Semitic language originally spoken by the ancient Aramaeans. The earliest Aramaic texts are inscriptions in an alphabet of Phoenician origin found in the northern Levant dating from c. 850 to 600 BC. The period 600–200 BC saw a dramatic expansion of Aramaic, leading to the development of a standard form known as Imperial Aramaic. In later centuries, as Standard Literary Aramaic, it became a linguistic model. Late (or Classical) Aramaic (c. AD 200–1200) has an abundant literature, both in Syriac and in Mandaic (see Mandaeanism). With the rise of Islam, Arabic rapidly supplanted Aramaic as a vernacular in South Asia. Modern Aramaic (Neo-Aramaic) comprises West Neo-Aramaic, spoken in three villages northeast of Damascus, Syria, and East Neo-Aramaic, a group of languages spoken in scattered settlements of Jews and Christians in southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, and northwestern Iran, and by modern Mandaeans in the Shatt Al-'Arab. Since c. 1900 persecution has forced most contemporary East Neo-Aramaic-speakers, who number several hundred thousand, into diaspora communities around the world.
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