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Assyrian Neo-Aramaic

For the ancient Assyrian dialect of Akkadian, see Akkadian language.

Assyrian Neo-Aramaic

try, Sret, Ashuri, Suryaya, Sooreth

Sret in written Syriac
(Madnkhaya script)

[surt], [sur]

Native to

Iraq, Syria, Iran, Turkey


Northern Iraq, Hakkari Turkey, Urmia Iran

Native speakers
232,300 (1994)[1]
Language family
Central Semitic
Northwest Semitic
Eastern Aramaic
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic

Urmian, Iraqi Koine, Tyari, Jilu, Nochiya, Barwari, Baz and Gawar

Writing system
Language codes
ISO 639-3




Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, or Assyrian, is a Northeastern Neo-Aramaic[3][4]

language spoken by an estimated 200,000 people[1] throughout a large
region stretching from the plain of Urmia in northwestern Iran, to the Nineveh
plains, and the Irbil, Mosul, Kirkuk and Duhok regions in northern Iraq,
together with the Al Hasakah region of northeastern Syria, and formerly parts
of southeastern Turkey.[5] In recent years, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic has spread
throughout the Assyrian diaspora.[6]

Assyrian Neo-Aramaic is closely related to Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, both

evolving from the same distinct Syriac dialect which evolved in Assyria[7]
between the 5th century BC and 1st century AD.[8] There is also some
Akkadian vocabulary and influence in the language. Assyrian Neo-Aramaic is
written from right to left, and it uses the Madnhy version of the Syriac

Speakers of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic and Turoyo are

ethnic Assyrians and are descendants of the ancient Assyrian inhabitants of
Northern Mesopotamia.[11][12][13][14][15] Assyrian Neo-Aramaic is the
largest speaking Neo-Aramaic group (232,000 speakers), followed by
Chaldean Neo-Aramaic (206,000 speakers) and Turoyo (112,000 speakers).

Despite the terms Chaldean Neo-Aramaic and Assyrian Neo-Aramaic

indicating a separate religious (or even ethnic) identity, both languages and
their native speakers originate from, and are indigenous to, the same Upper
Mesopotamian region (which was Assyria between the 25th century BC and
7th century AD).[3] Most speakers are members of the Assyrian Church of the
East and the Ancient Church of the East.

Assyrian Neo-Aramaic is, to a significant extent, mutually intelligible with

Chaldean Neo-Aramaic and, to a moderate degree, with Senaya, Lishana Deni
and Bohtan Neo-Aramaic (which are, at times, considered Assyrian dialects).
It is partially intelligible with Lishan Didan, Hulaul and Lishanid Noshan.[17]
[18] Its mutual intelligibility with Turoyo is rather limited.[19]

Contents [hide]









Phonetics of Iraqi Koine







Iraqi Koine


Dialect continuum

Sample phrases

See also





External links


Inscriptional Pahlavi text from Shapur III at Taq-e Bostan, 4th century. Pahlavi
script is derived from the Aramaic script that was used under the Achaemenid
Assyrian people

Assyrian Chaldean Turoyo
Folk Dance
Aramaic was the language of commerce, trade and communication and
became the vernacular language of Assyria in classical antiquity.[20][21][22]
[23] Aramaic writing has been found as far north as Hadrians Wall in Ancient
Britain, in the form of inscriptions in Aramaic, made by Assyrian and Aramean
soldiers serving in the Roman Legions in northern England during the 2nd
century AD.[24]

The Syriac language had evolved from Imperial Aramaic, an Akkadian infused
dialect introduced as the lingua franca of Assyria and the Neo Assyrian
Empire by Tiglath-Pileser III in the 8th century BC. The term Syrian and thus
its derivative Syriac, had originally been 9th century BC Indo-Anatolian and
Greek corruptions of Assyria, and specifically meant only Assyria until the 3rd
century BC, after which the Seleucid Greeks also applied the term to The
Levant and its largely Aramean and Phoenician inhabitants.[25]

Syriac began as an unwritten spoken dialect of Imperial Aramaic in Assyrianorthern Mesopotamia, an Akkadian influenced version of the Old Aramaic
language which was introduced as the lingua franca of the Neo Assyrian
Empire by Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 BC)[26] The first evidence of such
dialects emerged in Assyria, and begin to influence the written Imperial
Aramaic from the 5th century BC. After the conquest of Assyria, Syriac and
other Aramaic dialects gradually lost their status as imperial languages but
continued to flourish as lingua francas alongside Ancient Greek.[27]

