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Aramaic (ârəmāˈĭk), language belonging to the West Semitic subdivision of the Semitic subfamily of the Afroasiatic family of languages (see Afroasiatic languages). At some point during the second millenium B.C., the Aramaeans abandoned their desert existence and settled in Syria, bringing their language, Aramaic, with them. By the beginning of the 7th cent. B.C., Aramaic had spread throughout the Fertile Crescent as a lingua franca. Still later the Persians made Aramaic one of the official languages of their empire.

After the Jews were defeated by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., they began to speak Aramaic instead of Hebrew, although they retained Hebrew as the sacred language of their religion. Although Aramaic was displaced officially in the Middle East by Greek after the coming of Alexander the Great, it held its own under Greek domination and subsequent Roman rule. Aramaic was also the language of Jesus. Following the rise of Islam in the 7th cent. A.D., however, Aramaic began to yield to Arabic, by which eventually it was virtually replaced.

In the course of its long history the Aramaic language broke up into a number of dialects, one of the most important of which was Syriac. Parts of the books of Ezra and Daniel in the Bible were written in an Aramaic dialect, as were some notable Jewish prayers, such as the kaddish. Other important documents in Aramaic include portions of the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds and the Targum Onkelos, a commentary on the Pentateuch. Nabataean (the form of Aramaic current among the Nabataean Arabs), Samaritan, and Palmyrene were other significant ancient dialects of Aramaic. Modern forms of the language (including Syriac) are still spoken today, though not by more than a few hundred thousand people scattered in the Near and Middle East.

Grammatically, Aramaic is very close to Hebrew. The Aramaic alphabet is a North Semitic script that is first attested in the 9th cent. B.C. After c.500 B.C. its use became widespread in the Middle East. Descended from the Aramaic alphabet are the Square Hebrew alphabet, which is the ancestor of modern Hebrew writing; the Nabataean, Palmyrene, and Syriac scripts; and the Arabic alphabet, among others. It is believed that the alphabetic writing systems of India and Southeast Asia also have the Aramaic script as their source.


See F. Rosenthal, ed., An Aramaic Handbook (4 vol., 1967).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



one of the Semitic languages.

The most ancient Aramaean settlements were in Syria and Mesopotamia; from there the Aramaic language spread throughout the Near East. The oldest Aramaic literary remains (from Samal, Damascus, Hamath, and other places) date from the ninth and eighth centuries B.C. During the period of the Assyrian and Persian empires, from the seventh to the fourth centuries B.C., Aramaic became the official language of these states and was the international language of the Near and Middle East. An archive of Aramaic documents from Elephantine (in Egypt) dates from the fifth century B.C. Aramaic was gradually replacing Hebrew, and there are sections of the Bible written in Aramaic (part of Ezra, fifth to fourth centuries B.C.; part of Daniel, second century B.C.) and one of the books of the Talmud (the so-called Gemara, from the second to the fifth centuries A.D.); other biblical texts were translated into Aramaic. The Palmyrenes and the Nabataeans also used Aramaic, as seen by inscriptions of the first and second centuries A.D. The Aramaic dialect of Edessa was the basis of the Syriac language; a rich Christian literature was created from the third to 14th centuries in Syriac. The religious books of the Mandaeans were written in the third through eighth centuries A.D. in Mandaic, an Aramaic dialect. Modern Aramaic dialects are divided into three groups: West (Malula), Central (Turayo), and East Aramaic (Assyrian or Neo-Syriac).

Characteristic elements of Aramaic are a shift of the proto-Semitic interdental consonants to stops, the emphatic status of nouns (status emphaticus), the use of reflexive forms for the passive voice, and the development of analytical constructions (especially in the modern dialects).


