A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Aramaic Revivals in Israel and the West Bank?

 We talked quite a bit in 2011 about survivals of spoken Aramaic, both in its Eastern and Western forms. And of course this once widespread language still has a liturgical role in many Eastern Christian churches, Judaism, Samaritanism, and Mandaeanism.

Here's an article on attempts to revive or at least teach Aramaic in two towns where it has only survived liturgically: the town of Jish in Galilee, an Israeli Arab town with a Maronite majority; and Bait Jala near Bethlehem in the West Bank, where the Syrian Orthodox church has been promoting the language:
The reintroduction of Aramaic into the elementary school curriculum, especially in the form of the  Galilee Aramaic dialect taught in Jish, is thought to enhance children’s appreciation of their Christian heritage. The hope is that the pupils will eventually use their forefathers’ language to communicate among themselves. There are signs that this might happen, as students are already using Aramaic  it to pass secret notes to each other in class. But this trick may not work for much longer, as adults too have started to learn Aramaic. In Jish, the first three-month course for adults was offered in 2006; since then a small group of adult students have continued studying on their own. They have also began connecting with other Aramaic communities in Sweden and the Netherlands.
Sweden turns out to be an important source of both learning materials and inspiration for the revival of Aramaic inIsrael and the West Bank. Swedish officials estimate that anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000 Aramaic speakers who descended from transplanted Middle Easterners reside in their country. The Swedish Aramaic community has its own soccer team, “Syrianska FC”, from the town of Sodertalje. But more importantly, the community publishes a newspaper called “Bahro Suryoyo”, as well as pamphlets and children’s books translated into Aramaic, including The Little Prince. But what really helps the students learn the language is Soryoyosat, a satellite television station maintained by the Swedish Aramaic community. For some residents of Jish and Beit Jala, watching Aramaic programming from Sweden provided the first opportunity in decades to hear the language spoken outside church. Thus, modern technology helps the revival of Aramaic by making it more accessible and by increasing the learners’ motivation.
An interesting twist for those who share my interest in minority language survivals.

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