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The Syriac language (; syc, / '), also known as Syriac Aramaic (''Syrian Aramaic'', ''Syro-Aramaic'') and Classical Syriac ܠܫܢܐ ܥܬܝܩܐ (in its literary and liturgical form), is an
Aramaic Aramaic ( syc, ܐܪܡܝܐ, Arāmāyā; oar, 𐤀𐤓𐤌𐤉𐤀; arc, 𐡀𐡓𐡌𐡉𐡀; tmr, אֲרָמִית) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic languages, Semitic language that originated in the ancient Syria (regio ...
dialect that emerged during the first century AD from a local Aramaic dialect that was spoken by
Arameans The Arameans ( oar, 𐤀𐤓𐤌𐤉𐤀; grc, Ἀραμαῖοι; syc, ܐܪ̈ܡܝܐ, Ārāmāyē) were an ancient Semitic-speaking people in the Near East, first recorded in historical sources from the late 12th century BCE. The Aramean hom ...
in the ancient Aramean kingdom of
Osroene Osroene or Osrhoene (; grc-gre, Ὀσροηνή) was an ancient region and state in Upper Mesopotamia. The ''Kingdom of Osroene'', also known as the "Kingdom of Edessa" ( syc, ܡܠܟܘܬܐ ܕܒܝܬ ܐܘܪܗܝ / "Kingdom of Urhay"), according to ...
, centered in the city of
Edessa Edessa (; grc, Ἔδεσσα, Édessa) was an ancient city (''polis'') in Upper Mesopotamia, founded during the Hellenistic period by King Seleucus I Nicator (), founder of the Seleucid Empire. It later became capital of the Kingdom of Osroene ...
. During the
Early Christian Early Christianity (up to the First Council of Nicaea in 325) Spread of Christianity, spread from the Levant, across the Roman Empire, and beyond. Originally, this progression was closely connected to History of the Jews in the Roman Empire, alre ...
period, it became the main
literary language A literary language is the Register (sociolinguistics), form (register) of a language used in written literature, which can be either a nonstandard dialect or a standard language, standardized variety of the language. Literary language sometimes ...
of various Aramaic-speaking Christian communities in the historical region of Ancient Syria and throughout the
Near East The ''Near East''; he, המזרח הקרוב; arc, ܕܢܚܐ ܩܪܒ; fa, خاور نزدیک, Xāvar-e nazdik; tr, Yakın Doğu is a geographical term which roughly encompasses a transcontinental region in Western Asia, that was once the hist ...
. As a
liturgical language A sacred language, holy language or liturgical language is any language that is literary language, cultivated and used primarily in church service or for other religion, religious reasons by people who speak another, primary language in their da ...
of
Syriac Christianity Syriac Christianity ( syr, ܡܫܝܚܝܘܬܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܬܐ / ''Mšiḥoyuṯo Suryoyto'' or ''Mšiḥāyūṯā Suryāytā'') is a distinctive branch of Eastern Christianity, whose formative Christian theology, theological writings and traditiona ...
, it gained a prominent role among
Eastern Christian Eastern Christianity comprises Christianity, Christian traditions and Christian denomination, church families that originally developed during Classical antiquity, classical and late antiquity in Eastern Europe, Southeast Europe, Southeastern Eu ...
communities that used both Eastern Syriac and Western Syriac rites. Following the spread of Syriac Christianity, it also became a liturgical language of eastern Christian communities as far as
India India, officially the Republic of India (Hindi: ), is a country in South Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by area, seventh-largest country by area, the List of countries and dependencies by population, second-most populous ...
and
China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the world's List of countries and dependencies by population, most populous country, with a Population of China, population exceeding 1.4 billion, slig ...
. It flourished from the 4th to the 8th century, and continued to have an important role during the next centuries, but by the end of the
Middle Ages In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period lasted approximately from the late 5th to the late 15th centuries, similar to the Post-classical, post-classical period of World history (field), global history. It began with t ...
it was gradually reduced to liturgical use, since the role of
vernacular language A vernacular or vernacular language is in contrast with a "standard language". It refers to the language or dialect that is spoken by people that are inhabiting a particular country or region. The vernacular is typically the native language, n ...
among its native speakers was overtaken by several emerging
Neo-Aramaic The Neo-Aramaic or Modern Aramaic languages are variety (linguistics), varieties of Aramaic language, Aramaic that evolved during the late medieval and early modern periods, and continue to the present day as vernacular (spoken) languages of mode ...
dialects. Classical Syriac is written in the
Syriac alphabet The Syriac alphabet ( ) is a writing system primarily used to write the Syriac language since the 1st century AD. It is one of the Semitic languages, Semitic abjads descending from the Aramaic alphabet through the Palmyrene alphabet, and shares ...
, a derivation of the
Aramaic alphabet The ancient Aramaic alphabet was adapted by Arameans from the Phoenician alphabet and became a distinct script by the 8th century BC. It was used to write the Aramaic languages spoken by ancient Aramean pre-Christian tribes throughout the Fertil ...
. The language is preserved in a large body of
Syriac literature Syriac literature is literature in the Syriac language. It is a tradition going back to the Late Antiquity. It is strongly associated with Syriac Christianity. Terminology In modern Syriac studies, and also within the wider field of Aramaic stu ...
, that comprises roughly 90% of the extant Aramaic literature. Along with
Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece, a country in Southern Europe: *Greeks, an ethnic group. *Greek language, a branch of the Indo-European language family. **Proto-Greek language, the assumed last common ancestor ...
and
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
, Syriac became one of the three most important languages of
Early Christianity Early Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic Monotheism, monotheistic religion based on the Life of Jesus in the New Testament, life and Teachings of Jesus, teachings of Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. It is the Major reli ...
. Already from the first and second centuries AD, the inhabitants of the region of
Osroene Osroene or Osrhoene (; grc-gre, Ὀσροηνή) was an ancient region and state in Upper Mesopotamia. The ''Kingdom of Osroene'', also known as the "Kingdom of Edessa" ( syc, ܡܠܟܘܬܐ ܕܒܝܬ ܐܘܪܗܝ / "Kingdom of Urhay"), according to ...
began to embrace
Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic Monotheism, monotheistic religion based on the Life of Jesus in the New Testament, life and Teachings of Jesus, teachings of Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. It is the Major religious groups, world's ...
, and by the third and fourth centuries, local Edessan Aramaic language became the vehicle of the specific Christian culture that came to be known as the
Syriac Christianity Syriac Christianity ( syr, ܡܫܝܚܝܘܬܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܬܐ / ''Mšiḥoyuṯo Suryoyto'' or ''Mšiḥāyūṯā Suryāytā'') is a distinctive branch of Eastern Christianity, whose formative Christian theology, theological writings and traditiona ...
. Because of theological differences, Syriac-speaking Christians diverged during the 5th century into the
Church of the East The Church of the East ( syc, ܥܕܬܐ ܕܡܕܢܚܐ, ''ʿĒḏtā d-Maḏenḥā'') or the East Syriac Church, also called the Church of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, the Persian Church, the Assyrian Church, the Babylonian Church or the Nestorian C ...
that followed the
East Syriac Rite The East Syriac Rite or East Syrian Rite, also called the Edessan Rite, Assyrian Rite, Persian Rite, Chaldean Rite, Nestorian Rite, Babylonian Rite or Syro-Oriental Rite, is an Eastern Christian liturgical rite that employs the Liturgy of Adda ...
under the Persian rule, and the
Syriac Orthodox Church , native_name_lang = syc , image = St_George_Syriac_orthodox_church_in_Damascus.jpg , imagewidth = 250 , alt = Cathedral of Saint George , caption = Cathedral of Saint George, Damascus ...
that followed the
West Syriac Rite The West Syriac Rite, also called Syro-Antiochian Rite, is an Eastern Christian liturgical rite that employs the Divine Liturgy of Saint James in the West Syriac dialect, West Syriac dialect. It is practised in the Maronite Church, the S ...
under the
Byzantine The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople. It survi ...
rule. As a liturgical language of
Syriac Christianity Syriac Christianity ( syr, ܡܫܝܚܝܘܬܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܬܐ / ''Mšiḥoyuṯo Suryoyto'' or ''Mšiḥāyūṯā Suryāytā'') is a distinctive branch of Eastern Christianity, whose formative Christian theology, theological writings and traditiona ...
, Classical Syriac language spread throughout
Asia Asia (, ) is one of the world's most notable geographical regions, which is either considered a continent in its own right or a subcontinent of Eurasia, which shares the continental landmass of Afro-Eurasia with Africa Africa is ...
as far as the South Indian
Malabar Coast The Malabar Coast is the southwestern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Geographically, it comprises the wettest regions of South India, southern India, as the Western Ghats intercept the moisture-laden monsoon rains, especially on their westw ...
, and Eastern China, and became the medium of communication and cultural dissemination for the later
Arabs The Arabs (singular: Arab; singular ar, عَرَبِيٌّ, DIN 31635: , , plural ar, عَرَب, DIN 31635: , Arabic pronunciation: ), also known as the Arab people, are an ethnic group An ethnic group or an ethnicity is a grouping o ...
, and (to a lesser extent) the other peoples of Parthian and
Sasanian The Sasanian () or Sassanid Empire, officially known as the Empire of Iranians (, ) and also referred to by historians as the Neo-Persian Empire, was the History of Iran, last Iranian empire before the early Muslim conquests of the 7th-8th cen ...
empires. Primarily a
Christian Christians () are people who follow or adhere to Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic Monotheism, monotheistic religion based on the Life of Jesus in the New Testament, life and Teachings of Jesus, teachings of ...
medium of expression, Syriac had a fundamental cultural and literary influence on the development of
Arabic Arabic (, ' ; , ' or ) is a Semitic languages, Semitic language spoken primarily across the Arab world.Semitic languages: an international handbook / edited by Stefan Weninger; in collaboration with Geoffrey Khan, Michael P. Streck, Janet C ...
, which largely replaced it during the later medieval period. Syriac remains the
sacred language A sacred language, holy language or liturgical language is any language that is literary language, cultivated and used primarily in church service or for other religion, religious reasons by people who speak another, primary language in their da ...
of
Syriac Christianity Syriac Christianity ( syr, ܡܫܝܚܝܘܬܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܬܐ / ''Mšiḥoyuṯo Suryoyto'' or ''Mšiḥāyūṯā Suryāytā'') is a distinctive branch of Eastern Christianity, whose formative Christian theology, theological writings and traditiona ...
to this day. It is used as liturgical language of several denominations, like those who follow the
East Syriac Rite The East Syriac Rite or East Syrian Rite, also called the Edessan Rite, Assyrian Rite, Persian Rite, Chaldean Rite, Nestorian Rite, Babylonian Rite or Syro-Oriental Rite, is an Eastern Christian liturgical rite that employs the Liturgy of Adda ...
, including the
Assyrian Church of the East The Assyrian Church of the East,, ar, كنيسة المشرق الآشورية sometimes called Church of the East, officially the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East,; ar, كنيسة المشرق الآشورية الرسول ...
, the
Ancient Church of the East The Ancient Church of the East is an Eastern Christian denomination. It branched from the Assyrian Church of the East in 1964, under the leadership of Mar Thoma Darmo (d. 1969). It is one of three Assyrian Churches that claim continuity wit ...
, the
Chaldean Catholic Church , native_name_lang = syc , image = Assyrian Church.png , imagewidth = 200px , alt = , caption = Cathedral of Our Lady of Sorrows Baghdad, Iraq , abbreviation = , type ...
, the
Syro-Malabar Catholic Church lat, Ecclesia Syrorum-Malabarensium mal, മലബാറിലെ സുറിയാനി സഭ , native_name_lang=, image = St. Thomas' Cross (Chennai, St. Thomas Mount).jpg , caption = The Mar Thoma Nasrani Sl ...
, and the Assyrian Pentecostal Church, and also those who follow the
West Syriac Rite The West Syriac Rite, also called Syro-Antiochian Rite, is an Eastern Christian liturgical rite that employs the Divine Liturgy of Saint James in the West Syriac dialect, West Syriac dialect. It is practised in the Maronite Church, the S ...
, including:
Syriac Orthodox Church , native_name_lang = syc , image = St_George_Syriac_orthodox_church_in_Damascus.jpg , imagewidth = 250 , alt = Cathedral of Saint George , caption = Cathedral of Saint George, Damascus ...
, the
Syriac Catholic Church The Syriac Catholic Church ( syc, ܥܕܬܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܬܐ ܩܬܘܠܝܩܝܬܐ, ʿĪṯo Suryayṯo Qaṯolīqayṯo, ar, الكنيسة السريانية الكاثوليكية) is an Eastern Catholic Churches, Eastern Catholic Christianity ...
, the Maronite Catholic Church, the
Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church The Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church, often shortened to Mar Thoma Church, and known also as the Reformed Syrian ChurchS. N. Sadasivan. A Social History of India'. APH Publishing; 2000. . p. 442. and the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar ...
, the
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (MOSC) also known as the Indian Orthodox Church (IOC) or simply as the Malankara Church, is an Autocephaly, autocephalous Oriental Orthodox Churches, Oriental Orthodox church headquartered in Malankara ...
and the
Syro-Malankara Catholic Church The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, also known as the Malankara Syrian Catholic Church, is an Eastern Catholic The Eastern Catholic Churches or Oriental Catholic Churches, also called the Eastern-Rite Catholic Churches, Eastern Rite Catholi ...
. In its contemporary spoken forms, it is known as leshono kthobonoyo () or kthobonoyo.KTHOBONOYO SYRIAC SOME OBSERVATIONS AND REMARKS GEORGE A. KIRAZ Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies, Vol. 10, 113-124


