The death of language?

[Tel Dan Stele from Wikimedia Commons]

Although this is not strictly an Aramaic issue, it is one that is very near and dear to the field of Aramaic Studies, and almost every other ancient language:

In short, the BBC recently did a magnificent article on how a large number of the world's languages are dying out. Where in one sense this is a "good" thing, as embracing more "common" languages is a necessity in an increasingly globalized society and in that sense is an enabler for a greater intercultural reach, it is also a tragedy, as when languages die, the culture of that language weakens and we lose an incredible amount of diversity in thought and ways of life.

Striking a balance between these two sides of the spectrum is an increasingly difficult task, as we need both a common means of communication and cultural exchange as well as diversity and the robustness and adaptability that brings to us as human beings.

Aramaic, in all of its dialects, is currently amidst that fugue. With over 3000 years of history, it has accrued a massive amount of cultural context that we cannot afford to lose; but, with modern Aramaic dialects so fractured and the fact that most of them are mutually unintelligible, as well as dwindling populations of speakers, the future is tricky.

Tricky but not impossible.

In teaching the language, I am amazed by the zeal that my students display. It has gone far beyond my expectations for the two courses I'm currently teaching over at Aramaic Designs, to the point that I'm having to dedicate extra time to ensure that the material keeps coming (heh.. and I admit, more or less successfully sometimes).

I only wish that more individuals out there were aware of the plight of Aramaic, and at the very least were willing to learn a few phrases, take to heart a prayer, or use the common greetings and partings with friends or among family members.

This language is vivid, highly expressive, and has had great influence and history with not only Judaism (in Daniel & Ezra, the Talmud, the Targums, and countless other documents) and Christianity (as the very language of Jesus of Nazareth, himself) but Islam (Syriac Aramaic's undeniable influence on Classical Arabic) and, what very few people realize, Buddhism (with the Edicts of King Ashoka).

So, the next time you see an old friend, instead of saying "hello" greet them with shlama. When they inevitably ask "What does that mean?" share with them a little food for thought about the language.

That way, even if the very worst happens and we lose all native speakers, it may continue to live on at least one kind word at a time.


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