Western Aramaic
Levant (western & southern Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Transjordan), Sinai
Linguistic classificationAfro-Asiatic

Western Aramaic is a group of Aramaic dialects[4][5] once spoken widely throughout the ancient Levant, predominantly in the south, and Sinai, including ancient Damascus, Nabatea, Judea, across the Palestine Region, Transjordan, Samaria as well as Lebanon in the north. The group was divided into several regional variants, spoken mainly by the Nabataeans, Mizrahi Jews, Melkites of Jewish descent,[6] Samaritans and Maronites. All of the Western Aramaic dialects are considered extinct today, except for the modern variety Western Neo-Aramaic, which is still spoken by the Arameans (Syriacs) in the towns of Maaloula and Jubb'adin in Syria.[7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14]


A Western Aramaic text, written in Christian Palestinian Aramaic, utilizing a modified version of the Syriac alphabet.

During the Late Middle Aramaic period, spanning from 300 B.C.E. to 200 C.E., Aramaic diverged into its eastern and western branches.[15]

In the middle of the fifth century, Theodoret of Cyrus (d. c. 466) noted that Aramaic, commonly labeled by Greeks as "Syrian" or "Syriac", was widely spoken. He 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",[16] thus recording the regional diversity of Eastern and Western Aramaic dialects during the late antiquity.[17][18][19]

Following the early Muslim conquests in the seventh century and the consequent cultural and linguistic Arabization of the Levant and Mesopotamia, Arabic gradually replaced Aramaic, including its Western varieties, as the primary language for most people.[20]

Despite this, Western Aramaic appears to have survived for a relatively long time, at least in some secluded villages in the mountains of Lebanon and in the Anti-Lebanon mountains in Syria. In fact, up until the 17th century, travelers in the Lebanon region still reported villages where Aramaic was spoken.[21]


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 language,[22] spoken by no more than a few thousand people in the Anti-Lebanon mountains of Syria, mainly in Maaloula and Jubb'adin. Until the Syrian Civil War, it was also spoken in Bakhʽa, which was completely destroyed during the war, and all the survivors fled to other parts of Syria or to Lebanon.[23] Their populations of these areas avoided cultural and linguistic Arabization due to the remote, mountainous locations of their isolated villages.

See also


  1. ^ The Palmyrene dialect has a dual affiliation because it combines features of both Western and Eastern Aramaic, but it is somewhat closer to the Eastern branch.[1][2][3]


