Classical Syriac Language
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Classical Syriac Language
Syriac
? ‎, Len? Sury?y?
Syriac - Estrangelo Nisibin Calligraphy.png
Len? Sury?y? in written Syriac (Es?rangel? script)
Pronunciationl':n?: sur'j?:j?:
RegionMesopotamia (ancient Iraq), northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran,[1][2]Eastern Arabia, Fertile Crescent[3][4]
Era1st century AD; Dramatically declined as a vernacular language after the 14th century; Developed into Northeastern Neo-Aramaic and Central Neo-Aramaic languages after the 12th century.[5]
Syriac abjad
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
 Iraq (Recognized language and a constitutional right to educate in the mother tongue language)[6][7]
 Kurdistan Region (Recognized educational language of a national minority)[8]
Language codes
syc Classical Syriac[9]
syc Classical Syriac[10]
Glottologclas1252[11]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Syriac language (; Classical Syriac: ? ‎ / Len? Sury?y?, Leshono Suryoyo),[a] also known as Classical Syriac, or Syriac Aramaic (Syrian Aramaic, Syro-Aramaic), is an Aramaic language that emerged during the first century AD from a local Late Old Aramaic dialect spoken in the ancient region of Osroene, centered in the city of Edessa. During the Early Christian period, it became the main literary language of various Aramaic-speaking Christian communities in the historical region of Ancient Syria and throughout the Near East. As a liturgical language of Syriac Christianity, it gained a prominent role among Eastern Christian communities that used both Eastern Syriac and Western Syriac rites. Following the spread of Syriac Christianity, it also became liturgical language of eastern Christian communities as far as India and China. It flourished from the 4th to the 8th century, and continued to have important role during the next centuries, but by the end of the Middle Ages it was gradually reduced to liturgical use, since the role of vernacular language among its native speakers was overtaken by several emerging Neo-Aramaic dialects.[12][13][14][15][16]

Classical Syriac is written in the Syriac alphabet, a derivation of the Aramaic alphabet. The language is preserved in a large body of Syriac literature, that comprises roughly 90% of the extant Aramaic literature.[17] During the Late Antiquity, Classical Syriac was used as a lingua franca across much of the Near East, from Anatolia to Arabia.[4][18][19]

Along with Greek and Latin, Syriac became one of "the three most important Christian languages in the early centuries" of Christian history.[20] Already from the first century AD, the inhabitants of the region began to embrace Christianity, and by the third and fourth centuries Syriac became the vehicle of Syriac Christianity and culture, and the liturgical language of various Christian communities. Because of theological differences, Syriac-speaking Christians bifurcated during the 5th century into the Church of the East that followed the East Syriac Rite under the Persian rule, and the Syriac Orthodox Church that followed the West Syriac Rite under the Byzantine rule.[21][22] After this separation, the two groups developed distinct dialects differing primarily in the pronunciation and written symbolisation of vowels.[23] The modern, and vastly spoken, Syriac varieties today include Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic and Turoyo, among others, which, in turn, have their own subdialects as well.[24][18]

As a liturgical language of Syriac Christianity, Syriac language spread throughout Asia as far as the South Indian Malabar Coast[25] and Eastern China,[26] and was the medium of communication and cultural dissemination for the later Arabs and, to a lesser extent, the Parthian Empire and Sasanian Empire. Primarily a Christian medium of expression, Syriac had a fundamental cultural and literary influence on the development of Arabic,[27] which largely replaced it towards the 14th century.[5]

Syriac remains the sacred language of Syriac Christianity to this day. It is used as liturgical language of several denominations, like those who follow the East Syriac Rite, including the Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church,[25] and the Assyrian Pentecostal Church, and also those who follow the West Syriac Rite, including: Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, the Maronite Catholic Church, the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.

Name

An 11th-century Syriac manuscript

In the English language, the term "Syriac" is used as a linguonym (language name) designating a specific variant of the Aramaic language in relation to its regional origin in northeastern parts of Ancient Syria, around Edessa, that lay outside of provincial borders of Roman Syria. Since Aramaic was used throughout the Near East, having several variants (dialects), this specific dialect that originated in northeastern Syria became known under its regional (Syrian/Syriac) designation (Suryaya).[28]