By the 1st century AD, Akkadian was extinct, although some loaned
vocabulary still survives in Assyrian Neo-Aramaic to this day.[28][29] The

Neo-Aramaic languages are ultimately descended from Old Aramaic, the

lingua franca in the later phase of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, displacing the
East Semitic Assyrian dialect of Akkadian. The Neo-Aramaic languages
evolved from Middle Aramaic by the 13th century. Following the Achaemenid
conquest of Assyria under Darius I, the Aramaic language was adopted as the
"vehicle for written communication between the different regions of the vast
empire with its different peoples and languages."[30][31]

The Assyrian Empire resorted to a policy of deporting troublesome conquered

peoples (predominantly fellow Semitic Aramean tribes as well as many Jews)
into the lands of Mesopotamia. By the 6th century, the indigenous and
originally Akkadian speaking Semites of Assyria and Babylonia, spoke
Akkadian infused dialects of Eastern Aramaic, which still survive among the
Assyrian people to this day. Consequently, during the Persian rule of Assyria,
Aramaic gradually became the main language spoken by the Assyrians.[32]
Even before the Empire fell, the Assyrians had made the language the lingua
franca of its empire, capable of speaking both Akkadian and Aramaic.[32][32]

An 11th-century Syriac manuscript.

There is evidence that the adoption of Syriac, the language of the Assyrian
people, was led by missionaries. Much literary effort was put into the
production of an authoritative translation of the Bible into Syriac, the Peshitta
( Pt). At the same time, Ephrem the Syrian was producing the
most treasured collection of poetry and theology in the Syriac language. By
the 3rd century AD, churches in Edessa began to use Syriac as the language
of worship and the language became the literary and liturgical language of
many churches in the Fertile Crescent. Syriac was the lingua franca of the
Middle East until 900 AD, when it was superseded by Arabic.

The differences with the Assyrian Church of the East led to the bitter
Nestorian schism in the Syriac-speaking world. As a result, Syriac developed
distinctive western and eastern varieties. Although remaining a single
language with a high level of comprehension between the varieties, the two
employ distinctive variations in pronunciation and writing system, and, to a
lesser degree, in vocabulary.

The Mongol invasions of the 13th century, and the religiously motivated
massacres of Assyrian Christians by Tamurlane further contributed to the
rapid decline of the language. In many places outside of northern
Mesopotamia (the Assyrian homeland), even in liturgy, it was replaced by

Instability throughout the Middle East over the past century has led to a
worldwide diaspora of Assyrian Aramaic-speakers, with many speakers now
living abroad, such as in North America, Australia or in Europe. Despite this,
the Assyrian homeland still has sizable Assyrian Aramaic-speaking
communities, particularly Mosul, Irbil, Kirkuk, Dohuk and Hasakah.

Just as many ethnic groups take pieces of the surrounding language into their
own, Assyrians often use words in Farsi, Arabic, Turkish, etc., depending on
where they live or where their family came from, while speaking in their own
Neo-Aramaic dialect.

See also: Syriac alphabet and Aramaic alphabet

"Amen" in contemporary Syriac script (Madnhy).

Early writing tablet recording the allocation of beer, 31003000 BC

The original Mesopotamian writing system (believed to be the world's oldest)
was derived around 3600 BC from this method of keeping accounts. By the
end of the 4th millennium BC, the Mesopotamians were using a triangularshaped stylus pressed into soft clay to record numbers.[34]

Around 2700 BC, cuneiform began to represent syllables of spoken Sumerian.

About that time, Mesopotamian cuneiform became a general purpose writing
system for logograms, syllables and numbers. This script was adapted to
another Mesopotamian language, the East Semitic Akkadian (Assyrian and
Babylonian) around 2600 BC. With the adoption of Aramaic as the 'lingua
franca' of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-609 BC), Old Aramaic was also

adapted to Mesopotamian cuneiform. The last cuneiform scripts in Akkadian

discovered thus far date from the 1st century AD.[35]

The Syriac script is a writing system primarily used to write the Syriac
language from the 1st century AD.[36] It is one of the Semitic abjads directly
descending from the Aramaic alphabet and shares similarities with the
Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic, and the traditional Mongolian alphabets. The
alphabet consists of 22 letters, all of which are consonants. It is a cursive
script where some, but not all, letters connect within a word.[37]

The sixth beatitude (Matthew 5:8) from an East Syriac Peshitta.

ayhn l-ayln da-n b-lebbhn: d-hennn nezn l-alh.
'Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.'
When Arabic began to be the dominant spoken language in the Fertile
Crescent, texts were often written in Arabic with the Syriac script. Malayalam
was also written with Syriac script and was called Suriyani Malayalam. In the
1930s, following the state policy for minority languages of the Soviet Union, a
Latin alphabet for Assyrian was developed and some material published.
However, this innovation did not displace the Syriac script.[38]

One of the Amarna letters in Assyrian cuneiform, 14th century B.C.E.

