Suret language

Assyrian Neo-Aramaic
Chaldean Neo-Aramaic
ܣܘܪܝܬ, ܣܘܪܬ Sūreṯ
Sūreṯ written in Syriac
(Madnḥaya script)
Pronunciation [ˈsu:rɪtʰ], [ˈsu:rɪθ]
Native to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey
Region northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, northeastern Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Armenia[1]
Native speakers
587,320 (152,000 in Iraq) or 828,930[citation needed][2]
Dialects Urmian, Iraqi Koine, Tyari, Jilu, Nochiya, Nineveh plain (Chaldean), Barwari, Baz, Gawar
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
  Iraq (Recognized language and a constitutional right to educate in the mother tongue language) [3] [4]
  Kurdistan Region (Recognized educational language of a national minority) [5]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 aii
Glottolog assy1241
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Suret or Sureth (ܣܘܪܝܬ or ܣܘܪܬ[6][2][7] [ˈsu:rɪtʰ], [ˈsu:rɪθ]), also known as Syriac, Assyrian,[8] or Chaldean,[9] is the varieties of Northeastern Neo-Aramaic (NENA) spoken by Christians, primarily the Assyrians and Chaldean Catholics.[10][11][12] The various NENA dialects descend from Old Aramaic, the lingua franca in the later phase of the Assyrian Empire, which slowly displaced the East Semitic Akkadian language beginning around the 10th century BC.[13][14] They have been further heavily influenced by Classical Syriac, the Middle Aramaic dialect of Edessa, after its adoption as an official liturgical language of the Syriac churches, but Suret is not a direct descendant of Classical Syriac.[15]

Suret speakers are native to Upper Mesopotamia, northwestern Iran, southeastern Anatolia and the northeastern Levant, which is a large region stretching from the plain of Urmia in northwestern Iran through to the Erbil, Kirkuk and Duhok regions in northern Iraq, together with the northern regions of Syria and to southcentral and southeastern Turkey.[16] Instability throughout the Middle East over the past century has led to a worldwide diaspora of Suret speakers, with most speakers now living abroad in such places as North and South America, Australia, Europe and Russia.[17] Speakers of Assyrian and Turoyo are ethnic Assyrians and are the descendants of the ancient inhabitants of Mesopotamia.[18][19][20]

SIL distinguishes between Chaldean and Assyrian as varieties of Suret on non-linguistic grounds.[21] Suret is the largest extant Syriac-Aramaic language (828,930 speakers), with Turoyo (103,300 speakers) making up most of the remaining Syriac-Aramaic speakers.[22] Suret is mutually intelligible with some NENA dialects spoken by Jews, especially in the western part of its historical extent.[23] Its mutual intelligibility with Turoyo is partial and asymmetrical, but more significant in written form.[24][25]

Suret is a moderately-inflected, fusional language with a two-gender noun system and rather flexible word order.[25] There is some Akkadian influence on the language.[26] In its native region, speakers may use Iranian, Turkic and Arabic loanwords, while diaspora communities may use loanwords borrowed from the languages of their respective countries. Suret is written from right-to-left and it uses the Madnḥāyā version of the Syriac alphabet.[27][28] Suret, alongside other modern Aramaic languages, is now considered endangered, as newer generation of Assyrians tend to not acquire the full language, mainly due to emigration and acculturation into their new resident countries.[29]


One of the Neirab steles; Aramaic inscriptions found in Neirab, Syria (5th century BC).

Akkadian and Syrian-Aramaic have been in extensive contact since their old periods. Local unwritten Syrian-Aramaic dialects emerged from Imperial Aramaic in Assyria. In around 700 BC, Syrian-Aramaic slowly started to replace Akkadian in Assyria, Babylonia and the Levant. Widespread bilingualism among Assyrian nationals was already present prior to the fall of the Empire.[30] The language transition was achievable because the two languages featured similarities in grammar and vocabulary, and because the 22-lettered Aramaic alphabet was simpler to learn than the Akkadian cuneiform which had over 600 signs.[31] The converging process that took place between Assyrian Akkadian and Aramaic across all aspects of both languages and societies is known as Aramaic-Assyrian symbiosis.[32]

Introduced as the official language of the Assyrian Empire by Tiglath-Pileser III (745–727 BC), it became the language of commerce and trade, the vernacular language of Assyria in the late Iron Age and classical antiquity,[33][34][35] and the lingua franca of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–605 BC), Neo-Babylonian Empire (605–539 BC), the Achaemenid Empire (539–323 BC), the Parthian Empire (247 BC–224 AD) and the Sasanian Empire (224–651 AD). Following the Achaemenid conquest of Assyria under Darius I, the Syrian-Aramaic language was adopted as the "vehicle for written communication between the different regions of the vast empire with its different peoples and languages". After the conquest of Assyria by the Seleucid Empire in the late 4th century BC, Imperial Aramaic gradually lost its status as an imperial language, but continued to flourish alongside Ancient Greek.[36]

An 11th-century Classical Syriac manuscript, written in Serto script.

By the 1st century AD, Akkadian was extinct, though vocabulary and grammatical features still survive in modern NENA dialects.[37] The Neo-Aramaic languages evolved from Middle Syrian-Aramaic by the 13th century.[38][39] There is evidence that the drive for the adoption of Syriac was led by missionaries. Much literary effort was put into the production of an authoritative translation of the Bible into Syriac, the Peshitta (ܦܫܝܛܬܐ, Pšīṭtā). At the same time, Ephrem the Syrian was producing the most treasured collection of poetry and theology in the Classical Syriac language.