In English scholarly literature, the term "Syriac" is preferred over the alternative form "Syrian" since the latter is much more polysemic and commonly relates to Syria in general.[29] That distinction is used in English as a convention and does not exist on the ancient endonymic level.[30] 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 terms as designations for their language. In addition to common endonym (native name) for the Aramaic language in general (Aramaya), another endonymic term was also used, designating more specifically the local Edessan dialect, known as Urhaya, a term derived directly from one of native names for the city of Edessa. Both designations for Edessan Aramaic (Aramaya/Urhaya) were later (starting from the 5th century) accompanied by another term, exonymic (foreign) in origin: Suryaya (Syrian/Syriac), adopted under the influence of a long-standing Greek custom of referring to Arameans as Syrians. Practice of triple (interchangeable) naming (Aramaya/Urhaya/Suryaya) persisted for centuries, in the works of various prominent writers. One of those who used all three terms was theologian Jacob of Serugh (d. 521), who was referring to the language as "Syrian or Aramean" (Suryâyâ awkêt Ârâmâyâ), and also as Urhâyâ, when referring to Edessan Aramaic.[31][32][33]

Native plurality of terms (?r?m?y? or sury?y?, and urh?y?)[14] 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 reduced from the original Greek designation for Aramaic language in general to a more specific (narrower) designation for Edessan Middle Aramaic language. That reduction resulted in the creation of a specific field of Syriac studies, within Aramaic studies.

Late Syriac text, written in Madnh?y? script, fom Thrissur, India (1799)

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",[34] long held to be the 4th century work of an authoritative writer and revered Christian saint Ephrem of Edessa (d. 373), who was thus believed to be proponent of various linguistic notions and tendencies expressed in the mentioned work.[35] Since modern scholarly analyses have shown that the work in question was written much later (c. 600) by an unknown author,[36] several questions were raised. In regard to the scope and usage of the Syrian/Syriac label in linguistic terminology, some modern scholars have noted that early diversity of Middle Aramaic dialects in the wider historical region of Syria should not be overlooked by improper and unspecific use of Syrian/Syriac labels.[37][38]

Lord's Prayer in Syriac language

Diversity of Aramaic dialects was recorded by Theodoret of Cyrus (d. c. 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".[39] Theodoret?s regional (provincial) differentiation of Aramaic dialects included an explicit distinction between the "Syrians" (as Aramaic speakers of Syria proper, western of Euphrates), and the "Osroenians" as Aramaic speakers of Osroene (eastern region, centered in Edessa), 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).[40][41]

Native (endonymic) use of the term Aramaic language (Aramaya/Oromoyo) among its speakers has continued throughout the Middle Ages, as attested by the works of prominent writers, including the Oriental Orthodox Patriarch Michael of Antioch (d. 1199),[42] but during the course of time regional designations based on Syrian/Syriac labels became more common, developing into several dialectal variants (Suryoyo/Suryaya, S?ray?/S?re?, S?ry?n).[43]

Wider and narrower meanings

Since the proper dating of the Cave of Treasures,[44] 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 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, 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 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 for Aramaic language in general, while other (conventional and narrower) designating only the Edessan Aramaic, also referred to more specifically as the "Classical Syriac".[45][46] 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 literary and liturgical language, but the consistency of such use was never achieved within the field.[47][48][49][50]

In many scholarly works, reduction of the term "Classical Syriac" to "Syriac" (only) became a manner of convenience, thus creating a large body of unspecific references, that became a base for the emergence of several new classes of methodological and terminological problems at the advent of the electronic era. Those problems culminated during the process of linguistic standardization of the terms "Syriac" and "Classical Syriac" within the ISO system. The term "Classical Syriac" was accepted and codified (ISO code: syc) as a designation for the literary and liturgical language, thus confirming the proper use of the term, but in the same time, from a large body of unspecific references related to various linguistic uses of the term "Syriac", a separate codification emerged (ISO code: syr), currently defining "Syriac" as a group that includes some of the Neo-Aramaic languages. Such classification has created additional problems, that remain unresolved.[51]

Geographic distribution

The distribution of the Syriac language in the Middle East and Asia
Although once a major language in the Fertile Crescent and Eastern Arabia, Syriac is now limited to the towns and villages in the Nineveh plains, Tur Abdin, the Khabur plains, in and around the cities of Mosul, Erbil and Kirkuk.

Syriac was the local dialect of Aramaic in Edessa, and evolved under the influence of the Church of the East and the Syriac Orthodox Church into its current form. Before Arabic became the dominant language, Syriac was a major language among Christian communities in the Middle East, Central Asia and Kerala,[25] and remains so among the Syriac Christians to this day. It has been found as far afield as Hadrian's Wall in Great Britain, with inscriptions written by Assyrian and Aramean soldiers of the Roman Empire.[52]

History

o?, the Syriac pronunciation of the Hebrew and Aramaic name of Jesus, Yeshu? (?)

