John McWhorter on the Death of Aramaic

Linguist John McWhorter has an interesting article in The Atlantic on the decline in speakers of Aramaic, once a lingua franca of the Middle East and the language of Jesus:

Today there is no one “Aramaia” where the language is spoken. Its varieties are now used in small, obscure communities spread far apart across Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Armenia, and Georgia. There are also expatriate communities of speakers scattered even further away, in Chicago, as well as Paramus and Teaneck in New Jersey. Another indicator of the language’s gradual dissolution amid political discontinuity is the number of names it goes under nowadays. In many historical sources, the language is referred to as “Chaldean,” after one of the Aramaic-speaking dynasties that ruled Babylon when it was the glittering center of Mesopotamian civilization between the seventh and the fourth centuries B.C.E. Because a Syrian dialect of Aramaic is especially well-preserved in writing and is still used for Christian liturgy in the Middle East, Turkey, and even India, one also hears often of Syriac. Some modern speakers of Aramaic call their variety Assyrian, others Mandaic.

This, part of a digression on language complexity, made me laugh:

Russian, spoken by countless millions, is so horrifically complex that part of me always wonders whether it is an elaborate hoax.

Read the rest.

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