By the 3rd century AD, churches in Urhay in the kingdom of Osroene began to use Classical Syriac as the language of worship and it became the literary and liturgical language of many churches in the Fertile Crescent. Syriac was the common tongue of the region, where it was the native language of the Fertile Crescent, surrounding areas, as well as in parts of Eastern Arabia. It was the dominant language until 900 AD, till it was supplanted by Greek and later Arabic in a centuries-long process having begun in the Arab conquests.[40]

An 18th-century gospel Book from the Urmia region of Iran.

The differences with the Church of the East led to the bitter Nestorian schism in the Syriac-speaking world. As a result of the schism as well as being split between living in the Byzantine Empire in the west and the Sasanian Empire in the east, Syrian-Aramaic developed distinctive Western and Eastern varieties. Although remaining a single language with a high level of comprehension between the varieties, the two employ distinctive variations in pronunciation and writing systems and, to a lesser degree, in vocabulary and grammar. During the course of the third and fourth centuries AD, the inhabitants of the region began to embrace Christianity. Because of theological differences, Syriac-speaking Christians bifurcated during the 5th century into the Church of the East, or East Syrians under Sasanian rule, and the Syriac Orthodox, or West Syrians under the Byzantine empire. After this separation, the two groups developed distinct dialects differing primarily in the pronunciation and written symbolisation of vowels.[13][14]

The distribution of the Syriac language in the Middle East and Asia
Post 2010, in Iraq, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic is mainly spoken in the Nineveh Plains and the cities around Mosul, Duhok, Erbil and Kirkuk (magenta).

The Mongol invasions of the 13th century and the religiously motivated massacres of Assyrians by Tamurlane further contributed to the rapid decline of the language. In many places outside of northern Mesopotamia (the Assyrian homeland), even in liturgy, the language was replaced by Arabic.[41] "Modern Syriac Aramaic" is a term occasionally used to refer to the modern Neo-Aramaic languages spoken by Christians, including Suret. Even if they cannot be positively identified as the direct descendants of attested Middle Syriac, they must have developed from closely related dialects belonging to the same branch of Aramaic, and the varieties spoken in Christian communities have long co-existed with and been influenced by Middle Syriac as a liturgical and literary language. Moreover, the name "Syriac", when used with no qualification, generally refers to one specific dialect of Middle Aramaic but not to Old Aramaic or to the various present-day Eastern and Central Neo-Aramaic languages descended from it or from close relatives.[42]

In 2004, the Constitution of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region recognised Syriac in article 7, section four, stating, "Syriac shall be the language of education and culture for those who speak it in addition to the Kurdish language."[5] In 2005, the Iraqi constitution recognised it as one of the "official languages in the administrative units in which they constitute density of population" in article 4, section four.[4][3]



Papyrus fragment of the 9th century written in Serto variant. A passage from the Acts of the Apostles is recognizable.

The original Mesopotamian writing system, believed to be the world's oldest, was derived around 3600 BC from this method of keeping accounts. By the end of the 4th millennium BC, the Mesopotamians were using a triangular-shaped stylus made from a reed pressed into soft clay to record numbers.[43] Around 2700 BC, cuneiform began to represent syllables of spoken Sumerian, a language isolate genetically unrelated to the Semitic and Indo-Iranian languages that it neighboured. About that time, Mesopotamian cuneiform became a general purpose writing system for logograms, syllables and numbers. This script was adapted to another Mesopotamian language, the East Semitic Akkadian (Assyrian and Babylonian) around 2600 BC.

With the adoption of Aramaic as the lingua franca of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–609 BC), Old Aramaic was also adapted to Mesopotamian cuneiform. The last cuneiform scripts in Akkadian discovered thus far date from the 1st century AD.[44] Various bronze lion-weights found in Nineveh featured both the Akkadian and Aramaic text etched on them, bearing the names of Assyrian kings, such as Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.C), King Sargon (721-705 B.C) and Sennacherib (704-681 B.C). Indication of contemporaneous existence of the two languages in 4th century B.C. is present in an Aramaic document from Uruk written in cuneiform. In Babylon, Akkadian writing vanished by 140 B.C, with the exclusion of a few priests who used it for religious matters. Though it still continued to be employed for astronomical texts up until the common era.[45]

The Syriac script is a writing system primarily used to write the Syriac language from the 1st century AD.[46] It is one of the Semitic abjads directly descending from the Aramaic alphabet and shares similarities with the Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic and the traditional Mongolian alphabets. The alphabet consists of 22 letters, all of which are consonants. It is a cursive script where some, but not all, letters connect within a word.[47] Aramaic writing has been found as far north as Hadrians Wall in Ancient Britain, in the form of inscriptions in Aramaic, made by Assyrian soldiers serving in the Roman Legions in northern England during the 2nd century AD.[48]

Modern development

Classical Syriac written in Madnhāyā script. Thrissur, India, 1799.

The oldest and classical form of the alphabet is ʾEsṭrangēlā (ܐܣܛܪܢܓܠܐ); the name is thought to derive from the Greek adjective στρογγύλη (strongúlē) 'round'.[49][50] Although ʾEsṭrangēlā is no longer used as the main script for writing Syriac, it has undergone some revival since the 10th century.

When Arabic gradually began to be the dominant spoken language in the Fertile Crescent after the 7th century AD, texts were often written in Arabic with the Syriac script. Malayalam was also written with Syriac script and was called Suriyani Malayalam. Such non-Syriac languages written in Syriac script are called Garshuni or Karshuni.

