Eric Reymond

What Is Special about Aramaic

The Aramaic language began as just one of many Semitic languages spoken in the Fertile Crescent thousands of years ago. Through a series of accidents, it became a crucial link between different peoples across Asia and even into Africa. The presentation isolates some of the interesting features of Aramaic that make it historically and culturally important, including the morphology of the language; the early alphabet that was used to write the language and its trajectory through different cultures; and the use of the language as a lingua franca in various empires. Aramaic morphology is slightly simpler than that of its near cousin, Hebrew. This relative simplicity may have contributed to (or be the result of) its use among so many different non-Aramaic speaking peoples and groups. The Aramaic alphabet, very close in appearance to other first millennium BCE alphabets like Phoenician and Hebrew, was the basis for later alphabets like the Arabic alphabet. The use of Aramaic in the Assyrian empire set the stage for Aramaic’s use as a common language of administration and diplomacy for later empires like those of the Babylonians and Persians. This, in turn, led to Aramaic’s use among most peoples throughout the Middle East in the first millennium CE, much like Arabic is used today.

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