated 99 years ago upon the Christians of the Middle East, including the Aramaic-speaking Assyrians, Chaldeans and Aramaeans. Now we see history repeating itself.
Christian towns and villages, such as Qaraqosh, Telkepe and Alqosh, which had largely escaped the violence of recent decades, are now emptied of their people. These towns, with ancient monasteries, are of huge historical and cultural significance. In this area, furthermore, Aramaic has been spoken for thousands of years.
Wave upon wave of refugees, amounting to hundreds of thousands of people, are now crowded into the small Kurdish region, itself gravely threatened by the Islamic State forces. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Yazidis have fled via the mountains without shelter. Urgent aid is needed, but in the longer term the refugees cannot stay in Erbil.
As scholars engaged in the study of their language and cultural heritage, we call upon Britain, the governments of the European Union, the United States, and the international community to do all in their power to allow the refugees back to their homes in the plain of Mosul and to institute an internationally protected safe haven in northern Iraq of the kind that, 20 years ago, protected the Kurds from genocide. This enabled the region up to now to enjoy a stability and prosperity that we would wish for all Iraqis.
Dr Eleanor Coghill
University of Konstanz Dr Alessandro Mengozzi
University of Turin Professor Geoffrey Khan
University of Cambridge Profesor Dr Werner Arnold
University of Heidelberg University Professor Dr Shabo Talay
Free University of Berlin Professor Yona Sabar
University of California, Los Angeles Professor Dr Heleen Murre-van den Berg
Leiden University of Leiden Professor Fabrizio Pennacchietti
University of Turin Professor Dr Otto Jastrow
Tallinn University Professor Steven Fassberg
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Professor Hezy Mutzafi
Tel Aviv University Dr Samuel Ethan Fox
University of Chicago Dr Sergey Loesov
Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow Dr Pablo Kirtchuk
Institut National de Langues et Civilisations Orientales, Paris Dr Maciej Tomal
Jagiellonian University, Krakow Dr George Anton Kiraz
Rutgers University, New Jersey Nineb Lamassu
University of Cambridge Zeki Bilgic
University of Konstanz Georges Toro
University of Konstanz Dr Charles G. Häberl
Rutgers University, New Jersey Dr Roberta Borghero
University of Cambridge Dr Michael Waltisberg
University of Marburg Dr Alinda Damsma
Leo Baeck College, London Dr Na’ama Pat-El
University of Texas at Austin Dr Johanna Rubba
Cal Poly State University, California Rev Kristine Jensen
Aramaic Bible Translation, Peoria, Arizona Dr Lidia Napiorkowska
University of Cambridge Kathrin Göransson
University of Cambridge Ariel Gutman
University of Konstanz Michael Wingert
University of California, Los Angeles Timothy Hogue
University of California, Los Angeles Kristine Mole
University of Cambridge Dr Jasmin Sinha
Aubange, Belgium Fabio Gasparini
University of Tutin Demsin Lachin
Aramaic Bible Translation, Turlock, California Dr Margaretha Folmer
Leiden University Professor Dr Estiphan Panoussi
University of Gothenburg Professor Emeritus Olga Kapeliuk
Hebrew University of Jerusalem Dr Jean Sibille
University of Toulouse Joseph Alichoran
Institut National de Langues et Civilisations Orientales, Paris Professor Eran Cohen
Hebrew University of Jerusalem Robin Bet Shmuel
Oriental Cultural Centre, Duhok, Iraq Dr Alexey Lyavdansky
Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow Martin Luther Chan
University of California, Los Angeles Dr M. David Hanna
Los Angeles Dr Laura Kalin
University of Connecticut Illan Gonen
University of Cambridge Dr Francesco Zanella
University of Bonn D. Robert Paulissian
Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies
Steve Caruso, MLIS
Aramaic Designs / The Aramaic New Testament
Not that it has hit the news widely, but it has been reported (as a footnote to a BBC article) that, Syrian rebels have launched an assault on the religiously mixed village of Ma’loula, in western Syria, held by government forces.
This is the same Ma’loula that harbors the largest community of modern Western Neo-Aramaic speakers and Ma’loula is the last surviving Western Neo-Aramaic dialect (the same Aramaic language family as Galilean, Samaritan, and Christian Palestinian Aramaic).
A Christian nun in Maaloula told the Associated Press news agency that the rebels had seized a mountain-top hotel and were shelling the community below.