The Madnhāyā, or 'eastern', version formed as a form of shorthand developed from ʾEsṭrangēlā and progressed further as handwriting patterns changed. The Madnhāyā version also possesses optional vowel markings to help pronounce Syriac. Other names for the script include Swāḏāyā, 'conversational', often translated as "contemporary", reflecting its use in writing modern Neo-Aramaic.


ܐ    ܒ    ܓ    ܕ    ܗ    ܘ
ܙ    ܚ    ܛ    ܝ    ܟܟ    ܠ
ܡܡ    ܢܢ    ܣ    ܥ    ܦ
ܨ    ܩ    ܪ    ܫ    ܬ

Three letters act as matres lectionis: rather than being a consonant, they indicate a vowel. ʾĀlep̄ (ܐ), the first letter, represents a glottal stop, but it can also indicate the presence of certain vowels (typically at the beginning or the end of a word, but also in the middle). The letter Waw (ܘ) is the consonant w, but can also represent the vowels o and u. Likewise, the letter Yōḏ (ܝ) represents the consonant y, but it also stands for the vowels i and e. In addition to foreign sounds, a marking system is used to distinguish qūššāyā, 'hard' letters) from rūkkāḵā, 'soft' letters). The letters Bēṯ, Gāmal, Dālaṯ, Kāp̄, and Taw, all plosives ('hard'), are able to be spirantised into fricatives ('soft').

The system involves placing a single dot underneath the letter to give its 'soft' variant and a dot above the letter to give its 'hard' variant (though, in modern usage, no mark at all is usually used to indicate the 'hard' value).

Latin alphabet

In the 1930s, following the state policy for minority languages of the Soviet Union, a Latin alphabet was developed and some material published.[51][52] Despite the fact that this innovation did not displace the Syriac script, the usage of the Latin script in the Assyrian community has become rather widespread due to the Assyrian diaspora's predominant settlement in Europe and the Anglophone world, where the Latin script dominates.[53] The Latin alphabet is preferred by most Assyrians for practical reasons and its convenience, especially in social media, where it is used to communicate. Although the Syriac Latin alphabet contains diacritics, most Assyrians rarely utilise the modified letters and would conveniently rely on the basic Latin alphabet. The Latin alphabet is also a useful tool to present Assyrian terminology to anyone who is not familiar with the Syriac script. A precise transcription may not be necessary for native Suret speakers, as they would be able to pronounce words correctly, but it can be very helpful for those not quite familiar with Syriac and more informed with the Latin script.[54]




  • In all NENA dialects, voiced, voiceless, aspirated and emphatic consonants are recognised as distinct phonemes, though there can be an overlap between plain voiceless and voiceless emphatic in sound quality.[58][59][60][57][page needed][61][page needed]
  • In Iraqi Koine and many Urmian & Northern dialects, the palatals [c], [ɟ] and aspirate [] are considered the predominate realisation of /k/, /g/ and aspirate //.[57][page needed][62][59]
  • In the Koine and Urmi dialects, velar fricatives /x ɣ/ are typically uvular as [χ ʁ].[57][63]
  • The phoneme /ħ/ is only used by Suret speakers under larger Arabic influence. In most dialects, it is realised as [x]. The one exception to this is the dialect of Hértevin, which merged the two historical phonemes into [ħ], thus lacking [x] instead.[64]
  • The pharyngeal /ʕ/, represented by the letter 'e, is a marginal phoneme that is generally upheld in formal or religious speech. Among the majority of Suret speakers, 'e would be realised as [aɪ̯], [eɪ̯], [ɛ], [j], deleted, or even geminating the previous consonant, depending on the dialect and phonological context.
  • /r/ may also be heard as a tap sound [ɾ].[57]
  • /f/ is a phoneme heard in the Tyari, Barwari and Chaldean dialects. In most of the other varieties, it merges with /p/,[65] though [f] is found in loanwords.
  • The phonemes /t/ and /d/ have allophonic realisations of [θ] and [ð] (respectively) in most Lower Tyari, Barwari and Chaldean dialects, which is a carryover of begadkefat from the Ancient Aramaic period.
  • In the Upper Tyari dialects, /θ/ is realised as [ʃ] or [t]; in the Marga dialect, the /t/ may at times be replaced with [s].
  • In the Urmian dialect, /w/ has a widespread allophone [ʋ] (it may vacillate to [v] for some speakers).[66]
  • In the Jilu dialect, /q/ is uttered as a tense [k]. This can also occur in other dialects.[60][59]
  • In the Iraqi Koine dialect, a labial-palatal approximant sound [ɥ] is also heard.[67][57]
  • /ɡ/ is affricated, thus pronounced as [d͡ʒ] in some Urmian, Tyari and Nochiya dialects.[68] /k/ would be affricated to [t͡ʃ] in the same process.
  • /ɣ/ is a marginal phoneme that occurs across all dialects. Either a result of the historic splitting of /g/, through loanwords, or by contact of [x] with a voiced consonant.
  • /ʒ/ is found predominately from loanwords, but, in some dialects, also from the voicing of /ʃ/[60] (e.g. ḥašbunā /xaʒbu:na:/, "counting", from the root ḥ-š-b, "to count") as in the Jilu dialect.
  • /n/ can be pronounced [ŋ] before velar consonants [x] and [q] and as [m] before labial consonants.[56]
  • In some speakers, a dental click (English "tsk") may be used para-linguistically as a negative response to a "yes or no" question. This feature is more common among those who still live in the homeland or in the Middle East, than those living in the diaspora.