The oldest and classical form of the alphabet is Esrangl ( ; the
name is thought to derive from the Greek adjective (strongyl,
'rounded'),[39][40]) Although Esrangl is no longer used as the main script
for writing Syriac, it has received some revival since the 10th century.

Syriac alphabet
(200 BCEpresent)

The Madnhy version formed as a form of shorthand developed from the

Syriac alphabet and progressed further as handwriting patterns changed. The
Madnhy version also possesses vowel markings to help foreigners learn
and read Syriac. Other names for the script include Swy,
"conversational", often translated as "contemporary", reflecting its use in
writing modern Neo-Aramaic.[41][42]

Three letters act as matres lectionis: rather than being a consonant, they
indicate a vowel. lapp (), the first letter, represents a glottal stop, but it can
also indicate a vowel at the beginning or the end of a word. The letter Waw (

)is the consonant w, but can also represent the vowels o and u. Likewise,
the letter Y ( )represents the consonant y, but it also stands for the vowels
i and e. In addition to foreign sounds, a marking system is used to distinguish
qy, 'hard' letters) from rkk, 'soft' letters). The letters B, Gmal,
Dla, Kpp , P, and Taw, all plosives ('hard'), are able to be spirantized into
fricatives ('soft').[43]

The system involves placing a single dot underneath the letter to give its
'soft' variant and a dot above the letter to give its 'hard' variant (though, in
modern usage, no mark at all is usually used to indicate the 'hard' value).[44]

Assyrian Neo-Aramaic has 22 consonants and 3 vowels. The consonantal
phonemes are:







letter Syriac Eastern alap.svg Syriac Eastern bet.svg

Syriac Eastern
gamal.svg Syriac Eastern dalat.svg Syriac Eastern he.svg

Eastern waw.svg Syriac Eastern zayn.svg Syriac Eastern het.svg

Eastern tet.svg
Syriac Eastern yod.svg
Syriac Eastern kap.svg
Eastern lamad.svg Syriac Eastern mim.svg Syriac Eastern nun.svg
Eastern semkat.svg
Syriac Eastern 'e.svg
Syriac Eastern pe.svg
Syriac Eastern sade.svg Syriac Eastern qop.svg
Syriac Eastern
Syriac Eastern sin.svg
Syriac Eastern taw.svg
[p], [f][s]

[], [a]

[], [d]
[k], [x]
[t], []

[d], []



Assyrian Neo-Aramaic consonant phonemes
Labial Dental/


Velar UvularPharyn


plain emp.





non-sibilant f





The pharyngeal //, as heard in ayin (), is a marginal phoneme that is

generally upheld in formal or religious speech and in hymns. Among the
majority of Assyrian speakers, ayin would be realized as diphthongs /a/ or
/e/, and even //, depending on the dialect. However, the letter itself is still
usually uttered with //.[46]
/f/ is a phoneme only heard in the Tyari, Barwari and Chaldean dialects. In
most of the other Assyrian varieties it merges with /p/.[47]
// and // are strictly used in the Tyari, Barwari and Chaldean dialects, which
respectively merge with /t/ and /d/ in standard Assyrian (Iraqi Koine/Urmian)

and other Ashiret dialects.

In the Urmian dialect /w/ has a widespread allophone [] (it may vacillate to
[v] for some speakers).[48]
In some Urmian and Jilu speakers, /q/ may be uttered as [k].
In the Urmian and some Tyari dialects, // is pronounced as [d].[49]
/k/ may be pronounced with [t] in Urmian and Nochiya speakers.
// is a marginal phoneme that occurs in some words, albeit only for some
speakers. For others, it is realized the same as /x/.
In some Tyari and Chaldean dialects /r/ may be realized as [].[50]
Vowel phonemes of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic (Standard Urmian/Iraqi Koine) are
as follows:[51]

