Western Aramaic languages

Western Aramaic
Linguistic classificationAfro-Asiatic

The Western Aramaic languages represent a specific group of Aramaic languages, once spoken widely throughout the ancient Levant, from ancient Nabatea and Judea, across Palestine and Samaria, further to Palmyrene and Phoenicia, and into the Syria proper. The group was divided into several regional variants, spoken mainly by ancient Arameans and Jews. All of the Western Aramaic languages are today extinct, except Western Neo-Aramaic.[1]

Western Aramaic languages were distinctive from Eastern Aramaic languages, spoken in various eastern regions, throughout modern northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, and northwestern Iran.


Western Aramaic inscription, written in Palmyrene Aramaic, using Palmyrene alphabet

In the middle of the 5th century, Theodoret of Cyrus (d. c. 466) noted that Aramaic language, commonly labeled by Greeks as Syrian/Syriac, was widely spoken and also stated that "the Osroënians, the Syrians, the people of the Euphrates, the Palestinians, and the Phoenicians all speak Syriac, but with many differences in pronunciation".[2] Theodoret′s regional differentiation of Aramaic dialects included an explicit distinction between the "Syrians" (as Aramaic speakers of Syria proper, western of Euphrates), the "Phoenicians" (as Aramaic speakers of ancient Phoenicia), and the "Palestinians" (as Aramaic speakers of ancient Palestine), thus recording the regional diversity of Western Aramaic dialects (in Syria proper, Phoenicia and Palestine) during the late antiquity.[3][4]

Following the Arab conquests in the 7th century, and consequent cultural and linguistic Arabization of the Levant, Arabic language gradually replaced various Aramaic languages (including the Western Aramaic varieties) as the first language of most people.[5] Despite this, Western Aramaic appears to have survived for a relatively long time, at least in some villages in mountainous areas of the Mount Lebanon range and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains (in modern Syria). In fact, up until the 17th century, travelers in the Lebanon region still reported Aramaic-speaking villages.[6]


Modern state of Neo-Aramaic languages, showing the remaining enclave of Western Neo-Aramaic (in green color)

Today, Western Neo-Aramaic is the sole surviving remnant of the entire western branch of the Aramaic languages,[7] spoken by no more than a few thousand people in the Anti-Lebanon of Syria, mainly in Maaloula, Jubb'adin and Bakhah. The speakers avoided cultural and linguistic Arabization due to the remote mountainous isolation of their villages.

See also


  1. ^ Beyer 1986, p. 46, 55.
  2. ^ Petruccione & Hill, p. 343.
  3. ^ Brock 1994, p. 149-150.
  4. ^ Taylor 2002, p. 302-303.
  5. ^ Griffith 1997, p. 11–31.
  6. ^ Arnold 2000, p. 347.
  7. ^ Arnold 2012, p. 685–696.


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