Jewish Neo-Aramaic dialect of Urmia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Lishán Didán)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Lishán Didán
לשן דידן Lišān Didān, לשנן Lišānān
Pronunciation[liˈʃɑn diˈdɑn]
Native toIsrael, Azerbaijan, Georgia, originally Iran, Turkey
RegionJerusalem and Tel Aviv, originally from Iranian Azerbaijan
Native speakers
4,500 (2001)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3trg
ELPJewish Azerbaijani Neo-Aramaic

The Jewish Neo-Aramaic dialect of Urmia is a dialect of Northeastern Neo-Aramaic was originally spoken by Jews in Urmia and surrounding areas of Iranian Azerbaijan from Salmas to Solduz and into what is now eastern Turkey, Yüksekova and Başkale.[2] Most speakers now live in Israel.


Various Neo-Aramaic dialects were spoken across a wide area from Lake Urmia to Lake Van (in Turkey), down to the plain of Mosul (in Iraq) and back across to Sanandaj (in Iran again).

There are two major dialect clusters of Lishán Didán. The northern cluster of dialects centered on Urmia and Salmas in West Azerbaijan, and extended into the Jewish villages of the Turkish province of Van.[3] The southern cluster of dialects was focused on the town of Mahabad and villages just south of Lake Urmia.[4] The dialects of the two clusters are intelligible to one another, and most of the differences are due to receiving loanwords from different languages: Persian, Kurdish and Turkish languages especially.[5]

Many of the Jews of Urmia worked as peddlers in the cloth trade, while others were jewelers or goldsmiths. The degree of education for the boys was primary school, with only some advancing their Jewish schooling in a Talmud yeshiva. Some of these students earned their livelihood by making talismans and amulets. There was a small girls school with only twenty pupils. There were two main synagogues in Urmia, one large one and one smaller one. The large synagogue was called the synagogue of Sheikh Abdulla.

By 1918, due to the assassination of the Patriarch of the Church of the East and the invasion of the Ottoman forces, many Jews were uprooted from their homes and fled. The Jews settled in Tbilisi or much later emigrated to Israel. The upheavals in their traditional region after the First World War and the founding of the State of Israel led most Azerbaijani Jews to settle in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and small villages in various parts of the country.[6] Due to persecution and relocation, Lishán Didán began to be replaced by the speech of younger generations by Modern Hebrew.[6]

Most native Lishan Didan speakers speak Hebrew to their children now.[7] Fewer than 5,000 people are known to speak Lishán Didan, and most of them are older adults in their sixties who speak Hebrew as well.[6] The language faces extinction in the next few decades.[7]

Jewish Neo-Aramaic[edit]

There are five main languages of Neo-Aramaic.[8]

  1. Jewish Azerbaijani Neo-Aramaic (Lishan Didan)
  2. Trans-Zab Jewish Neo-Aramaic: Also referred to as Hulaula, located in Iranian Kurdistan.
  3. Inter-Zab Jewish Neo-Aramaic: Located between Greater Zab and Lesser Zab in the Erbil and the Sulaymaniyah regions.
  4. Central Jewish Neo-Aramaic: Located in upper Greater Zab and Erbil as well.
  5. Lishana Deni: Located in Northern Mosul.

Geographical distribution[edit]

Jewish languages[edit]

Lishan Didan is called 'Jewish Azerbaijani Neo-Aramaic' by most scholars. Its speakers lived in Northern Iran in the townships of Northern Iranian Azerbaijan (specifically Urmia, official name Rizaiye and Salamas, official name Shahpur). Lishan Didan, translated as 'our language' is often confused with a similar language called Lishanid Noshan (which is also referred to as Lishan Didan). The term targum is often used to describe the two different languages called Lishan Didan, as it is a traditional and common term for the Jewish Neo-Aramaic dialects.

Another Lishan Didan language is called Manuscript Barzani or Barzani Jewish Neo-Aramaic. Manuscript Barzani was spoken in a community in Iraqi Kurdistan of the Rewanduz/Arbel region.[9] This language is also called 'Targum,' as it follows distinct translation techniques used by Targum Onkelos and Targum Jonathan.[10][11] Most of the men of the Barzani family were rabbis and Torah scholars. The rabbis would travel around Kurdistan to set up and maintain Yeshiva's in the towns of Barzan, Aqra, Mosul, and Amediya. Much literature (commentaries on religious text, poetry, prayers, ritual instructions) has been compiled and published by the members of the Barzani family and their community.

