Ya Illah


Mel Gibson's Passion is reportedly doing brisk business in the Levant. As it happens, a few Syrian viewers won't need the subtitles; there are still a few villages in that country that speak Aramaic.

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  1. So now we can find out: is Mel’s Aramaic as bad as his Latin?

  2. I’d hardly imagine that the Aramaic today and the Aramaic of two thousand years ago have anything in common besides the name.

  3. Actually, given the fact that the Aramaic in the movie is a reconstruction, it’s not that hard for Modern Aramaic speakers to understand it. In fact, anyone who went to Hebrew School can get a lot of it too, since the Hebrew of the Torah is quite similar (and there is actually Aramaic in the Old Testament anyway, in Daniel and a couple of other places).
    Aramaic is spoken in other places besides Syria, incidentally. Like Detroit, where there are hundreds of speakers.

    Geoff Nathan,
    Associate Professor of Linguistics
    Wayne State University

  4. Prof. Nathan,
    Do you or any other readers know if that is the oldest language still spoken today? If not, what is?

  5. JimInNova, Gibson did not do the translation.

  6. After seeing the Passion of the Christ
    man just confessed to the murder of a pregnant woman,
    a woman who had been thought to have killed herself.
    I’d say it was the Judas scenes that did it,
    or maybe the demon baby or old Satan floating about.

  7. > Do you or any other readers know if that is the oldest language still spoken today? If not, what is?

  8. “After seeing the Passion of the Christ” the BTK serial killer send authorities the missing driver’s license of a young woman killed two decades ago, probably wanting to be caught, punished, and saved is my prediction.

  9. Perhaps Egyptian is the oldest written language,
    tho there are surely older ones yet undiscovered.

    Nope. The oldest known written language is Akkado-Sumerian cuneiform; the Egyptians probably got the idea of writing from them (though not the actual form of writing). As for there being older, undiscovered written languages . . . not likely. If there were civilizations that had used writing, they would very likely have left some evidence of their existence, quite apart from writing itself — cities, evidence of agriculture, that sort of thing. Since there is no evidence of these things before 8000 BCE, I would be very, very surprised if there were any civilizations that used writing before the Sumerians did.

    One language arises out of the other so all language is old,
    but what still spoken language still goes by the same name?

    Hmmm . . . Chinese, that I can think of. But then, I’m not sure that it does have the same name in Mandarin now that it did then. It’s likely written with the same character, but the pronunciation would have changed radically since then. Latin and Sanskrit have evolved into other languages (the Romance languages and Northern Indian languages, respectively). Greek still goes by the same name, and a form of it was being spoken ~1000 BCE, so maybe Greek. Of course, records are by their nature only for languages that were written then.

    Or would it be what spoken language has was gone
    the longest without evolving?

    I don’t think that it’s really possible to have a language that doesn’t evolve. At least, there are no real-world examples that I can think of. All the languages that we have records of from even 2000 BCE have changed so radically that they really aren’t the same language, and have AFAIK become a family of related languages. For that matter, I doubt anyone without special training could easily understand spoken English from even five hundred years ago. Special case, but I’d say a thousand years would be the extreme limit.

    But then, IANAL (I am not a linguist) — just studying to be one. 😉

  10. The movie will be shown to the public in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after having been given the green light by the ministry of culture and information

    Pathetic. Well, they’ve adopted some western values…in this case, of the Orwellian commie variety! We might have expected better from these guys since the UAE, at least Dubai, is one of the more liberal of the Mid-east regimes with a free- market, (Dubai is called the “Hong Kong of the Mid-east”) and a tendency to keep their religious extremists separated from government power. Other regimes in the region, including Israel, would do well follow suit in both of these particulars.

    BTW, do Lebanon and Israel have government agencies such as the “ministry of culture and information” which harbor the disgusting power that the UAE’s seem to possess? (I’m guessing that Syria does, for sure.)

  11. grylliade:

    “The oldest known written language is Akkado-Sumerian cuneiform”

    I don’t think that it is right to say “Akkado-Sumerian” in this case since it is only Sumerian cuneiform that is the oldest known written language. Akkadian came later and is the first Semitic language, a group that includes the Arabic and Hebrew. Sumerian is a non-Semitic language. Akkadian used the cuneiform script of Sumerian.

    Cuneiform writing originated in southern Mesopotamia, and was created in the Sumerian culture, in order to write in the Sumerian language. Later it was used for Akkadian, Babylonian and Assyrian. Cuneiform developed into becoming the dominating writing style of the Middle East,

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