Peshitta Forum
How many people in the continental US can read Aramaic aloud fluently? - Printable Version

+- Peshitta Forum (
+-- Forum: New Testament (
+--- Forum: General (
+--- Thread: How many people in the continental US can read Aramaic aloud fluently? (/showthread.php?tid=3424)

Pages: 1 2

How many people in the continental US can read Aramaic aloud fluently? - Tim - 12-27-2014

Since Biblical Aramaic is kind of a dead language and not as widely used as something like Classical Latin, how many people in the US can pick up a text in Aramaic and just begin to read aloud as a native reader would?

Re: How many people in the continental US can read Aramaic aloud fluently? - borota - 12-27-2014

That is not according to reality (if I understood you right).

Biblical Aramaic is read all over the world at least each Sunday, in the Syriac churches, Church of the East, St Thomas churches, etc. In Syriac churches even the kids gather together with the adults to read from the Peshitto scroll during the service. Assyrians (of which you find whole communities in and around Chicago) can pick up Peshitta and read it anytime, because their native modern Assyrian has almost the same alphabet as Peshitta. In fact in titles, captions, etc. they use Estrangela to give distinction to the text. Saying they won't be able to read Peshitta is pretty much an insult.

Try to look around where you live and see if you can find some CoE churches or Syriac Ortodox. They usually keep a pretty low profile, probably a trait developed being an oppressed minority in a cruel and genocidal Middle East environment. But they are in the area of hundreds of thousands in US. They hold Bible study meetings directly off Peshitta and have no trouble whatsoever reading it. But language did change so they'd need to study Classical Syriac in order to fully understand it.
The same like Latin for me. While I can understand quite a lot of Latin without any formal study, to be able to fully understand and compose in Latin I would have to study it. But I have no problem reading it without much study at all.

Re: How many people in the continental US can read Aramaic aloud fluently? - SteveCaruso - 12-27-2014

There are a large number of people who can pick up and read documents in various dialects of Aramaic easily, but as for any hard numbers I'm not sure they could be easily compiled. The count includes at least pretty much every rabbi and priest in a Syriac speaking tradition as it's part of their respective liturgies, plus every professor in an Aramaic Studies or Syriac Studies department.

I can read several Aramaic dialects aloud without difficulty and understand them, but I can only converse in Galilean/JPA without pauses to parse and formulate a response as that's my focus and what I speak with my kids. <!-- sSmile --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/smile.gif" alt="Smile" title="Smile" /><!-- sSmile -->


Re: How many people in the continental US can read Aramaic aloud fluently? - Paul Younan - 12-28-2014

Hi Tim

There are approximately 200,000 people in various clusters in North America who speak any number of Neo-Aramaic dialects. The largest concentrations are in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, California Bay Area, Seattle, Toronto and Yonkers.

Note that Neo-Aramaic is just a continuation of Aramaic, as if say Latin was still spoken as a vernacular language in modern form. The relationship of Neo-Aramaic to Aramaic is not the same thing as Latin is to English or any of the Romance languages. Neo-Aramaic is just modern Aramaic. It is much closer to Biblical Aramaic than, say, modern English is to Old English.

Aramaic is a living, breathing language used in schools, homes, churches, social and traditional media. It is not a dead language, like Latin. It is much more like modern Greek, a living language.

Where do you live? There may be a community close to you.


Re: How many people in the continental US can read Aramaic aloud fluently? - Charles Wilson - 12-28-2014

<!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""> ... ing+hebrew</a><!-- m -->

This book is written in a very earnest manner that may or may not resonate with readers. It is ostensibly concerned with bringing back Hebrew into a modern world and the struggles of a few - mostly one individual - to make that happen. I enjoyed it. "How can you freeze a language in place and still have it as a usable structure to get things done in language?"


Re: How many people in the continental US can read Aramaic aloud fluently? - Tim - 12-29-2014

Charles, thanks for the book recommendation. I had no idea the ancient Hebrew language almost passed away.

Paul, Wow! I've located a church in San Diego that I will visit soon. I have very high expectations for my visit and even expect them to be exceeded. Am I to understand that a living Aramaic speaker could converse with Jesus and they would be mutually intelligible?

Steve, good to make your acquaintance. I have poured over your site and only wish I had the time to pursue a program ending in my fluency in biblical Aramaic.

Also, when I came to the site I quickly discovered that the primacy of the Greek texts are in question. What an adventure it must be investigating this delightful mystery.