Name

In the
English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family, with its earliest forms spoken by the inhabitants of early medieval England. It is named after the Angles, one of the ancient Germanic people ...
, the term "Syriac" is used as a
linguonym Linguonym (from la, lingua / language, and gr, ὄνομα / name) also known as glossonym (from grc, γλῶσσα / language) or glottonym (from Attic Greek Attic Greek is the Greek language, Greek dialect of the regions of ancient Greece, ...
(language name) designating a specific variant of the
Aramaic language Aramaic ( syc, ܐܪܡܝܐ, Arāmāyā; oar, 𐤀𐤓𐤌𐤉𐤀; arc, 𐡀𐡓𐡌𐡉𐡀; tmr, אֲרָמִית) is a Northwest Semitic language that originated in the ancient region of Syria, and quickly spread to Mesopotamia and eas ...
in relation to its regional origin in northeastern parts of Ancient Syria, around
Edessa Edessa (; grc, Ἔδεσσα, Édessa) was an ancient city (''polis'') in Upper Mesopotamia, founded during the Hellenistic period by King Seleucus I Nicator (), founder of the Seleucid Empire. It later became capital of the Kingdom of Osroene ...
, that lay outside of provincial borders of
Roman Syria Roman Syria was an early Roman province annexed to the Roman Republic in 64 BC by Pompey in the Third Mithridatic War following the defeat of Kingdom of Armenia (antiquity), King of Armenia Tigranes the Great. Following the partition of the Hero ...
. Since Aramaic was used throughout the
Near East The ''Near East''; he, המזרח הקרוב; arc, ܕܢܚܐ ܩܪܒ; fa, خاور نزدیک, Xāvar-e nazdik; tr, Yakın Doğu is a geographical term which roughly encompasses a transcontinental region in Western Asia, that was once the hist ...
, having several variants (
dialects The term dialect (from Latin , , from the Ancient Greek word , 'discourse', from , 'through' and , 'I speak') can refer to either of two distinctly different types of Linguistics, linguistic phenomena: One usage refers to a variety (linguisti ...
), this specific dialect that originated in northeastern Syria became known under its regional (Syrian/Syriac) designation (''Suryaya''). In English scholarly literature, the term "Syriac" is preferred over the alternative form "Syrian" since the latter is much more
polysemic Polysemy ( or ; ) is the capacity for a sign A sign is an Physical object, object, quality (philosophy), quality, event, or Non-physical entity, entity whose presence or occurrence indicates the probable presence or occurrence of something ...
and commonly relates to
Syria Syria ( ar, سُورِيَا or سُورِيَة, translit=Sūriyā), officially the Syrian Arab Republic ( ar, الجمهورية العربية السورية, al-Jumhūrīyah al-ʻArabīyah as-Sūrīyah), is a Western Asian country loc ...
in general. That distinction is used in English as a convention and does not exist on the ancient
endonymic An endonym (from Greek: , 'inner' + , 'name'; also known as autonym) is a common, ''native'' name for a geographical place, group of people, individual person, language or dialect, meaning that it is used inside that particular place, grou ...
level. Several compound terms like "Syriac Aramaic", "Syrian Aramaic" or "Syro-Aramaic" are also used, thus emphasizing both the Aramaic nature of the language and its Syrian/Syriac regional origin.


