Assyrian Neo-Aramaic (Classical Syriac: ܣܘܪܝܬ, sūrët, Suret), or just simply Assyrian, is a modern Aramaic language within the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. It is spoken by an estimated 200,000 people throughout a large region stretching from the plain of Urmia in northwestern Iran, to the Nineveh plains, and the Irbil, Kirkuk and Duhok regions in northern Iraq, together with the Al Hasakah region of northeastern Syria, and formerly parts of southeastern Turkey.
Instability throughout the Middle East over the past century has led to a worldwide diaspora of Assyrian speakers, with many speakers now living abroad, such as in North America, Australia or in Europe. Furthermore, Assyrians in more recent times often use words from Persian, Arabic, Turkish, etc., depending on where they live or where their family came from, while speaking in their own language.
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic is one of the largest Neo-Aramaic languages (232,000 speakers), with Chaldean Neo-Aramaic (213,000 speakers) and Turoyo (250,000 speakers) making up most of the remaining Neo-Aramaic speakers. Despite the terms Chaldean Neo-Aramaic and Assyrian Neo-Aramaic indicating a separate ethnic identity, both the languages and their native speakers originate from the same Upper Mesopotamian region (which was Assyria). Speakers of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic and Turoyo are ethnic Assyrians and are descendants of the ancient Assyrian inhabitants of Northern Mesopotamia.
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and Chaldean Neo-Aramaic are vastly mutually intelligible with each other and, as such, Chaldean is considered to be a dialect of Assyrian. Senaya, Lishana Deni and Bohtan Neo-Aramaic are moderately intelligible with Assyrian, even though they are also considered mere dialects of Assyrian. Turoyo, Lishan Didan, Hulaulá and Lishanid Noshan are closely related Northeastern Neo-Aramaic languages that have partial to limited intelligibility (depending on the speaker) with the Assyrian language.
Assyrian is a moderately inflected, fusional language with a two-gender noun system and a rather flexible word order. There is some Akkadian vocabulary and influence in the language. Assyrian Neo-Aramaic is written from right to left, and it uses the Madnhāyā version of the Syriac alphabet. Assyrian, alongside other modern Aramaic languages, is now considered endangered.
Aramaic was the language of commerce, trade and communication and became the vernacular language of Assyria in the late Iron Age and classical antiquity. It became the lingua franca of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–605 BC), Neo-Babylonian Empire (605–539 BC), the Achaemenid Empire (539–323 BC), the Parthian Empire (247 BC–224 AD), and the Sasanian Empire (224–651 AD). Aramaic writing has been found as far north as Hadrians Wall in Ancient Britain, in the form of inscriptions in Aramaic, made by Assyrian and Aramean soldiers serving in the Roman Legions in northern England during the 2nd century AD.
The Assyrian Empire resorted to a policy of deporting troublesome conquered peoples (predominantly fellow Semitic Aramean tribes as well as many Jews) into the lands of Mesopotamia. By the 6th century, the indigenous and originally Akkadian-speaking Semites of Assyria and Babylonia, spoke Akkadian-infused dialects of Eastern Aramaic. Consequently, during the Persian rule of Assyria, Aramaic gradually became the main language spoken by the Assyrians. Even before the Empire fell, the Assyrians had made Aramaic the lingua franca of its empire, capable of speaking[clarification needed] both Akkadian and Aramaic.
Local unwritten Aramaic dialects emerged from Imperial Aramaic in Assyria–northern Mesopotamia, an Akkadian-influenced version of the Old Aramaic language which was introduced as the lingua franca of the Neo-Assyrian Empire by Tiglath-Pileser III (745–727 BC) The first evidence of such dialects emerged in Assyria, and begin to influence the written Imperial Aramaic from the 5th century BC. Following the Achaemenid conquest of Assyria under Darius I, the Aramaic language was adopted as the "vehicle for written communication between the different regions of the vast empire with its different peoples and languages". After the conquest of Assyria by the Seleucid Empire in the late 4th century BC, Imperial Aramaic and other Aramaic dialects gradually lost their status as imperial languages but continued to flourish as lingua francas alongside Ancient Greek.
