Languages of Syria
Arabic is the official language of Syria. Several modern Arabic dialects are used in everyday life, most notably Levantine in the west and Mesopotamian in the northeast. Kurdish (in its Kurmanji form) is widely spoken in the Kurdish regions of Syria. Armenian and Syrian Turkmen (Azeri) are spoken among the Armenian and Turkmen minorities.
Aramaic was the lingua franca of the region before the advent of Arabic, and is still spoken among Assyrians, and Classical Syriac is still used as the liturgical language of various Syriac Christian denominations. Most remarkably, Western Neo-Aramaic is still spoken in the village of Ma‘loula as well as two neighboring villages, 35 miles (56 km) northeast of Damascus.
Syrian Sign Language is the principal language of the deaf community. Many educated Syrians also speak English, French, Russian, German and Spanish, especially in Damascus and Aleppo and in the schools Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle and l’École Française d’Alep.
Modern Standard Arabic is the language of education, but is not native to anyone. At home, most Syrians speak dialects of Levantine Arabic, specifically South Syrian Arabic, spoken in the cities of Damascus, Homs and Hama, and Tartous, and North Syrian Arabic, spoken in the region of Aleppo. Allied dialects are spoken in the coastal mountains. Lebanese Arabic is in some ways part of the South Syrian family, but is more properly viewed as a transitional dialect between it and Palestinian Arabic. Due to Syria's long history of multiculturalism and foreign imperialism, Syrian Arabic exhibits a vocabulary strata that includes word borrowings from Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian, Syriac, French, English, and Persian. There is no standardized spelling, but usually it is written in Arabic alphabet from right to left. Arabic has between 90 million words and 500 million words.
Other forms of Arabic natively spoken in Syria include:
- the dialect spoken in the Jabal al-Druze (Jabal Al-Arab) mountains;
- the eastern dialect group (Al-Hasakah and Deir ez-Zor), part of Mesopotamian Arabic;
- Bedawi Arabic, spoken by the Bedouin (nomads).
Non-indigenous dialects of Arabic, most notably Iraqi Arabic and Palestinian Arabic, are frequently used within their respective refugee diasporas, especially in Damascus.