Front Central


Close i


/a/, as uttered in words like nasha ("man") and nara ("river"), which is
normally central [], is usually front [a] in the Urmian and Nochiya dialects.
For some Urmian speakers, [] may be used instead. In some Jilu speakers,
this vowel is mostly fronted and raised to []. In the Tyari and Barwari
dialects, it is usually more back [].[52]
//, a long vowel, as heard in raba ("much"), may also be realised as [],
depending on the speaker. It is more rounded and higher in the Urmian
dialect, where it is realized as [].[53]
//, heard in beta ("house") is generally diphthongized to [e] in the Urmian
/i/, as heard in keepa ("rock"), may be realized as [] in the Tyari, Barwari,
Chaldean and Baz dialects.
// (a schwa), uttered in words like didwa ("housefly"), is mostly realized as []
in the Tyari and Barwari dialects.

/u/, as in gura ("big"), may be realized as [] in the Tyari, Baz, Chaldean and
Barwari dialects. The Urmian dialect may diphthongize it to [ui].
/o/, as in tora ("cow") may be diphthongized to [aw] in the Tyari, Barwari,
Chaldean and Jilu dialects.
Two basic diphthongs exist, namely /e/ and /aw/. For some words, many
dialects have converted them to e and o respectively.

Phonetics of Iraqi Koine[edit]

Iraqi Koine, like the majority of the Assyrian dialects, realizes /w/ as [w]
instead of [].
Iraqi Koine generally realizes the fricatives /, / in words like "mata" (village
in English) and "r'qada" (dancing) as stops [t, d].
Predominantly, /q/ in words like "qalama" (pen) doesn't merge with /k/.
The diphthongs /ai/ and /au/ in words like "qayta" (summer) and "tawra"
(cow) are realized as long [e] and [o], respectively.[55]
The /e/ diphthong in "beyta" ('house') is realized as [].
The /ui/ diphthong in zuyzeh (money) is realised as [u].[23]
/t/ in verbs like "chi'akhla" (she eats) is realized as [j].
Most Assyrian Neo-Aramaic nouns are built from triliteral roots. Nouns carry
grammatical gender (masculine or feminine), they can be either singular or
plural in number (a very few can be dual) and can exist in one of three
grammatical states (somewhat akin to case in Indo-European languages). The
states should not be confused with grammatical cases in other languages.

Adjectives always agree in gender and number with the nouns that ty modify.
Adjectives are in the absolute state if they are predicative but agree with the
state of their noun if attributive.[56]

Most Syriac verbs are built on triliteral roots as well. Finite verbs carry person,
grammatical gender (except in the first person) and number, as well as tense
and conjugation. The non-finite verb forms are the infinitive and the active

and passive participles. The emphatic state became the ordinary form of the
noun, and the absolute and construct states were relegated to certain stock
phrases (for example, / , bar n, "man, person", literally "son
of man").[57]

The present tense is usually marked with the participle followed by the
subject pronoun. However, such pronouns are usually omitted in the case of
the third person. This use of the participle to mark the present tense is the
most common of a number of compound tenses that can be used to express
varying senses of tense and aspect.[58]

Unlike other Neo-Aramaic languages like Turoyo, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic has
an extensive number of Iranian loanwords (namely Persian and Kurdish).[59]
[60] That is because of its close geographical proximity to those languages.

See also: List of Assyrian settlements
The distribution of the Syriac language in the Middle East and Asia
Post 2010, in Iraq, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic is mainly spoken in the Nineveh
plains and the cities around Mosul, Duhok, Irbil and Kurkuk (magenta).
SIL Ethnologue distinguishes five dialect groups: Urmian, Northern, Central,
Western, and Sapna, each with sub-dialects. Mutual intelligibility between the
Assyrian dialects is as high as 80%90%.

The Urmia dialect has become the prestige dialect of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic
after 1836, when that dialect was chosen by Justin Perkins, an American
Presbyterian missionary, for the creation of a standard literary dialect of
Assyrian. A second standard dialect derived from General Urmian known as
"Iraqi Koine", developed in the 20th century.[61]

In 1852, Perkins' translation of the Bible into General Urmian was published
by the American Bible Society with a parallel text of the classical Syriac


