What is the relationship among Aramaic, Arabic and Hebrew?
I have very little knowledge and a lot of confusion about this topic. Why is Aramaic so similar to modern-day Arabic? Why did Jesus, a Jew, speak Aramaic? When did the Jews start speaking Hebrew?
Please, only scholarly replies. Thanks
Thank you Taivo for your answer. Could you expound on the history of the Arabic language and why modern-day Arabs can understand Aramaic? Your input is invaluable to me.
- bruhahaLv 71 decade agoFavorite Answer
Basic answer -- the languages have many similarities for TWO reaons -- an ancient COMMON ancestry, and much CONTACT through the millennia.
The three languages you listed -- Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic-- all go back to one ancient "root" language we might call "Common Semitic". This is the starting place for understanding why a speaker of one language may understand, or at least easily learn, another of the languages. It's a bit like French, Italian and Spanish speakers whose languages all go back to Latin.
Now much of the ancient historical relationship amongst the different Semitic languages is obscure, and some of it is highly debated, since that 'language history' has to be reconstructed based on clues left in the languages (or in written records of earlier forms of the languages). The "family tree" model also has some significant weaknesses (see below), but is still useful for drawing a rough picture.
Here's a sketch:
1) HEBREW and Aramaic are fairly closely related, coming from two 'subbranches' of part of the large tree of Semitic. "Aramaic" actually covers a diversity of dialects. Hebrew is a "Canaanite" language (the last remaining), and was spoken by the 'people of Israel' up to the time of the Babylonian Captivity in the 6th century B.C.. (The precise beginnings of Hebrew are murky.)
These two subbranches are the main representatives of what are usually called the "Northwest Semitic languages", though in more recent systems they may also be called "North Central Semitic" languages.
2) ARAMAIC - Historically we know that various types of Aramaic were spoken in Syria (a region called "Aram" in the first millennium)-- in the lands between the Mediterranean coast and Mesopotamia. These lands and peoples came under the control of the Assyrians ("Neo-Assyrian Empire"), then the Babylonians ("Neo-Babylonian Empre" of Nebuchadnezzar, etc), and later the (non-Semitic) Persians. But rather than these peoples adopting the language of their Mesopotamian conquerors (esp. the "Neo-Assyrian" and "Neo-Babylonian" dialects of the Eastern Semitic language scholars call "Akkadian"), Aramaic itself became the lingua franca of these empires, and eventually many of the legal documents were written in Aramaic. (Persia continued this practice.) [Note that "Neo-Babylonian" is NOT Aramaic, but the dialect of Akkadian.]
Leading members of the Hebrew-speaking peoples of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah were carried into exile by the Assyrians & Babylonians. When their descendants returned they brought the Aramaic language back with them, though they continued to use Hebrew for religious purposes. (Because these returnees were chiefly from the former Kingdom of Judah, they were called "Judahites", from which we get the word "Jews" ["Juedisch" /"Yiddish" in German]. )
Aramaic dialects of various sorts continued to dominate the region for many centuries (though Greek was also used for various purposes after the rise of the Greek Empire and esp its Mesopotamain offshoot, the Seleucids). In the early centuries of the church the later Aramaic dialect/language known as Syriac was dominant (hence one of the earliest translations of the New Testament is the Syriac).
3) Another Semitic language, ARABIC, swept across the region and displaced most of the Aramaic dialects with the rise of Islam and Arab conquest (though a few small pockets preserved Aramaic, and a handful of "Neo-Aramaic" dialects survive to this day). But what exactly is the relationship of this Semitic language, esp. to Aramaic?
The "family tree" explanation has shifted a bit over the years. Arabic used to be classified with "Southern Semitic" languages (including Southern Arabian and, more distantly, the Ethiopic Semitic languages). In the past generation a new scheme has been widely accepted which suggest a closer ORIGINAL relationship of Arabic to those "Northwest Semitic" languages (including Aramaic) -- and groups them together as "Central Semitic" languages.
Unfortunately, it's not quite that tidy (and I am not completely convinced). Arabic seems to sit firmly BETWEEN the Northwest Semitic and South Semitic languages. It DOES share distinctive grammatical features with Aramaic, etc., but it shares others with the "South Semitic" languages. (Note: this is not about shared vocabulary, since ANY language might easily borrow from any other). Perhaps Arabic was originally closer to the Northern languages, but had a lot of contact with the Southern Arabian tribes, OR perhaps it was originally closer to the the Southern languages, but borrowed features from Aramaic, etc., by contact with those groups.
