|Aromay, Suryon, Loghtha Aramoytha, Malouli Syriac, Lishona Aromay, Siryon, Loghtha Siryanoytha|
|ܐܪܘܡܝ - ארומי Aromay
|Region||Anti-Lebanon Mountains: Ma'loula, Al-Sarkha (Bakhah) and Jubb'adin.|
Western Neo-Aramaic is a modern Aramaic language. Today, it is 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 Aramaic 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 Ma'loula, 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 It has been less influenced by Arabic than the other dialects, and retains some vocabulary that is obsolete in other dialects.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 Ma'lula 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, Ma'loula 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. Ma'loula 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, Ma'loula 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 Ma'loula, 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 Ma'loula 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 Suryon in the Syriac Serto script on their website and a translation of the New Testament into Suryon 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 Ma'loula while they have 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/ is lost, having become /ð/, and /t/, while remaining a phoneme, has had its traditional position in Aramaic words replaced by /ts/ in Bakh'a, and /tʃ/ in Ma'loula 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/ is still remaining 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 palatalisation. In Bakh'a, the palatalisation is hardly apparent; in Ma'loula, 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/. 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 Ma'loula more lightly post-velar. In Jubb'adin, however, it has replaced the velar plosive, and become /k/.
- 1 The consonant /t/ has become /ts/ in Bakh'a, and /tʃ/ in Ma'loula and Jubb'adin.
- 2 The labial consonants /p/ and /f/, have been retained in Bakh'a and Ma'loula while they have 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 Ma'loula, 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 Ma'loula 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 Suryon/Malouli Neo-Aramaic.
Syriac and Arabic Alphabet
Serto Syriac and Arabic alphabet used for Suryon/Malouli Neo-Aramaic.
Alternate Aramaic Alphabet
Characters of the script system used by the Aramaic institute (Aramia), similar to the Old Aramaic/Phoenician alphabet 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.
|Hello / Peace||Shloma|
|God||Alo / Iloha|
|Here / here it is||Hoxa / Hoxa hu|
|Brother / brothers||Hona / Huno|
|Tongue / language||Lishona|
|Syriac (Aramean) / Syriacs (Arameans)||Suray / Suroy|
|How are you?||Ex chob? (m)/ Ex chiba? (f)|
|Holy spirit||Ruxa qudsho|
|Stone / rock||Xefa|
|Chin / beard||Dekna|
|Tooth / crag||Shenna|
|The little man||gabrona z'ora|
|Peace to all of you||Shloma lkhulkhun|
|Who is this?||Mon hanna? (m) / Mon hod? (f)|
|I am Aramean and my language is Aramaic.||Ana Suray w-lishoni Suryon.|
|We are Arameans and our language is Aramaic.||Anah Suroy w-lishonah Suryon.|
|Church||klesya (Greek loanword)|
|What's your name? (m)||Mo oshmakh? (m)|
|Assyrian / Assyrians||Aturay / Aturoy|
- 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. 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.
- Tsereteli, Konstantin (1990). The velar spirant ġ in Modern East Aramaic dialects. In Wolfhart Heinrichs (ed.), Studies in Neo-Aramaic, pp. 131–149. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press. ISBN 1-55540-430-8.
- Western Neo-Aramaic alphabet and pronunciation at Omniglot
- (in German) Semitisches Tonarchiv: Dokumentgruppe "Aramäisch/Neuwestaramäisch" – recordings of Western Neo-Aramaic.
- The dialect of Ma’lula. Grammar, vocabulary and texts. (1897–1898) By Jean Parisot (in French): Parts 1, 2, 3 at the Internet Archive.