The vowel phonemes of Iraqi Koine

According to linguist Edward Odisho, there are six vowel phonemes in Iraqi Koine.[69] They are as follows:

Front Central Back
Close /i/ /u/
Half-close /ɪ/
Half-open /e/ /o/
Open /a/
  • /a/, as commonly uttered in words like naša ("man; human"), is central [ä] for many speakers. It is usually [a] in the Urmian and Nochiya dialects. For some Urmian and Jilu speakers, [æ] may be used instead. In those having a more pronounced Jilu dialect, this vowel is mostly fronted and raised to [ɛ]. In the Tyari and Barwari dialects, it is usually more back [ɑ].[58]
  • /ɑ/, a long vowel, as heard in raba ("much; many"), may also be realised as [ɒ], depending on the speaker. It is more rounded and higher in the Urmian dialect, where it is realised as [ɔ].[citation needed]
  • /e/, heard in beta ("house") is generally diphthongised to [eɪ̯] in the Halmon dialect (a Lower Tyari tribe). To note, the [aj] diphthong is a vestigial trait of classical Syriac and thereby may be used in formal speech as well, such as in liturgy and hymns.[70]
  • /ɪ/, uttered in words like dədwa ("housefly"), is sometimes realised as [ə] (a schwa).
  • The mid vowels, preserved in Tyari, Barwari, Baz and Chaldean dialects, are sometimes raised and merged with close vowels in Urmian and some other dialects:
    • /o/, as in gora ("big"), is raised to [u]. The Urmian dialect may diphthongise it to [ʊj].
    • /e/, as in kepa ("rock"), is raised to [i].
  • /o/, as in tora ("bull") may be diphthongised to [ɑw] in some Tyari, Barwari, Chaldean and Jilu dialects.
  • Across many dialects, close and close-mid vowels are lax when they occur in a closed syllable:
    • /u/ or /o/ is usually realised as [ʊ];
    • /i/ or /e/ is usually realised as [ɪ].

East Syriac dialects may recognize half-close sounds as [ɛ] and also recognize the back vowel [ɒ] as a long form of /a/.[71]

Two basic diphthongs exist, namely /aj/ and /aw/. For some words, many dialects have monophthongised them to [e] and [o] respectively. For substantives, A common vowel alteration is apophonically shifting the final -a to -e, so ṭera ('bird') will be ṭere ('birds') in its plural form.[citation needed]

Phonetics of Iraqi Koine

Iraqi Koine is a merged dialect which formed in the mid-20th century, being influenced by both Urmian and Hakkari dialects.

  • Iraqi Koine, like the majority of the Suret dialects, realises /w/ as [w] instead of [ʋ].
  • Iraqi Koine generally realises the interdental fricatives /θ/, /ð/ in words like maa ("village") and rqaa ("dancing") as alveolar stops [t], [d] respectively.
  • Dorsal fricatives /x ɣ/ are heard as uvular as [χ ʁ].
  • Predominantly, /q/ in words like qalama ("pen") does not merge with /k/.
  • The diphthong /aw/ in words like tawra ("bull"), as heard in most of Hakkari dialects, are realised as [o]: tora.[72]
  • The [ʊj] diphthong in zuyze ("money") is retained as [u]: zuze.[35]
  • Depending on the speaker, the velar stops /k/ and /ɡ/ may be affricated as [t͡ʃ] and [d͡ʒ] respectively.
  • The [t͡ʃ] in some present progressive verbs like či'axla ("[she] eats") is retained as [k]: ki'axla.

Phonetics of Chaldean-Neo-Aramaic

Table of Chaldean Neo-Aramaic consonant phonemes
Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
plain emph.
Nasal m n
Plosive p b t d k ɡ q ʔ
Fricative sibilant s z ʃ ʒ
non-sibilant f v θ ð ðˤ x ɣ ħ ʕ h
Approximant w l ɫ j
Rhotic r
  • The Chaldean dialects are generally characterised by the presence of the fricatives /θ/ (th) and /ð/ (dh) which correspond to /t/ and /d/, respectively, in other Assyrian dialects (excluding the Tyari dialect). However, the standard or educational form of Chaldean would realize the consonants /θ/ and /ð/ as /tˤ/.
  • Most Chaldean Neo-Aramaic varieties would use the phoneme of /f/, which corresponds to /p/ in most of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic dialects (excluding the Tyari dialect).
  • In some Chaldean dialects /r/ is realized as [ɹ]. In others, it is either a tap [ɾ] or a trill [r].
  • Unlike in Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, the guttural sounds of [ʕ] and [ħ] are used predominantly in Chaldean varieties; this is a feature also seen in other Northeastern Neo-Aramaic languages.[73][74]


NENA is a null-subject language with both ergative morphology and a nominative-accusative system,[75] and also features pronoun drop to a significant degree. Like English and modern Hebrew, Suret largely lacks grammatical cases, with prepositions and prepositional prefixes largely taking on the role cases would otherwise. The Semitic genitive, which a noun is possessed or modified by another noun or noun phrase, is expressed morphologically by the genitive morpheme d- (e.g. betā d-nāšā, 'house of the man' or 'the man's house'), indicating possession.[citation needed]

