|ܐܬܘܪܝܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܐ Ātûrāyâ, ܣܘܪܝܬ ܣܘܪܝܝܐ Sûret, Ashuri, Suryaya, Sooreth|
Sûret in written Syriac
|Native to||Iraq, Syria, Iran, Georgia, Armenia; Assyrian diaspora|
|Region||Northern Iraq, Hakkari Turkey, Urmia Iran|
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(not counting the diaspora)
|Dialects||Chaldean Neo-Aramaic (although is considered its own language), Urmian, Iraqi Koine, Tyari, Jilu, Nochiya, Barwari, Baz and Gawar|
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, or Assyrian, is a Northeastern Neo-Aramaic language spoken by an estimated 80,000 to 90,000 people throughout a large region stretching from the plain of Urmia, in northwestern Iran, to the Nineveh plains, and the Irbil, Mosul, Kirkuk and Dahuk regions in northern Iraq, together with the Al Hasakah region of northeastern Syria and formerly parts of southeastern Turkey. In recent years, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic has spread throughout the Assyrian diaspora.
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic is closely related to Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, both evolving from the same Syriac language, a distinct dialect which evolved in Assyria between the 5th century BC and 1st century AD. There is also some Akkadian vocabulary and influence in the language. Assyrian Neo-Aramaic is written from right to left, and it uses the Madnhāyā version of the Syriac alphabet.
Speakers of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic and Turoyo are ethnic Assyrians and are descendants of the ancient Assyrian inhabitants of Northern Mesopotamia. Assyrian Neo-Aramaic is the largest speaking Neo-Aramaic group (232,000 speakers), which follows Chaldean Neo-Aramaic (206,000 speakers) and Turoyo (112,000 speakers).
Despite the terms Chaldean Neo-Aramaic and Assyrian Neo-Aramaic indicating a separate religious (or even ethnic) identity, both languages and their native speakers originate from, and are indigenous to, the same Upper Mesopotamian region (which was Assyria between the 25th century BC and 7th century AD). Most speakers are members of the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East.
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic is mutually intelligible with Chaldean Neo-Aramaic (which is, at times, considered an Assyrian dialect). It is partially intelligible with the Jewish Aramaic languages of Lishana Deni and Lishanid Noshan (Israel). Its mutual intelligibility with Turoyo is rather limited.
Aramaic was the language of commerce, trade and communication and became the vernacular language of Assyria in classical antiquity. Aramaic writing has been found as far north as Hadrians Wall in Ancient Britain, in the form of inscriptions in Aramaic, made by Assyrian and Aramean soldiers serving in the Roman Legions in northern England during the 2nd century AD.
By the 1st century AD, Akkadian was extinct, although some loaned vocabulary still survives in Assyrian Neo-Aramaic to this day. The Neo-Aramaic languages are ultimately descended from Old Aramaic, the lingua franca in the later phase of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, displacing the East Semitic Assyrian dialect of Akkadian. The Neo-Aramaic languages evolved from Middle Aramaic by the 13th century.
The Syriac language in turn, had evolved from Imperial Aramaic, an Akkadian infused dialect introduced as the lingua franca of Assyria and the Neo Assyrian Empire by Tiglath-Pileser III in the 8th century BC. The term Syrian and thus its derivative Syriac, had originally been 9th century BC Indo-Anatolian and Greek corruptions of Assyria, and specifically meant only Assyria until the 3rd century BC, after which the Seleucid Greeks also applied the term to The Levant and its largely Aramean and Phoenician inhabitants.
Syriac began as an unwritten spoken dialect of Imperial Aramaic in Assyria-northern Mesopotamia, an Akkadian influenced version of the Old Aramaic language which was introduced as the lingua franca of the Neo Assyrian Empire by Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 BC)
The first evidence of such dialects that emerge in Assyria, and begin to influence the written Imperial Aramaic from the 5th century BC. After the conquest of Assyria, southern Mesopotamia and Aramea (Syria) by Alexander the Great, Syriac and other Aramaic dialects gradually lost their status as imperial languages but continued to flourish as lingua francas alongside Ancient Greek. As an official language, Syriac was given a relatively coherent form, style and grammar that is lacking in other Old Eastern Aramaic dialects.
