Classical Syriac Beginner I

CEU code: 
SLTG 5028
CEU credits: 
ECTS credits: 
Academic year: 
István Perczel

Classical Syriac (Ktobonoyo: the Bookish Language) is an Aramaic dialect that served as the literary language of the Aramaic-speaking Christian communities. The golden age of Syriac literature extended from the third to the seventh century AD and has produced a great amount of important literature, partly as original works and partly as translations from the Greek. After the Arab conquest of the Middle East, besides producing original works, Syriac served as a bridge language and culture between Greek and Arabic; its influence extended as far as India and China, while the Syriac alphabet constituted the basis for the Sogdian and Uygur scripts, thus indirectly influencing Tibetan and Mongolian, too. Diverse Asian Christian communities have used Classical Syriac as a liturgical and literary language up to the present day. The present course, being the first part of a two-semester training, will be an introduction to this language. It will teach Syriac as a living language but will also lay emphasis on reading classical texts.


Learning Outcomes:

First the students will learn the Syriac alphabets (Estranghelo, Serto, East Syriac), the vocalisation, the use of the diacritic points and the basics of pronunciation. They will be more thoroughly acquainted with the Serto script and the West Syriac pronunciation. They will learn to read and understand simple Syriac texts and, by the end of the semester, will be capable to compose Syriac sentences orally and in writing. They will be acquainted with the basics of Syriac grammar, too. Those who wish to continue may follow the second-semester course for developing their proficiency.



The methodologies of learning modern and classical languages differ in the sense that in the case of modern languages one strives to acquire an active knowledge allowing to conduct conversations and correspondence as well as to write compositions, while in the case of classical languages one is satisfied with the passive capability of reading and understanding texts. However, a number of classical languages, such as Hebrew, Classical Arabic and Sanskrit, are also living languages, being actively used. To this group belongs also Syriac. Accordingly, the teaching/learning method will be a blend of the classical European grammar-based approach and of the methodology followed in the transmission of the language in the communities themselves.  However, because of the European traditions, the emphasis will be on grammar and text reading.



By the end of the semester the students will write a test on the material studied (25%);   however, as the classes are based on the students' active involvement, participation in the classes will remain the most important basis for assessment (75%).  Every second or third week a brief assessment tes will be written.


Manuals and literature:

Sebastian Brock, An Introduction to Syriac Studies (Piscataway NJ: Gorgias Press, 2006)

George Anton Kiraz, The New Syriac Primer (Piscataway NJ: Gorgias Press, 2007)

Abd al-Masih Naaman Karabash, Hergē d-Keryono  [Reading Lessons] (Hengelo NL: Mar Yuhanun Kilisesi, 1985)


J. Payne Smith, A Compendious Syriac Dictionary (Oxford: The University Press, 1902; reprint: Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999)

 Archpriest Zeki Zitoun, Burkho: English to Syriac Dictionary (Sydney: Archpr. Zeki Zitoun, 2007)

The manuals and dictionaries will be provided by the instructor.



The actual schedule will depend on the constitution of the group, the initial level of the students and the pace of progress of the group. So it is impossible to break down the schedule to weeks etc.