Gemination occurs in the language, as heard in words like libbā ("heart") and šmayyā ("sky"). Even though subject–verb–object (SVO) is the default sentence structure of Syriac, subject–object–verb (SOV), verb–subject–object (VSO), verb–object–subject (VOS), object–verb–subject (OVS) and object–subject–verb (OSV) are also possible word orders, namely due to inversion taking place, thus making Suret a flexible language, akin to Latin and Greek.[citation needed]

Due to language contact, Suret may share similar grammatical features with Persian and Kurdish in the way they employ the negative copula in its full form before the verbal constituent and also with the negated forms of the present perfect.[76] As a central Semitic language, NENA is related to Hebrew, Arabic, Western Neo-Aramaic and Mandaic and bears a relatively similar grammatical style to these languages.[citation needed]

Personal pronouns

In Suret, personal pronouns have seven forms. In singular forms, the 2nd and 3rd have separate masculine and feminine forms, while the 1st (and, in some dialects, the 2nd person subject pronoun) do(es) not. The plural forms also lack gender distinction.[citation needed]

Personal pronouns
number person subject pronoun object pronoun
singular 1st person ānā ("I") li ("me")
2nd person (masc.) āt, āti or āten ("you," ["thou"]) lux ("you," ["thee"])
2nd person (fem.) āti or āten ("you," ["thou"]) lex or lāx ("you," ["thee"])
3rd person (masc.) āw ("he") leh ("him")
3rd person (fem.) āy ("she") lāh ("her")
plural 1st person axnan or axni ("we") lan ("us")
2nd person axtun or axtoxun ("you [pl.]", ["ye"]) loxun ("you [pl.]", ["ye"])
3rd person āni ("they") lhon or lehe ("them")

Like all Semitic languages and the unrelated Insular Celtic languages, Suret uses inflected prepositions when it comes to personal pronouns – the preposition āl ("on") inflects as ālli ("on me").[citation needed]


Nouns carry grammatical gender (masculine or feminine). They can be either singular or plural in number (a very few can be dual, a vestigial trait of Old Aramaic). Almost all singular substantives (common nouns and adjectives) are suffixed with in their lemma form, the main exception being foreign words, which do not always take the suffix. The three grammatical states present in Classical Syriac are no longer productive, only being used in a few set terms and phrases (for example, ܒܲܪ ܐ݇ܢܵܫܵܐ, bar nāšā, "man, person", literally "son of man"), with the emphatic state becoming the ordinary form of the noun. Adjectives always agree in gender and number with the nouns that they modify.[citation needed]

In Suret, most genitive relationships are built using the relative particle d-, used in the same way as English "of" (e.g. ܢܘܼܗܪܵܐ ܕܫܸܡܫܵܐ, nuhrā d-šimšā, "the light of the sun"). Though written as a prefix on the noun in the genitive, the modern spoken form occurs as a suffix on the head, with some dialects displaying final-obstruent devoicing (e.g. nuhr-id šimšā or nuhr-it šimšā).[citation needed]


Finite verbs carry person, gender and number, as well as tense and conjugation. The non-finite verb forms are the gerund and the active and passive participles. Verb forms are marked for person (first, second or third), number (singular or plural), gender (masculine or feminine), mood (indicative, imperative, jussive or gerund) and voice (active or passive).[citation needed]

Suret employs a system of conjugations to mark intensive and extensive developments in the lexical meaning of verbs. Verb conjugations are present in other Semitic languages. These are regular modifications of the verb's root to express other changes in meaning. The first conjugation is the 'ground' stem (a.k.a. G-stem or Peal stem), which models the shape of the root and carries the usual meaning of the word. The next is the 'intensive' stem (a.k.a. D-stem or Pael stem), which usually carries an intensified meaning. The third is the 'extensive' stem (a.k.a. C-stem or Aphel stem), which is often causative in meaning. Although Classical Syriac has a coordinate passive conjugation for each stem (Ethpeel, Ethpaal and Ettaphel stems, respectively), Suret does not. Instead, passive meanings are sometimes expressed through the Peal; agentive ones, through the Aphel. The following table illustrates the possible verbal conjugations of the root ṣ-l-y (ܨ-ܠ-ܝ), which carries the basic meaning of "descending":[citation needed]

Stem Verb (masc. active participle) English
Syriac script Transcription
Peal ܨܵܠܹܐ ṣālē "he goes down"
Pael ܡܨܲܠܹܐ mṣālē (classically, mṣallē) "he prostrates; prays"
Aphel ܡܲܨܠܹܐ maṣlē "he brings down; makes go down"

The particle [h]wā (ܗ݇ܘܵܐ) may follow verbal forms to indicate an action further in the past (e.g. ܨܵܠܹܐ ܗ݇ܘܵܐ, ṣālē [h]wā, "he used to go down").[citation needed]

Suret may also negate clauses by using double negatives, such as in the phrase le yawin la zuze ("I won't give no money"). Common negation words include la, hič and čuh, depending on usage and dialect.[citation needed]

Verbal stems [77]
Aspect Stem
Imperative ptux ("open!")
Indicative patx- ( + k- / ki- present, bit- future, qam- past, transitive, definite object) ("opens")
Perfect ptix- (perfect participle, f. ptixta, m. ptixa, pl. ptixe) ("opened")
Gerund (bi-)ptaxa ("opening")


