Classical Syriac Beginner II

CEU code: 
SLTG 5128
CEU credits: 
ECTS credits: 
Academic year: 
Start and end dates: 
9 Jan 2012 - 30 Mar 2012
Non-degree Specialization: 
ACRS—Advanced Certificate in Religious Studies
István Perczel

Classical Syriac Beginner II:

Introduction to Classical Syriac Language and Culture (intermediate level)

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 second part of a two-semester training, will be an introduction to this language and culture. While it continues to teach Syriac as a living language, in the second semester it will lay most of the emphasis on reading texts.


Learning Outcomes:


In the first semester the students have learned the Syriac alphabets (Estranghelo, Serto, East Syriac), the vocalisation, the use of the diacritic points and the basics of pronunciation; they have become more thoroughly acquainted with the Serto script and the West Syriac pronunciation; they have learned to read and understand simple Syriac texts and to compose Syriac sentences orally and in writing. They also have learned some basics of Syriac grammar. Those who decide to continue in the second semester will become acquainted with the most important grammatical rules, will acquire proficiency in using the language in an active way and will gain experience in reading and understanding texts. Through learning this language they will also become introduced to an over seventeen hundred year-old diaspora and minority culture, comparable to that of the Jews before the founding of the state of Israel. Parallel to this course a Syriac Text Reading seminar will also be given, in which Hymns of Ephrem the Syrian will be read. Students joining the winter semester Classical Syriac course are encouraged to participate in the text reading seminar, too.




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, ܗܶܪ̈ܓܶܐ ܕܩܶܪܝܳܢܳܐ [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.