Neo-Aramaic :: Language-genetic affiliation
Neo-Aramaic is the collective name given to a cluster of dialects. The group belongs to the northwest branch of the Semitic language family, and is related to Hebrew, as well as to Arabic. Neo-Aramaic dialects are descendents of the ancient languages Akkadian, Asyrian, Aramaic and Babylonian, once the dominant speech varieties in the Middle East and the languages of ancient literature, administration and commerce in this region. Aramaic is also the original language of parts of the Old Testament as well as the Christian Gospels. While earlier forms of Aramaic and Syriac are still used as languages of religious scriptures, Neo-Aramaic dialects are strictly limited to oral usage and oral transmission by a population that is largely bilingual.
Neo-Aramaic :: Geographical distribution Map
Once the most widespread language in the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, Neo-Aramaic dialects declined as local populations shifted first to Greek, and subsequently, with the spread of Islam, to Arabic. The surviving varieties belong mainly to the North Eastern sub-branch of Neo-Aramaic. They have been spoken during the past centuries by dispersed Jewish and Christian minorities living mainly among the Kurdish-speaking Muslim populations in eastern Anatolia, northern Iraq, nothwestern Iran and Azerbaijan.
Neo-Aramaic :: Present-day distribution and endangerment
Ethnic-religious persecution throughout the twentieth century has led to massive emigration of Jewish and Christian populations from the region. While the Jewish populations have emigrated mainly to Israel, Christian emigrants have settled in North America and urban centres of western Europe, with large communities in Sweden, France, Germany and the Netherlands. It is very likely that there are many more speakers of Neo-Aramaic now living in the diaspora than in the original distribution area in the Middle East. Those who have emigrated no longer tend to pass their language to the younger generation, and most varieties of Neo-Aramaic are therefore highly endangered and unlikely to survive for more than one further generation.
Neo-Aramaic :: General structural characteristics
Neo-Aramaic word-formation is based on similar principles as in other Semitic languages, exploiting a range of semantic interpretations of tri-consonantal word stems through fixed morphological derivation templates. In its morpho-syntactic arrangement patterns, Neo-Aramaic dialects are quite similar to the genetically non-related varieties of Kurdish with which they have been in close contact for many centuries. This involves both the arrangement of simple and complex clauses and the organisation of tense and aspect, definiteness, existential predications, possession and more. The phoneme inventory is also quite similar to that of Arabic and Kurdish. There are numerous loanwords from the contact languages Arabic, Kurdish, Persian and Turkish.
Neo-Aramaic :: References to Yaron Matras's work
- 2007. with Jeanette Sakel. Investigating the mechanisms of pattern replication in language convergence. Studies in Language 31, 829-865.
- 2000. How predictable is contact-induced change in grammar? In: Renfrew, Colin, R. L. Trask & April McMahon, eds. Time depth in historical linguistics. Cambridge: McDonald Institute. 563-583.