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Isaric Aramaic

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Isaric (לשנא איסריא Lishana Isaraya) is a modern, semi-engineered (planned) dialect of Aramaic used as a liturgical standard by Samaritan Christians. It began as a simple prayer language with no written form, used alongside Hebrew by a Samaritan Christian minister named Yaqob Bar-Karoza. Bar-Karoza expanded the dialect for use in liturgy, and began teaching it to his followers as well as others who showed interest in the dialect. His model of dialect construction/planning was based upon that used by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who pioneered the revival of Hebrew as a modern spoken language, as well as on the principles of language revival set forth by Israeli linguist and professor Ghil'ad Zuckermann. Compared to other modern dialects of Aramaic, Isaric is fairly conservative in its lexicon and grammar. Furthermore, it is reputed to be a "gateway dialect," which makes Aramaic accessible to people whose native language is written in a Latin-based script, and enables students of the language to easily learn other Aramaic dialects, e.g., Syriac and Babylonian Aramaic, and even related Semitic languages, e.g., Hebrew and Arabic.

Writing system

There are three writings systems used to represent Isaric Aramaic: a western latinate (Latinaya) script similar to English, and two eastern scripts--Ashuraya, similar to Jewish Hebrew writing, and Shomraya, similar to Samaritan Hebrew writing.

Features

  • uses the definite article, /ha/ (derived from the demonstrative pronoun, /hal/), as a result of Hebrew influence; similar to the pronominal definite articles of the Turoyo dialect: /u/, /i/, and /a/; /ha/ precedes the noun it modifies
  • uses a contracted form of the demonstrative pronoun /hal/ in construct chains as a postpositional definite article attached to the noun it modifies (e.g., ...a'l)
  • uses the masculine plural noun suffix, /-eya/, and its feminine counterpart, /-atha/
  • employs a system of consonant spirantization based upon strict rules of proximity
  • reckons numbers and demonstratives as gender neutral, and thus uses only one form for each
  • has a true present tense based upon the simple future, prefixed by /b'-/, similar to Egyptian Arabic
  • uses /y/ rather than /n/ as a masculine future verb prefix
  • uses /s/ rather than /t/ as a feminine future verb prefix
  • conjugates past tense verbs similarly to Hebrew, with a final /-ti/ in the first person singular and a final /-ta/ in the second person singular
  • possesses an extensive set of modal prefixes
  • allows for relatively free word order, but favors V-S-O
  • requires the object marker /yal/ (rather than /yath/) for all accusative nouns
  • uses the third person masculine singular possessive suffix /-o/, as in Hebrew
  • uses the third person feminine singular possessive suffix /-as/
  • has many Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic borrowings
  • exhibits a high level of syntactical structure
  • Vav is pronounced as /Waw/ (labio-velar approximant)
  • Kaph is pronounced as /Chaph/ (voiceless palato-alveolar affricate), in most environments, as in Gulf Arabic; the main exception is in the second person possessive pronouns
  • Nun is pronounced as /Ngun/ (velar nasal) in certain environments, as well as in diminuatives
  • Ayin is pronounced as /Ghayin/ (voiced uvular fricative) at the beginning of words and between vowels; elsewhere, it is pronounced as a glottal stop
  • Sadhe is pronounced as /Tsadhe/ (voiceless alveolar affricate), as in Hebrew
  • Tav is pronounced as /Thaw/ (voiceless dental fricative), except in certain verb prefixes, where it is pronounced as /Taw/, a voiceless alveolar stop

Dialect background

The primary "engineer" of Isaric Aramaic, Yaqob Bar-Karoza, grew up learning and using Hebrew and some Aramaic, in addition to French and English, in religious contexts, particularly on Shabbat (the Hebrew Sabbath). At the age of twenty, Bar-Karoza began having visions and dreams in a unique form of Aramaic. Not long afterward, he began using the Aramaic language of his dreams in his personal prayers. While that language could easily be identified as a form of Aramaic by outside scholars, it has some features that are not found in other existing dialects.

Several of Bar-Karoza's friends and followers showed interest in learning the language as a gateway to Hebrew and other forms of Aramaic, which prompted him to expand the lexicon and systematize the dialect's grammar. This began a long process of dialect construction, which has produced a liturgical language valued and adopted by Samaritan Christians.

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