There is evidence that the adoption of Syriac, the language of the Assyrian people, was to effect mission. Much literary effort was put into the production of an authoritative translation of the Bible into Syriac, the Peshitta (ܦܫܝܛܬܐ Pšīṭtā). At the same time, Ephrem the Syrian was producing the most treasured collection of poetry and theology in the Syriac language. By the 3rd century AD, churches in Edessa began to use Syriac as the language of worship and the language became the literary and liturgical language of many churches in the Fertile Crescent. Syriac was the lingua franca of the Middle East until 900 A.D, when it was superseded by Arabic.
The differences with the Assyrian Church of the East led to the bitter Nestorian schism in the Syriac-speaking world. As a result, Syriac developed distinctive western and eastern varieties. Although remaining a single language with a high level of comprehension between the varieties, the two employ distinctive variations in pronunciation and writing system, and, to a lesser degree, in vocabulary.
The Mongol invasions of the 13th century, and the religiously motivated massacres of Assyrian Christians by Tamurlane further contributed to the rapid decline of the language. In many places outside of northern Mesopotamia (the Assyrian homeland), even in liturgy, it was replaced by Arabic.
Russian linguists studied Assyrian Neo-Aramaic as spoken by immigrant speakers in Georgia and Armenia at the end of the 19th century. They called the language Айсорский, Aysorskiy, from Armenian: ասորի asori. However, by the 1930s, the official name of the language in Russian had become Ассирийский, Assiriyskiy, or Assyrian.
Instability throughout the Middle East over the past century has led to a worldwide diaspora of Assyrian Aramaic-speakers, with many of speakers now living abroad, such as in, North America, Australia or in Europe. Despite this, the Assyrian homeland still has sizable Assyrian Aramaic-speaking communities, particularly Mosul, Irbil, Kirkuk, Dohuk and Hasakah.
See also: List of Assyrian settlements
SIL Ethnologue distinguishes five dialect groups: Urmian, Northern, Central, Western, and Sapna, each with sub-dialects.
Standard literary Assyrian is based on the Urmian dialect and is known as "General Urmian" (since the 1830s), with a second standard dialect derived from General Urmian eveloping in the 20th century, known as "Iraqi Koine".
The Urmia dialect has become the prestige dialect of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic after 1836, when that dialect was chosen by Justin Perkins, an American Presbyterian missionary, for the creation of a standard literary dialect of Assyrian.
In 1852, Perkins' translation of the Bible into General Urmian was published by the American Bible Society with a parallel text of the classical Syriac Peshitta. Mutual intelligibility between the Assyrian dialects is as high as 80%–90%.
During the First World War, many Assyrians living in Ottoman Turkey were forced from their homes, and many of their descendants now live in Iraq. The relocation has led to a separate dialect usually called Iraqi Koine. It is a mixture of the Ashiret dialects (of the above) with General Urmian. Iraqi Koine does not really constitute a new dialect, but an incomplete merger of dialects. Iraqi Koine was developed in the urban areas of Iraq (i.e. Baghdad, Basra, Habbaniya and Kirkuk), which became the meccas for the rural Assyrian population.
This dialect is a compromise between the thicker rural accents of the mountains (i.e. Tyari) and the prestigious dialect of Urmia. Though Koine is more similar to Urmian in terms of manner of articulation, place of articulation and with its consonant cluster formations. By the end of the 1950s, a good number of Assyrians started to speak Iraqi Koine. Today, Iraqi Koine is the predominant use of communication between the majority of the Assyrians.
