|Region||Bab Touma District, Damascus; Anti-Lebanon Mountains: Maaloula, Al-Sarkha (Bakhah) and Jubb'adin.|
Western Neo-Aramaic (luġṯa ʾaramōyṯa), more commonly referred to as Siryon (Sūryān), is a modern Western Aramaic language. Today, it is only spoken in three villages in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains of western Syria. Western Neo-Aramaic is the only living language among the Western Aramaic languages. All other Neo-Aramaic languages are of the Eastern branch.
Distribution and history
Western Neo-Aramaic is probably the last surviving remnant of a Western Middle Aramaic dialect which was spoken throughout the Orontes River Valley area and into the Anti-Lebanon Mountains in the 6th century. It now is spoken solely by the villagers of Maaloula, Jubb'adin and Bakh'a, about 60 kilometres (37 mi) northeast of Damascus. The continuation of this little cluster of Aramaic in a sea of Arabic is partly due to the relative isolation of the villages and their close-knit Christian communities.
Following the Muslim conquest of the Levant, there was a linguistic shift to Arabic for local Muslims and later for remaining Christians; Arabic displaced various Aramaic languages, including Western Aramaic varieties, as the first language of the majority. Despite this, Western Aramaic appears to have survived for a relatively long time at least in some villages in mountainous areas of Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon (in modern Syria). In fact, up until the 17th century, travellers in the Lebanon still reported on several Aramaic-speaking villages.
In the last three villages where the language still survives, the dialect of Bakh'a appears to be the most conservative. It has been less influenced by Arabic than the other dialects, and retains some vocabulary that is obsolete in other dialects. The dialect of Jubb'adin has changed the most. It is heavily influenced by Arabic, and has a more developed phonology. The dialect of Maaloula is somewhere between the two, but is closer to that of Jubb'adin. Cross-linguistic influence between Aramaic and Arabic has been mutual, as Syrian Arabic itself (and Levantine Arabic in general) retains an Aramaic substratum.
As in most of the Levant prior to the introduction of Islam in the seventh century, the villages were originally all Christian. However, Maaloula is the only village that retains a sizeable Christian population (they mostly belong to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church) as most of the inhabitants of Bakh'a and Jubb Adin adopted Islam over the generations, and are now all Muslim. Maaloula glows in the pale blue wash with which houses are painted every year in honour of Mary, mother of Jesus.
All three remaining Western Neo-Aramaic dialects are facing critical endangerment as living languages. As with any village community in the 21st century, young residents are migrating into major cities like Damascus and Aleppo in search of better employment opportunities, thus forcing them into monolingual Arabic-speaking settings, in turn straining the opportunity to actively maintain Western Neo-Aramaic as a language of daily use. Nevertheless, the Syrian government provides support for teaching the language. Since 2007, Maaloula has been home to an Aramaic institute established by the Damascus University that teaches courses to keep the language alive. The institute's activities were suspended in 2010 amidst fears that the square Aramaic alphabet used in the program too closely resembled the square script of the Hebrew alphabet and all the signs with the square Aramaic script were taken down. The program stated that they would instead use the more distinct Syriac alphabet, although use of the Aramaic alphabet has continued to some degree. Al Jazeera Arabic also broadcast a program about Western Neo-Aramaic and the villages in which it is spoken with the square script still in use.
In December 2016 during an Aramaic Singing Festival in Maaloula, a modified version of an older style of the Aramaic alphabet closer to the Phoenician alphabet was used for Western Neo-Aramaic. This script seems to be used as a true alphabet with letters to represent both consonants and vowels instead of the traditional system of the Aramaic alphabet where it's used as an abjad. A recently published book about Maaloula Aramaic also uses this script.
The Syriac language organization Rinyo has published the Book of Psalms from the Old Testament in writing and the book Portrait of Jesus in writing with audio in Aromay in the Syriac Serto script on their website and a translation of the New Testament into Aromay has been finished in 2017 and is now available online.
