Article in the NY Times on Aramaic
- The article below on Aramaic appeared today...
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> This article from NYTimes.com>
> NYC: Watch Your Languages. They're Ancient.
> February 24, 2004
> By CLYDE HABERMAN
> TOMORROW is the big day for Mel Gibson, the actor-director
> who apparently considers himself in somerespects to be
> more Catholic than the pope. His much-debated film,"The
> Passion of the Christ," will open in theaters.George A. Kiraz can hardly wait.
> His interest, though,
> not in the theological and social disputes the movie hasgenerated. He is curious about the dialogue, which Mr.
> Gibson chose torender entirely in Aramaic and Latin, not
> exactly the hottest languageson the planet.
> "I want mainly to see if I understand any of
> and what form of Aramaic it is," said Dr. Kiraz,director
> of the Syriac Institute in Piscataway, N.J. Hisorganization promotes the study of Syriac, an Aramaic
> dialect that isthe liturgical language of the Syrian
> Orthodox Church and some otherchurches with Middle Eastern
> roots.Aramaic - the standard form that continues
> "I call it BBC
> to be used today," said Dr.Kiraz, 39. He began speaking it
> as a boy in Bethlehem (as in Little Townof Bethlehem, not
> the place in Pennsylvania). He uses it today withhis
> daughter, Tabetha.ago, I've only spoken the
> "Since she was born three years
> classical Syriac, which is Aramaic, to her,"he said. "Now
> when she speaks to me, it's always in Aramaic. It'smostly
> a language used among bishops and priests. It would belike
> someone speaking Latin to his kid."Semitic language that in one of its forms is a
> Aramaic, a
> cousin to Hebrew, hasbeen around for 2,500 years or more.
> In Jesus' time, it was the linguafranca of the Middle
> East.speaking Hebrew in the first
> "Jews were probably not
> century," said Rabbi Ismar Schorsch,chancellor of the
> Jewish Theological Seminary. "They were speakingAramaic."
> With the rise of Islam, the language was shoved
> Arabic. It endures in some Syrian villages and a fewother
> places in that region. A couple of Christian schools inNew
> Jersey teach it, Dr. Kiraz said, and it is heard in churchservices.
> Aramaic is familiar to Jews as well. Portions of the
> of Daniel and Ezra were written in Aramaic, as were someof
> the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Talmud. Observant Jews hearAramaic every day in the Kaddish, an exaltation of God that
> also servesas a mourner's prayer.
>serious student of the
> "You have to know Aramaic to be a
> Bible," said Rabbi Stephen A. Geller, chairman ofthe
> Department of Bible and Semitic Languages at theseminary, in Morningside Heights.
>to pronounce the language dead,
> While it might be a mistake
> it would be silly to call it thriving.By contrast, this
> film's other language, Latin, is faring rather wellfor an
> ancient tongue once given up for lost.Gibson's use of Latin, by the way, is deemed a blunder
> by experts. He'dhave done better with Greek, which was
> widely spoken in Jesus' day. "Noone in the Mideast spoke
> Latin," Rabbi Geller said. In other words,don't expect
> every scholar to walk away from "Passion" saying,"Si
> fractum non sit, noli id reficere" - "if it ain't broke,don't fix it.")
>"The nadir came
> THESE days, Latin is enjoying a resurgence.
> in 1970, right after the Roman Catholic Church gaveup
> Latin," said Thomas J. Sienkewicz, vice chairman of theNational Committee for Latin and Greek, a group that
> promotes studies inthose classical languages.
>turnaround in the last two
> But all indicators point to a
> decades, said Professor Sienkewicz, whoteaches classics at
> Monmouth College in Illinois. Indeed, one problemnow is a
> looming shortage of qualified teachers for the growingnumbers of students. A nationwide campaign to recruit
> instructors isplanned for the first week of March.
>studying Latin for its own sake,
> Some young people like
> Professor Sienkewicz said. Others arepersuaded by evidence
> that high school students who take Latin do farbetter than
> average on the verbal SAT.the "Gladiator" factor, said Nancy McKee,
> There is, too,
> chairwoman of the Latin andGreek group and a former Latin
> teacher in Lawrenceville, N.J. TheRussell Crowe movie
> "prompted an interest in the Roman culture," shesaid.
> Might "Passion" similarly breathe new life in Aramaic?
> one is betting on it. The language, Dr. Kiraz acknowledges,has obvious limitations in today's world.
>to coin a new word to describe things,"
> "Sometimes we have
> he said. "Pancake, for example,is kind of difficult. In
> Syriac, there is a word for cake, kuko.Basically, for
> pancake we say 'pankuko.' "moviegoers, unfortunately, there is no Syriac word yet
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