Aramaic vs Hebrew: mutually intelligibility

wazeer-e-aazam

Banned
Pashto - Pakistan
I know that Aramaic is a Semitic language, but how mutually intelligible are Hebrew and Aramaic? I am primarily interested in this because part (or parts) of the Old Testament were written in Aramaic.
 
  • Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    The actual spoken languages in Biblical times were probably intelligible to some degree, but it is clear that translators were indeed needed between the languages. The written languages are much closer, but if you are familiar only with Biblical Hebrew and attempt to read Biblical Aramaic without any prior exposure, you probably would recognize 70% of the roots, but the grammar might still get in the way of understanding them and you'd have a lot of trouble reading it. However, it is very easy to learn Aramaic if you know Hebrew, and I would say most Jews today who study the Bible in Hebrew have enough exposure to Aramaic to be able to study the Aramaic parts of the Bible as well. In fact it is common in Biblical study to refer to the Aramaic translation of the Bible (mainly Targum Onkelos, which is included in most printed versions of the Five Books of Moses) in order to better understand it.

    In conclusion, they are not very mutually intelligible without exposure, but if you know one, it is very easy to pick up the other.
     

    origumi

    Senior Member
    N/A
    The Bible, 2 Kings 18:26, says explicitly that Hebrew ("Judean") and Aramaic are NOT mutually intelligible, this refers to the 8th-7th centuries BC.

    Later, from 6th century BC and for more than thousand years, Hebrews spoke Aramaic as the main language, so Hebrew of the last two millennia became more similar to Aramaic than it was before.

    The Aramaic parts of the Bible, books of Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah of 6th century BC and later, are illegible to the Hebrew reader (that doesn't speak Aramaic).
     

    rushalaim

    Senior Member
    русский
    The Bible, 2 Kings 18:26, says explicitly that Hebrew ("Judean") and Aramaic are NOT mutually intelligible
    If you'd read context, you'd see, that Assyrian ambassador was mimicing Pentateuch-Hebrew addressing to the Jews on the wall as if his words are the prophesy from Jewish God "if Jews will not give up, they will be destroyed by God Himself with Assyrian arms". That's why Jews replied to Assyrian ambassador not to speak Pentateuch-Hebrew to them but Aramaic-colloquial, because they didn't believe that Assyrian.
    That passage doesn't say about languages. Hebrew was always artificial language just for Pentateuch-reading.
     

    origumi

    Senior Member
    N/A
    Nobody was mimicking anything. There was no pretended prophecy. There was no threat about specific God's intervention beyond the usual. Rabshake didn't speak Assyrian, he spoke Aramaic. The Israelites didn't speak colloquial Aramaic, they spoke "Judean", apparently Hebrew of the Judah tribe dialect. Hebrew is not an artificial language.

    May I suggest that when you introduce marginal hypotheses which stand in contrary to the accepted opinions - let the reader know so innocent people will not be misled.

    As you can see, Drink offered a reasonable answer in one direction, I offered a reasonable answer in another direction (adding info, not contradicting the previous answer), both on conventional basis. This is what answers here are expected to be, I believe. If you think I am wrong (which has happened more than once), or Drink is wrong - your better present arguments to establish your view.
     
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    Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    Don't forget that mutual intelligibility differs in different situations, thus I don't see our answers as incompatible. When two people are having a two-way conversation, they can adapt their speech based to make it easier to understand, such as speaking slower or choosing words that the other person seems to understand; so mutual intelligibility can be higher. When a someone is speaking to a large number of people, he is much less able to receive feedback and is probably also less inclined to adapt his speech; this lowers mutual intelligibility. And of course, when someone specifically does not want to be understand, he can intentionally speak more quickly and use more words that are not shared between the languages, which would practically guarantee not being understood.

    Also, another thing I forgot to mention is that the modern surviving Aramaic dialects are not mutually intelligible even among themselves (between even the closest dialects), and thus have virtually no mutual intelligibility with Modern Hebrew.
     

    k8an

    Senior Member
    English - Australian
    I speak Hebrew, fairly decent Arabic (mostly Lebanese though I can get by in multiple other dialects too) and have been learning Assyrian neo-Aramaic for a while now with limited success. I have many Assyrian friends I hear the language from often.

    It's not intelligible at first or on the surface, but many of their words are very similar or the same. The grammar of Assyrian Aramaic is quite different to Hebrew - Hebrew and Arabic grammar are far more similar, in my opinion.

    Once you know a bit, you can start understanding a lot more.

    For example, my Assyrian friend's sister got married and she was telling me about the "mashmeta" pre-engagement ritual - it sounded like something to do with "listening", and indeed it is a way of telling people that the couple is dating and they can't "gossip" about it anymore.

    When I listen to Assyrian songs, I understand whole sentences at times with even my most basic skills in the language. For example, I was listening to a Randa Yaqoub song, and I heard the line "mkheelun eynati w libbi miskeena" - anybody who understands Hebrew will probably guess every word except the first, which is related to the word "maka" in Hebrew and means "they hit", for a whole sentence of "they hit my eyes, and my poor heart".