Endonyms and exonyms

Early native speakers and writers used several
endonymic An endonym (from Greek: , 'inner' + , 'name'; also known as autonym) is a common, ''native'' name for a geographical place, group of people, individual person, language or dialect, meaning that it is used inside that particular place, grou ...
terms as designations for their language. In addition to common endonym (native name) for the
Aramaic language Aramaic ( syc, ܐܪܡܝܐ, Arāmāyā; oar, 𐤀𐤓𐤌𐤉𐤀; arc, 𐡀𐡓𐡌𐡉𐡀; tmr, אֲרָמִית) is a Northwest Semitic language that originated in the ancient region of Syria, and quickly spread to Mesopotamia and eas ...
in general (''Aramaya''), another endonymic term was also used, designating more specifically the local Edessan dialect, known as ''Urhaya'', a term derived directly from the native Aramaic name for the city of
Edessa Edessa (; grc, Ἔδεσσα, Édessa) was an ancient city (''polis'') in Upper Mesopotamia, founded during the Hellenistic period by King Seleucus I Nicator (), founder of the Seleucid Empire. It later became capital of the Kingdom of Osroene ...
(''Urhay''). Among similar endonymic names with regional connotations, term ''Nahraya'' was also used. It was derived from choronym (regional name) Bet-Nahrain, an Aramaic name for
Mesopotamia Mesopotamia ''Mesopotamíā''; ar, بِلَاد ٱلرَّافِدَيْن or ; syc, ܐܪܡ ܢܗܪ̈ܝܢ, or , ) is a historical region of Western Asia situated within the Tigris–Euphrates river system, in the northern part of the F ...
in general. Original endonymic (native) designations, for Aramaic in general (''Aramaya''), and Edessan Aramaic in particular (''Urhaya''), were later (starting from the 5th century) accompanied by another term,
exonymic An endonym (from Greek: , 'inner' + , 'name'; also known as autonym) is a common, ''native'' name for a geographical place, group of people, individual person, language Language is a structured system of communication. The structure o ...
(foreign) in origin: ''Suryaya'' (Syrian/Syriac), adopted under the influence of a long-standing Greek custom of referring to Arameans as ''Syrians''. Among ancient Greeks, term "Syrian language" was used as a common designation for Aramaic language in general, and such usage was also reflected in Aramaic, by subsequent (acquired) use of the term "Suryaya" as the most preferred
synonym A synonym is a word, morpheme, or phrase In syntax and grammar, a phrase is a group of words or singular word acting as a grammatical unit. For instance, the English language, English expression "the very happy squirrel" is a noun phrase whi ...
for "Aramaya" (Aramaic). Practice of interchangeable naming (Aramaya, Urhaya, Nahraya, and Suryaya) persisted for centuries, in common use and also in works of various prominent writers. One of those who used various terms was theologian Jacob of Edessa (d. 708), who was referring to the language as "''Syrian or Aramean''" (Suryāyā awkēt Ārāmāyā), and also as ''Urhāyā'', when referring to Edessan Aramaic, or ''Naḥrāyā'' when pointing to the region of Bet-Nahrain (Aramaic term for
Mesopotamia Mesopotamia ''Mesopotamíā''; ar, بِلَاد ٱلرَّافِدَيْن or ; syc, ܐܪܡ ܢܗܪ̈ܝܢ, or , ) is a historical region of Western Asia situated within the Tigris–Euphrates river system, in the northern part of the F ...
in general). Plurality of terms among native speakers (ārāmāyā, urhāyā, naḥrāyā, and suryāyā) was not reflected in Greek and Latin terminology, that preferred Syrian/Syriac designation, and the same preference was adopted by later scholars, with one important distinction: in western scholarly use, Syrian/Syriac label was subsequently reduced from the original Greek designation for Aramaic language in general to a more specific (narrower) designation for Edessan Aramaic language, that in its literary and liturgical form came to be known as ''Classical Syriac''. That reduction resulted in the creation of a specific field of Syriac studies, within Aramaic studies. Preference of early scholars towards the use of the Syrian/Syriac label was also relied upon its notable use as an alternative designation for Aramaic language in the "'' Cave of Treasures''", long held to be the 4th century work of an authoritative writer and revered Christian saint
Ephrem of Edessa Ephrem the Syrian ( syc, ܡܪܝ ܐܦܪܝܡ ܣܘܪܝܝܐ, Mār ʾAp̄rêm Sūryāyā, ; grc-koi, Ἐφραὶμ ὁ Σῦρος, Efrém o Sýros; la, Ephraem Syrus; am, ቅዱስ ኤፍሬም ሶርያዊ; ), also known as Saint Ephrem, Saint ...
(d. 373), who was thus believed to be proponent of various linguistic notions and tendencies expressed in the mentioned work. Since modern scholarly analyses have shown that the work in question was written much later ( 600) by an unknown author, several questions had to be reexamined. In regard to the scope and usage of Syrian/Syriac labels in linguistic terminology, some modern scholars have noted that diversity of Aramaic dialects in the wider historical
region of Syria Syria (Hieroglyphic Luwian: 𔒂𔒠 ''Sura/i''; gr, Συρία) or Sham ( ar, ٱلشَّام, ash-Shām) is the name of a historical region located east of the Mediterranean Sea in Western Asia, broadly synonymous with the Levant. Other s ...
should not be overlooked by improper and unspecific use of Syrian/Syriac labels. Diversity of Aramaic dialects was recorded by
Theodoret of Cyrus Theodoret of Cyrus or Cyrrhus ( grc-gre, Θεοδώρητος Κύρρου; AD 393 –  458/466) was an influential theologian of the School of Antioch, biblical commentator, and Christianity, Christian bishop of Cyrrhus, Syria, Cyrrhus ...
(d. 466), who accepted Syrian/Syriac labels as common Greek designations for Arameans and their language in general, stating that "''the Osroënians, the Syrians, the people of the Euphrates, the Palestinians, and the Phoenicians all speak Syriac, but with many differences in pronunciation''". Theodoret′s regional (provincial) differentiation of Aramaic dialects included an explicit distinction between the "Syrians" (as Aramaic speakers of
Syria Syria ( ar, سُورِيَا or سُورِيَة, translit=Sūriyā), officially the Syrian Arab Republic ( ar, الجمهورية العربية السورية, al-Jumhūrīyah al-ʻArabīyah as-Sūrīyah), is a Western Asian country loc ...
proper, western of
Euphrates The Euphrates () is the longest and one of the most historically important rivers of Western Asia. Tigris–Euphrates river system, Together with the Tigris, it is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia ( ''the land between the rivers'') ...
), and the "Osroenians" as Aramaic speakers of
Osroene Osroene or Osrhoene (; grc-gre, Ὀσροηνή) was an ancient region and state in Upper Mesopotamia. The ''Kingdom of Osroene'', also known as the "Kingdom of Edessa" ( syc, ܡܠܟܘܬܐ ܕܒܝܬ ܐܘܪܗܝ / "Kingdom of Urhay"), according to ...
(eastern region, centered in
Edessa Edessa (; grc, Ἔδεσσα, Édessa) was an ancient city (''polis'') in Upper Mesopotamia, founded during the Hellenistic period by King Seleucus I Nicator (), founder of the Seleucid Empire. It later became capital of the Kingdom of Osroene ...
), thus showing that dialect of the "Syrians" (Aramaic speakers of proper Syria) was known to be different from that of the "Osroenians" (speakers of Edessan Aramaic). Native (
endonymic An endonym (from Greek: , 'inner' + , 'name'; also known as autonym) is a common, ''native'' name for a geographical place, group of people, individual person, language or dialect, meaning that it is used inside that particular place, grou ...
) use of the term ''Aramaic language'' (Aramaya/Oromoyo) among its speakers has continued throughout the medieval period, as attested by the works of prominent writers, including the Oriental Orthodox Patriarch Michael of Antioch (d. 1199), but during the course of time exonymic designations based on Syrian/Syriac labels became more common, developing into several dialectal variants (Suryoyo/Suryaya, Sūrayṯ/Sūreṯ, Sūryān).