My end goal in all this is to produce a video, for myself, with my voice reciting a grace in Aramaic, and the video showing the Aramaic text accompanied by a pseudo-phonetic English text. I will probably post a link to it in this form if I actually create this video, and I am warning you now not to watch it because I'm sure it would be painful on your eyes and even worse on your ears.

Thank you all for giving me quite a bit to 'pay forward.'

Re: How many people in the continental US can read Aramaic aloud fluently? - borota - 12-29-2014

Paul can speak much better than I can to this. But based on my experience taking part in a few Bible studies using Peshitta, no. A living language evolves over time... Modern Greek is different than it was 2000 years ago. But a modern Greek speaker finds it very easy to learn say Biblical Greek, because many words are still preserved, grammar similarities, there are certain rules to how words changed over time, etc.
What I learnt though was unique to Aramaic was how little it has actually changed over 2000 years. Such that native speakers need little effort to become proficient in Biblical Aramaic. So one will see people among them with not so much formal education still being able to lead Bible studies directly off the Peshitta text. But such person has done some studing and learning of Biblical Aramaic first.

Re: How many people in the continental US can read Aramaic aloud fluently? - Tim - 12-29-2014

I'm beginning to think I'm beginning to understand, that while the written text exists today much like it did then, the pronunciation of that text has changed. I wonder if Jesus would be able to read the Estrangelo script. And the pronunciation really changed so much that they wouldn't understand each other, wow.

Re: How many people in the continental US can read Aramaic aloud fluently? - Paul Younan - 12-29-2014

Hi Tim

It's as Borota said, all languages evolve over time. Not only in pronunciation, but also in more fundamental ways (such as word order, verbal conjugation, gender, number, etc.)

In general, languages tend to become more simple over time. In the case of Neo Aramaic, it is a much more simplified version of classical Aramaic.

So someone who already speaks Neo Aramaic as a native tongue today, with a bit of self-study, can become quite proficient in the classical tongue. That is because Aramaic has changed very little (relatively speaking) over time.

So someone today, with a bit of self-study (if they already speak a modern variant), could converse with someone who lived in the first century (and vice-versa).

There are people today who know the classical tongue so well that they prefer to use it in communication, over the modern language. Also, there are examples (like the introduction to the Khudra, the massive liturgical book) where Mar Eshai Shimun the Patriarch and Mar Timotheous the Metropolitan of India wrote to each other and the audience extensively and exclusively in the ancient tongue.

There are also quite a number of people and organizations who are advocating for reverting back to the classical form in order to unite various communities which differ in dialect and in ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The one thing they have in common was the classical tongue.


Re: How many people in the continental US can read Aramaic aloud fluently? - Paul Younan - 12-29-2014

Which Church did you find in San Diego?

Re: How many people in the continental US can read Aramaic aloud fluently? - Tim - 12-31-2014

Hi Paul,

Thanks for the excellent education in basics of ancient languages. Having read it, I am surprised that I was so far off the mark. Long ago I attempted to read 'English" from a mere few hundred years ago and couldn't understand it as it was so different from modern English. I reckon the fundamental reason for the difference didn't sink in.

The nearby church is: St. Rabban Hormizd Parish in San Diego of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, located at 8318 Jamacah Rd., Spring Valley CA, 91977, (619) 460-4700.

You've mentioned some folks who can easily read lines of the New Testament; do you think any of them would be willing to record the few verses I've posted? I have little money and I could afford to make a small donation. I would be content learning how to recite a few lines in modern Aramaic, and would be overjoyed to come closer to classical Aramaic.

I know you have lots of demands on your time Paul, and am grateful you give some of it with me.

Re: How many people in the continental US can read Aramaic aloud fluently? - Paul Younan - 01-02-2015

Hi Tim

Please do let us know how your visit to Rabban (monk) Hormizd Parish goes. I'm always delighted to hear of first impressions.

The story of Rabban Hormizd has always fascinated me. He is a central figure in the history of Christianity in Persia. You may recognize the name from the days of the Iraqi war - the stretch of water in the Persian Gulf that is called the "Straights of Hormuz" (variation on the spelling) might come to mind. It was a common name in pre-Islamic Persia. It means "date palm" in Iranian/Persian.

In regards to your inquiry about the pronunciation of your prayer which you composed in the other thread, which is based on the Words of the Institution:

I wanted to give you a brief and hopefully understandable note about another important difference between English and Aramaic. This is just a general note for reference.

