Eastern Aramaic
Fertile Crescent (Iraq, northwestern Iran, northern & eastern Syria, Southeastern Anatolia), Eastern Arabia[1][2]
Linguistic classificationAfro-Asiatic

Eastern Aramaic refers to a group of dialects[3] that evolved historically from the varieties of Aramaic spoken in the core territories of Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq, southeastern Turkey and parts of northeastern Syria) and further expanded into northern Syria,[4][5] eastern Arabia[6][7] and northwestern Iran. This is in contrast to the Western Aramaic varieties found predominantly in the southern Levant, encompassing most parts of modern western Syria and Palestine region. Most speakers are Assyrians, although there is a minority of Mizrahi Jews and Mandaeans who also speak modern varieties of Eastern Aramaic.[8]


Numbers of fluent speakers range from approximately 575,000 to 1,000,000, with the main languages being Assyrian Neo-Aramaic (235,000 speakers), Chaldean Neo-Aramaic (216,000 speakers) and Surayt/Turoyo (250,000 speakers),[9] together with a number of smaller closely related languages with no more than 5,000 to 10,000 speakers between them.

Despite their names, they are not restricted to specific churches; Chaldean Neo-Aramaic being spoken by members of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Assyrian Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox Church, Assyrian Protestant churches, and Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and Turoyo being spoken by members of the Chaldean Catholic Church etc.[10][11]

In addition, there are approximately 25,000 speakers of Jewish varieties, and some 5,000 fluent speakers of the Mandaic language[12] among the some 50,000 Mandaeans, an ethno-gnostic minority in Iraq and Iran.

Students of the Talmud will also have a passive mastery of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, adding hundreds of thousands of users with varying levels of Aramaic mastery.


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Historically, eastern varieties of Aramaic have been more dominant, mainly due to their political acceptance in the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Achaemenid Persian empires. With the later loss of political platforms to Greek and Persian, Eastern Aramaic continued to be used by the population of Mesopotamia.

During the Late Middle Aramaic period, spanning from 300 B.C.E. to 200 C.E., Aramaic diverged into its eastern and western branches.[13]

In Edessa, present-day Urfa in southeast Turkey, the local variety of Eastern Middle Aramaic known as Classical Syriac had emerged. Between the 1st and 4th centuries AD, it became a liturgical language among the Eastern Rite Syriac Christians throughout the Middle East.[14] It was used in the Peshitta and by the poet Ephrem the Syrian, as well as in the schools of Edessa and Nisibis. Later, it was adopted by the Saint Thomas Christians in India.

In the region of Babylonia (modern southern Iraq), rabbinical schools flourished, producing the Targumim and Talmud, making the language a standard of religious Jewish scholarship.

Among the Mandaean community in the Khuzestan province of Iran and Iraq, another variety of Eastern Aramaic, known as Mandaic, became the liturgical language of Mandaeism.

These varieties have widely influenced the less prominent Western Aramaic languages of the southern Levant, and the three classical languages outlined above have also influenced numerous vernacular varieties of Eastern Aramaic, some of which are spoken to this day, largely by the Assyrians, Mizrahi Jews and Mandaeans (see Neo-Aramaic languages). Since the Muslim conquest of Persia of the seventh century, most of the population of the Middle East has undergone a gradual but steady language shift to Arabic.

However there are still between some 550,000 – 1,000,000 fluent Eastern Neo-Aramaic speakers among the indigenous Assyrians of northern Iraq, northeast Syria, southeastern Turkey and northwestern Iran, as well as small migrant communities in Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Armenia, Georgia, southern Russia and Azerbaijan. Most of these are members of the Assyrian Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox Church, Chaldean Catholic Church, Ancient Church of the East, Assyrian Pentecostal Church and Assyrian Evangelical Church. A further number may have a more sparse understanding of the language, due to pressures in their homelands to speak Arabic, Turkish, Persian or Kurdish, and as a result of the diaspora to the Western World.