Wider and narrower meanings

Since the proper dating of the '' Cave of Treasures'', modern scholars were left with no indications of native Aramaic adoption of Syrian/Syriac labels before the 5th century. In the same time, a growing body of later sources showed that both in Greek, and in native literature, those labels were most commonly used as designations for Aramaic language in general, including its various dialects (both eastern and western), thus challenging the conventional scholarly reduction of the term "Syriac language" to a specific designation for Edessan Aramaic. Such use, that excludes non-Edessan dialects, and particularly those of Western Aramaic provenience, persist as an accepted convention, but in the same time stands in contradiction both with original Greek, and later native (acquired) uses of Syrian/Syriac labels as common designations for
Aramaic language Aramaic ( syc, ܐܪܡܝܐ, Arāmāyā; oar, 𐤀𐤓𐤌𐤉𐤀; arc, 𐡀𐡓𐡌𐡉𐡀; tmr, אֲרָמִית) is a Northwest Semitic language that originated in the ancient region of Syria, and quickly spread to Mesopotamia and eas ...
in general. Those problems were addressed by prominent scholars, including Theodor Nöldeke (d. 1930) who noted on several occasions that term "''Syriac language''" has come to have two distinctive meanings, wider and narrower, with first (historical and wider) serving as a common
synonym A synonym is a word, morpheme, or phrase In syntax and grammar, a phrase is a group of words or singular word acting as a grammatical unit. For instance, the English language, English expression "the very happy squirrel" is a noun phrase whi ...
for Aramaic language in general, while other (conventional and narrower) designating only the Edessan Aramaic, also referred to more specifically as the "''Classical Syriac''". Noting the problem, scholars have tried to resolve the issue by being more consistent in their use of the term "''Classical Syriac''" as a strict and clear scientific designation for the old literary and liturgical language, but the consistency of such use was never achieved within the field. Inconsistent use of "Syrian/Syriac" labels in scholarly literature has led some researchers to raise additional questions, related not only to terminological issues but also to some more fundamental (methodological) problems, that were undermining the integrity of the field. Attempts to resolve those issues were unsuccessful, and in many scholarly works, related to the old literary and liturgical language, reduction of the term "''Classical Syriac''" to "''Syriac''" (only) remained a manner of convenience, even in titles of works, including encyclopedic entries, thus creating a large body of unspecific references, that became a base for the emergence of several new classes of terminological problems at the advent of the informational era. Those problems culminated during the process of international standardization of the terms "''Syriac''" and "''Classical Syriac''" within the
ISO 639 ISO 639 is a set of standards by the International Organization for Standardization that is concerned with representation of names for languages and language groups. It was also the name of the original standard, approved in 1967 (as ''ISO 63 ...
and MARC systems. The term "''Classical Syriac''" was accepted in 2007 and codified (ISO code
syc
as a designation for the old literary and liturgical language, thus confirming the proper use of the term. In the same time, within the MARC standard, code syc was accepted as designation for ''Classical Syriac'', but under the name "''Syriac''", while the existing general code syr, that was until then named "''Syriac''", was renamed to "''Syriac, Modern''". Within ISO 639 system, large body of unspecific references related to various linguistic uses of the term "''Syriac''" remained related to the original
ISO 639-2 ISO/IEC 2022, ISO 639- 2:1998, ''Codes for the representation of names of languages — Part 2: Alpha-3 code'', is the second part of the ISO 639 International standard, standard, which lists Language code, codes for the representation of the nam ...
code syr (''Syriac''), but its scope is defined within the
ISO 639-3 ISO 639-3:2007, ''Codes for the representation of names of languages – Part 3: Alpha-3 code for comprehensive coverage of languages'', is an international standard for language codes in the ISO 639 series. It defines three-letter codes for i ...
standard as a macrolanguage that currently includes only some of the
Neo-Aramaic The Neo-Aramaic or Modern Aramaic languages are variety (linguistics), varieties of Aramaic language, Aramaic that evolved during the late medieval and early modern periods, and continue to the present day as vernacular (spoken) languages of mode ...
languages. Such differences in classification, both terminological and substantial, within systems and between systems (ISO and MARC), led to the creation of several additional problems, that remain unresolved. Within linguistics, mosaic of terminological ambiguities related to Syrian/Syriac labels was additionally enriched by introduction of the term "''Palaeo-Syrian language''" as a variant designation for the ancient
Eblaite language Eblaite (, also known as Eblan ISO 639-3), or Palaeo-Syrian, is an extinct East Semitic language used during the 3rd millennium BC by the populations of Northern Syria. It was named after the ancient city of Ebla, in modern western Syria. Varian ...
from the third millennium BC, that is unrelated to the much later Edessan Aramaic, and its early phases, that were commonly labeled as Old/Proto- or even Paleo/Palaeo-Syrian/Syriac in scholarly literature. Newest addition to the terminological mosaic occurred 2014, when it was proposed, also by a scholar, that one of regional dialects of the
Old Aramaic Old Aramaic refers to the earliest stage of the Aramaic language, known from the Canaanite and Aramaic inscriptions, Aramaic inscriptions discovered since the 19th century. Emerging as the language of the city-states of the Arameans in the Levan ...
language from the first centuries of the
1st millennium BC The 1st millennium BC, also known as the last millennium BC, was the period of time lasting from the years 1000 BC to 1 BC (10th century BC, 10th to 1st century BC, 1st centuries Before Christ, BC; in astronomy: Julian day, JD – ). It encompa ...
should be called "''Central Syrian Aramaic''", thus introducing another ambiguous term, that can be used, in its generic meaning, to any local variant of Aramaic that occurred in central regions of Syria during any period in history. After more than five centuries of Syriac studies, that were founded by western scholars by the end of the 15th century, main terminological issues related to the name and classification of the language known as Edessan Aramaic, and also referred to by several other names combined of Syrian/Siriac labels, remain opened and unsolved. Some of those issues have special
sociolinguistic Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any or all aspects of society, including cultural Norm (sociology), norms, expectations, and context (language use), context, on the way language is used, and society's effect on languag ...
and
ethnolinguistic Ethnolinguistics (sometimes called cultural linguistics) is an area of anthropological linguistics Anthropological linguistics is the subfield of linguistics and anthropology which deals with the place of language in its wider social and cultu ...
significance for the remaining
Neo-Aramaic The Neo-Aramaic or Modern Aramaic languages are variety (linguistics), varieties of Aramaic language, Aramaic that evolved during the late medieval and early modern periods, and continue to the present day as vernacular (spoken) languages of mode ...
speaking communities. Since the occurrence of major political changes in the
Near East The ''Near East''; he, המזרח הקרוב; arc, ܕܢܚܐ ܩܪܒ; fa, خاور نزدیک, Xāvar-e nazdik; tr, Yakın Doğu is a geographical term which roughly encompasses a transcontinental region in Western Asia, that was once the hist ...
(2003), those issues have acquired additional complexity, related to legal recognition of the language and its name. In the
Constitution of Iraq The Constitution of the Republic of Iraq ( ar, دستور جمهورية العراق Kurdish languages, Kurdish: دەستووری عێراق) is the fundamental law of Iraq. The first constitution came into force in 1925. The current constitutio ...
(Article 4), adopted in 2005, and also in subsequent legislation, term "''Syriac''" ( ar, السريانية / al-suriania) is used as official designation for the language of
Neo-Aramaic The Neo-Aramaic or Modern Aramaic languages are variety (linguistics), varieties of Aramaic language, Aramaic that evolved during the late medieval and early modern periods, and continue to the present day as vernacular (spoken) languages of mode ...
-speaking communities, thus opening additional questions related to linguistic and cultural identity of those communities. Legal and other practical (educational and informational) aspects of the linguistic self-identification also arose throughout Syriac-speaking
diaspora A diaspora ( ) is a population that is scattered across regions which are separate from its geographic place of origin. Historically, the word was used first in reference to the dispersion of Greek diaspora, Greeks in the Hellenic world, and ...
, particularly in European countries (Germany, Sweden, Netherlands).