Suret uses verbal inflections marking person and number. The suffix "-e" indicates a (usually masculine) plural (i.e. warda, "flower", becomes warde, "flowers"). Enclitic forms of personal pronouns are affixed to various parts of speech. As with the object pronoun, possessive pronouns are suffixes that are attached to the end of nouns to express possession similar to the English pronouns my, your, his, her, etc., which reflects the gender and plurality of the person or persons.[78] This is a synthetic feature found in other Semitic languages and also in unrelated languages such as Finnish (Uralic), Persian (Indo-European) and Turkish (Turkic). Moreover, unlike many other languages, Suret has virtually no means of deriving words by adding prefixes or suffixes to words. Instead, they are formed according to a limited number of templates applied to roots.[79] Modern Assyrian, like Akkadian but unlike Arabic, has only "sound" plurals formed by means of a plural ending (i.e. no broken plurals formed by changing the word stem). As in all Semitic languages, some masculine nouns take the prototypically feminine plural ending (-tā).[citation needed]

Iraqi Koine possessive suffixes
person singular plural
1st person betī (my house) betan (our house)
2nd person (masc.) betux (your house) betōxun (your house)
2nd person (fem.) betax (your house)
3rd person (masc.) betū (his house) betéh (their house)
3rd person (fem.) betō (her house)

Although possessive suffixes are more convenient and common, they can be optional for some people and seldom used, especially among those with the Tyari and Barwari dialects, which take a more analytic approach regarding possession, just like English possessive determiners. The following are periphrastic ways to express possession, using the word betā ("house") as a base (in Urmian/Iraqi Koine):

  • my house: betā-it dīyī ("house-of mine")
  • your (masc., sing.) house: betā-it dīyux ("house-of yours")
  • your (fem., sing.) house: betā-it dīyax ("house-of yours")
  • your (plural) house: betā-it dīyōxun ("house-of yours")
  • 3rd person (masc., sing.): betā-it dīyū ("house-of his")
  • 3rd person (fem., sing.): betā-it dīyō ("house-of hers")
  • 3rd person (plural): betā-it dīyéh ("house-of theirs")

Like English, Suret is a stress-timed language, although some dialects may be more syllable-timed. An example of stress timing is noticeable in the word "qat", an adverb clause conjunction which translates to "so that" – The 'a' sound in "qat" is unstressed and thus would turn into a schwa if one would place the stress in the next word of the sentence, so; "mīri qat āzekh" becomes "mīri qət āzekh" ("I said that we go"). In native words, Suret almost always stresses the penultimate syllable.[citation needed]

Although Suret, like all Semitic languages, is not a tonal language, a tonal stress is made on a plural possessive suffix -éh (i.e. dīyéh; "their") in the final vowel to tonally differentiate it from an unstressed -eh (i.e. dīyeh; "his"), which is a masculine singular possessive, with a standard stress pattern falling on the penult. The -eh used to denote a singular third person masculine possessive (e.g. bābeh, "his father"; aqleh, "his leg") is present in most of the traditional dialects in Hakkari and Nineveh Plains, but not for Urmian and some Iraqi Koine speakers, who instead use -ū for possessive "his" (e.g. bābū, "his father"; aqlū, "his leg"), whilst retaining the stress in -éh for "their".[79]

This phenomenon however may not always be present, as some Hakkari speakers, especially those from Tyari and Barwar, would use analytic speech to denote possession. So, for instance, bābeh (literally, "father-his") would be uttered as bābā-id dīyeh (literally, "father-of his"). In Iraqi Koine and Urmian, the plural form and the third person plural possessive suffix of many words, such as wardeh and biyyeh ("flowers"/"eggs" and "their flower(s)"/"their eggs", respectively), would be homophones were it not for the varying, distinctive stress on the penult or ultima.[80]


When it comes to a determinative (like in English this, a, the, few, any, which, etc.), Suret generally has an absence of an article (English "the"), unlike other Semitic languages such as Arabic, which does use a definite article (Arabic: ال‎, al-). Demonstratives (āhā, āy/āw and ayyāhā/awwāhā translating to "this", "that" and "that one over there", respectively, demonstrating proximal, medial and distal deixis) are commonly utilised instead (e.g. āhā betā, "this house"), which can have the sense of "the". An indefinite article ("a(n)") can mark definiteness if the word is a direct object (but not a subject) by using the prepositional prefix "l-" paired with the proper suffix (e.g. šāqil qālāmā, "he takes a pen" vs. šāqil-lāh qālāmā, "he takes the pen"). Partitive articles may be used in some speech (e.g. bayyīton xačča miyyā?, which translates to "do you [pl.] want some water?").[81]

In place of a definite article, Ancient Aramaic used the emphatic state, formed by the addition of the suffix: "" for generally masculine words and "-t(h)ā" (if the word already ends in ) for feminine. The definite forms were pallāxā for "the (male) worker" and pallāxtā for "the (female) worker". Beginning even in the Classical Syriac era, when the prefixed preposition "d-" came into more popular use and replaced state Morphology for marking possession, the emphatic (definite) form of the word became dominant and the definite sense of the word merged with the indefinite sense so that pālāxā became "a/the (male) worker" and pālaxtā became "a/the (female) worker."