*h has been retained in some words in Barzani Jewish Neo-Aramaic and other communities near Kurdistan.[12] The following displays *h retention.[13]

ghk 'to laugh'
dbh 'to slaughter'
rhm 'to pity'
mhq 'to erase'
htm 'to sign'

This is different from the Jewish Urmia language as this dialect has the voiceless glottal /h/[14] while Barzani Jewish Neo-Aramaic has regular pharyngealization with the voiced pharyngeal /ʕ/.

Assyrian Dialects[edit]

Another Assyrian community settled in Urmia after the local Kurds and Turkish army forced them to flee their homes.[15] Over ten thousand people died en route to Urmia.[15] After additional trouble in Urmia, the Assyrian community left and settled in Ba‘quba near Baghdad.[15] In the early 1930s some moved to Syria and lived near the Khabur river between Hassake and Ras el Ain.[15]

The following displays examples of divergence in phonology, morphology, and lexicon between the Jewish and Assyrian Urmia dialects.[16]

Jewish Urmia Assyrian Urmia
belà béta 'house'
zorá súra 'small'
-u -e 'their'
-ilet -iwət 2ms copula
mqy hmzm 'to speak'
kwś ˤsly 'to descend'


Lishán Didán, at the northeastern extreme end of this area, is somewhat intelligible with the Jewish Neo-Aramaic languages of Hulaula (spoken further south, in Iranian Kurdistan) and Lishanid Noshan (formerly spoken around Kirkuk, Iraq).[17]

However, the local Christian Neo-Aramaic dialects of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic are only mildly mutually intelligible: Christian and Jewish communities living side by side developed completely different variants of Aramaic that had more in common with their coreligionists living further away than with their neighbors.[14] The topography in many of the dialects of Neo-Aramaic is so distinct that small villages, (like the town of Arodhin which consisted of two Jewish families), had their own dialect.[9]



Labial Dental/Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Stops Unvoiced p t k q ʔ
Voiced b d g
Fricatives Unvoiced f s ʃ x h
Voiced w z ʒ ɣ
Affricates Unvoiced
Nasal m n
Lateral l
Rhotic r
Approximant j

Most dialects feature a weakening of historically emphatic consonants. For example, Urmi dialect features suprasegmental velarization in historically emphatic contexts.

Sometimes these consonants can be realized differently:

  • /q/ is often realized as [ɢ ~ ʁ] between a vowel/sonant and a vowel
  • /w/ is realized as [β ~ v ~ w]
  • /h/ is realized as [ɦ] in intervocalic and post-vocalic positions
  • /n/ is realized as [ŋ] before /k/, /g/, and /q/
  • /r/ is realized as [ɾ] in non-velarized words, and [r] in velarized words
  • /b/, /d/, and /g/ tend to be devoiced when near voiceless consonants


Front Central
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded
Close i y
Mid e ø ə
Open a

Some vowels are realized in many different ways:

  • /a/ is realized as
    • [a] most commonly in non-velarized words
    • [ɑ] when
      • in the vicinity of back and labial consonants in stressed syllables
      • in pretonic open syllables
      • at the end of a word
      • in velarized words
    • [ʌ] when, for non-velarized words
      • in unstressed closed syllables
      • in open syllables that do not immediately precede the stress
    • [ɔ] when in the sequence /aø/ (sometimes)
    • [ɒ] when, for velarized words
      • in unstressed closed syllables
      • in open syllables that do not immediately precede the stress
  • /ə/ is realized as
    • [ɪ ~ ə] in non-velarized words
    • [ɯ] in velarized words
  • /o/ is realized as
    • [ø] in non-velarized words
    • [o] in velarized words
  • /u/ is realized as
    • [y] in non-velarized words
      • [ʏ] in unstressed closed syllables
    • [u] in velarized words
      • [ʊ] in unstressed closed syllables
  • /i/ and /e/ are realized with lowered onglides and/or offglides in velarized words
All Vowel Realizations
Front Central Back
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
Close i y ɯ u
Near-Close ɪ ʏ ʊ
Close-Mid ø o
Mid e ə
Open-Mid ʌ ɔ
Open a ɑ ɒ