You might compare English -- according to the "family tree" it is considered a "Germanic" language, yet since Old English it has undergone vast changes, esp. by its contact with (Norman) French. That is, a language is shaped by both common roots AND contact.
For the purposes of your question it really doesn't matter which way it all happened -- by some combination of a common ancestry and contact/sharing between the languages, Arabic came to share many features with languages like Aramaic.
See also: Rise of Arabic, and complexities of the relationships of the Semitic languages:
Common Roots AND Contact:Source(s): graduate studies in Semitic languages (specialty, Northwest Semitic)
- 5 years ago
The most latest and probably never changing version of the combination of the Aramaic and Hebrew is Arabic. Since muslims debate a lot about the Final Prophecy, another evidence that they give is the Continuousness and the Miracle of the language of Quran which not only proves the final Prophecy but also takes the Divine Language of Sam to its destiny....
Even if language experts want to debate on it and do any sort of census of people understanding all the three dialects they would easily find Arabic winning!
Yet I believe deriving an obsolete language is not appropriate and perhaps the changes that have been made in Bible for instance it be translated into Aramaic wont have the same affect as an element of doubt would always be there as it exists now so Arabic the final version should be Holy accepted
- TaivoLv 71 decade ago
The Semitic language family has two main branches: East and West. The West Semitic branch has two main branches: Central and South.
The simplest way to look at the Central Semitic languages is to think in terms of three branches to the family: Canaanite, Aramaic, and Arabic. There is scholarly debate on the details, but this is the easiest way. Canaanite includes Hebrew, Phoenician, Moabite, Punic, Ammonite, Edomite, Ugaritic, etc. Hebrew is the only surviving Canaanite language. Aramaic includes the ancient languages Neo-Babylonian, Biblical Aramaic, Syriac, Samaritan, and the modern languages that are often lumped together as Neo-Aramaic (including modern Assyrian and modern Chaldean). Arabic is not a single language, but is a close-knit group of languages that evolved from Classical Arabic.
Hebrew was the language of ancient Israel and Judah. But when the Babylonians conquered Judah in 586 BCE, the language went extinct. All the inhabitants of Judah started speaking Neo-Babylonian. The Jews who were deported to Babylon also started speaking Neo-Babylonian, but remembered Hebrew as a religious language and started compiling the Old Testament in Hebrew. In their daily lives, they all spoke Neo-Babylonian. Neo-Babylonian evolved into Aramaic.
When the exiled Jews returned to Palestine, everyone spoke a variety of Neo-Babylonian that is often called Biblical Aramaic. This was the situation when Jesus lived. Everyone in Palestine spoke Aramaic as their native language. The men learned Hebrew as children so that they could read the Old Testament.
The language Modern Hebrew was revived as an everyday language in 1948 by Jews returning to Palestine. It was based on the Hebrew that they learned as children in order to read the Talmud and the Old Testament. It is not identical to Biblical Hebrew, but is similar.Source(s): I have a PhD in Linguistics and teach at a major US university
- 6 years ago
Nobody knows what the original Hebrew spoke because they adopted the language of the Canaanites. Also, now Old Testament has been discredited and its staus drastically reduced in the top world universities, more intelligent researchers are looking for the origins of Hebrew and the ancient pre-586 Israelite states in south-west Arabia, where Chaim Rabin discovered a probable substructure of Hebrew in Ancient West Arabian (1951) and the ancient Torah used in Ethiopia (much older and kinder than the "official" one supports the hypotheses of Arabian Judah.
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- 1 decade ago
All the 3 languages are semitic languages, but aramaic was the local language of Judea or where Jesus grew up. Hebrew was a language with a much higher prestige.
- Anonymous3 years ago
Every time I submit a question, even if it's the simplest one, they can't offer me a proper informed answer on this website. What happened to people that really make the effort to answer?
- 1 decade ago
pple who speak these languages come from the same person who is Sam. And that's why it's called semitic languages.
- 1 decade ago
The Jews have always spoken Hebrew, the world was created with that language! After the Temple was destroyed the Jews were taken as slaves to Bavel (which is modern day Iraq). The language spoken there was Aramic and since many Jews lived there for a while they started speaking/writing with it!