To note, the emergence of the Koine didn't mean that the rest of the spoken dialects vanished. The Ashiret dialects were still active because some Assyrians remained in the rural areas and the fact that the first generation speakers who relocated in urban areas still maintained their native dialects. Elements of original Ashiret dialects can still be observed in Iraqi Koine, especially in that of older speakers.
Main article: Syriac alphabet
The Syriac script is a writing system primarily used to write the Syriac language from the 1st century AD. It is one of the Semitic abjads directly descending from the Aramaic alphabet and shares similarities with the Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic, and the traditional Mongolian alphabets. The alphabet consists of 22 letters, all of which are consonants. It is a cursive script where some, but not all, letters connect within a word.
When Arabic began to be the dominant spoken language in the Fertile Crescent, texts were often written in Arabic with the Syriac script. Malayalam was also written with Syriac script and was called Suriyani Malayalam.
In the 1930s, following the state policy for minority languages of the Soviet Union, a Latin alphabet for Assyrian was developed and some material published. However, this innovation did not displace the Syriac script.
The oldest and classical form of the alphabet is ʾEsṭrangēlā (ܐܣܛܪܢܓܠܐ; the name is thought to derive from the Greek adjective στρογγύλη (strongylē, 'rounded'),) Although ʾEsṭrangēlā is no longer used as the main script for writing Syriac, it has received some revival since the 10th century.
The Madnhāyā version formed as a form of shorthand developed from the Syriac alphabet and progressed further as handwriting patterns changed. The Madnhāyā version also possesses vowel markings to help foreigners learn and read Syriac. Other names for the script include Swāḏāyā, "conversational", often translated as "contemporary", reflecting its use in writing modern Neo-Aramaic.
Three letters act as matres lectionis: rather than being a consonant, they indicate a vowel. ʾĀlap̄ (ܐ), the first letter, represents a glottal stop, but it can also indicate a vowel at the beginning or the end of a word. The letter Waw (ܘ) is the consonant w, but can also represent the vowels o and u. Likewise, the letter Yōḏ (ܝ) represents the consonant y, but it also stands for the vowels i and e. In addition to foreign sounds, a marking system is used to distinguish qūššāyā, 'hard' letters) from rūkkāḵā, 'soft' letters). The letters Bēṯ, Gāmal, Dālaṯ, Kāp̄, Pē, and Taw, all plosives ('hard'), are able to be spirantized into fricatives ('soft').
The system involves placing a single dot underneath the letter to give its 'soft' variant and a dot above the letter to give its 'hard' variant (though, in modern usage, no mark at all is usually used to indicate the 'hard' value).
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic has 22 consonants and 3 vowels. The consonantal phonemes are:
Vowel phonemes of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic (Standard Urmian/Iraqi Koine) are as follows:
Two basic diphthongs exist, namely /eɪ̯/ and /aw/. For some words, many dialects have converted them to e and o respectively.
Phonetics of Iraqi Koine
Most Assyrian Neo-Aramaic nouns are built from triliteral roots. Nouns carry grammatical gender (masculine or feminine), they can be either singular or plural in number (a very few can be dual) and can exist in one of three grammatical states (this is somewhat akin to case in Indo-European languages). These states should not be confused with grammatical cases in other languages. Adjectives 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.
Most Syriac verbs are built on triliteral roots as well. Finite verbs carry person, grammatical gender (except in the first person) and number, as well as tense and conjugation. The non-finite verb forms are the infinitive and the active and passive participles. The emphatic state became the ordinary form of the noun, and the absolute and construct states were relegated to certain stock phrases (for example, ܒܪ ܐܢܫܐ/ܒܪܢܫܐ, bar nāšā, "man, person", literally "son of man").
The present tense is usually marked with the participle followed by the subject pronoun. However, such pronouns are usually omitted in the case of the third person. This use of the participle to mark the present tense is the most common of a number of compound tenses that can be used to express varying senses of tense and aspect.