Lebanese Aramaic
Native toLevant (Especially Mount Lebanon)
Extinctc. 19th-century
Syriac alphabet (Estrangelo and Serṭō)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3

Lebanese Aramaic, also referred to as Lebanese Syriac or Surien (Syriac: ܣܘܪܝܢ),[2] is an extinct or dormant Western Aramaic language.[3][4] It was traditionally spoken in the Levant, especially in Mount Lebanon, by Maronite Christians.[5]


Similar to Christian Palestinian Aramaic,[6] Lebanese Aramaic did not have a unique name as a dialect or language in contemporary sources as its native speakers simply referred to it as Sūrien (Syriac).[7][2] Modern scholars and sources mainly refer to the language as Lebanese Aramaic,[8][9] or Lebanese Syriac.[10]


Map showing timeline of Aramaic speaking areas in the Middle East

Since ancient times the Arameans inhabitated the mountainous regions of Lebanon speaking Aramaic while the Canaanites on the coast spoke Phoenician. During the prominence of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the 7th century BC Aramaic spread throughout the entire Near East and beyond becoming the lingua franca of the region.[11] When the Arameans adopted Christianity they started to refer to themselves as Syrian and their language as Syriac. Syriac became the common language in Lebanon, besides Greek in prominent cities and Latin in Beirut. During the Arabic (Islamic) conquest the Levant, Arabic supplanted Syriac and gradually became the dominant language in the region, although it was already present in the Ghassanid kingdom. However, the Maronites who isolated themselves within Mount Lebanon maintained their language.[12][7][13]

Syriac remained both the sole vernacular and liturigcal language of the Maronites (although the liturgical was the classical Syriac not colloquial form) until the 14th century when the Mamluks conquered North Lebanon.[14] This led to the mountainous Maronites to interact with the coastal city dwelling Arabs and subsequently begin to learn Arabic. Thus, many Maronites began to learn and speak both Syriac and Arabic however those in more remote mountainous areas often were versed in Syriac alone. The influence of Arabic gradually eroded the knowledge of Syriac among the Maronites as more and more Maronites began to adopt Arabic as their first language with Syriac being prominent only among those in more mountainous regions as well as among the clergy and some nobles.[15] The Maronite Church's decision to shift more towards Arabic in documents and liturgy also expedited the process. The Maronites of Aleppo switched to Arabic with Syriac only being in liturgical use by the end of the 17th century.[16] The last native speakers of the language in Lebanon were last recorded in the late 19th century with Arabic having become the dominant language of Lebanon at this point.[17]

One prominent contribution to Syriac literature was a press from Italy that was installed in the Qadisha valley for producing religious texts in Classical Syriac, as well as Arabic.[18][19] This was the first printing press installed in the Middle East.


Sign from Kfarhatna, Batroun with the name of the village inscribed in English, Syriac and Arabic

Classes teaching Syriac were still taught in some Lebanese schools until the 1960s before the Lebanese Civil War broke out.[20] With the Taif Agreement that helped end the war a strong mandate of Arabization was pushed on Lebanon which hindered progress for teaching Syriac.[21]

Despite this, there are still efforts by locals to revive the language and make it widespread again. Groups that support this such as Tur Levnon and Bnay Qyomo have stated their goals of reviving Syriac language and culture in Lebanon.[22][23][24][25] Courses teaching Syriac have recently gained popularity at universities such as the American University of Beirut, the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik and Saint Joseph University of Beirut.[26] Similarly, the Maronites of the town of Jish have begun classes of Neo-Aramaic in their schools as a means to preserve their heritage.[27][28]

Since 2021, Maronite towns and villages have begun to erect signs of their villages names in Syriac. Among these Zgharta, Ehden, Bcharre, Kfarsghab and Kfarhatna (Batroun District) have unveiled signs of the names of their villages in Syriac and have called for the recognition of Syriac as a national language in Lebanon. The sign in Ehden was vandalized and knocked down although it was later put up again.[29][30][31][32]


See also: Syriac_alphabet § Summary_table

Just as the spoken Lebanese Arabic dialect is divergent from Modern Standard Arabic, especially in writing, Lebanese Aramaic diverges from Classical Syriac or Ktovonoyo (the written).[2] Thus writings and inscriptions were either in the Estrangelo or Serṭā scripts and did not follow the colloquial dialect.[1]



Lebanese Aramaic uses the 5 Syriac vowels of A – é – I – O – OU. Because of this many Lebanese words have changed their spelling, pronunciation and even meaning due to the switch to Arabic which only has the 3 Harakah of al-Dammah, al-Fathah and al-Kassrah. This is also the reason why Maronite hymns sung in Syriac cannot be translated into Arabic as the loss of vowels is incompatible with the melody's rhythm.[33][34]


