Central Neo-Aramaic

Central Neo-Aramaic
Northwestern Neo-Aramaic
Geographic
distribution:
Mardin and Diyarbakır provinces in Turkey, Qamishli and al Hasakah in Syria; also in Sweden and diaspora
Linguistic classification: Afro-Asiatic
Subdivisions:

Central Neo-Aramaic is a term used differently by different semiticists. In its widest sense it can refer to all Neo-Aramaic languages except for Western Neo-Aramaic and Neo-Mandaic. A narrower definition includes only the Turoyo and Mlahsô languages, and any yet undiscovered varieties related to them. Then the former use of the term refers to the latter with the addition of the much larger Northeastern Neo-Aramaic (NENA) group. To avoid confusion, sometimes the smaller group is referred to as Northwestern Neo-Aramaic, and it combined with NENA is called Northern Neo-Aramaic.

The smaller Central, or Northwestern, varieties of Neo-Aramaic are spoken by Christians traditionally living in the Tur Abdin area of southeastern Turkey and areas around it. Turoyo itself is the closely related group of dialects spoken in Tur Abdin, while Mlahsô is an extinct language once spoken to the north, in Diyarbakır Province. Other related languages all seem to now be extinct without record. A large number of speakers of these languages have moved to al-Jazira in Syria, particularly the towns of Qamishli and al Hasakah. A number of Turoyo speakers are found in diaspora, with a particularly prominent community in Sweden.

The Central Neo-Aramaic languages have a dual heritage. Most immediately, they have grown out of Eastern Aramaic colloquial varieties that have been spoken in Tur Abdin and the surrounding plain for a thousand years. However, they have been influenced by Classical Syriac, which itself was the variety of Eastern Aramaic spoken farther west, in the city of Edessa. Perhaps the proximity of Central Neo-Aramaic to Edessa, and the closeness of their parent languages, meant that they bear a greater similarity to the classical language than do Northeastern Neo-Aramaic varieties. However, a clearly separate evolution can be seen in Turoyo and Mlahsô. Mlahsô is grammatically similar to the classical language, and continued to use a similar tense-aspect system to it. However, Mlahsô developed a distinctively clipped phonological palette and systematically turns /θ/→/s/. On the other hand, Turoyo has a quite similar phonology to Classical Syriac, yet it has developed a radically different grammar, sharing similar features with NENA varieties.

Both languages witnessing to this group call themselves Syriac (ܣܘܪܝܝܐ Sūryoyo), and refer to the classical language as either Edessan (ܐܘܪܗܝܐ Ūrhoyo) or Literary (ܟܬܒܢܝܐ Kthobonoyo). The latter name is particularly used for revived, spoken Classical Syriac.


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