Geographic distribution

Syriac was the local
dialect The term dialect (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) arou ...
of Aramaic in
Edessa Edessa (; grc, Ἔδεσσα, Édessa) was an ancient city (''polis'') in Upper Mesopotamia, founded during the Hellenistic period by King Seleucus I Nicator (), founder of the Seleucid Empire. It later became capital of the Kingdom of Osroene ...
, and evolved under the influence of the
Church of the East The Church of the East ( syc, ܥܕܬܐ ܕܡܕܢܚܐ, ''ʿĒḏtā d-Maḏenḥā'') or the East Syriac Church, also called the Church of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, the Persian Church, the Assyrian Church, the Babylonian Church or the Nestorian C ...
and the
Syriac Orthodox Church , native_name_lang = syc , image = St_George_Syriac_orthodox_church_in_Damascus.jpg , imagewidth = 250 , alt = Cathedral of Saint George , caption = Cathedral of Saint George, Damascus ...
into its current form. Before Arabic became the dominant language, Syriac was a major language among Christian communities in the
Middle East The Middle East ( ar, الشرق الأوسط, ISO 233: ) is a geopolitical region commonly encompassing Arabian Peninsula, Arabia (including the Arabian Peninsula and Bahrain), Anatolia, Asia Minor (Asian part of Turkey except Hatay Pro ...
,
Central Asia Central Asia, also known as Middle Asia, is a region of Asia Asia (, ) is one of the world's most notable geographical regions, which is either considered a continent in its own right or a subcontinent of Eurasia, which shares the c ...
and the
Malabar Coast The Malabar Coast is the southwestern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Geographically, it comprises the wettest regions of South India, southern India, as the Western Ghats intercept the moisture-laden monsoon rains, especially on their westw ...
in
India India, officially the Republic of India (Hindi: ), is a country in South Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by area, seventh-largest country by area, the List of countries and dependencies by population, second-most populous ...
, and remains so among the
Syriac Christians Syriac Christianity ( syr, ܡܫܝܚܝܘܬܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܬܐ / ''Mšiḥoyuṯo Suryoyto'' or ''Mšiḥāyūṯā Suryāytā'') is a distinctive branch of Eastern Christianity, whose formative Christian theology, theological writings and traditiona ...
to this day. It has been found as far afield as
Hadrian's Wall Hadrian's Wall ( la, Vallum Aelium), also known as the Roman Wall, Picts' Wall, or ''Vallum Hadriani'' in Latin, is a former defensive fortification of the Roman province of Roman Britain, Britannia, begun in AD 122 in the reign of the Empe ...
in
Great Britain Great Britain is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of continental Europe. With an area of , it is the largest of the British Isles, the List of European islands by area, largest European island and the List of is ...
, with inscriptions written by Aramaic-speaking soldiers of the
Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Romanum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Roman Republic, Republican period of ancient Rome. As a polity, it included large territorial holdings aro ...
.


History

History of Syriac language is divided into several successive periods, defined primarily by linguistic, and also by cultural criteria. Some terminological and chronological distinctions exist between different classifications, that were proposed among scholars. * "Old Syriac" (Old-Edessan Aramaic), represents the earliest stage in development of the language, that emerged by the beginning of the first century AD as the main Aramaic dialect in the region of
Osroene Osroene or Osrhoene (; grc-gre, Ὀσροηνή) was an ancient region and state in Upper Mesopotamia. The ''Kingdom of Osroene'', also known as the "Kingdom of Edessa" ( syc, ܡܠܟܘܬܐ ܕܒܝܬ ܐܘܪܗܝ / "Kingdom of Urhay"), according to ...
, centered in
Edessa Edessa (; grc, Ἔδεσσα, Édessa) was an ancient city (''polis'') in Upper Mesopotamia, founded during the Hellenistic period by King Seleucus I Nicator (), founder of the Seleucid Empire. It later became capital of the Kingdom of Osroene ...
, and continued to develop during the next two or three centuries, gradually gaining wider regional significance. * "Middle Syriac" (Middle-Edessan Aramaic), most commonly known as "Classical Syriac" or "Literary Syriac" ( '), represents the most important period in the history of the language, marked by notable literary, liturgical and cultural development and expansion, from the third to the thirteenth century. The period is further subdivided into three stages: ** Early Classical Syriac (Pre-Classical Syriac), represents the earliest stage in development of Classical Syriac during the third and fourth century, preceding the later linguistic standardization. ** Classical Syriac (in the narrower sense of the term), represents the main, standardized stage in development of Classical Syriac, from the fourth century up to the eighth century. ** Late Classical Syriac (Post-Classical Syriac), represents the later, somewhat declining stage in development of Classical Syriac, from the eighth century up to the twelfth or thirteenth century. * "Modern Syriac" (Neo-Syriac Aramaic) represents modern
Neo-Aramaic languages The Neo-Aramaic or Modern Aramaic languages are varieties of Aramaic Aramaic ( syc, ܐܪܡܝܐ, Arāmāyā; oar, 𐤀𐤓𐤌𐤉𐤀; arc, 𐡀𐡓𐡌𐡉𐡀; tmr, אֲרָמִית) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semiti ...
. Neo-Syriac languages did not develop directly from Classical Syriac, but rather from closely related dialects belonging to the same branch of Aramaic. Those dialects have long co-existed with Classical Syriac as a liturgical and literary language, and were significantly influenced by it during the
late medieval The Late Middle Ages or Late Medieval Period was the Periodization, period of European history lasting from AD 1300 to 1500. The Late Middle Ages followed the High Middle Ages and preceded the onset of the early modern period (and in much of Eur ...
and early modern period. Modern Syriac is divided into: ** Modern Eastern Syriac ( Northeastern Neo-Aramaic), including primarily
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic Suret ( syr, ܣܘܪܝܬ) (Help:IPA for Aramaic, su:rɪtʰor Help:IPA for Aramaic, su:rɪθ, also known as Assyrian or Chaldean, refers to the varieties of Northeastern Neo-Aramaic (NENA) spoken by ethnic Assyrian people, Assyrians, ...
and
Chaldean Neo-Aramaic Suret ( syr, ܣܘܪܝܬ) ( su:rɪtʰor su:rɪθ, also known as Assyrian or Chaldean, refers to the varieties of Northeastern Neo-Aramaic (NENA) spoken by ethnic Assyrians, including those identifying as religious groups rather than eth ...
. The term is usually not used in reference to Neo-Mandaic, another variety of Eastern Aramaic spoken by the
Mandaeans Mandaeans ( ar, المندائيون ), also known as Mandaean Sabians ( ) or simply as Sabians ( ), are an ethnoreligious group who are followers of Mandaeism. They believe that John the Baptist was the final and most important prophet. They ...
. ** Modern Western Syriac ( Central Neo-Aramaic), including ( Turoyo and Mlahsô).


Origins

During the first three centuries of the
Common Era Common Era (CE) and Before the Common Era (BCE) are year notations for the Gregorian calendar The Gregorian calendar is the calendar used in most parts of the world. It was introduced in October 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII as a modificatio ...
, a local Aramaic dialect that was spoken in the
Kingdom of Osroene Osroene or Osrhoene (; grc-gre, Ὀσροηνή) was an ancient region and state in Upper Mesopotamia. The ''Kingdom of Osroene'', also known as the "Kingdom of Edessa Edessa (; grc, Ἔδεσσα, Édessa) was an ancient city (''polis'') ...
, centered in
Edessa Edessa (; grc, Ἔδεσσα, Édessa) was an ancient city (''polis'') in Upper Mesopotamia, founded during the Hellenistic period by King Seleucus I Nicator (), founder of the Seleucid Empire. It later became capital of the Kingdom of Osroene ...
, eastern of
Euphrates The Euphrates () is the longest and one of the most historically important rivers of Western Asia. Tigris–Euphrates river system, Together with the Tigris, it is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia ( ''the land between the rivers'') ...
, started to gain prominence and regional significance. There are about eighty extant early inscriptions, written in Old-Edessan Aramaic, dated to the first three centuries AD, with the earliest inscription being dated to the 6th year AD, and the earliest parchment to 243 AD. All of these early examples of the language are non-Christian. As a language of public life and administration in the region of Osroene, Edessan Aramaic was gradually given a relatively coherent form, style and grammar that is lacking in other Aramaic dialects of the same period. Since Old-Edessan Aramaic later developed into Classical Syriac, it was retroactively labeled (by western scholars) as "Old Syrian/Syriac" or "Proto-Syrian/Syriac", although the
linguistic homeland In historical linguistics, the homeland or ''Urheimat'' (, from German language, German '':wikt:ur-#German, ur-'' "original" and ''Heimat'', home) of a proto-language is the region in which it was spoken before splitting into different daughter la ...
of the language (region of Osroene) was never part of contemporary (Roman)
Syria Syria ( ar, سُورِيَا or سُورِيَة, translit=Sūriyā), officially the Syrian Arab Republic ( ar, الجمهورية العربية السورية, al-Jumhūrīyah al-ʻArabīyah as-Sūrīyah), is a Western Asian country loc ...
.


