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baqqa mqarqra
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Friday, September 13, 2002
NEW BOOK: Jewish Neo-Aramaic Dictionary

Two friends independently sent me the following notice:

The study of Jewish languages is relatively young, and some Jewish languages, such as Jewish Neo-Aramaic, have hardly been studied. Therefore, I would like to inform interested scholars in Jewish studies of the publication of the following book:

A Jewish Neo-Aramaic Dictionary, Based on old and new manuscripts, oral and written bible translations, folkloric texts, and diverse spoken registers, with an introduction to grammar and semantics, and an index of Talmudic words which have reflexes in Jewish Neo-Aramaic, by Yona Sabar, Wiesbaden (Harrassowitz, Semitica Viva #28), 8/2002. $33.

For some background: Jewish Neo-Aramaic, in its many dialects, is a descendent of the Eastern Aramaic dialects such as are found in the Babylonian Talmud. The language was spoken in recent generations predominantly in the areas of Kurdistan and Azerbaijan, and is thus often referred to as ‘kurdish’ in Modern Hebrew. Through its long life, Eastern Aramaic has absorbed many words from neighbouring languages, such as Persian, Turkish, Kurdish and Arabic, but nevertheless many of its words are still recognizable as Aramaic. Sabar himself was born in Zacho, an important Jewish center in Kurdistan (it lies within the Iraqi side of the border with Turkey). The Zacho dialect, which is one of the most closely studied of the neo-Aramaic dialects (in great part due to the efforts of Sabar himself), contains many words that can be easily traced back to the classical Aramaic language.

In honour of the publication of this important reference tool, I have decided to present a short section from this week’s Torah portion in its neo-Aramaic translation, with a brief commentary on the words. The transcription used here is as follows: capital letters are used for pharyngealised consonants, thus S = sade (in the Ashkenazi tradition pronounced /ts/ in the Eastern tradition like a strong S, as in Saddam); H = Het (in the Ashkenazi tradition pronounced as a velar fricative as in Scottish loch or German composer Bach, in the Eastern tradition pronounced as an unvoiced pharyngeal fricative as in the name Hussein); $ = /sh/. ’ = glottal stop, a stop between two vowels, e.g. Hebrew ra’a, he saw.

moSesun $imme maHkena
$am’a ar’a imaar pimmi


maSesun ‘listen!’ – root Syt, found in modern Hebrew ‘letsayyet’, to obey. In the Neo-Aramaic of Zacho, the tav rapha is pronounced s, as in the Ashkenazi tradition, e.g. ‘besa’ house.

$imme ‘heavens’ – classical Aramaic $emayya, ‘heavens’, Hebrew $amayim.

maHkena ‘I shall speak’– root Hky from Arabic Haka, ‘speak’, with suffixed Aramaic pronoun ‘ana’ I.

$am’a ‘will hear’ – root $m`, ‘to hear’, feminine participle. In this dialect, the ‘ayin and aleph have merged.

ar’a ‘the earth’ – classical Aramaic ar`a, Hebrew ereS.

imaar ‘the speech’ – root `mr.

pimmi ‘my mouth’ – classical Aramaic pumm/pimm, Hebrew pe.

Incidentally, the dictionary was published in Wiesbaden, where this frog recently spent a pleasant day. I hope to post of photograph of my trip to Wiesbaden soon.

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