Introduction to Classical Syriac

Course Status: 
CEU code: 
SLTG 5028
CEU credits: 
Academic year: 
Start and end dates: 
16 Sep 2013 - 19 Dec 2013
Co-hosting Unit(s) [if applicable]: 
Source Language Teaching Group
Stream/Track/Specialization/Core Area: 
II—The Eastern Mediterranean from Constantine the Great to Süleyman the Magnificent
Non-degree Specialization: 
EMS—Advanced Certificate in Eastern Mediterranean Studies
István Perczel
Learning Outcomes: 
Beginners will learn the Syriac alphabets (Estranghelo, Serto, East Syriac), 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. Intermediate students will learn how to understand an unknown text written in Syriac. They will improve their skills of comprehension and of grammatical analysis.
Assessment : 
During the term, the students will write three tests 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%).

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 is offered to those just beginning their Syriac studies and intermediate students. For the beginners the course, as the first part of a two-semester training, will be an intensive introduction to this language. It will teach Syriac as a living language but will also lay much emphasis on the grammar. Intermediate students will participate in a reading seminar.


 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 writing composition, 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, for the beginners, 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.  The emphasis will be on an active acquisition of the language. 

For the intermediate students the methodology consists in reading carefully the chosen text, translating it orally during the seminars and discuss the grammatical issues arising during the reading process.

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.