Literary Syriac

In the 3rd century, churches in
Edessa Edessa (; grc, Ἔδεσσα, Édessa) was an ancient city (''polis'') in Upper Mesopotamia, founded during the Hellenistic period by King Seleucus I Nicator (), founder of the Seleucid Empire. It later became capital of the Kingdom of Osroene ...
began to use local Aramaic dialect as the language of worship. Early literary efforts were focused on creation of an authoritative Aramaic translation of the Bible, the
Peshitta The Peshitta ( syc, ܦܫܺܝܛܬܳܐ ''or'' ') is the standard version of the Bible for churches in the Syriac Christianity, Syriac tradition, including the Maronite Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, the Syriac O ...
( ). At the same time,
Ephrem the Syrian Ephrem the Syrian ( syc, ܡܪܝ ܐܦܪܝܡ ܣܘܪܝܝܐ, Mār ʾAp̄rêm Sūryāyā, ; grc-koi, Ἐφραὶμ ὁ Σῦρος, Efrém o Sýros; la, Ephraem Syrus; am, ቅዱስ ኤፍሬም ሶርያዊ; ), also known as Saint Ephrem, Saint ...
was producing the most treasured collection of poetry and theology in the Edessan Aramaic language, that later became known as Syriac. In 489, many Syriac-speaking Christians living in the eastern reaches of the Roman Empire fled to the Sasanian Empire to escape persecution and growing animosity with Greek-speaking Christians. The Christological differences with the 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 Syriac language later split into a western variety, used mainly by the
Syriac Orthodox Church , native_name_lang = syc , image = St_George_Syriac_orthodox_church_in_Damascus.jpg , imagewidth = 250 , alt = Cathedral of Saint George , caption = Cathedral of Saint George, Damascus ...
in upper Mesopotamia and Syria proper, and an eastern variety used mainly by the
Church of the East The Church of the East ( syc, ܥܕܬܐ ܕܡܕܢܚܐ, ''ʿĒḏtā d-Maḏenḥā'') or the East Syriac Church, also called the Church of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, the Persian Church, the Assyrian Church, the Babylonian Church or the Nestorian C ...
in central and northeastern Mesopotamia. Religious divisions were also reflected in linguistic differences between the Western Syriac Rite and the Eastern Syriac Rite. During the 5th and the 6th century, Syriac reached its height as the lingua franca of
Mesopotamia Mesopotamia ''Mesopotamíā''; ar, بِلَاد ٱلرَّافِدَيْن or ; syc, ܐܪܡ ܢܗܪ̈ܝܢ, or , ) is a historical region of Western Asia situated within the Tigris–Euphrates river system, in the northern part of the F ...
and surrounding regions. It existed in literary (liturgical) form, as well as in vernacular forms, as the native language of Syriac-speaking populations. Following the Arab conquest in the 7th century, vernacular forms of Syriac were gradually replaced during the next centuries by the advancing
Arabic language Arabic (, ' ; , ' or ) is a Semitic language spoken primarily across the Arab world The Arab world ( ar, اَلْعَالَمُ الْعَرَبِيُّ '), formally the Arab homeland ( '), also known as the Arab nation ( '), the Ara ...
. Having an Aramaic (Syriac)
substratum In linguistics, a stratum (Latin for "layer") or strate is a language that influences or is influenced by another through language contact, contact. A substratum or substrate is a language that has lower power or prestige than another, while a s ...
, the regional Arabic dialect (
Mesopotamian Arabic Mesopotamian Arabic, ( ar, لهجة بلاد ما بين النهرين) also known as Iraqi Arabic ( ar, اللهجة العراقية), or Gilit Mesopotamian Arabic (as opposed to North Mesopotamian Arabic, Qeltu Mesopotamian Arabic) is a contin ...
) developed under the strong influence of local Aramaic (Syriac) dialects, sharing significant similarities in language structure, as well as having evident and stark influences from previous (ancient) languages of the region. Syriac-influenced Arabic dialects developed among Iraqi Muslims, as well as
Iraqi Christians The Christians of Iraq are considered to be one of the oldest continuous Christians, Christian communities in the world. The vast majority of Iraqi Christians are indigenous Eastern Aramaic languages, Eastern Aramaic-speaking ethnic Assyrian peo ...
, most of whom descend from native Syriac speakers. Western Syriac is the official language of the
West Syriac Rite The West Syriac Rite, also called Syro-Antiochian Rite, is an Eastern Christian liturgical rite that employs the Divine Liturgy of Saint James in the West Syriac dialect, West Syriac dialect. It is practised in the Maronite Church, the S ...
, practiced by the
Syriac Orthodox Church , native_name_lang = syc , image = St_George_Syriac_orthodox_church_in_Damascus.jpg , imagewidth = 250 , alt = Cathedral of Saint George , caption = Cathedral of Saint George, Damascus ...
, the
Syriac Catholic Church The Syriac Catholic Church ( syc, ܥܕܬܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܬܐ ܩܬܘܠܝܩܝܬܐ, ʿĪṯo Suryayṯo Qaṯolīqayṯo, ar, الكنيسة السريانية الكاثوليكية) is an Eastern Catholic Churches, Eastern Catholic Christianity ...
, the Maronite Catholic Church, the
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (MOSC) also known as the Indian Orthodox Church (IOC) or simply as the Malankara Church, is an Autocephaly, autocephalous Oriental Orthodox Churches, Oriental Orthodox church headquartered in Malankara ...
, the Malabar Independent Syrian Church, the
Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church The Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church, often shortened to Mar Thoma Church, and known also as the Reformed Syrian ChurchS. N. Sadasivan. A Social History of India'. APH Publishing; 2000. . p. 442. and the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar ...
and the
Syro-Malankara Catholic Church The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, also known as the Malankara Syrian Catholic Church, is an Eastern Catholic The Eastern Catholic Churches or Oriental Catholic Churches, also called the Eastern-Rite Catholic Churches, Eastern Rite Catholi ...
. Eastern Syriac is the liturgical language of the
East Syriac Rite The East Syriac Rite or East Syrian Rite, also called the Edessan Rite, Assyrian Rite, Persian Rite, Chaldean Rite, Nestorian Rite, Babylonian Rite or Syro-Oriental Rite, is an Eastern Christian liturgical rite that employs the Liturgy of Adda ...
, practised in modern times by the ethnic Assyrian followers of the
Assyrian Church of the East The Assyrian Church of the East,, ar, كنيسة المشرق الآشورية sometimes called Church of the East, officially the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East,; ar, كنيسة المشرق الآشورية الرسول ...
, the Assyrian Pentecostal Church, the
Ancient Church of the East The Ancient Church of the East is an Eastern Christian denomination. It branched from the Assyrian Church of the East in 1964, under the leadership of Mar Thoma Darmo (d. 1969). It is one of three Assyrian Churches that claim continuity wit ...
, the
Chaldean Catholic Church , native_name_lang = syc , image = Assyrian Church.png , imagewidth = 200px , alt = , caption = Cathedral of Our Lady of Sorrows Baghdad, Iraq , abbreviation = , type ...
, as well as the
Syro-Malabar Catholic Church lat, Ecclesia Syrorum-Malabarensium mal, മലബാറിലെ സുറിയാനി സഭ , native_name_lang=, image = St. Thomas' Cross (Chennai, St. Thomas Mount).jpg , caption = The Mar Thoma Nasrani Sl ...
in India. Syriac literature is by far the most prodigious of the various Aramaic languages. Its corpus covers poetry, prose, theology, liturgy, hymnody, history, philosophy, science, medicine and natural history. Much of this wealth remains unavailable in critical editions or modern translation. From the 7th century onwards, Syriac gradually gave way to
Arabic Arabic (, ' ; , ' or ) is a Semitic languages, Semitic language spoken primarily across the Arab world.Semitic languages: an international handbook / edited by Stefan Weninger; in collaboration with Geoffrey Khan, Michael P. Streck, Janet C ...
as the spoken language of much of the region, excepting northern Iraq. The
Mongol invasions and conquests The Mongol invasions and conquests took place during the 13th and 14th centuries, creating history's largest contiguous empire: the Mongol Empire (1206-1368), which by 1300 covered large parts of Eurasia. Historians regard the destruction under t ...
of the 13th century, and the religiously motivated massacres of Syriac Christians by
Timur Timur ; chg, ''Aqsaq Temür'', 'Timur the Lame') or as ''Sahib-i-Qiran'' ( 'Lord of the Auspicious Conjunction'), his epithet. ( chg, ''Temür'', 'Iron'; 9 April 133617–19 February 1405), later Timūr Gurkānī ( chg, ''Temür Kür ...
further contributed to the rapid decline of the language. In many places outside of
Upper Mesopotamia Upper Mesopotamia is the name used for the Upland and lowland, uplands and great outwash plain of northwestern Iraq, northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey, in the northern Middle East. Since the early Muslim conquests of the mid-7th century, ...
, even in liturgy, it was replaced by Arabic.