Sample of the Urmian dialect, which has a Farsi tone to it. Notice the usage of
/v/, /ui/ and the frequency of /ch/.
Urmian group (Iran):
Urmia (west of Lake Urmia)
Sopurghan (north of Urmia)
Solduz (south of Lake Urmia)
Salmas (north west of Lake Urmia)
Hakkari group (Turkey) (eastern):
Jilu (west of Gavar and south of Qudshanis)
Gawar (between Salmas and Van)
Qochanis (just south of Lake Van)
Sample of the Tyari dialect (voice by Alan George). Notice the usage of //, //
and /au/.
Hakkari group (western):
Tyari (i.e. Ashitha, Zawita) - Dialects within this group share features with
both the Chaldean Neo-Aramaic dialects in Northern Iraq (below) and Urmian
Upper Barwari

Nineveh plains (Northern Iraq):
Sample of the Chaldean dialect - Which is considered its own language in
some regards. Notice the usage of // and //, which makes it similar
sounding to the Western Aramaic languages (voice by Bishop Amel Shamon
Lower Barwari
Chaldean Neo-Aramaic
Tel Keppe
Iraqi Koine[edit]
Sample of the Iraqi Koine dialect (voice by Linda George). Notice how it
combines the phonetic features of the Hakkari and Urmian dialects.
Iraqi Koine, also known as Refined Urmian and Standard Assyrian, is a
compromise between the thicker rural accents of Hakkari and Nineveh Plains
(listed above), and the prestigious dialect in Urmia. Iraqi Koine does not really
constitute a new dialect, but an incomplete merger of dialects. Koine is more
analogous to Urmian in terms of manner of articulation, place of articulation
and its consonant cluster formations.[64]

During the First World War, many Assyrians living in Ottoman Turkey were
forced from their homes, and many of their descendants now live in Iraq. The
relocation has led to the creation of this dialect. Iraqi Koine was developed in
the urban areas of Iraq (i.e. Baghdad, Basra, Habbaniya and Kirkuk), which
became the meccas for the rural Assyrian population. By the end of the
1950s vast number of Assyrians started to speak Iraqi Koine. Today, Iraqi
Koine is the predominant use of communication between the majority of the
Assyrians and it is also used as the standard dialect in music and formal


To note, the emergence of the Koine didn't mean that the rest of the spoken
dialects vanished. The Ashiret dialects were still active because some
Assyrians remained in the rural areas and the fact that the first generation
speakers who relocated in urban areas still maintained their native dialects.
Elements of original Ashiret dialects can still be observed in Iraqi Koine,
especially in that of older speakers.

Dialect continuum[edit]
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic has a rather slightly defined dialect continuum,
starting from the Assyrian tribes in northern Iraq (i.e. Alqosh, Batnaya) and
ending in Western Iran (Urmia). The dialects in Northern Iraq, such as those of
Alqosh and Batnaya, would be minimally unintelligible to those in Western

The dialects in Northern Iraq have a distinct phonetic system (such as the
realization of //) and, as such, would be considered part of Chaldean NeoAramaic. Nearing the Iraqi-Turkey border, the Barwari and Tyari dialects are
more "traditionally Assyrian" and would sound like those in the Hakkari
province in Turkey. Furthermore, the Barwar and Tyari dialects are
"transitional", acquiring both Assyrian and Chaldean phonetic features
(though they don't use //).[65]

In Hakkari, going east (towards Iran), the Gawar, Jilu and Nochiya dialects
would respectively begin to sound slightly distinct to the Tyari/Barwar dialects
and more like the prestigious "Urmian" dialect in Urmia, Western Azerbaijan.
The Urmian dialect, alongside Iraqi Koine, are considered to be Standard
Assyrian. Though Iraqi Koine is more widespread and had thus become the
more common standard dialect.[61]

Sample phrases[edit]

Assyrian Neo-Aramaic

Hello (plural)Shlamalokhon

Love Khooba


Thank you

Baseema (male)/Basimta (female)

How are you?


Who? Mani?
Father Baba



Uncle Khaloowah (Maternal)/Mamoonah (Paternal)

Aunt Khalta (Maternal) / 'Amtah (Paternal)
Man/Human Nasha/Bar Nasha





Children (Male/Mixed Group)


Children (Female Group) Brateh

Book Ktava/Ktawa




Here Tama/Lakha
Come Ta/Tha/Hayo/Sha




Moon Sahra




Elder (male) Sawa/Sava

Elder (female)


Hand Eeda
Song Zmarta/Zmartha





Death Mota/Mawta
Money (plural)


Heart Leba


Drink Shtee/Shteh






Mirror Nora/Nawra
River Nara

Rabi (male)/Rabeeta (female)

See also[edit]