The history of Syriac can be divided into three distinct periods:

The name "Syriac", when used with no qualification, generally refers to one specific dialect of Middle Aramaic but not to Old Aramaic or to the various present-day Eastern and Central Neo-Aramaic languages descended from it or from close relatives. The modern varieties are, therefore, not discussed in this article.

Origins and spread

In 132 BC, the kingdom of Osroene was founded in Edessa and Proto-Syriac evolved in that kingdom. Many Syriac-speakers still look to Edessa as the cradle of their language.[55] There are about eighty extant early Syriac inscriptions, dated to the first three centuries AD (the earliest example of Syriac, rather than Imperial Aramaic, is in an inscription dated to AD 6, and the earliest parchment is a deed of sale dated to AD 243). All of these early examples of the language are non-Christian. As an official language, Syriac was given a relatively coherent form, style and grammar that is lacking in other Old Eastern Aramaic dialects. The Syriac language split into a western variety used by the Syriac Orthodox Churches in upper Mesopotamia and western Syria, and an eastern dialect used in the Sasanian Empire controlled east used by the Church of the East.[56]

During the establishment of the Church of the East in central-southern Iraq, speakers of Syriac split into two; those who followed the Eastern Syriac Rite and those who followed Western Syriac Rite. Syriac was the lingua franca of the entire region of Mesopotamia and the native language of the peoples of Iraq and surrounding regions until it was spread further west of the country to the entire Fertile Crescent region, as well as in parts of Eastern Arabia,[3][57] becoming the dominant language for centuries, before the spread and replacement with Arabic language as the lingua franca.[58] For this reason, Mesopotamian Iraqi Arabic being an Aramaic Syriac substratum, is said to be the most Aramaic Syriac influenced dialect of Arabic,[59][60][61] sharing significant similarities in language structure, as well as having evident and stark influences from other ancient Mesopotamian languages of Iraq, such as Akkadian, Sumerian and Babylonian.[59][60]

Mesopotamian Arabic dialects developed by Iraqi Muslims, Iraqi Jews, as well as dialects by Iraqi Christians, most of whom are native ethnic Syriac speakers. Today, Syriac is the native spoken language of millions of Iraqi-Chaldo-Assyrians living in Iraq and the diaspora, and other Syriac-speaking people from Mesopotamia, such as the Mandaean people of Iraq. The dialects of Syriac spoken today include Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, and Mandaic.[62][63][64]

Literary Syriac

The sixth beatitude (Matthew 5:8) from an East Syriac Peshitta.
? ? ?
ayh?n l-?aylên da-ên b-lebbh?n, d-henn?n ne?z?n l-l?h?.
'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.'

In the 3rd century, churches in Edessa began to use Syriac as the language of worship. There is evidence that the adoption of Syriac was to effect mission.[clarification needed] Much literary effort was put into the production of an authoritative translation of the Bible into Syriac, the Peshitta ( Pt?). At the same time, Ephrem the Syrian was producing the most treasured collection of poetry and theology in the Syriac language.

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.

Western Syriac is the official language of the West Syriac Rite, practised by the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, the Maronite Catholic Church, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the Malabar Independent Syrian Church, the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.

Eastern Syriac is the liturgical language of the East Syriac Rite, practised in modern times by the ethnic Assyrian followers of the Assyrian Church of the East, the Assyrian Pentecostal Church, the Ancient Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church, as well as the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church 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 as the spoken language of much of the region, excepting northern Iraq. The Mongol invasions and conquests of the 13th century, and the religiously motivated massacres of Syriac Christians by Timur further contributed to the rapid decline of the language. In many places outside of Upper Mesopotamia, even in liturgy, it was replaced by Arabic.

Current status

A warning sign in Mardin, Turkey: ?e?q?, b-? (? ?, 'Silence, please') in Syriac and Lütfen! Sessiz olal?m! ('Please! Let's be quiet!') in Turkish.

Revivals of literary Syriac in recent times have led to some success with the creation of newspapers in written Syriac ( K?n?y?) similar to the use of Modern Standard Arabic has been employed since the early decades of the 20th century.[clarification needed] Modern literary Syriac has also been used not only in religious literature but also in secular genres often with Assyrian nationalistic themes.[65]

Syriac is spoken as the liturgical language of the Syriac Orthodox Church, as well as by some of its adherents.[66] Syriac has been recognised as an official minority language in Iraq.[67] It is also taught in some public schools in Iraq, the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, Israel, Sweden,[68][69] Augsburg (Germany) and Kerala (India).

