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Aramaic language

Aramaic is a Semitic language with a 3,000 year history. It has been the language of administration of empires and the language of divine worship. It is the original language of large sections of the biblical books of Daniel and Ezra, and is the main language of the Talmud. Aramaic is believed to have been the native language of Jesus. It is still spoken today as a first language by numerous small communities, but is an endangered language.

Aramaic belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language family. Within that diverse family, it belongs to the Semitic subfamily. Aramaic is a part of the Northwest Semitic group of languages, which also includes the Canaanite languages (such as Hebrew).

During the twelfth century BC, Aramaeans, the native speakers of Aramaic, began to settle in great numbers in modern-day Syria, Iraq and eastern Turkey. As the language grew in importance, it came to be spoken throughout the Mediterranean coastal area of the Levant, and spread east of the Tigris. Jewish settlers took the language with them into North Africa and Europe, and Christian missionaries brought Aramaic into Persia, India and even China. From the seventh century AD onwards, Aramaic was replaced as the lingua franca of the Middle East by Arabic language. However, Aramaic remains a literary and liturgical language among Jews and some Christians. The turbulence of the last two centuries has seen speakers of first-language and literary Aramaic dispersed throughout the world.

Aramaic is really a group of related languages, rather than a single monolithic language. The long history of Aramaic, its extensive literature and its use by different religious communities are all factors in the diversification of the language. Some Aramaic dialects are mutually intelligible, and are known under different names; for example, “Syriac” is particularly used to describe the Eastern Aramaic of Christian communities. Most dialects can be described as either "Eastern"' or "Western," the dividing line being roughly the Euphrates.

The history of the Aramaic language is broken down into three broad periods:

  • Old Aramaic (1100 BC – 200 AD), including:

- the Biblical Aramaic of the Hebrew Bible,
- the Aramaic of Jesus,
- the Aramaic of Targums.

  • Middle Aramaic (200 – 1200), including:

- literary Syriac,
- the Aramaic of the Talmuds and Midrashim.

  • Modern Aramaic (1200 – present), including:

- Various modern vernaculars.