For millennia, its inhabitants, together with the population of two other Syrian villages, Yabadin and Bakhaa, have managed to preserve the new Western Aramaic language in its oral form and russian to english. There was no written language here. But only up to the present time, since since the founding of the institute, in which the dialect of this village was taught in writing, the Aramaic language became “visible”. It does not matter in what manifestation: whether a drawing on a building, or a tattoo on the shoulder of a representative of the younger generation, the Aramaic people use the Hebrew alphabet – and this caused critical sentiments. “They write in Hebrew letters in the language of Christ in Maaloula. This cannot be! ” – the indignation of many Syrians knew no bounds.
Bringing an endangered language back to life
Despite the controversy over writing, of course, the question is why it is only now in Syria that it has become apparent that the Aramaic language needs to be protected from the danger of extinction. Indeed, since the conquest of this region by Muslims, the Arabic language has increasingly supplanted the local language. Aramaic speakers have been forced to learn Arabic for centuries. Many of them simply left the region.
“We are a linguistic minority,” says George Rizkalla from Maaloula. “In addition, many ancient crafts have been lost as a result of the arrival of modern civilization, as a result of which much of the original vocabulary of the language has sunk into oblivion.” For these reasons, Mr. Rizkalla has been working for a long time to pass the Aramaic language to the younger generation through songs and teaching. “Several years ago, the political leadership in Syria decided to open an institute where it would be possible to study the Aramaic language.” Mr Rizkalla was commissioned to publish a textbook. He developed the book primarily based on his own knowledge of his native language. He chose the Hebrew alphabet as his written embodiment.
Aramaic as a tourism factor
In scientific research works, the Aramaic language has been featured for a long time. Moreover, Germany was an innovator here. Professor Otto Jastrow from the University of Erlangen, who has been studying Semitic languages for a long time, is surprised by what is happening in Syria: “The Aramaic language is very lively. He does not need any revitalization measures, ”he said. This is due to the advertising that the Syrian government is running for Maaloula, since Yabadin and Bakhai are out of the question. “Although,” the scientist says, “they also speak Aramaic there. These are still Syrian villages, which are no longer as picturesque as Maalula. ” The “language of Christ” was “recorded in writing” only because otherwise tourists would not have paid any attention to it. Aramaic does sound like Arabic to outsiders.
Hebrew alphabet or Syriac square letter
Even before the Muslim conquest, Aramaic was spoken by the population of all of Syria, moreover, it was the language of world communication. Then there were four options. But not everywhere the Aramaic language had a written form. According to Professor Yastrov, she was not in the Maaloula region either. The decision to use the Hebrew script, in his opinion, was made by chance.
Georg Rizkalla of Maaloula sees in the letter he refers to in his book, not the Hebrew alphabet, but a square letter. “Around 800 BC, from the so-called Ugaritic alphabet, the Arameans developed their own, known today as the square letter,” says Rizkalla. Only young men were given this alphabet. According to Rizkallah, this letter was invented in Syria. His critics, however, are not reassured by this explanation.
Competition of the alphabets
From Jastrov’s point of view, the Hebrew script that Rizkalla calls square is not suitable for the Aramaic language, since the Aramaic phonetic system does not match the Hebrew consonants. Arabic letters work better. In addition, Professor Jastrow reminds that the inhabitants of Maalula have nothing to do with Judaism. Most of them are Christians. Some converted to Islam only 200 years ago. “They have always considered themselves exclusively Syrians. It is incomprehensible to associate them with Israel, ”says Yastrov. After all, anything that has anything to do with Israel is taboo in Syria.
Rizkalla, on the other hand, believes that language is something other than writing. The Aramaic language could be expressed in writing using Latin or Arabic letters. But in both cases there would be difficulties: “Latin is not known to everyone here, but in Arabic there is a different vowel system.” Therefore, he chose the Hebrew alphabet and reworked it to adapt to the peculiarities of the Aramaic language. He did not particularly think about the political significance of his decision. According to Rizkalla, the Persian language uses the Arabic alphabet. But this does not give anyone the right to claim that Iran belongs to the Arabs.