Debate Magazine

The Effort To Save The Language Jesus Spoke

Posted on the 04 February 2013 by Reasoningpolitics @reasonpolitics

Smithsonian Magazine is a something you ought to be reading on a regular basis. For example, they have profiled the efforts of linguists to record and preserve the ancient language Aramaic. This 3,000 year old language is what Jesus would have spoken. It was the common language of the Middle East for centuries, just as Latin was in Europe. Unfortunately  it both dying out and lacks a standardized version.

But Aramaic is down now to its last generation or two of speakers, most of them scattered over the past century from homelands where their language once flourished. In their new lands, few children and even fewer grandchildren learn it. (My father, a Jew born in Kurdish Iraq, is a native speaker and scholar of Aramaic; I grew up in Los Angeles and know just a few words.) This generational rupture marks a language’s last days. For field linguists like Khan, recording native speakers—“informants,” in the lingo—is both an act of cultural preservation and an investigation into how ancient languages shift and splinter over time…

…The number of Aramaic speakers alive today is difficult to calculate. Though some estimates set the figure as high as a half-million, that number is misleading. Because of its ancient lineage, lack of standardization and the isolation of speakers from one another, the modern tongue, known as Neo-Aramaic, has more than 100 dialects, most with no written analogue. Many dialects are already extinct, and others are down to their last one or two speakers.

As an everyday language, linguists told me, Aramaic is safe now in only one place: the Christian village of Maaloula, in the hills outside Damascus, where, with Syrian state support, elders still teach it to children.

 


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