By the 1st century AD, Akkadian was extinct, although some loaned vocabulary and grammatical features still survives in Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and other Assyrian languages to this day. The Neo-Aramaic languages are ultimately descended from Old Aramaic, the lingua franca in the later phase of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, displacing the East Semitic Assyrian dialect of Akkadian. The Neo-Aramaic languages evolved from Middle Aramaic by the 13th century.
The various Assyrian Aramaic dialects have been heavily influenced by Classical Syriac, the Middle Aramaic dialect of Edessa, after its adoption as an official liturgical language. There is evidence that the adoption of Syriac, was led by missionaries. Much literary effort was put into the production of an authoritative translation of the Bible into Syriac, the Peshitta (ܦܫܝܛܬܐ Pšīṭtā). At the same time, Ephrem the Syrian was producing the most treasured collection of poetry and theology in the Syriac language. By the 3rd century AD, churches in Edessa in the Neo-Assyrian kingdom of Osroene began to use Syriac as the language of worship and the language became the literary and liturgical language of many churches in the Fertile Crescent. Syriac was the lingua franca of the Middle East until 900 AD, when it was superseded by Arabic.
The differences with the Assyrian Church of the East led to the bitter Nestorian schism in the Syriac-speaking world. As a result, Syriac developed distinctive western and eastern varieties. Although remaining a single language with a high level of comprehension between the varieties, the two employ distinctive variations in pronunciation and writing system, and, to a lesser degree, in vocabulary.
The Mongol invasions of the 13th century, and the religiously motivated massacres of Assyrian Christians by Tamurlane further contributed to the rapid decline of the language. In many places outside of northern Mesopotamia (the Assyrian homeland), even in liturgy, it was replaced by Arabic.
The original Mesopotamian writing system (believed to be the world's oldest) was derived around 3600 BC from this method of keeping accounts. By the end of the 4th millennium BC, the Mesopotamians were using a triangular-shaped stylus pressed into soft clay to record numbers.
Around 2700 BC, cuneiform began to represent syllables of spoken Sumerian, a language isolate. About that time, Mesopotamian cuneiform became a general purpose writing system for logograms, syllables and numbers. This script was adapted to another Mesopotamian language, the East Semitic Akkadian (Assyrian and Babylonian) around 2600 BC. With the adoption of Aramaic as the 'lingua franca' of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–609 BC), Old Aramaic was also adapted to Mesopotamian cuneiform. The last cuneiform scripts in Akkadian discovered thus far date from the 1st century AD.
The Syriac script is a writing system primarily used to write the Syriac language from the 1st century AD. It is one of the Semitic abjads directly descending from the Aramaic alphabet and shares similarities with the Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic, and the traditional Mongolian alphabets. The alphabet consists of 22 letters, all of which are consonants. It is a cursive script where some, but not all, letters connect within a word.
|ܐ ܒ ܓ ܕ ܗ ܘ|
|ܙ ܚ ܛ ܝ ܟܟ ܠ|
|ܡܡ ܢܢ ܣ ܥ ܦ|
|ܨ ܩ ܪ ܫ ܬ|
The oldest and classical form of the alphabet is ʾEsṭrangēlā (ܐܣܛܪܢܓܠܐ); the name is thought to derive from the Greek adjective στρογγύλη (strongylē, 'rounded'), Although ʾEsṭrangēlā is no longer used as the main script for writing Syriac, it has undergone some revival since the 10th century.
When Arabic gradually began to be the dominant spoken language in the Fertile Crescent after the 7th century AD, texts were often written in Arabic with the Syriac script. Malayalam was also written with Syriac script and was called Suriyani Malayalam.
The Madnhāyā version formed as a form of shorthand developed from the Syriac alphabet and progressed further as handwriting patterns changed. The Madnhāyā version also possesses vowel markings to help foreigners learn and read Syriac. Other names for the script include Swāḏāyā, "conversational", often translated as "contemporary", reflecting its use in writing modern Neo-Aramaic.
Three letters act as matres lectionis: rather than being a consonant, they indicate a vowel. ʾĀlap̄ (ܐ), the first letter, represents a glottal stop, but it can also indicate a vowel at the beginning or the end of a word. The letter Waw (ܘ) is the consonant w, but can also represent the vowels o and u. Likewise, the letter Yōḏ (ܝ) represents the consonant y, but it also stands for the vowels i and e. In addition to foreign sounds, a marking system is used to distinguish qūššāyā, 'hard' letters) from rūkkāḵā, 'soft' letters). The letters Bēṯ, Gāmal, Dālaṯ, Kāp̄, Pē, and Taw, all plosives ('hard'), are able to be spirantized into fricatives ('soft').
