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Attempts to revive language spoken in Jesus’ time
Aramaic » The task to bring back region’s dominant language of 2,000 years ago is a tough one.


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Both schools found inspiration and assistance in an unlikely place: Sweden. There, Aramaic-speaking communities who descended from the Middle East have sought to keep their language alive.

They publish a newspaper, "Bahro Suryoyo," pamphlets and children’s books, including "The Little Prince," and maintain a satellite television station, "Soryoyosat," said Arzu Alan, chairwoman of the Syriac Aramaic Federation of Sweden.

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There’s also an Aramaic soccer team, "Syrianska FC" in the Swedish top division from the town of Sodertalje. Officials estimate the Aramaic-speaking population at anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000 people.

For many Maronites and Syrian Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land, the television station, in particular, was the first time they heard the language outside church in decades. Hearing it in a modern context inspired them to try revive the language among their communities.

"When you hear (the language), you can speak it," said Issa, the teacher.

Aramaic dialects were the region’s vernacular from 2,500 years ago until the sixth century, when Arabic, the language of conquering Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula, became dominant, according to Fassberg.

Linguistic islands survived: Maronites clung to Aramaic liturgy and so did the Syrian Orthodox church. Kurdish Jews on the river island of Zakho spoke an Aramaic dialect called "Targum" until fleeing to Israel in the 1950s. Three Christian villages in Syria still speak an Aramaic dialect, Fassberg said.

With few opportunities to practice the ancient tongue, teachers in Jish have tempered expectations. They hope they can at least revive an understanding of the language.

The steep challenges are seen in the Jish school, where the fourth-grade Aramaic class has just a dozen students. The number used to be twice that until they introduced an art class during the same time slot — and lost half their students.


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