Sept. 1, 2012 - July 1, 2013
Steven Fassberg (The Hebrew University)
Simon Hopkins (The Hebrew University)
Hezy Mutzafy (Tel Aviv University)
Aramaic is an endangered language, more precisely, a group of languages, that is on the verge of extinction. First attested in inscriptions from Upper Mesopotamia, northern Syria, and northern Israel at the beginning of the first millenium B.C.E., Aramaic has been spoken uninterruptedly up to the present. A century ago Kurdistan (Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish) and Iranian Azerbaijan were home to Jewish and Christian speakers of Aramaic, who had lived in these regions for over two millennia.
Aramaic is still spoken today in three villages near Damascus (Ma'lula, Bax'a, and Jubb'adin) by Christians as well as Muslims (who converted over the past centuries from Christianity). Persecution and massacres have severely shrunk the already small native Aramaic-speaking population, and the surviving speakers have fled their original habitat and settled elsewhere, where their speech has been heavily influenced and gradually supplanted by other languages. Today, as a result, competent native speakers of most dialects are both scarce and elderly, and few of them live in a community where Aramaic is still used freely. Within a generation or so, almost all dialects of vernacular Aramaic will disappear.
This unfortunate state of affairs requires immediate action, and the goals of the research group are:
(1) To refine further the existing classifications of Neo-Aramaic dialects
(2) To exchange already collected but hitherto unpublished data in an effort to elucidate grammatical, lexical, and etymological problems
(3) To reconstruct in greater detail the historical depth of the Neo-Aramaic dialects
(4) To record additional unstudied dialects of Jewish Neo-Aramaic speakers in Israel