The phonology of Western Neo-Aramaic has developed quite differently from other Aramaic languages. The labial consonants of older Western Aramaic, /p/ and /f/, have been retained in Bakh'a and Maaloula while they have mostly collapsed to /f/ in Jubb'adin under influence from Arabic. The labial consonant pair /b~v/ has collapsed to /b/ in all three villages. Amongst dental consonants, the fricatives /θ ð/ are retained while /d/ have become /ð/ in most places and /t/, while remaining a phoneme, has had its traditional position in Aramaic words replaced by /ts/ in Bakh'a, and /tʃ/ in Maaloula and Jubb'adin. However, [ti] is the usual form for the relative particle in these two villages, with a variant [tʃi], where Bakh'a always uses [tsi]. Among the velar consonants, the traditional voiced pair of /ɡ ɣ/ has collapsed into /ɣ/, while /ɡ/ still remains a phoneme in some words. The unvoiced velar fricative, /x/, is retained, but its plosive complement /k/, while also remaining a distinct phoneme, has in its traditional positions in Aramaic words started to undergo palatalization. In Bakh'a, the palatalization is hardly apparent; in Maaloula, it is more obvious, and often leads to [kʲ]; in Jubb'adin, it has become /tʃ/, and has thus merged phonemically with the original positions of /t/. The original uvular plosive, /q/, has also moved forward in Western Neo-Aramaic. In Bakh'a it has become a strongly post-velar plosive, and in Maaloula more lightly post-velar. In Jubb'adin, however, it has replaced the velar plosive, and become /k/.
- 1 The original positions of the consonant /t/ in Aramaic words has been replaced by /ts/ in Bakh'a, and /tʃ/ in Maaloula and Jubb'adin.
- 2 The labial consonants /p/ and /f/, have been retained in Bakh'a and Maaloula while they have mostly collapsed to /f/ in Jubb'adin.
- 3 The plosive consonant /k/ has started to undergo palatalisation. In Bakh'a, the palatalisation is hardly apparent; in Maaloula, it is more obvious, and often leads to [kʲ]; in Jubb'adin, it has become /tʃ/, and has thus merged phonemically with the original /t/.
- 4 Post-velar plosive /ḳ/ is present in Bakh'a, in Maaloula it's more lightly post-velar. In Jubb'adin, however, it is not distinguished from /k/.
Western Neo-Aramaic has the following set of vowels:
- Close front unrounded vowel – /i/
- Close-mid front unrounded vowel – /e/
- Open front unrounded vowel – /a/
- Open back rounded vowel – /ɒ/
- Close back rounded vowel – /u/
Square Aramaic Alphabet
Square Aramaic Alphabet used for Aromay/Western Neo-Aramaic. Words beginning with a vowel are written with an initial . Short vowels are omitted or written with diacritics, long vowels are transcribed with macrons (Āā, Ēē, Īī, Ōō, Ūū) and are written with mater lectionis ( for /o/ and /u/, for /i/, which are also used at the end of a word if it ends with one of these vowels and if a word begins with any of these long wovels, they begin with + the mater lectionis). Words ending with /a/ are written with at the end of the word, while words ending with /e/ are written with at the end. Sometimes is used both for final and instead of also using .
|Latin letter/Transliteration||Aa, Ee, Ii, Oo, Uu
Āā, Ēē, Īī, Ōō, Ūū
Syriac and Arabic Alphabet
Serto Syriac and Arabic alphabet used for Aromay/Western Neo-Aramaic.
Alternate Aramaic Alphabet
Characters of the script system similar to the Old Aramaic/Phoenician alphabet used occasionally for Western Neo-Aramaic with matching transliteration. The script is used as a true alphabet with distinct letters for all phonemes including vowels instead of the traditional abjad system with plosive-fricative pairs.
Sample of Lord's Prayer
Lord's Prayer in Western Neo-Aramaic, Turoyo, Syriac and Hebrew.
