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Neo-Aramaic Dialects

Research Projects:

Prof. Geoffrey Khan

Prof. Khan's Aramaic research concentrates on the Neo-Aramaic dialects, especially the North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic Dialects. His publications include grammars of the dialects of villages of Qaraqosh and Barwar and of the Jewish dialects of Arbel, Sulemaniyya, Ḥalabja, Urmi and Sanandaj. He is currently working on a grammar of the Assyrian Christian dialect of Urmi. Since 2004 he has directed a research team who have created the North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic Database (, funded by the AHRC (2004-2009), the Newton Trust and the Golden Web Foundation.


Oz Aloni (PhD Student)

Oz's PhD research is concerning the Jewish community of Zakho.

Illan Gonen (PhD Student)

Illan Gonen is studying the grammar of Jewish Zakho, a highly endangered dialect of the Lishana Deni group of North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic, originally thrived in North-West Iraq and nowadays still spoken by one or two dozens of speakers in Jerusalem.

Illan is also involved in the Cambridge Endangered Languages and Cultures group (CELC).

Lidia Napiorkowska (PhD Student)

'My research concentrates on the documentation and description of some of the endangered varieties of Neo-Aramaic. Towards my PhD degree, I am working on a grammar of a Christian dialect from north-eastern Iraq called Diyana-Zariwaw. My methodology combines a diachronic view with a broader linguistic approach, taking into account also language contact and dialectology.'

Kathrin Göransson (Egger) (PhD Student)

Kathrin's research title is  'Non-Active Voice in North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic: An Overview'.


North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic, NENA, is one of four distinct branches of Neo-Aramaic, the other three being Ṭuroyo, spoken mainly in south-east Turkey; Maʿalula, spoken in the region of Damascus; and Neo-Mandaic spoken in south-east Iran and south Iraq. NENA is spoken by two minority groups of Kurdistan: the Jews and the Christians. Major upheavals during the first half of the twentieth century, brought about the dispersion of the NENA speaking communities: all of the Jews of Kurdistan immigrated to Israel in 1951; many of the Christians fled as a result of several waves of persecution.

NENA presents exceptionally wide dialectal diversity, both in terms of the number of dialects, and in the degree of linguistic variation between them. There are some 150 different NENA dialects, each originally spoken in a particular village or town in the mountains of Kurdistan. The chief dialectal division within NENA is a confessional one: the Jewish dialects share a large number of features that differ from the Christian dialects. Two dialects spoken by Jews and Christians in the same town are likely to exhibit fewer similarities to one another than to other Jewish or Christian dialects of more remote towns, respectively. Another important linguistic boundary on the NENA dialectal map is the Great Zab River.

All NENA dialects are endangered. For some dialects, the last native speakers have already passed away. The documentation of the NENA dialects is of immense importance and urgency, both due to the intrinsic value of cultural heritage that they carry, and because of their unparalleled importance for Semitic research. Aramaic is, as a vernacular, the longest continuously spoken Semitic language, and indeed one of the longest continuously documented languages in the world. It is these historical depth and dialectal diversity that enables Semitists to draw conclusions about long-term processes in the Semitic languages, and about the vernacular reality in antiquity.  


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