The Language of Christ is Disappearing

Source: FSSPX News

“Aramaic is in danger,” warns one of the last Syrian specialists of the language spoken in the time of Christ. The fragile linguistic heritage of the Maaloula region (Syria) has been undermined by the civil war and the exodus of Christians.

Georges Zaarour lives in Maaloula. He is an expert in Aramaic, the language spoken at the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (539 BC - 70 AD), Hebrew being at that time reserved for liturgy or religious elites.

It is widely accepted that the language of Christ has continued to be spoken without interruption until today, in its late and local form, in Syria.

Defined by linguists as “Western Neo-Aramaic,” the dialect is more than ever threatened with extinction. “If this continues, the language will disappear in five or ten years,” warns Georges Zaarour.

In his predominantly Christian village of Maaloula, the outlook is bleak. Today, “80% of the inhabitants of Maaloula do not speak Aramaic and the remaining 20% ​​are over 60,” laments the expert, himself 60 years old, and author of 30 of works on ancient Semitic languages.

Since 2011, civil war and exile have conquered the transmission of language to younger generations. The city was twice occupied by a jihadist group in 2013, which committed a veritable “archaeological massacre.” More than 6,000 inhabitants of Maaloula—according to Agence France Presse (AFP)—fled during the civil war, and only 2,000 have returned. The others have found refuge in Damascus, in the surrounding areas, or fled abroad. A first direct consequence is that “the generations of these war years were born outside Maaloula, in other regions, where they first learned Arabic,” laments Georges Zaarour.

Three Aramaic linguistic groups are still spoken—but for how long?—presently: Western Neo-Aramaic (Maaloula); Eastern Neo-Aramaic (Assyrian), a living language in northern Iraq, now used by the Assyrian, Chaldean, and Syrian Christian communities in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and south-east Turkey; and Central Neo-Aramaic, spread throughout Turkey, northeastern Syria, and in the diaspora.