Consonantal root

Most NENA nouns and verbs are built from triconsonantal roots, which are a form of word formation in which the root is modified and which does not involve stringing morphemes together sequentially. Unlike Arabic, broken plurals are not present. Semitic languages typically utilise triconsonantal roots, forming a "grid" into which vowels may be inserted without affecting the basic root.[82][page needed]

The root š-q-l (ܫ-ܩ-ܠ) has the basic meaning of "taking", and the following are some words that can be formed from this root:

  • šqil-leh (ܫܩܝܼܠ ܠܹܗ): "he has taken" (literally "taken-by him")
  • šāqil (ܫܵܩܸܠ): "he takes"
  • šāqlā (ܫܵܩܠܵܐ): "she takes"
  • šqul (ܫܩܘܿܠ): "take!"
  • šqālā (ܫܩܵܠܵܐ): "taking"
  • šqīlā (ܫܩܝܼܠܵܐ): "taken"


Suret has lost the perfect and imperfect morphological tenses common in other Semitic languages. The present tense is usually marked with the subject pronoun followed by the participle; however, such pronouns are usually omitted in the case of the third person. This use of the participle to mark the present tense is the most common of a number of compound tenses that can be used to express varying senses of tense and aspect.[83][page needed] Suret's new system of inflection is claimed to resemble the one of the Indo-European languages, namely the Iranian languages. This assertion is founded on the utilisation of an active participle concerted with a copula and a passive participle with a genitive/dative element which is present in Old Persian and in Neo-Aramaic.[84]

Both Modern Persian and Suret build the present perfect tense around the past/resultative participle in conjunct with the copula (though the placing and form of the copula unveil crucial differences). The more conservative Suret dialects lay the copula in its full shape before the verbal constituent. In the Iraqi and Iranian dialects, the previous construction is addressable with different types of the copula (e.g. deictic) but with the elemental copula only the cliticised form is permitted. Among conservative Urmian speakers, only the construction with the enclitic ordered after the verbal constituent is allowed. Due to language contact, the similarities between Kurdish and Modern Persian and the Urmian dialects become even more evident with their negated forms of present perfect, where they display close similarities.[85]

A recent feature of Suret is the usage of the infinitive instead of the present base for the expression of the present progressive, which is also united with the copula. Although the language has some other varieties of the copula precedent to the verbal constituent, the common construction is with the infinitive and the basic copula cliticsed to it. In the Jewish Neo-Aramaic dialect of Urmia, the symmetrical order of the constituents is with the present perfect tense. This structure of the NENA dialects is to be compared with the present progressive in Kurdish and Turkish as well, where the enclitic follows the infinitive. Such construction is present in Kurdish, where it is frequently combined with the locative element "in, with", which is akin to the preposition bi- preceding the infinitive in Suret (as in "bi-ktawen" meaning 'I'm writing'). The similarities of the constituents and their alignment in the present progressive construction in Suret is clearly attributed to influence from the neighbouring languages, such as the use of the infinitive for this construction and the employment of the enclitic copula after the verbal base in all verbal constructions, which is due to the impinging of the Kurdish and Turkish speech.[86]

The morphology and the valency of the verb, and the arrangement of the grammatical roles should be noticed when it comes to the similarities with Kurdish. Unlike Old Persian, Modern Persian made no distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs, where it unspecialised the absolutive type of inflection. Different handling of inflection with transitive and intransitive verbs is also nonexistent in the NENA dialects. In contrast with Persian though, it was the ergative type that was generalised in NENA.[87][88]

Persian and Suret verb tense comparison
Language Transitive verb Intransitive verb Gloss
Modern Persian košte-am
'I killed', 'I arrived'
Suret[clarification needed] qṭǝl-li
'I killed', 'I went to sleep'


Although Aramaic has been a nominative-accusative language historically, split ergativity in Christian and Jewish Neo-Aramaic languages developed through interaction with ergative Iranian languages, such as Kurdish, which is spoken by the Muslim population of the region.[89] Ergativity formed in the perfective aspect only (the imperfective aspect is nominative-accusative), whereas the subject, the original agent construction of the passive participle, was expressed as an oblique with dative case, and is presented by verb-agreement rather than case. The absolutive argument in transitive clauses is the syntactic object.[90][91] The dialects of Kurdish make a concordant distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs by using a tense-split ergative pattern, which is present in the tense system of some NENA dialects; The nominative accusative type is made use of in the present for all the verbs and also for intransitive verbs in past tense and the ergative type is used instead for transitive verbs.[92]

Unique among the Semitic languages, the development of ergativity in northeastern Neo-Aramaic dialects involved the departure of original Aramaic tensed finite verbal forms.[93] Thereafter, the active participle became the root of the Suret imperfective, while the passive participle evolved into the Suret perfective.[94][page needed] The Extended-Ergative dialects, which include Iraqi Koine, Hakkari and Christian Urmian dialects, show the lowest state of ergativity and would mark unaccusative subjects and intransitive verbs in an ergative pattern.[95]

Ergativity patterns
Perfective stem Split-S
(Jewish Sulemaniyya)
(Jewish Urmi)
(Christian Hakkari dialects)
he opened it pləx-∅-le
it opened plix-∅
it got cut qəṭe-∅
it was ruined xrəw-∅-le


One online Suret dictionary, Sureth Dictionary, lists a total 40,642 words–half of which are root words.[96] Due to geographical proximity,[97] Suret has an extensive number of Iranian loanwords–namely Persian and Kurdish–incorporated in its vocabulary, as well as some Arabic, Ottoman Turkish and, increasingly within the last century, English loanwords. Mesopotamian Iraqi Arabic, being an Aramaic Syriac substratum, is said to be the most Syriac-influenced dialect of Arabic,[98][99] sharing significant similarities in language structure, as well as having evident and stark influences from other ancient Mesopotamian languages of Iraq, such as Akkadian, Babylonian and Sumerian.[26][98] Mesopotamian Arabic dialects developed by Iraqi Muslims, Iraqi Jews, as well as dialects by Iraqi Christians, most of whom are native NENA speakers.[citation needed] Suret has over 300 words borrowed into its vocabulary directly from Akkadian, some of them also being borrowed into neighbouring Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew. Several of these words are not attested in Classical Edessan Syriac, many of them being agricultural terms, being more likely to survive by being spoken in agrarian rural communities rather than the urban centres like Edessa.[26] A few deviations in pronunciation between the Akkadian and the Assyrian Aramaic words are probably due to mistranslations of cuneiform signs which can have several readings. While Akkadian nouns generally end in "-u" in the nominative case, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic words nouns end with the vowel "-a" in their lemma form.[100]