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Many words in the Lebanese Arabic dialect today have Syriac roots along with many Lebanese villages and personal names which have retained their Syriac names.[35][36][37] The local oral poetry zajal still contains much of the Syriac metrical system in its recitation. According to Robert Gabriel, a professor of Syriac and president of the Association of Syriac Language Friends, about 50 percent of the Lebanese grammatical structure is due to Syriac influences.[26]


Many villages, towns and cities in Lebanon bear toponyms of Aramaic/Syriac origin.[38][39] According to Al-Machriq, 530 villages in Lebanon have names of Syriac origin.[40] A study is currently being conducted by professor Elie Wardini of Stockholm University on "Aramaic in Lebanese Place Names." According to his findings: Of the ca. 25000 place names in the database included in this study (covering all the regions of Lebanon; compared to Wardini 2002 which included 1700 names covering North Lebanon and Mount Lebanon), we expect that some 36%, i.e. some 9000 place names will be Aramaic, a large enough sample where much of the phonology and morphology and part of the lexicon of Lebanese Aramaic can be elucidated. Given the nature of Lebanese place names, the description of syntax is expected to be more limited.[9]

Lebanese toponyms of Aramaic/Syriac origin
Toponym Syriac word Arabic word English translation
Ain/Ayn ܥܝܢܐ عَيْن /ʕajn/ Spring
Beit/B ܒܝܬ بَيْت /bajt/ House of
Kfar ܟܦܪܐ كَفْر* /kafr/ Village
Kifa ܟܐܦܐ - Stone
Majd ܡܓܕܠܐ مِجْدَل* /mid͡ʒdal/ Tower
Mar ܡܪܝ مَار* /maːr/ Saint
Mayy ܡܝܐ مَاء⁩ /maːʔ Water
Qarn/Qorn ܩܪܢܐ قَرْن /qarn/ Summit/Horn
Tur or Turo ܛܘܼܪ or ܛܘܪܐ طُور* /tˤuːr/ Mount or Mountain

*Aramaic / Syriac loanwords in Arabic, other words are cognates from a shared Proto-Semitic origin.


Many Aramaic words and expressions have survived the transition to Arabic. Examples of such in the Lebanese dialect include eimata (or when), bobo (baby), ta'awa (to be late), wawa (ouch/it hurts), jawwa (inside), barra (outside), bobi (little dog/puppy), zoum (juice), zouwédé (provisions), shlaħ (to undress) and beit (house or family).[26][33][37][41]

It should also be noted that many of the words in Lebanese Aramaic that passed to Lebanese Arabic are actually Phoenician in origin. Examples of these include hess (feel), mnih (well), ‘a bokra or bakir (morning), barghash (mosquito), hon (here), honik (there), abét or abété (abbot or father), qarash or qarqash (freeze), lél (night), yom (day) and ta’a (come).[10][37]

Lebanese Aramaic has also borrowed loanwords from European languages such as Italian and French.[10]


Many Lebanese Christians have names of Syriac origin.[a] Examples of this include names such as Antonios/Antoun/Antoine (Anthony), Andraos (Andrew), Daniel, Gabriel, Mikhael/Michel/Michal (Michael), Pétros (Peter), Poulos/Paolos (Paul), Youhanna/Youhanon/Hanna (John) and Youssef/Yusuf/Yawséf (Joseph) for men and Barbara, Helena or Héléni, Lea (Leah), Rachelle/Rakel (Rachel) and Yuliana (Juliana) for women. A common misconception is that Lebanese Christians only adopted these names in the 1920s during the state of Greater Lebanon due to French influence. However, as the architect, linguist and president of the Syriac Maronite Union-Tur Levnon, Amine Jules Iskandar, explains: Our names look like Western names. But if we read history, we discover that these names were here in our society long before they became European names. And if we learn Syriac, we understand the meaning of these names that originated in our land between Mesopotamia, Greece, and Canaan.[42][43]

See also


  1. ^ Some of these names are of Canaanite, Greek or Latin root that entered into the Syriac lexicon