  1. ^ Tempus, Aspekt und Modalität im Reichsaramäischen (in German). Harrassowitz. p. 47. While the East Aramaic Palmyrene language seamlessly supplanted Imperial Aramaic as the language of Palmyra, likely in the second century BCE.…
  2. ^ Aramaic Inscriptions and Documents of the Roman Period. OUP Oxford. p. 43. …Palmyrene was a continuation of Official Aramaic and a close reflection of the spoken language of the Palmyrene region, with eastern Aramaic features….
  3. ^ Hellenistic and Roman Greece as a Sociolinguistic Area. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 271. …Palmyrene Aramaic has preserved many old Aramaic features; on the other hand, it also shows isoglosses with the eastern dialects…
  4. ^ Studies in Aramaic Poetry (c. 100 B.C.E.-c. 600 C.E.). p. 7. ISBN 9789004358645. a number of elements which Syriac has in common with the Western Aramaic dialects. In a later study, Boyarin describes two phonetic changes which are apparently shared by Syriac and the Palestinian dialects. With the caution which is compulsory in such cases of parallel development, he ventures the hypothesis of the existence of certain isoglosses of Syriac and Palestinian Aramaic. According to Boyarin, besides those common features of Aramaic dialects which were inherited from earlier times, others may be supposed to rest upon innovations which spread through the dialects by diffusion. The main direction of this diffusion may have been either westward or eastward. This does not mean, of course, that Syriac should now be assigned to the group of the Western dialects. 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.
  5. ^ The Jewish Neo-Aramaic Dialect of Amadya. p. 2. ISBN 9789004182578. , these dialects are the remnants of the western dialects of the Late Aramaic period
  6. ^ Arman Akopian (11 December 2017). "Other branches of Syriac Christianity: Melkites and Maronites". Introduction to Aramean and Syriac Studies. Gorgias Press. p. 573. ISBN 9781463238933. The main center of Aramaic-speaking Melkites was Palestine. During the 5th-6th centuries, they were engaged in literary, mainly translation work in the local Western Aramaic dialect, known as "Palestinian Christian Aramaic", using a script closely resembling the cursive Estrangela of Osrhoene. Palestinian Melkites were mostly Jewish converts to Christianity, who had a long tradition of using Palestinian Aramaic dialects as literary languages. Closely associated with the Palestinian Melkites were the Melkites of Transjordan, who also used Palestinian Christian Aramaic. Another community of Aramaic-speaking Melkites existed in the vicinity of Antioch and parts of Syria. These Melkites used Classical Syriac as a written language, the common literary language of the overwhelming majority of Christian Arameans.
  7. ^ Rafik Schami. Märchen aus Malula (in German). Carl Hanser Verlag GmbH & Company KG. p. 151. ISBN 9783446239005. Ich kenne das Dorf nicht, doch gehört habe ich davon. Was ist mit Malula?‹ fragte der festgehaltene Derwisch. >Das letzte Dorf der Aramäer< lachte einer der…
  8. ^ Yaron Matras; Jeanette Sakel (2007). Grammatical Borrowing in Cross-Linguistic Perspective. De Gruyter. p. 185. ISBN 9783110199192. The fact that nearly all Arabic loans in Ma'lula originate from the period before the change from the rural dialect to the city dialect of Damascus shows that the contact between the Aramaeans and the Arabs was intimate…
  9. ^ Dr. Emna Labidi. Untersuchungen zum Spracherwerb zweisprachiger Kinder im Aramäerdorf Dschubbadin (Syrien) (in German). LIT. p. 133. ISBN 9783643152619. Aramäer von Ǧubbˁadīn
  10. ^ Prof. Dr. Werner Arnold; P. Behnstedt (1993). Arabisch-aramäische Sprachbeziehungen im Qalamūn (Syrien) (in German). Harassowitz. p. 42. ISBN 9783447033268. Die arabischen Dialekte der Aramäer
  11. ^ Prof. Dr. Werner Arnold; P. Behnstedt (1993). Arabisch-aramäische Sprachbeziehungen im Qalamūn (Syrien) (in German). Harassowitz. p. 5. ISBN 9783447033268. Die Kontakte zwischen den drei Aramäer-dörfern sind nicht besonders stark.
  12. ^ Prof. Dr. Werner Arnold. Lehrbuch des Neuwestaramäischen (in German). Harrassowitz. p. 133. ISBN 9783447053136. Aramäern in Ma'lūla
  13. ^ Prof. Dr. Werner Arnold. Lehrbuch des Neuwestaramäischen (in German). Harrassowitz. p. 15. ISBN 9783447053136. Viele Aramäer arbeiten heute in Damaskus, Beirut oder in den Golfstaaten und verbringen nur die Sommermonate im Dorf.
  14. ^ Beyer 1986, p. 46, 55.
  15. ^ Targum and New Testament. 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).
  16. ^ Petruccione & Hill, p. 343.
  17. ^ Brock 1994, p. 149-150.
  18. ^ Taylor 2002, p. 302-303.
  19. ^ The Church of Jerusalem and Its Liturgy in the First Five Centuries. ISBN 9781728360140. Late Aramaic dialects are divided into Western and Eastern. In the fifth century, Theodoret of Cyrus distinguishes the dialects of the Osrhoenoi, Syroi, Euphratesioi, Palestininoi and Phoinikes, saying that there are differences between them.
  20. ^ Griffith 1997, p. 11–31.
  21. ^ Arnold 2000, p. 347.
  22. ^ Arnold 2012, p. 685–696.
  23. ^ https://www.aymennjawad.org/2020/01/the-village-of-bakha-in-qalamoun-interview