Below is a general comparison of different Neo-Aramaic dialect differences in phonology:[18]

Ancient Aramaic A. A. pronunciation Zāxō Dehōk ʿAmadiya Urmia Irbil
ידאֿ "hand" ʾ īḏa ʾ īza ʾ īḏa ʾ īda īda īla
ביתאֿ "house" bēṯa bēsa bēṯa bēṯa bēla bēla


As a trans-Zab dialect, Jewish Salamas *ḏ has a reflex l like the Irbil dialect above. Examples are:[16]

Jewish Salamas English
nəqlá 'thin'
rqül 'dance'

The reflex for Jewish Salamas of *ṯ is l like the Urmia and Irbil dialects above. Examples are:[16]

Jewish Salamas English
malá 'village'
ksilá 'hat'
sahlül(ġ)á 'testimony'

Suprasegmental Emphasis[edit]

Jewish Salamas lost the trait of word emphasis. This is the only Neo-Aramaic dialect that has completely lost this trait. Below is a comparison of Jewish Salamas and Christian Salamas suprasegmental emphasis.[16]

Jewish Salamas Christian Salamas English
amrá +amra 'wool'
bəzzá +bezza 'hole'
susəltá +susiya 'plait, pigtail'

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lishán Didán at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Garbell, Irene (1965). The Jewish Neo-Aramaic Dialect of Persian Azerbaijan: Linguistic Analysis and Folkloristic Texts. Walter de Gruyter. p. 13. ISBN 978-3-11-087799-1.
  3. ^ Heinrichs, Wolfhard (1990). Studies in Neo-Aramaic. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press.
  4. ^ Yaure, L (1957). "A Poem in the Neo-Aramaic Dialect of Urmia". Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 16 (2): 73–87. doi:10.1086/371377. S2CID 162120167.
  5. ^ Rees, M (2008). Lishan Didan, Targum Didan: Translation Language in a Neo-Aramaic Targum Tradition. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press.
  6. ^ a b c "Israel - Languages". Ethnologue.
  7. ^ a b Mutzafi, H (2004). Two Texts in Barzani Jewish Neo-Aramaic. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies.
  8. ^ Haberl, Charles. "The Middle East and North Africa". Encyclopedia of the World's Endangered Languages.
  9. ^ a b Sabar, Y (1984). The Arabic Elements in the Jewish Neo-Aramaic Texts of Nerwa and ʿAmādīya, Iraqi Kurdistan. American Oriental Society.
  10. ^ Jastrow, O (1997). The Neo-Aramaic Languages. New York: Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data.
  11. ^ Mengozzi, A (2010). "That I Might Speak and the Ear Listen to Me" (PDF). On Genres in Traditional Modern Aramaic Literature.
  12. ^ Maclean, A. J (1895). Grammar of the dialects of vernacular Syriac: as spoken by the Eastern Syrians of Kurdistan, north-west Persia, and the Plain of Mosul. London: Cambridge University Press.
  13. ^ Khan, G (1999). A Grammar of Neo-Aramaic: The Dialect of the Jews of Arbel. Leiden, Brill.
  14. ^ a b c d Khan, Geoffrey (2008). The Jewish Neo-Aramaic dialect of Urmi. Piscataway, NJ: Georgias Press.
  15. ^ a b c d Coghill, E. (1999). "The Verbal System of North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic". CiteSeerX Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^ a b c d Khan, G and Lidia, N. (2015). Neo-Aramaic and Its Linguistic Context. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  17. ^ Sabar, Y (2002). A Jewish Neo-Aramaic Dictionary. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrossowitz Verlag.
  18. ^ "Neo-Aramaic". Jewish Virtual Library.


  • Heinrichs, Wolfhart (ed.) (1990). Studies in Neo-Aramaic. Scholars Press: Atlanta, Georgia. ISBN 1-55540-430-8.
  • Mahir Ünsal Eriş, Kürt Yahudileri - Din, Dil, Tarih, (Kurdish Jews) In Turkish, Kalan Publishing, Ankara, 2006
  • Maclean, Arthur John (1895). Grammar of the dialects of vernacular Syriac: as spoken by the Eastern Syrians of Kurdistan, north-west Persia, and the Plain of Mosul: with notices of the vernacular of the Jews of Azerbaijan and of Zakhu near Mosul. Cambridge University Press, London.

External links[edit]