In Aramaic, significantly unlike English, the construction of phrases and sentences is complex and largely influenced by context. Word order and inflection is extremely important. Let me give you an example in English...the following phrase:

"The man entered the temple offering many sacrifices"

Can be reworded any number of ways, simply by re-arranging the word order, and still make perfect sense in English (without changing a single letter of any of the words):

"The man, offering many sacrifices, entered the temple"

"Offering many sacrifices, the man entered the temple"

"The man entered, offering many sacrifices, the temple"

"The temple the man entered, offering many sacrifices"

And so forth. Notice that not a single letter changed in the sentence, and all are equally comprehensible in English. They can be understood equally, and more importantly - they can be annunciated just as easily as the original word order of the sentence.

Aramaic is not the same. At all. With Aramaic, word order is extremely important. In many cases, the spelling of words (in the sense of proclitics and suffixes, and even inflections) is affected by the order of words in phrases and of phrases in complete sentences. The rules are too complex to list here, but I hope you get the gist of what I am saying.

What that leads to, is this: the reading aloud of Aramaic is helped by a certain "rhythmic" flow that a sentence or phrase has.

With Aramaic, we are not able to simply re-arrange words as in the above example, and be able to properly read and annunciate the sentence.

Aramaic speakers expect context and understanding of the phrase which, when identified and constructed properly, is easily pronounced when read aloud.

If it is not properly constructed, then the reader will pause, unsure of the meaning and ultimately the proper sounds. Yes, the sounds (or silence) of letters are often influenced by context, which is always influenced by proper grammar.

So I think people will be able to read aloud to you phrases of the prayer which you constructed, particularly the phrases which come from the words of the institution. But they may stumble on other phrases, due to word order and the above mentioned struggles with context and meaning if it is not constructed properly.

I can help if you give me the English counterpart to what you are trying to compose.

Be well, and Happy New Year


Re: How many people in the continental US can read Aramaic aloud fluently? - Tim - 01-03-2015

Hi Paul,

Thank you for your well wishes, and may this year be your best.

What an eye-opener you have given me in this post. And I guess this is usually the way, for me at least, knowing that I know nothing about something doesn't stop me from looking into it, and danged if I don't always find that I actually knew less than the nothing I thought I knew. I rather enjoy this provided I don't get too dizzy.

Thanks for the fun fact about the derivation of the name of the Hormuz straights, and by the way, I love dates.

The ordering of words in Aramaic is a great surprise to me because I only know English, and never even thought to think about how different languages might be constructed.

With this new knowledge you have given me, I am now confident that the texts I have selected will be easily read because it is right out of the Peshitta Bible.

Matthew 26 King James Version (KJV)
26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;
28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
Luke 22 King James Version (KJV)
19 ? this do in remembrance of me.

I think this becomes:
[font="Estrangelo (V1.1)"]Yhwdymltl bhyw 0cqw <rbw 0mxl 9w4y q4 Nysnl Nyd dk
Ydw0w 0sk lq4w yrgP wnh wlwk0 wbs rm0w
Jwklk hnm wt40 wbs rm0w Jwhl bhyw
d40tm 00ygs Plxd Fdx 0qtydd Ymd wnh
Ynrkwdl Nydb9Jwtywh 0m+Yd 0nqbw4l[/font]

I am planning on attending St. Rabban Hormizd Parish's service this Sunday and expect I will have wonderful things to relate about it.

Re: How many people in the continental US can read Aramaic aloud fluently? - Tim - 01-05-2015

Paul, I arrived at Rabban Hormizd Parish, a dozen miles in from the coast in San Diego, at 9:57 am. To my surprise the first church member I met didn't speak much English. When the service began and the congregation spoke/sang the liturgy I was moved by the beauty of the sounds; music. The service was attended by 60+ people who invited me to a meal immediately after, the food smelled wonderful. Both the sign out front and the text written on the arch above the alter was in Estrangelo, as were the books the congregation held. About an hour into the service, the Father switched topics to church business, which was also related in Aramaic. I was made to feel quite welcome and met some of the congregation at the meal.

More important than all this, the feeling I had in that church I have not felt in a church for a while. It felt good and I had forgotten how much I missed it. I plan to return.

Re: How many people in the continental US can read Aramaic aloud fluently? - Paul Younan - 01-06-2015

I'm glad you enjoyed it Tim. It's really rather difficult for most to understand. I hope they had the bi-lingual liturgical book in the pews for you to have followed along.

The Aramaic language isn't quite relegated to museums yet, is it ?

Another interesting tidbit: each parish alter has a different Aramaic phrase in Estrangla script slog the circle above the altar. If you snap a pic, I can translate it. They are extremely uplifting and usually have something to do with the St. Namesake of the parish.