See also


  1. ^ "Mesopotamian Languages — Department of Archaeology". www.arch.cam.ac.uk. 9 August 2013.
  2. ^ Mario Kozah; Abdulrahim Abu-Husayn; Saif Shaheen Al-Murikhi; Haya Al Thani (9 December 2014). The Syriac Writers of Qatar in the Seventh Century. Gorgias Press. p. 298. ISBN 9781463236649. The Syriac writers of Qatar themselves produced some of the best and most sophisticated writing to be found in all Syriac literature of the seventh century, but they have not received the scholarly attention that they deserve in the last half century. This volume seeks to redress this underdevelopment by setting the standard for further research in the sub-field of Beth Qatraye studies.
  3. ^ Pereira, Rodrigues (17 July 2018). Studies in Aramaic Poetry (c. 100 B.C.E.-c. 600 C.E.). BRILL. p. 7. ISBN 9789004358645. It may just demonstrate that in the course of the evolution of the Aramaic dialects it removed itself from Western Aramaic to a lesser extent than the other Eastern dialects.
  4. ^ Phan, Peter C. (21 January 2011). Christianities in Asia. John Wiley & Sons. p. 234. ISBN 9781444392609. Antioch was a major city and the capital of the Syriac-speaking region. From Antioch, the rest of the Syriac-speaking provinces received the Christian message,…
  5. ^ Lee, Sang-Il (26 April 2012). Jesus and Gospel Traditions in Bilingual Context. Walter de Gruyter. p. 167. ISBN 9783110267143. On market days and festivals, Syriac-speaking peasants flocked to Antioch, which indicates that there was lively interaction between Syriac-speaking and Greek-speaking Syrians, thus allowing Antiochene inhabitants to continue to hear Syriac. Furthermore, adding to the general picture, it is thought that the Syriac Peshitta might have been used by Chrysostom (Krupp 1991:75). Based on this, three points can be summarized. (i) The linguistic milieu of Antioch was bilingualism in Aramaic and Greek. (ii) There may have been many bilinguals among both upper-status and lower-status Syrians. (iii) The inhabitants' competence in speaking Greek depends on their social status and, by and large, it is appropriate to assume that upper-status inhabitants spoke Greek as their matrix languages while lower-status inhabitants spoke Aramaic as their matrix languages.
  6. ^ Thompson, Andrew David (31 October 2019). Christianity in Oman. Springer. p. 49. ISBN 9783030303983. The Persian location and character of the Metropolitan proved to be a source of friction between the Syriac-speaking Christians of Beth Qatraye who naturally looked to their co-linguists back in Mesopotamia.
  7. ^ Raheb, Mitri; Lamport, Mark A. (15 December 2020). The Rowman & Littlefield Handbook of Christianity in the Middle East. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 134. ISBN 9781538124185. He was born in the region of Beth Qatraye in Eastern Arabia, a mixed Syriac- and Arabic-speaking region…
  8. ^ Khan, Geoffrey; Noorlander, Paul M. (15 January 2021). Studies in the Grammar and Lexicon of Neo-Aramaic. Open Book Publishers. ISBN 9781783749508. The Neo-Aramaic dialects are clearly closely related to the written forms of Aramaic of earlier periods. The Neo-Aramaic subgroups can be correlated broadly with dialectal divisions that are reflected in pre-modern written Aramaic sources from the first millennium CE onwards particularly during Late Antiquity, which are sometimes referred to collectively as 'Middle Aramaic' or 'Late (Antique) Aramaic'. Central Neo-Aramaic, North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic and Neo-Mandaic are related to the eastern branch of premodern Aramaic, e.g. Classical Syriac, Classical Mandaic and Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, whereas Western Neo-Aramaic is related to the western branch, e.g. Jewish and Christian Palestinian Aramaic and Samaritan Aramaic. No Neo-Aramaic subgroup, however, could be considered a direct descendent of the attested forms of the literary pre-modern Aramaic varieties.
  9. ^ "Did you know | Aramaic Online".
  10. ^ Turoyo at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  11. ^ *MacDonald, Kevin (2004-07-29). "Socialization for Ingroup Identity among Assyrians in the United States". Paper presented at a symposium on socialization for ingroup identity at the meetings of the International Society for Human Ethology, Ghent, Belgium. Archived from the original on 2007-06-10. Based on interviews with community informants, this paper explores socialization for ingroup identity and endogamy among Assyrians in the United States. The Assyrians descent from the population of ancient Assyria (founded in the 24th century BC), and have lived as a linguistic, political, religious, and ethnic minority in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey since the fall of the Assyrian Empire in 608 BC. Practices that maintain ethnic and cultural continuity in the Near East, the United States and elsewhere include language and residential patterns, ethnically based Christian churches characterized by unique holidays and rites, and culturally specific practices related to life-cycle events and food preparation. The interviews probe parental attitudes and practices related to ethnic identity and encouragement of endogamy. Results are being analyzed.
  12. ^ Modern Mandaic at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  13. ^ McNamara, Martin (2011). Targum and New Testament. Mohr Siebeck. p. 186. ISBN 9783161508363. a) Old Aramaic from the beginning (through Biblical Aramaic, Nabataean, Palmyrene) down to the established eastern and western branches; b) Middle Aramaic, with two branches, eastern and western; c) Late Aramaic, with the contemporary western (Ma'alula) and eastern branches. This older terminology is still followed by M. Sokoloff in his recent work, A Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic of the Byzantine Period.'1 A different division, now widely accepted, has been put forward by J. A. Fitzmyer.2 It is as follows: a) Old Aramaic, up to 700 B.C.E.; b) Official Aramaic, 700-300 .c.E.; c) Middle Aramaic, 300 ..E.-200 c.E.; d) Late Aramaic (= Middle Aramaic of Rosenthal's division), with two branches: the eastern branch consisting of Syriac, Mandaic, the Aramaic of the Talmud Babli, the Gaonic Literature and incantation texts found mainly in Nippur; and the western, consisting of Samaritan Aramaic, Christian Palestinian Aramaic, Galilean Aramaic (which some, for example Sokoloff, prefer to call Jewish Palestinian Aramaic) found in the Aramaic portions of the Palestinian Talmud and haggadic midrashim and other sources; e) Modern Aramaic (in its eastern and western [Ma'alula] dialects).
  14. ^ Schmidinger, T. (2020). The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria: Between A Rock and A Hard Place. Society and Politics. Transnational Press London. p. 36. ISBN 978-1-912997-51-0. The classical version of Eastern Neo-Aramaic, often called Syriac, emerged in the first centuries after Christ in the theological school of Edessa. It has its own alphabet and serves as a ritual language.