  1. ^ a b Iskandar, Amine (26 November 2021). "Syriac Identity of Lebanon part 13: The Three Syriac Scripts". syriacpress.com. Syriacpress.
  2. ^ a b c Iskandar, Amine (27 February 2022). "About the origin of the Lebanese language (I)". syriacpress.com. Syriacpress.
  3. ^ Wardini, Elie (2012). "Some aspects of Aramaic as attested in Lebanese place names". Orientalia Suecana. 61 (Supplement): 21–29. Based on the material studied, the Aramaic used in Lebanon is clearly of the Western type.
  4. ^ Arnold, Werner (2000). "The Arabic dialects in the Turkish province of Hatay and the Aramaic dialects in the Syrian mountains of Qalamûn: Two minority languages compared". Arabic as a Minority Language. Berlin-New York: Walter de Gruyter. pp. 347–370. ISBN 9783110165784. The western variety of Aramaic lasted for a relatively long period in some secluded villages in the mountains of Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon in Syria (see Arnold/Behnstedt 1993).
  5. ^ Malaspina, Ann (2009). Lebanon. Infobase. p. 26. ISBN 9781438105796. …Maronites established villages in the remote regions of Mount Lebanon in the north, where they would live, work, and pray for hundreds of years. The church's liturgy is written in Syriac, the ancient language of the Maronites.
  6. ^ Morgenstern, Matthew (2012). "Christian Palestinian Aramaic". The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook. Berlin-Boston: Walter de Gruyter. pp. 628–637. ISBN 9783110251586.
  7. ^ a b Hitti 1957, p. 204.
  8. ^ Bawardi, Basilius (2016). The Lebanese-Phoenician Nationalist Movement: Literature, Language and Identity. I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd. p. 122. ISBN 9781786730121. If the language in which we wrote the masterpieces of the past has changed, the Lebanese spirit has remained and continues to move with us from one language to the other. The transformation from the Phoenician [language] to the Greek and later to the Latin and finally to the Lebanese Aramaic [...] is not so different from the move of a family from one house to another.
  9. ^ a b Wardini, Elie (1 January 2018). "Aramaic in Lebanese Place Names: A Linguistic and Socio-Cultural Analysis". su.se. Stockholm University. Of the ca. 25000 place names in the database included in this study (covering all the regions of Lebanon; compared to Wardini 2002 which included 1700 names covering North Lebanon and Mount Lebanon), we expect that some 36%, i.e. some 9000 place names will be Aramaic, a large enough sample where much of the phonology and morphology and part of the lexicon of Lebanese Aramaic can be elucidated.
  10. ^ a b c Iskandar, Amine (6 March 2022). "About the origin of the Lebanese language (II)". syriacpress.com. Syriacpress.
  11. ^ Frahm, Eckart (2017). "The Neo-Assyrian Period (ca. 1000–609 BCE)". In E. Frahm (ed.). A Companion to Assyria. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 177–178. ISBN 978-1-118-32524-7.
  12. ^ Hitti 1957, p. 179.
  13. ^ Procházka, Stephan (8 April 2020). "Arabic in Iraq, Syria, and southern Turkey". Arabic and contact-induced change. Berlin, Germany: Language Science Press. p. 85. doi:10.5281/zenodo.3744507. ISBN 978-3-96110-251-8. Though after the Muslim conquests Arabic eventually became the majority language, it did not oust Aramaic very quickly: the historical sources suggest that Aramaic dominated in the larger towns and the mountainous regions of Syria and Lebanon for a long time.
  14. ^ Hitti 1957, p. 336.
  15. ^ Hitti 1957, p. 404-405.
  16. ^ del Rio Sanchez, Francisco (2013). "The Study of Syriac in an Arabized community: the Maronites of Aleppo". Cneru–Cedrac. 1: 237–242. In fact, at the end of the 17th c., the Syriac language was completely relegated to liturgical use between the Maronites of Aleppo, becoming a holy classical language whose study was reserved for the community clergy and scholars.
  17. ^ Erdman, Michael (January 2017). "From Language to Patois and Back Again: Syriac Influences on Arabic in Mont Liban during the 16th to 19th Centuries". Syriac Orthodox Patriarchal Journal. 55: 1–19.
  18. ^ Iskandar, Amine (12 December 2021). "Syriac Identity of Lebanon part 18: Syriac Maronite Literature". syriacpress.com. Syriacpress.
  19. ^ Hitti 1957, p. 402.
  20. ^ Iskander, Amine (23 May 2022). "The Maronite Patriarchs and the Syriac Language". syriacpress.com. Syriacpress. With the retirement of the last Syriac teachers in the 1960s, mountain schools stopped teaching this language for good.