    Every Assyrian conversation I overhear is fun, because you can pick out so much...but you can't understand what they're really saying at all. I'd say for someone with no knowledge of how Assyrian sounds, it's close to 0% intelligible, but with a bit of knowledge it goes up quite a bit.


    Also, another thing I forgot to mention is that the modern surviving Aramaic dialects are not mutually intelligible even among themselves (between even the closest dialects), and thus have virtually no mutual intelligibility with Modern Hebrew.
    Just gotta correct this.

    Assyrian neo-Aramaic (modern Eastern Aramaic) dialects are pretty well mutually intelligible.

    The Iraqi Koine dialect is quite well understood by speakers of other "Assyrian" dialects. The "Chaldean" dialect (terrible sectarian name for the Nineveh Plains dialects) is very mutually intelligible with the Assyrian dialects of Iraq too, though some speakers of this dialect Arabise their speech to such an extent that it's almost an Assyrian/Arabic hybrid language.

    By the time you get to the Urmia dialect, it's a bit harder to be understood - particularly Nineveh dialects are distant to this one, but other Iraqi dialects too.

    As for other modern Eastern Aramaic dialects, the language spoken by Suryoyos in Turkey known as Turoyo is quite unintelligible to other Assyrian speakers.

    The only remnants of Western Aramaic spoken today are in Maaloula and 2 other Syrian villages, spoken by both Muslims and Christians though heavily endangered (and now even more so since ISIS). They are totally unintelligible with Eastern dialects.
     

    Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    Thanks. I said that well before I had tried to learn Northeastern Neo-Aramaic. I would definitely say that many of the NENA dialects are mutually intelligible, but certainly not all. The farther away you get from the nucleus of the region (Northwestern Iraq), the more different the dialects become, and it seems that the farther away Jewish dialects become more different than their co-territorial Christian dialects. For example, the Jewish and Christian dialects of Urmi are probably not very mutually intelligible.
     

    k8an

    Senior Member
    English - Australian
    Thanks. I said that well before I had tried to learn Northeastern Neo-Aramaic. I would definitely say that many of the NENA dialects are mutually intelligible, but certainly not all. The farther away you get from the nucleus of the region (Northwestern Iraq), the more different the dialects become, and it seems that the farther away Jewish dialects become more different than their co-territorial Christian dialects. For example, the Jewish and Christian dialects of Urmi are probably not very mutually intelligible.
    Yup, all of this is true. I haven't had the chance to listen to most of the Jewish dialects outside of songs or random YouTube videos, but the ones I did play to my Assyrian friends said that many of the Jewish dialects are closer to the "Chaldean" Nineveh dialect than other Assyrian dialects, which makes sense as many of those have origins in Turkey.

    I have very close friends who are Assyrians from Urmia and their dialect is very interesting. They have great difficulty understanding "Chaldean" to the point where they can't communicate effectively; but with the Iraqi Koine dialect they seem to be able to pick up enough to communicate. I think more exposure would fix it.

    Unfortunately, I don't have any Jewish friends from Urmia so I've yet to hear that dialect irl.
     

    Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    As an example, if I recall correctly, in Christian Urmi the word for "house" is pronounced "béta" (with a "t" and with stress on the first syllable), while in Jewish Urmi it is prnounced "belá" (with an "l" and with stress on the last syllable).
     

    origumi

    Senior Member
    N/A
    As an example, if I recall correctly, in Christian Urmi the word for "house" is pronounced "béta" (with a "t" and with stress on the first syllable), while in Jewish Urmi it is prnounced "belá" (with an "l" and with stress on the last syllable).
    There was a consistent shift of "t" (or "th"?) to "l" in some Neo-Judeo-Aramaic dialects of Persia and Azerbaijan, so ביתא became בילא.
    In parts of Kurdistan ביתא became ביסא.

    http://www.kotar.co.il/kotarapp/index/Page.aspx?nBookID=70165437&nTocEntryID=70394389&nPageID=70368273
     

    k8an

    Senior Member
    English - Australian
    In general all the Urmi dialects have replaced "th" and "dh" with "t" and "d".

    In Iraq most retain "th" (I think Iraqi Koine replaces "th" with "t", but almost all Iraqis in my experience have "th") but "dh" seems to be confined to some of the Nineveh "Chaldean" dialects and maybe Turoyo (not sure).
     

    Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    In general all the Urmi dialects have replaced "th" and "dh" with "t" and "d".

    In Iraq most retain "th" (I think Iraqi Koine replaces "th" with "t", but almost all Iraqis in my experience have "th") but "dh" seems to be confined to some of the Nineveh "Chaldean" dialects and maybe Turoyo (not sure).
    Just to clarify for anyone reading this, this only applies to the Christian dialects.
     
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