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Aramaic is a language that is 3000 years old, or even more. Words are made up from the 22 characters of the Aramaic alphabet. It is part of a group of languages called the Semitic languages. This group has Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic and many other languages in it. Some old kingdoms used Aramaic language for business. Some religions use Aramaic for their meetings. Aramaic is the language of big parts of the two Bible books of Daniel and Ezra. It is the language of the Jewish Talmud. Aramaic was the language of Jesus Christ. Aramaic is spoken today by small groups of people, particularly by Assyrians.
In the 12th century BC, the first speakers of Aramaic started to make their homes in today's countries of Syria, Iraq and east Turkey. As the bureaucratic language of the Achaemenid Empire, it became the most important language in the Middle East. Jewish speakers of Aramaic took the language with them to north Africa and Europe. Christian speakers of Aramaic took the language with them to Persia, India and even China.
In the 7th century AD, Aramaic stopped being the most important language in the Middle East. The Arabic language became the new important language. Aramaic is still spoken by scattered communities of Jews, Mandaeans and some Christians. Small groups of people still speak Aramaic in different parts of the Middle East. The wars of the last two centuries made many Aramaic speakers leave their homes and go to live in different places around the world. Today, between 500.000 and 850.000 people speak Aramaic languages.
Types of Aramaic
Aramaic is not one language without any changes. Because many different people over many centuries spoke and wrote it, there are many different kinds of Aramaic languages. These different types are called dialects, but some of them are so different that they are like different languages.
The different dialects make two groups: an Eastern group and a Western group. The division between them is around the line of the river Euphrates. We also divide up the dialects by their place in time. Old Aramaic is the name of the oldest dialects. Only special teachers learn Old Aramaic. Middle Aramaic is the group of dialects that people do not speak every day, but they use them for special things like writing and religion. Modern Aramaic is the group of dialects that people use every day. They are living languages and are spoken by Assyrians.
- Languages from the World of the Bible, ed. Holger Gzella (Berlin; Boston: Walter de De Gruyter, Inc., 2011), p. 131
- Sam Adams (25 January 2013). "Race to save the language of Jesus: Aramaic in danger of becoming extinct as number of speakers of ancient tongue plummets". Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers, Inc. Retrieved 15 July 2016.
- Jean Sibille (2011). "Modern Aramaic languages". SOROSORO. Retrieved 15 July 2016.