  21. ^ F. Salloukh, Bassel (September 2006). "The Limits of Electoral Engineering in Divided Societies: Elections in Postwar Lebanon". Canadian Journal of Political Science. 39 (3): 635–655. doi:10.1017/s0008423906060185. JSTOR 25165996. S2CID 154975167.
  22. ^ "Syriac Maronite Union-Tur Levnon: back to the source of the Syriac language (I)". syriacpress.com. Syriacpress. 18 February 2022.
  23. ^ "About Tur Levnon". tur-levnon.org. Tur Levnon.
  24. ^ Salhani, Justin (7 October 2012). "Can a dying language revive Lebanon's Christian population?". csmonitor.com. The Christian Science Monitor.
  25. ^ Salhani, Justin (27 September 2012). "Lebanon: seeking an escape from eternal confrontation". opendemocracy.net. openDemocracy.
  26. ^ a b c Frey, Michael (25 November 2008). "You may think you're speaking Lebanese, but some of your words are really Syriac". dailystar.com.lb. The Daily Star. Archived from the original on 22 March 2015.
  27. ^ Judith Sudilovsky (2012-06-22). "Aramaic classes help Maronites in Israel understand their liturgies". Catholic News Service. Archived from the original on July 2, 2018. Retrieved 2018-11-18.
  28. ^ Daniella Cheslow, (2014-06-30) Maronite Christians struggle to define their identity in Israel, The World, Public Radio International. Retrieved 2018-11-18.
  29. ^ "City of Zgharta unveils artwork with name in Syriac. Calls for official recognition of the Syriac language in Lebanon". syriacpress.com. Syriacpress. 31 October 2021.
  30. ^ "Calling for the revival of Syriac and making it a national, the Ehdenian Movement erects Ehden town sign in Syriac letters". syriacpress.com. Syriacpress. 31 August 2022.
  31. ^ "Syriac villages in Lebanon proudly display identity with new signs". syriacpress.com. Syriacpress. 24 July 2023.
  32. ^ "Syriac villages in Lebanon show strong connection to their Syriac heritage". syriacpress.com. Syriacpress. 19 August 2023.
  33. ^ a b Iskandar, Amine (6 September 2020). "Syriac Identity of Lebanon – part 4: Why is Spoken Lebanese a Syriac Dialect?". syriacpress.com. Syriacpress.
  34. ^ Iskandar, Amine (13 March 2022). "Toponyms of Lebanon". syriacpress.com. Syriacpress. As for the country's highest peak, it was dedicated to the Christian martyrs who fell victim to the genocide perpetrated by the Mamluks at the end of the thirteenth century. It was called Qornet Sodé, the Martyr's Horn or Martyr's Summit. Later, with the transition to Arabic writing, the Syriac vowels, such as "o" and "é", which did not exist in Arabic, were replaced by a "waw" and a "hamzah", resulting in al-Qornah al-Sawdaa, the black corner.
  35. ^ Hobeica, Youssef (10 January 2011). al-dawāthir al-suryāniyya fī lubnān wa-sūriyya [The Influences of Syriac on the Lebanese and Syrian Dialects] (in Arabic). Gorgias Press LLC. ISBN 978-1-61719-461-0.
  36. ^ Freiha, Anis (1956). اسماء المدن والقرى اللبنانية وتفسير معانيها [The Names Of Lebanese Cities And Villages And The Interpretation Of Their Meanings] (in Arabic). New York University Libraries: American University of Beirut.
  37. ^ a b c Bassal, Ibrahim (2012). "Hebrew and Aramaic Substrata in Spoken Palestinian Arabic". Mediterranean Language Review. 19: 85–104. JSTOR 10.13173/medilangrevi.19.2012.0085.
  38. ^ Iskandar, Amine (11 October 2020). "Syriac Identity of Lebanon – Part 8: Syriac Lebanese Toponyms". syriacpreess.com. Syriacpress.
  39. ^ Starcky, Jean (1946–1948). "Récentes découvertes à Palmyre". Syria. 25 (3/4): 334–336. JSTOR 4196511. Nous avions ainsi le nom antique de la source; nous l'avons relu dans le texte palmyrénien sous la même forme, et c'est donc avec raison qu'on l'a rapproché de la racine araméenne «nefaq», «sortir». L'araméen «afqa» signifie d'ailleurs «canal» et tout cela convient trés bien au souterrain qui livre passage aux eaux. [We thus had the ancient name of the spring; we read it again in the Palmyrene text in the same form, and it is thus rightly linked to the Aramaic root "nefaq", "to go out". The Aramaic "afqa" also means "canal", and all this is very apt for the underground passageway through which water flows.]
  40. ^ Hitti, Philip (1957). Lebanon in History. India: Macmillan and Co Ltd. pp. 244–245. The overwhelming majority of Lebanese villages still bear Aramaic or Phoenician names, not Arabic. In al-Mashriq there is a list of 530 such villages, all called Syriac.
  41. ^ Iskandar, Amine (27 September 2020). "Syriac Identity of Lebanon – part 6: Syriac Lebanese vocabulary". syriacpress.com. Syriacpress.
  42. ^ Iskandar, Amine (4 April 2020). "Syriac Identity of Lebanon – Part 7: Syriac Lebanese Anthroponyms". syriacpress.com. Syriacpress.
  43. ^ Iskandar, Amine (21 December 2022). "Anthroponyms from Mount Lebanon". syriacpress.com. Syriacpress.