The system involves placing a single dot underneath the letter to give its 'soft' variant and a dot above the letter to give its 'hard' variant (though, in modern usage, no mark at all is usually used to indicate the 'hard' value). Furthermore, the script has 22 consonants and 3 vowels.
In the 1930s, following the state policy for minority languages of the Soviet Union, a Latin alphabet was developed and some material published. Despite the fact that this innovation did not displace the Syriac script, the usage of the Latin script in the Assyrian community has become rather widespread due to the Assyrian diaspora's settlement mostly being in Europe and the anglophone, where the Latin script dominates.
Vowel phonemes of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic (Standard Urmian/Iraqi Koine) are as follows:
Two basic diphthongs exist, namely /eɪ̯/ and /aw/. For some words, many dialects have converted them to e and o respectively. When it comes to plurals, a commonly used vowel alteration in Assyrian is shifting the ɑ sound to e, so ṭĕrā ('bird') will be ṭĕrĕ ('birds') in its plural form. This morphology is called an apophony and it is exemplified in English as the internal vowel alternations that produce such related words as foot and feet.
Assyrian is a nominative-accusative, null-subject language with an inflecting morphology, and it features a pronoun drop to a significant degree. Like English and modern Hebrew, Assyrian largely lacks grammatical cases. The Semitic genitive, which a noun is possessed or modified by another noun or noun phrase, is expressed morphologically by the genitive morpheme -i (bĕtī — 'my house'), indicating possession.
Word stress bears a strong relationship to vowel length. A final vowel, long or short, may not be stressed, though one of the last three syllables may be stressed. As such, the last heavy syllable (containing a long vowel or ending in a consonant) is stressed. Gemination occurs in the language, as heard in words like lebbaa ("heart") and shmayya ("sky").
Although subject–verb–object (SVO) is the default sentence structure of Syriac, subject–object–verb (SOV), verb–subject–object (VSO), verb–object–subject (VOS), object–verb–subject (OVS) and object–subject–verb (OSV) are also commonly used word orders in modern Assyrian. This makes Assyrian Neo-Aramaic a flexible language, akin to Latin and Greek.
Assyrian has an extensive number of Iranian loanwords (namely Persian and Kurdish) incorporated in its vocabulary and grammar. That is because of its close geographical proximity to those languages. As a central Semitic language, Assyrian is closely related to Hebrew, Arabic, Mandaic, Western Neo-Aramaic and Mandean, and would bear similar grammar style to these languages.
In Assyrian, personal pronouns have 7 forms. In singular forms, the 3rd have separate masculine and feminine forms, while the 1st and 2nd person do not. The 3rd person plural form also lacks a gender.
|1st person||āna ("I" or "me")||akhni ("we" or "us")|
|2nd person (gender neutral)||aten or ati ("you")||akhtokhun ("yourselves")|
|3rd person (masc.)||awa ("him")||aneh ("them" or "they"; gender neutral)|
|3rd person (fem.)||aya ("her")||As above|
Like all Semitic languages and the unrelated Insular Celtic languages, Assyrian uses inflected preposition when it comes to personal pronouns – The preposition al ("on") inflects as ali ("on me").
Nouns carry grammatical gender (masculine or feminine). They can be either singular or plural in number (a very few can be dual) and can exist in one of three grammatical states (somewhat akin to case in Indo-European languages). The states should not be confused with grammatical cases in other languages. Adjectives always agree in gender and number with the nouns that they modify. Adjectives are in the absolute state if they are predicative but agree with the state of their noun if attributive.
In Syriac languages, most genitive noun relationships are built using the construct state, but contrary to the genitive case, it is the head-noun which is marked by the construct state. Thus, šeqlay malkūṯā, means "the taxes of the kingdom". Quickly, the construct relationship was abandoned and replaced by the use of the relative particle d-, da-. Thus, the same noun phrase becomes šeqlē d-malkūṯā, where both nouns are in the emphatic state. Very closely related nouns can be drawn into a closer grammatical relationship by the addition of a pronominal suffix. Thus, the phrase can be written as šeqlêh d-malkūṯā. In this case, both nouns continue to be in the emphatic state, but the first has the suffix that makes it literally read "her taxes" ("kingdom" is feminine), and thus is "her taxes, [those] of the kingdom".
