The Aramaic language, which belongs to a Semitic variety, was common in the Middle East about two thousand years ago.
In general, the Arameans in antiquity called the group of Western Semitic tribes leading a nomadic way of life in the territory corresponding to modern Syria. And although the Arameans did not form a single state, their language spread over a larger and larger area. It was on it that the population of Persia, Mesopotamia and Judea spoke, wrote and traded.
Contemporaries of Jesus read sermons, prayers, including “Our Father,” in Aramaic. After Alexander the Great had destroyed the Persian Empire, despite the continued widespread status, the official Aramaic language was lost. During this period, it was divided into western and eastern dialects.
According to chronology, there are three periods in the development of Aramaic languages:
- Staroarameysky (XII century BC. E. - II century AD. E.).
- Middle Aramaic (II century AD. - 1200).
- Novoarameysky (since 1200).
Old Aramaic period
The first to the Old Aramian period is the ancient Aramaic language, which remained on the monuments of the IX-VII centuries BC. e. In the VII-VI centuries BC. e. this language already had the status of a lingua franc in the New Babylonian and Novo-Assyrian powers, at the same time Old Aramian writing, which emerged on the basis of Phoenician writing, was formed. In the VI-IV centuries BC. e. The official language that existed in the Persian Empire is called “imperial Aramaic”. Monuments with him are found throughout the Middle East from Afghanistan to Egypt, in particular, some of them are contained in the papyrus archive from Elephantine.
Further development of the language has already received the name of the biblical: it is written on it the head of "Daniel" and "Ezra" of the Old Testament.
Middle Aramaic period
II c. n e. marked by the birth of new literary Middle Aramaic languages, based on modern, then existing, spoken. They flourished in the period of the I-VII centuries, after which, in connection with the Arab conquest, there was a widespread displacement of Aramaic languages by the Arabic. At this time, the division of languages into the eastern and western groups, which probably arose during the Old Aamera period, was intensified.
The most famous of the Eastern group were the Aramaic languages common in Mesopotamia and Syria, namely:
- classical Syrian;
- the Judeo-Aramaic of Babylon, in which the Babylonian Talmud was written and the Old Testament translated into Targums;
- classical Manday, which was spoken and conducted liturgical services by members of the Manday community.
The western Aramaic group was used primarily in the Levant. It included:
- judaic Aramaic, popular in the early Byzantine era;
- christian, due to the existence of translations of early Byzantine Christian literature from the Greek language;
- samaritan, it contains religious books of the Samaritan community.
The alphabet of all Middle Aramaic languages consists of 22 characters. In the Babylonian Judeo-Aramaic language was used the so-called square font, which originated from the old Aramaic italics. Syrian and Manday used their graphic signs. Christian Aramaic used Western Syriac writing, and Samaritan Aramaic used Paleo-Jewish italics.
The invasion of the Arabs gives rise to the decline of the Aramaic language, but nevertheless during the entire Middle Ages it remains in use in many territories of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
As well as the Middle Aramaic, the new Aramaic languages are usually distinguished by linguistic criteria for the Western and Eastern groups.
Representatives of the western group are the three dialects of the same language (Western New Aramaic), which are used in the everyday life of three Syrian villages (Maalula, Bach and Jubbadin), which, however, are often considered as three separate languages.
The eastern group includes many languages, the exact number of which is not established. They are usually divided into subgroups:
- turoyo language and dialect mlahso (southeast of Turkey);
- new Manday language, in which the Mandaeans speak (southern Iraq and Ahwaz);
- northeastern New Aramaic languages, which include about a dozen languages, and often there is no mutual understanding between their speakers;
- hebrew-Aramaic languages - Kurdish Jews (Lahlukhi) communicated in them.
Today, it is estimated that the number of native speakers using it in their daily lives does not exceed 200 thousand. This is a small number of people in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Armenia and Georgia. Also in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon there are Christian communities that hold services and offer prayers in Aramaic. In particular, the rabbinic literature in the Hebrew dialect of the Aramaic language, which since the Middle Ages has already been an extensive collection, continues to be published directly to this day. For example, halachic works are mainly created in this language. And since this literature is addressed to a relatively small circle of people with relevant education, Aramaic has a fairly high social status in orthodox Jewish communities.