Differences of Dialect

Galilean Aramaic or סוריסטון (Suriston) is an obscure, Western dialect of Aramaic. Where it shares a great deal of core vocabulary and grammar with other Aramaic dialects (as all dialects do) there are a large number of quirks and differences that make it unique.

First is Galilean’s phonology, or how they pronounced words. The Eastern Aramaic speakers who were prominent in Judea prided themselves on articulate speech and viewed Galileans “loose” pronunciation with contempt. Where they would pronounce what are known as the Emphatic Consonants and Gutterals with exactness, such sounds were softened in Galilean. Several consonants that were distinct in Eastern Aramaic were blurred or interposed by Galileans and unstressed vowels tended to reduce to simple shwas (like the vowel in “up”). Vowels also tended to be different in places than a Judean would expect. For example, where the Sabbath was classically referred to as šaḇta, in Galilean they pronounced it šuḇta.

Second is Galilean’s vocabulary. Like the differences inherent between British and American English, Galilean differed in its choice of words, as well as many of the meanings of words held in common. For example, the Aramaic verb som (which means “to put” or “to place”) is completely ubiquitous in most Aramaic dialects. It is even recorded in the Syriac Peshitta as part of Jesus’ last words “abba b-iḏaiḵ sa’em ‘na ruḥ” (“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”) and appears in the same volume in nearly 800 other places. However, som is completely absent in Galilean. It does not occur even once in the entire known corpus. Galilean also employs a rather large number of loan words from Koine Greek (including its autonym Suriston) as well as Latin.

Third is Galilean’s grammar. This has as much to do with word order as it does do with how words are used. A very common example is the Present Participle. In Galilean it is used very much like the English Present Tense (“I go.”) rather than a true Participle (“I am going.”) as it appears in other dialects and it is used in much higher frequency. Furthermore, where with most Aramaic dialects, the subject follows the verb (like in the Syriac phrase raḥem ‘na leḵ = “I love you [f]”), in Galilean the Participle’s subject always preceeds it (‘əna raḥem leḵ = “I love you [f]”). Another good example is the verb/particle ‘ith, which means “there is.” In Eastern dialects, such as Syriac, ‘it tends to be inflected with endings and used in conjunction with the verb “to be” or həwey (for example ‘itau(h)i sabra = “There is hope”). In Galilean, ‘it is never inflected, and is usually used on its own regardless of number or gender (‘it səbar = “There is hope”).

Last is Galilean’s orthography, or method of spelling. Like nearly all other Aramaic dialects, Galilean is written without using true vowels. Instead, half-vowel letters (which represent our a, y and w) are used in combinations such as doubling them to indicate diphthongs. This was the precursor to the modern Hebrew vowel system known as “Tiberian” which gets its name from the Sea of Tiberias (better known as the Sea of Galilee). Galileans were also known to interchange א alef and ה he at the end of words, and opted to spell phonetically rather than classically.

With all of these differences, a Galilean speaker tended to stick out with their speech in Jerusalem as much as someone from the American South sticks out in New England (and vice versa), and this is exactly what we see in the Bible:

After a little while those who stood by came and said to Peter, “Surely you are also one of them, for your speech gives you away.” – Matthew 26:73

With all of these examples, we hope that this website may be an inspiration for people to learn more about the language of Jesus and his early followers.

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