Finite verbs carry person, grammatical gender (except in the first person) and number, as well as tense and conjugation. The non-finite verb forms are the infinitive and the active and passive participles. The emphatic state became the ordinary form of the noun, and the absolute and construct states were relegated to certain stock phrases (for example, bar nāšā, "man, person", literally "son of man"). Verb forms are marked for person (first, second or third), number (singular or plural), gender (masculine or feminine), tense (perfect or imperfect), mood (indicative, imperative, jussive or infinitive) and voice (active, reflexive or passive).
Assyrian employs a system of conjugations to mark intensive and extensive developments in the lexical meaning of verbs. Verb conjugations are present in other Semitic languages. These are regular modifications of the verb's root to express other changes in meaning. The first conjugation is the ground state, which models the shape of the root and carries the usual meaning of the word. The next is the intensive state form of the verb, which usually carries an intensified meaning. The third is the extensive state form of the verb, which is often causative in meaning. Each of these conjugations has its parallel passive conjugation. The particle "-wa" may be affixed to verbal forms derived from the present and past bases.
Assyrian may also feature double negatives, such as in sentences like leh yawin la zoozeh ("I won't give no money").
Assyrian uses verbal inflections marking person and number. The suffix "-i" indicates "my" or "me" and the suffix "-eh" indicates a plural (i.e. "warda" or flower becomes "wardeh"). Enclitic forms of personal pronouns are affixed to various parts of speech. As with object pronoun, all possessive pronouns are suffixes that are attached to the end of nouns to express possession similar to the English pronouns my, your, his, her, etc., which reflects the gender and plurality of the person or persons. This is a synthetic feature found in other Semitic languages, and also in unrelated languages such as Finnish (Uralic), Persian (Indo-European) and Turkish (Turkic), to name a few. Moreover, unlike many other languages, Assyrian has virtually no means of deriving words by adding prefixes or suffixes to words. Instead, they are formed according to a limited number of templates applied to roots.
|1st person||bĕtī (my house)||bĕtan (our house)|
|2nd person (masc.)||bĕtūkh (your house)||bĕtōkhun (your house)|
|2nd person (fem.)||bĕtakh (your house)||bĕtōkhun (your house)|
|3rd person (masc.)||bĕtū (his house)||betĕh (their house)|
|3rd person (fem.)||bĕtō (her house)||bĕtĕh (their house)|
Although possessive suffixes are more convenient and common, they can be optional for some people and seldom used, especially among those with the Tyari and Barwari dialects, which take a more analytic approach regarding possession, just like modern Hebrew and English. The following are periphrastic ways to express possession, using the word "bĕtā" (house) as a base:
Most Assyrian Neo-Aramaic nouns and verbs are built from triliteral roots, which are a form of word formation in which the root is modified and which does not involve stringing morphemes together sequentially. Broken plurals are formed by changing the pattern of consonants and vowels inside the singular form. Semitic languages typically utilize triconsonantal roots, forming a "grid" into which vowels may be inserted without affecting the basic root.
The root ܫܩܠ, ŠQL, has the basic meaning of taking, and the following are some words that can be formed from this root:
When it comes to a determinative (like in English this, a, the, few, any, which, etc.) modern Assyrian generally has an absence of an article (English the), unlike its sister language Arabic which use a definite article (such as "al-"). Demonstratives (aha and aya/awa, translating to "this" and "that", respectively) are commonly utilized instead (i.e. "aha beta", which means "this house"), which can have the sense of "the". An indefinite article ("an" or "a") can mark definiteness if the word is a direct object (but not a subject) by using the suffix "l-" (e.g. shaqil qalama, meaning "he takes a/the pen"). Partitive articles may be used in some speech ("bayeetoon khacha miya?", which translates to "do you want some water?").
Furthermore, Ancient Aramaic had a definite article in the form of a suffix: "-aa" for masculine words and "-t(h)aa" (if the word already ends in -aa) for feminine. The definite forms were palaaxaa for "the (male) worker" and palaxtaa for "the (female) worker". Over time, the definite form of the word became dominant and the definite sense of the word merged with the indefinite sense so that palaaxa became "a/the (male) worker" and palaxtaa became "a/the (female) worker."