In 2014, an Assyrian nursery school could finally be opened in Ye?ilköy, Istanbul[70] 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.[71]

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 of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria,[72] which then started with the 2016/17 academic year.[73]

Grammar

Many Syriac words, like those in other Semitic languages, belong to triconsonantal roots, 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 (?QL), to which a basic meaning of taking can be assigned:

  • - ?qal: "he has taken"
  • - ne?qol: "he will take, he was taking, he does take"
  • ? - ?qol: "take!"
  • - qel: "he takes, he is taking"
  • - ?aqqel: "he has lifted/raised"
  • ? - ?a?qel: "he has set out"
  • ? - ?q?l?: "a taking, burden, recension, portion or syllable"
  • - ?eql?: "takings, profits, taxes"
  • - ?aqlu: "a beast of burden"
  • - ?uqq?l?: "arrogance"

Nouns

Most Syriac 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. These states should not be confused with grammatical cases in other languages.

  • The absolute state is the basic form of the noun - , ?eqlin, "taxes".
  • The emphatic state usually represents a definite noun - , ?eql?, "the taxes".
  • The construct state marks a noun in relationship to another noun - , ?eqlay, "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, ?/, bar n, "man, person", literally "son of man").

In Old and early Classical Syriac, most genitive 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, , ?eqlay malku, means "the taxes of the kingdom". Quickly, the construct relationship was abandoned and replaced by the use of the relative particle ?, d-, da-. Thus, the same noun phrase becomes ?, ?eql? d-malku, 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 ?, ?eqlêh d-malku. 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, [those] of the kingdom".

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. Thus, , bi?in ?eql?, means "the taxes are evil", whereas , ?eql? ?i, means "evil taxes".

Verbs

Most Syriac verbs are built on triliteral roots as well. Finite verbs carry person, 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.

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 tenses respectively. 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.

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 Pal (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 Pael, form of the verb, which usually carries an intensified meaning. The third is the extensive stem, or ?Apel, form of the verb, which is often causative in meaning. Each of these stems has its parallel passive conjugation: the ?E?pel, ?E?paal and ?Ettapal respectively. To these six cardinal stems are added a few irregular stems, like the ?apel and ?E?tapal, which generally have an extensive meaning.

Phonology

Phonologically, like the other Northwest Semitic languages, Syriac has 22 consonants. The consonantal phonemes are:

transliteration ? b g d h w z ? ? y k l m n s ? p ? q r ? t
letter ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
pronunciation , , , , , ,

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 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 (quy? "strengthening"; equivalent to a dagesh in Hebrew) to mark that the stop pronunciation is required, and a dot is placed below the letter (rukk "softening") to mark that the fricative pronunciation is required. The pairs are:

  • Voiced labial pair - /b/ and /v/
  • Voiced velar pair - /?/ and /?/
  • Voiced dental pair - /d/ and /ð/
  • Voiceless labial pair - /p/ and /f/
  • Voiceless velar pair - /k/ and /x/
  • Voiceless dental pair - /t/ and /?/

Like some Semitic languages, Syriac too has emphatic consonants, and it has three of them. These are consonants that have a coarticulation in the pharynx or slightly higher. The set consists of:

There are two pharyngeal fricatives, another class of consonants typically found in Semitic languages.

Syriac also has a rich array of sibilants:

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 set of distinguishable vowels:

In the western dialect, /?/ has become /o/, and the original /o/ has merged with /u/. In eastern dialects there is more fluidity in the pronunciation of front vowels, with some speakers distinguishing five qualities of such vowels, and others only distinguishing three. Vowel length is generally not important: close vowels tend to be longer than open vowels.

The open vowels form diphthongs with the approximants /j/ and /w/. In almost all dialects, the full sets of possible diphthongs collapses into two or three actual pronunciations:

  • /?j/ usually becomes /aj/, but the western dialect has /oj/
  • /aj/, further, sometimes monophthongized to /e/
  • /aw/ usually becomes /?w/
  • /?w/, further, sometimes monophthongized to /o/

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Classical, unvocalized spelling; with Eastern Syriac vowels: ? ; with Western Syriac vowels: .

References

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Sources

External links


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