|Western Neo-Aramaic||Turoyo (Central Neo-Aramaic)||Classical Syriac||Hebrew|
|Ōboḥ ti bišmō yičqattaš ešmaẖ||Abun d'ḥi šmayo miqadeš ešmoẖ||Aḇūn d-ḇa-šmayyā neṯqaddaš šmāḵ||Avinu šebašamayim yitkadeš šimẖa|
|yṯēle molkaẖ yiṯkan ti čbaҁēleh||eṯyo i malkuṯayḏoẖ howe u ṣebyonayḏoẖ||tēṯē malkūṯāḵ nēhwē ṣeḇyānāḵ||tavo malẖutẖa, ya'aseh retsonẖa|
|iẖmel bišmō ẖet ҁalarҁa.||eẖ d'ket bi šmayo hawẖa bi arҁo ste||ʾaykannā ḏ-ḇa-šmayyā ʾāp̄ b-ʾarʿā.||kevašamayim ken ba'arets.|
|Aplēḥ leḥmaḥ uẖẖil yōmaḥ||Haw lan u laḥmo d'sniquṯayḏan adyaqma||Haḇ lan laḥmā ḏ-sūnqānan yawmānā||Et leẖem ẖukenu ten lanu hayom|
|ġfurlēḥ ḥṭiyōṯaḥ eẖmil||wešbaq lan aḥṭohayḏan eẖ daḥna ste||wa-šḇoq lan ḥawbayn wa-ḥṭāhayn||uselaẖ lanu al ẖata'enu|
|nġofrin lti maḥiṭ ҁemmaynaḥ||sbeq lan lanek laf elan||ʾaykannā ḏ-āp̄ ḥnan šḇaqn l-ḥayyāḇayn||kefi šesolẖim gam anaẖnu laẖotim lanu|
|wlōfaš ttaẖlennaḥ bčaġribyōṯa||wlo maҁbret lan l'nesyuno||w-lā ṯaʿlan l-nesyōnā||veal tavienu lide nisayon|
|bes ḥaslannaḥ mšēḏa||elo mfaṣay lan mu bišo||ʾellā p̄aṣṣān men bīšā||ki im ẖaltsenu min hara|
Miscellaneous words and sample phrases
|Hello / Peace||Šloma|
|God||Alo / Iloha|
|Here / here it is||Hōẖa / Hōẖa hū|
|Brother / Brothers||Ḥōna / Ḥuno|
|Tongue / language||Lišōna|
|How are you?||Eẖ čōb? (m) / Eẖ čība? (f)|
|Holy Spirit||Ruẖa qudšo|
|Stone / rock||H̱efa|
|Chin / beard||Ḏeqna|
|Tooth / crag||Šennā|
|The little man||Ġabrōna zҁora|
|Peace to all of you||Šloma lẖulẖun|
|Who is this?||Mōn hanna? (m) / Mōn hōḏ? (f)|
|I am Assyrian and my language is Aramaic.||Ana suray w lišoni suray.|
|We are Assyrians and our language is Aramaic.||Anaḥ suray w lišonah suray.|
|Church||Klēsya (Greek loanword)|
|shirt||qameṣča (from Latin camisia)|
|What's your name? (m)||Mō ošmaẖ? (m)|
- Western Neo-Aramaic at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Western Neo-Aramaic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
- Brock, An Introduction to Syriac Studies Archived 2013-05-18 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved July 2011
- Owens, Jonathan (2000). Arabic as a Minority Language. Walter de Gruyter. p. 347. ISBN 3-11-016578-3.
- Sabar, Ariel (18 February 2013). "How To Save A Dying Language". Ankawa. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
- Beach, Alastair (2010-04-02). "Easter Sunday: A Syrian bid to resurrect Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2010-04-02.
- "Aramaic singing festival in Maaloula for preserving Aramaic language – Syrian Arab News Agency".
- "L'Arameen Parle A Maaloula – Issam Francis".
- Arnold, Werner (1989f) Das Neuwestaramäische. 5 Volumes. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
- Arnold, Werner (1990). New materials on Western Neo-Aramaic. In Wolfhart Heinrichs (ed.), Studies in Neo-Aramaic, pp. 131–149. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press. ISBN 1-55540-430-8.
- Beyer, Klaus (1986). The Aramaic language: its distribution and subdivisions. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht. ISBN 3-525-53573-2.
- Wehbi, Rimon (2017). Die Aramäischen Wassermühlen in Maalula. (Master's Thesis in German). Heidelberg University.
- Western Neo-Aramaic alphabet and pronunciation at Omniglot
- (in German) Semitisches Tonarchiv: Dokumentgruppe "Aramäisch/Neuwestaramäisch" – recordings of Western Neo-Aramaic.
- The dialect of Maaloula. Grammar, vocabulary and texts. (1897–1898) By Jean Parisot (in French): Parts 1, 2, 3 at the Internet Archive.