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, like its parent language Syriac, has only two true morphological tenses: perfect and imperfect. Whereas these tenses were originally aspectual in Aramaic, they have become a truly temporal past and future tenses respectively. The present tense is usually marked with the participle followed by the subject pronoun. However, such pronouns are usually omitted in the case of the third person. This use of the participle to mark the present tense is the most common of a number of compound tenses that can be used to express varying senses of tense and aspect.
The present tense is usually marked with the participle followed by the subject pronoun. However, such pronouns are usually omitted in the case of the third person. This use of the participle to mark the present tense is the most common of a number of compound tenses that can be used to express varying senses of tense and aspect.
SIL Ethnologue distinguishes five dialect groups: Urmian, Northern, Central, Western, and Sapna, each with sub-dialects. Mutual intelligibility between the Assyrian dialects is as high as 80%–90%.
The Urmia dialect has become the prestige dialect of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic after 1836, when that dialect was chosen by Justin Perkins, an American Presbyterian missionary, for the creation of a standard literary dialect of Assyrian. A second standard dialect derived from General Urmian known as "Iraqi Koine", developed in the 20th century.
Iraqi Koine, also known as Refined Urmian and Standard Assyrian, is a compromise between the thicker rural accents of Hakkari and Nineveh Plains (listed above), and the prestigious dialect in Urmia. Iraqi Koine does not really constitute a new dialect, but an incomplete merger of dialects. Koine is more analogous to Urmian in terms of manner of articulation, place of articulation and its consonant cluster formations.
During the First World War, many Assyrians living in Ottoman Turkey were forced from their homes, and many of their descendants now live in Iraq. The relocation has led to the creation of this dialect. Iraqi Koine was developed in the urban areas of Iraq (i.e. Baghdad, Basra, Habbaniya and Kirkuk), which became the meccas for the rural Assyrian population. By the end of the 1950s vast number of Assyrians started to speak Iraqi Koine. Today, Iraqi Koine is the predominant use of communication between the majority of the Assyrians and it is also used as the standard dialect in music and formal speech.
To note, the emergence of the Koine didn't mean that the rest of the spoken dialects vanished. The Ashiret dialects were still active because some Assyrians remained in the rural areas and the fact that the first generation speakers who relocated in urban areas still maintained their native dialects. Elements of original Ashiret dialects can still be observed in Iraqi Koine, especially in that of older speakers.
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic has a rather slightly defined dialect continuum, starting from the Assyrian tribes in northern Iraq (i.e. Alqosh, Batnaya) and ending in Western Iran (Urmia). The dialects in Northern Iraq, such as those of Alqosh and Batnaya, would be minimally unintelligible to those in Western Iran.
The dialects in Northern Iraq have a distinct phonetic system (such as the realization of /ħ/) and, as such, would be considered part of Chaldean Neo-Aramaic. Nearing the Iraqi-Turkey border, the Barwari and Tyari dialects are more "traditionally Assyrian" and would sound like those in the Hakkari province in Turkey. Furthermore, the Barwar and Tyari dialects are "transitional", acquiring both Assyrian and Chaldean phonetic features (though they don't use /ħ/).
In Hakkari, going east (towards Iran), the Gawar, Jilu and Nochiya dialects would respectively begin to sound slightly distinct to the Tyari/Barwar dialects and more like the prestigious "Urmian" dialect in Urmia, Western Azerbaijan. The Urmian dialect, alongside Iraqi Koine, are considered to be Standard Assyrian. Though Iraqi Koine is more widespread and had thus become the more common standard dialect.
Based on interviews with community informants, this paper explores socialization for ingroup identity and endogamy among Assyrians in the United States. The Assyrians descent from the population of ancient Assyria (founded in the 24th century BC), and have lived as a linguistic, political, religious, and ethnic minority in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey since the fall of the Assyrian Empire in 608 BC. Practices that maintain ethnic and cultural continuity in the Near East, the United States and elsewhere include language and residential patterns, ethnically based Christian churches characterized by unique holidays and rites, and culturally specific practices related to life-cycle events and food preparation. The interviews probe parental attitudes and practices related to ethnic identity and encouragement of endogamy. Results are being analyzed.
|Assyrian Neo-Aramaic test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|
|For a list of words relating to Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, see the Assyrian Neo-Aramaic category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|