Current status

Revivals of literary Syriac in recent times have led to some success with the creation of newspapers in written Syriac ( ') similar to the use of
Modern Standard Arabic Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) or Modern Written Arabic (MWA), terms used mostly by linguists, is the variety of Standard language, standardized, Literary language, literary Arabic that developed in the Arab world in the late 19th and early 20th ...
has been employed since the early decades of the 20th century. Modern forms of literary Syriac has also been used not only in religious literature but also in secular genres, often with Assyrian nationalistic themes. Syriac is spoken as the liturgical language of the
Syriac Orthodox Church , native_name_lang = syc , image = St_George_Syriac_orthodox_church_in_Damascus.jpg , imagewidth = 250 , alt = Cathedral of Saint George , caption = Cathedral of Saint George, Damascus ...
, as well as by some of its adherents. Syriac has been recognised as an official
minority language A minority language is a language spoken by a minority group, minority of the population of a territory. Such people are termed linguistic minorities or language minorities. With a total number of 196 sovereign states recognized internationally ( ...
in Iraq. It is also taught in some public schools in
Iraq Iraq,; ku, عێراق, translit=Êraq officially the Republic of Iraq, '; ku, کۆماری عێراق, translit=Komarî Êraq is a country in Western Asia. It is bordered by Turkey to Iraq–Turkey border, the north, Iran to Iran–Iraq ...
,
Syria Syria ( ar, سُورِيَا or سُورِيَة, translit=Sūriyā), officially the Syrian Arab Republic ( ar, الجمهورية العربية السورية, al-Jumhūrīyah al-ʻArabīyah as-Sūrīyah), is a Western Asian country loc ...
, Palestine,
Israel Israel (; he, יִשְׂרָאֵל, ; ar, إِسْرَائِيل, ), officially the State of Israel ( he, מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, label=none, translit=Medīnat Yīsrāʾēl; ), is a country in Western Asia. It is situated ...
,
Sweden Sweden, formally the Kingdom of Sweden,The United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names states that the country's formal name is the Kingdom of SwedenUNGEGN World Geographical Names, Sweden./ref> is a Nordic countries, Nordic c ...
,
Augsburg Augsburg (; bar , Augschburg , links=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swabian_German , label=Swabian German, , ) is a city in Swabia, Bavaria, Germany, around west of Bavarian capital Munich. It is a College town, university town and regional ...
(Germany) and
Kerala Kerala ( ; ) is a States and union territories of India, state on the Malabar Coast of India. It was formed on 1 November 1956, following the passage of the States Reorganisation Act, by combining Malayalam-speaking regions of the erstwhile ...
(India). In 2014, an Assyrian
nursery school A preschool, also known as nursery school, pre-primary school, or play school or creche, is an school, educational establishment or learning space offering early childhood education to children before they begin compulsory education at primary ...
could finally be opened in Yeşilköy,
Istanbul Istanbul ( , ; tr, İstanbul ), formerly known as Constantinople ( grc-gre, Κωνσταντινούπολις; la, Constantinopolis), is the List of largest cities and towns in Turkey, largest city in Turkey, serving as the country's economic, ...
after waging a lawsuit against the Ministry of National Education which had denied it permission, but was required to respect non-Muslim minority rights as specified in the
Treaty of Lausanne The Treaty of Lausanne (french: Traité de Lausanne) was a peace treaty negotiated during the Lausanne Conference of 1922–23 and signed in the Palais de Rumine, Lausanne, Switzerland, on 24 July 1923. The treaty officially settled the conflic ...
. In August 2016, the Ourhi Centre was founded by the Assyrian community in the city of Qamishli, to educate teachers in order to make Syriac an additional language to be taught in public schools in the
Jazira Region The Jazira Region, formerly Jazira Canton, ( ku, Herêma Cizîrê, ar, إقليم الجزيرة, syr, ܦܢܝܬܐ ܕܓܙܪܬܐ, Ponyotho d'Gozarto), is the largest of the three original regions of the de facto Autonomous Administration of No ...
of the
Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), also known as Rojava, is a de facto autonomous region in northeastern Syria. It consists of self-governing Regions of North and East Syria, sub-regions in the areas of Afrin Region ...
, which then started with the 2016/17 academic year.


Grammar

Many Syriac words, like those in other
Semitic languages The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family. They are spoken by more than 330 million people across much of West Asia, the Horn of Africa, and latterly North Africa, Malta, West Africa, Chad, and in large immigrant and ...
, belong to
triconsonantal roots The root (linguistics), roots of verbs and most nouns in the Semitic languages are characterized as a sequence of consonants or "wikt:radical, radicals" (hence the term consonantal root). Such abstract consonantal roots are used in the formation of ...
, collations of three Syriac consonants. New words are built from these three consonants with variable vowel and consonant sets. For example, the following words belong to the root ('), to which a basic meaning of ''taking'' can be assigned: * – : "he has taken" * – : "he will take, he was taking, he does take" * – : "take!" * – : "he takes, he is taking" * – : "he has lifted/raised" * – : "he has set out" * – : "a taking, burden, recension, portion or syllable" * – : "takings, profits, taxes" * – : "a beast of burden" * – : "arrogance"


Nouns

Most Syriac
noun A noun () is a word that generally functions as the name of a specific object or set of objects, such as living creatures, places, actions, qualities, states of existence, or ideas.Example nouns for: * Organism, Living creatures (including people ...
s are built from triliteral roots. Nouns carry
grammatical gender In linguistics, grammatical gender system is a specific form of noun class system, where nouns are assigned with gender categories that are often not related to their real-world qualities. In languages with grammatical gender, most or all nouns ...
(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. These states should not be confused with
grammatical case A grammatical case is a category of nouns and noun modifiers (determiners, adjectives, participles, and Numeral (linguistics), numerals), which corresponds to one or more potential grammatical functions for a nominal group in a wording. In vari ...
s in other languages. * The absolute state is the basic form of the noun – , , "taxes". * The emphatic state usually represents a definite noun – , , "the taxes". * The construct state marks a noun in relationship to another noun – , , "taxes of...". However, very quickly in the development of Classical Syriac, the emphatic state became the ordinary form of the noun, and the absolute and construct states were relegated to certain stock phrases (for example, , , "man, person", literally "son of man"). In Old and early Classical Syriac, most
genitive In grammar, the genitive case (list of glossing abbreviations, abbreviated ) is the grammatical case that marks a word, usually a noun, as modifying another word, also usually a noun—thus indicating an attributive noun, attributive relationshi ...
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, , , means "the taxes of the kingdom". Quickly, the construct relationship was abandoned and replaced by the use of the relative particle , '. Thus, the same
noun phrase In linguistics, a noun phrase, or nominal (phrase), is a phrase that has a noun or pronoun as its head (linguistics), head or performs the same Grammar, grammatical function as a noun. Noun phrases are very common linguistic typology, cross-lingui ...
becomes , , 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 , . 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, hoseof the kingdom".
Adjective An adjective (list of glossing abbreviations, abbreviated ) is a word that describes a noun or noun phrase. Its semantic role is to change information given by the noun. Traditionally, adjectives were considered one of the main part of speech, par ...
s always agree in gender and number with the nouns they modify. Adjectives are in the absolute state if they are predicative, but agree with the state of their noun if
attributive In grammar, an attributive expression is a word or phrase within a noun phrase In linguistics, a noun phrase, or nominal (phrase), is a phrase that has a noun or pronoun as its head (linguistics), head or performs the same Grammar, grammatical f ...
. Thus, , ', means "the taxes are evil", whereas , ', means "evil taxes".