Vinnikov, I. N. “Slovar’ arameiskikh nadpisei.” Palestinskii sbornik, 1958, no. 3; 1959, no. 4; 1962, no. 7; 1964, no. 11; 1965, no. 13.
Tsereteli, G. V. Armazskaia bilingva. Tbilisi, 1941.
Tsereteli, K.G. Materialy po arameiskoidialektologii, vol. 1.Tbilisi, 1965.
Garbini, G. L’aramaico antico. Rome, 1956.
Altheim, F., and R. Stiehl. Die aramaäsche Sprache unter den Achaimeniden, vol. 1. Frankfurt am Main, 1963.
Rosenthal, F. A Grammar of Biblical Aramaic, 2nd ed. Wiesbaden, 1963.
Nöldeke, T. Kurzgefasste syrische Grammatik. Darmstadt, 1966.
Macuch, R. Handbook of Classical and Modern Mandaic. Berlin, 1965.
Spitaler, A. Grammatik des neuaramäischen Dialekts von Ma’lüla (Antilibanon). Leipzig, 1938.
Ritter, H., and A. Turoyo. Texte, vol. 1. Beirut, 1967.
Rosenthal, F., ed. An Aramaic Handbook [vols. 1–4]. Wiesbaden. 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


an ancient language of the Middle East, still spoken in parts of Syria and the Lebanon, belonging to the NW Semitic subfamily of the Afro-Asiatic family. Originally the speech of Aram, in the 5th century bc it spread to become the lingua franca of the Persian empire
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
In realization of the dream of Ma'lula inhabitants and that of their ancestors of keeping their language from extinction, a center for teaching the Aramaic language and the Syriac dialect was opened to be the first of its kind in the world.
If there is sufficient evidence for us to speak of an Aramaic legal tradition (by "Aramaic legal tradition" I would mean a set of legal conventions practiced by societies that recorded their legal texts in the Aramaic language), I do not see any reason to discount the "continuity school," given how closely connected this tradition is to others (e.g., cuneiform, biblical) as Gross' analysis has amply demonstrated.
Its residents still speak the Aramaic language, the language of Jesus Christ.
Homs, Central Syria, (SANA) - Industry, trade and agriculture have flourished at the central Syrian Province of Homs due to its strategic location as it provides a promising investment atmosphere.Homs or 'the fertile land' in the Aramaic language is a center for many industries expanding over an area of 42,000 Square Kilometers.Historian Fayssal Shikhani said Homs has been very important city through out history as a capital of one of the Levant regions, adding that it has been inhabited since the Stone Age in the region of the river Orontes.The most ancient inhabited archeological site in the city dates back to the middle of the third millennium BC which indicates that the Canaanites were the first people who inhabited the city, Shikhani said.
Its inhabitants still speak Aramaic language besides Arabic.
"This festival dates back to the era of Queen Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, who then accompanied the Roman convoy in search of the Holy Cross," member of the Aramaic Language Committee at Damascus University Bashar Mos'ad said.
The weakness of the book lies in the understanding and mastery of the Aramaic language. Therefore the reviewer and user must be thankful that Levene did not prepare a new grammatical sketch of the edited texts (p.
One can hardly establish the Aramaic language type in use from the scanty text material (dockets, short inscriptions) extant before the Christian area in the east.
Frederick Greenspahn's An Introduction to Aramaic is designed to present students with an orderly, graded introduction to the language, Moreover, it is intended to present a window to the importance and diversity of the Aramaic language. The work consists of twenty-seven chapters devoted to Biblical Aramaic, followed by five more chapters introducing the students to different genres of texts written in Aramaic (inscriptions, letters, Dead Sea Scrolls, midrash, and targum) in different periods (Old Aramaic, Official Aramaic, Middle Aramaic, and Late Aramaic).
Fales began by noting that "in the wake of new epigraphic discoveries or of systematic reeditions, the Nineties have brought with them a number of new studies on the various facets of the Aramaic language during the 1st millennium B.C., in which various innovative philological results and shifts in historical-linguistic perspective are prominent" (Incontri Linguistici 19 [1996]: 35-57).
Raj Bali Pandey (5) concluded from this lack of Aramaic documents that Kharosti could not be derived from Aramaic, and that perhaps "the Persians did not rule over India directly." But while no Aramaic inscriptions or other texts are known from the whole eastern half of the Achaemenid empire, the Aramaic inscriptions of Asoka, almost a century later, found in Eastern Afghanistan prove the importance of the Aramaic language and script in that border area.
This volume will serve for scholars interested in the Aramaic language, but historians will need to refer to earlier compilations.