skip to primary navigationskip to content
 

Modern Assyrian Language Documentation Project

Rabi Issa Benjamin
'Our language is the reason for our existence' Calligraphy by: Rabi Issa Benjamin
The Modern Assyrian language, which belongs to North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic (NENA), is spoken by the Assyrian Christians whose communities in the Middle East are found in northern Iraq, south-eastern  Turkey, north-eastern Syria and north-western Iran.

The native term of the language is Suret/Surayt and it is subdivided into various dialects, each displaying distinctive linguistic features.  They are of great importance for our understanding of historical developments of Aramaic and other Semitic languages.

Due to persecutions, nationalistic state policies, forced evacuation of settlements and migration of speakers to the West, the Modern Assyrian language (with all of its various dialects) has been listed by UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger as: ‘DEFINITELY ENDANGERED’.

The Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies of the University of Cambridge, and under the leadership of Professor Geoffrey Khan has spearheaded the documentation, study and publication of the Modern Assyrian dialects for a number of years. In addition to the numerous publications of his own, Professor Khan has supervised many doctoral theses and post-doctoral studies in the field.

However, the momentous task of documenting all of the Modern Assyrian dialects before they fall into oblivion cannot be carried out by academics alone. We must engage directly with the Assyrian people and actively involve them in the documentation of their language. Scholars bear a moral responsibility to engage the native speakers in the documentation, study and publishing of their language and its dialects and must offer help and guidance to the communities of speakers to preserve their linguistic heritiage.

The objective of the Modern Assyrian Language Documentation Project (MALDP) is to encourage Assyrians, especially those who continue to live in their original settlements in the Middle East to become actively involved in the documentation of the many dialects of their language. MALDP provides these native speakers with training and guidance on how to carry out linguistic fieldwork, provides them with the necessary equipment, and offers them help in pursuing academic studies in the field.

To achieve this objective, MALDP has been collaborating with a number of Assyrian institutions in Northern Iraq and we plan to expand our collaboration to involve other Assyrian institutions in Iraq, Turkey and Syria.