Verbs

Most Syriac verbs are built on triliteral roots as well. Finite verbs carry
person A person (plural, : people) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reason, morality, consciousness or self-consciousness, and being a part of a culturally established form of social relations such as kinship, ownership of pr ...
, gender (except in the first person) and number, as well as tense and conjugation. The non-finite verb forms are the
infinitive Infinitive (list of glossing abbreviations, abbreviated ) is a linguistics term for certain verb forms existing in many languages, most often used as non-finite verbs. As with many linguistic concepts, there is not a single definition applicable to ...
and the active and
passive Passive may refer to: * Passive voice, a grammatical voice common in many languages, see also Pseudopassive (disambiguation), Pseudopassive * Passive language, a language from which an interpreter works * Passivity (behavior), the condition of su ...
participle In linguistics, a participle () (from Latin ' a "sharing, partaking") is a nonfinite verb, nonfinite verb form that has some of the characteristics and functions of both verbs and adjectives. More narrowly, ''participle'' has been defined as "a wo ...
s. 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 The future is the time after the past and present. Its arrival is considered inevitable due to the existence of time and the laws of physics. Due to the apparent nature of reality and the unavoidability of the future, everything that currently ...
tenses respectively. The
present tense The present tense (list of glossing abbreviations, abbreviated or ) is a grammatical tense whose principal function is to locate a situation or event in the present time. The present tense is used for actions which are happening now. In order to ...
is usually marked with the
participle In linguistics, a participle () (from Latin ' a "sharing, partaking") is a nonfinite verb, nonfinite verb form that has some of the characteristics and functions of both verbs and adjectives. More narrowly, ''participle'' has been defined as "a wo ...
followed by the subject
pronoun In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun (list of glossing abbreviations, abbreviated ) is a word or a group of words that one may substitute for a noun or noun phrase. Pronouns have traditionally been regarded as one of the part of speech, parts o ...
. 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. Syriac also employs derived verb stems such as are present in other Semitic languages. These are regular modifications of the verb's root to express other changes in meaning. The first stem is the ground state, or ' (this name models the shape of the root) form of the verb, which carries the usual meaning of the word. The next is the intensive stem, or ', form of the verb, which usually carries an intensified meaning. The third is the extensive stem, or ', form of the verb, which is often
causative In linguistics, a causative (list of glossing abbreviations, abbreviated ) is a valency (linguistics), valency-increasing operationPayne, Thomas E. (1997). Describing morphosyntax: A guide for field linguists'' Cambridge: Cambridge University Pres ...
in meaning. Each of these stems has its parallel
passive Passive may refer to: * Passive voice, a grammatical voice common in many languages, see also Pseudopassive (disambiguation), Pseudopassive * Passive language, a language from which an interpreter works * Passivity (behavior), the condition of su ...
conjugation: the ', ' and ' respectively. To these six cardinal stems are added a few irregular stems, like the ' and ', which generally have an extensive meaning. The basic G-stem or "Peal" conjugation of "to write" in the perfect and imperfect is as follows:Robinson and Coakley, 2013 p.36, p. 60.


Phonology

Phonologically, like the other Northwest Semitic languages, Syriac has 22 consonants. The consonantal phonemes are: Phonetically, there is some variation in the pronunciation of Syriac in its various forms. The various Modern Eastern Aramaic vernaculars have quite different pronunciations, and these sometimes influence how the classical language is pronounced, for example, in public prayer. Classical Syriac has two major streams of pronunciation: western and eastern.


Consonants

Syriac shares with Aramaic a set of lightly contrasted stop/
fricative A fricative is a consonant manner of articulation, produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two Place of articulation, articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the ba ...
pairs. In different variations of a certain lexical root, a root consonant might exist in stop form in one variation and fricative form in another. In the Syriac alphabet, a single letter is used for each pair. Sometimes a dot is placed above the letter (''quššāyā'' "strengthening"; equivalent to a
dagesh The dagesh () is a diacritic used in the Hebrew alphabet. It was added to the Hebrew language, Hebrew orthography at the same time as the Masoretic system of niqqud (vowel points). It takes the form of a dot placed inside a Hebrew alphabet, Hebrew ...
in
Hebrew Hebrew (; ; ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-surviving descendants, ...
) to mark that the stop pronunciation is required, and a dot is placed below the letter (''rukkāḵā'' "softening") to mark that the fricative pronunciation is required. The pairs are: * Voiced labial pair – and * Voiced
velar Velars are consonants place of articulation, articulated with the back part of the tongue (the dorsum) against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth (known also as the Soft palate, velum). Since the velar region of the roof of ...
pair – and * Voiced dental pair – and * Voiceless labial pair – and * Voiceless velar pair – and * Voiceless dental pair – and Like some Semitic languages, Syriac too has
emphatic consonant In Semitic linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its na ...
s, and it has three of them. These are consonants that have a coarticulation in the
pharynx The pharynx (plural: pharynges) is the part of the throat behind the mouth and nasal cavity The nasal cavity is a large, air-filled space above and behind the human nose, nose in the middle of the face. The nasal septum divides the cavity int ...
or slightly higher. The set consists of: * Pharyngealized voiceless dental stop – * Pharyngealized
voiceless alveolar fricative The voiceless alveolar fricatives are a type of fricative consonant pronounced with the tongue tip, tip or tongue blade, blade of the tongue against the alveolar ridge (gum line) just behind the teeth. This refers to a class of sounds, not a single ...
– *
Voiceless uvular stop The voiceless uvular plosive or stop is a type of consonantal sound, used in some Speech communication, spoken languages. It is pronounced like a voiceless velar plosive , except that the tongue makes contact not on the soft palate but on the uvu ...
– (historically emphatic variant of ) There are two pharyngeal fricatives, another class of consonants typically found in Semitic languages. *
Voiceless pharyngeal fricative The voiceless pharyngeal fricative is a type of consonantal sound, used in some Speech communication, spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is an h with stroke, h-bar, , and the equivalent ...
– *
Voiced pharyngeal fricative The voiced pharyngeal approximant or fricative is a type of consonantal sound, used in some Speech communication, spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is , and the equivalent X-SAMPA sym ...
– Syriac also has a rich array of
sibilant Sibilants are fricative consonants of higher amplitude and pitch, made by directing a stream of air with the tongue towards the teeth. Examples of sibilants are the consonants at the beginning of the English words ''sip'', ''zip'', ''ship'', ...
s: *
Voiced alveolar fricative The voiced alveolar fricatives are consonant In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are and pronounced with the lips; and pronounced wi ...
– *
Voiceless alveolar fricative The voiceless alveolar fricatives are a type of fricative consonant pronounced with the tongue tip, tip or tongue blade, blade of the tongue against the alveolar ridge (gum line) just behind the teeth. This refers to a class of sounds, not a single ...
– * Pharyngealized
voiceless alveolar fricative The voiceless alveolar fricatives are a type of fricative consonant pronounced with the tongue tip, tip or tongue blade, blade of the tongue against the alveolar ridge (gum line) just behind the teeth. This refers to a class of sounds, not a single ...
– * Voiceless postalveolar sibilant


Vowels

As with most Semitic languages, the vowels of Syriac are mostly subordinated to consonants. Especially in the presence of an emphatic consonant, vowels tend to become mid-centralised. Classical Syriac had the following distinguishable vowels: In the western dialect, has become , and the original has merged with . In eastern dialects, there is more fluidity in the pronunciation of
front vowel A front vowel is a class of vowel sounds used in some spoken languages, its defining characteristic being that the highest point of the tongue is positioned as far forward as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would otherw ...
s, with some speakers distinguishing five qualities of such vowels, and others only distinguishing three. Vowel length is generally not important:
close vowel A close vowel, also known as a high vowel (in U.S. terminology), is any in a class of vowel sounds used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of th ...
s tend to be longer than
open vowel An open vowel is a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels (in U.S. terminology ) in reference to the low position of the tongue. In the cont ...
s. The open vowels form
diphthong A diphthong ( ; , ), also known as a gliding vowel, is a combination of two adjacent vowel sounds within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: that is, the tongue (and/or other parts of the speech o ...
s with the
approximants Approximants are phone (phonetics), speech sounds that involve the Speech organ, articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough nor with enough articulatory precision to create manner of articulation, turbulent airflow. Therefore, ap ...
and . In almost all dialects, the full sets of possible diphthongs collapses into two or three actual pronunciations: * usually becomes , but the western dialect has * , further, sometimes
monophthong A monophthong ( ; , ) is a pure vowel sound, one whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed, and which does not semivowel, glide up or down towards a new position of articulation. The monophthongs can be contrasted with diph ...
ized to * usually becomes * , further, sometimes monophthongized to


See also


Notes


References


Sources

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Rudder, Joshua. ''Learn to Write Aramaic: A Step-by-Step Approach to the Historical & Modern Scripts''. n.p.: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011. 220 pp. Includes the Estrangela (pp. 59–113), Madnhaya (pp. 191–206), and the Western Serto (pp. 173–190) scripts. * * * * * * * * * * * *


External links


YouTube video: Associate professor Svante Lundgren explains the history and origin of the term "Syriac" (Suryoyo/Suroyo)
*
Syriac traditional pronunciation

Aramaic Dictionary (lexicon and concordance)

Syriac at ScriptSource.com

The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon

Syriac Studies Reference Library
Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University *
Leshono Suryoyo - Die traditionelle Aussprache des Westsyrischen - The traditional pronunciation of Western Syriac
* * {{Authority control Languages attested from the 1st century Aramaic languages Classical languages Endangered Afroasiatic languages Languages of Iraq Languages of Lebanon Languages of Syria Christian liturgical languages Syriac Christianity Semitic languages Languages of Kurdistan