Akkadian and Suret vocabulary [N 1]
Akkadian Suret Modern meaning Notes
Cuneiform Transliteration
𒌉𒌉𒇲 daqqu daiqa very small, tiny
𒂊𒄈𒌅 egirtu iggarṯa letter, epistle Also borrowed into Hebrew ʾiggéreṯ (אִגֶּרֶת).
elulu ullul up, upwards
𒋓 išku iškā[citation needed] testicle Cognate with Hebrew ʾéšeḵ (אֶשֶׁךְ).
gappu gulpa wing
gir-ba-an-nu qurbana offering, sacrifice
𒄀𒅆𒅕𒊑 gišru gišra bridge Also borrowed into Classical Syriac gešrā (ܓܫܪܐ), Arabic ǧisr (جِسْر), Hebrew géšer (גֶּשֶׁר).
hadutu ḥḏuṯa joy, happiness
ittimalu timmal yesterday
𒌆𒁇𒌆 kusītu kosiṯa hat, headgear
kutallu qḏala neck
𒈛 massu'u, mesû msaya to clean, wash clothes
𒆳 mātu maṯa village; homeland
migru myuqra favourite, honourable
𒈦𒂗𒆕 muškēnu miskena poor, impoverished
𒇽𒉽 nakru naḵraya foreign(er), outlandish Compare Classical Syriac nūḵrāyā (ܢܘܟܪܝܐ), Hebrew noḵrî (נָכְרִי).
napahu npaḥa blow, exhale
𒉈𒋢𒌒 našāgu nšaqa to kiss
𒄩 nunu nuna fish
paraku praḥa to fly, glide
𒋻 parāsu praša to separate, part
𒀭𒁇 parzillu prezla iron, metal
𒁔 pašāru pšara to melt, dissolve
qurbu qurba nearby
𒃲 rabû ra(b)ba large, great (in quality or quantity)
𒋤 rêqu reḥqa far, distant
sananu sanyana hater, rival
𒄑𒃴 simmiltu si(m)malta, si(m)manta ladder Borrowed into Classical Syriac as sebbelṯā (ܣܒܠܬܐ).
sissu susa horse Compare Hebrew sûs (סוּס).
𒊭𒁀𒁉𒅎 ša bābi šḇaḇa neighbour
𒂄 šahānu šḥana to warm, heat up
𒇽𒁁 šalamtu šla(d)da body, corpse
𒌑 šammu samma drug, poison
šuptu šopa place, spot
𒄭 ṭābu ṭaḇa good, pleasant
tapahu tpaḥa to pour out, spill
tayartu dyara to return, come back
temuru ṭmara to bury
𒂡 zamāru zmara to sing
𒍪𒊻 zuzu zuze money Also borrowed into Hebrew zûz (זוּז) via Aramaic.


Map of the Assyrian dialects.

SIL Ethnologue distinguishes five dialect groups: Urmian, Northern, Central, Western and Sapna, each with sub-dialects. Mutual intelligibility between the Suret dialects is as high as 80%–90%.[citation needed]

The Urmia dialect has become the prestige dialect of Suret after 1836, when that dialect was chosen by Justin Perkins, an American Presbyterian missionary, for the creation of a standard literary dialect. A second standard dialect derived from General Urmian known as "Iraqi Koine", developed in the 20th century.[101]

In 1852, Perkins's translation of the Bible into General Urmian was published by the American Bible Society with a parallel text of the Classical Syriac Peshitta.[102][103]


Sample of the Urmian dialect. Note the Persian and Azerbaijani influences on cadence and pronunciation, [104] particularly the use of [v], [ʊj] and the frequency of [t͡ʃ].

Iraqi Koine

Sample of the Iraqi Koine dialect (voice by Linda George). Notice how it combines the phonetic features of the Hakkari (Turkey) and Urmian (Iran) dialects.

Iraqi Koine, also known as Iraqi Assyrian and "Standard" Assyrian, is a compromise between the rural Ashiret accents of Hakkari and Nineveh Plains (listed above) and the former prestigious dialect in Urmia. Iraqi Koine does not really constitute a new dialect, but an incomplete merger of dialects, with some speakers sounding more Urmian, such as those from Habbaniya, and others more Hakkarian, such as those who immigrated from northern Iraq. Koine is more analogous or similar to Urmian in terms of manner of articulation, place of articulation and its consonant cluster formations than it is to the Hakkari dialects, though it just lacks the regional Farsi influence in some consonants and vowels, as the front vowels in Urmian tend to be more fronted and the back ones more rounded.[105] For an English accent equivalence, the difference between Iraqi Koine and Urmian dialect would be akin to the difference between Australian and New Zealand English.[69]

During the First World War, many Assyrians living in Ottoman Turkey were forced from their homes, and many of their descendants now live in Iraq. The relocation has led to the creation of this dialect. Iraqi Koine was developed in the urban areas of Iraq (i.e. Baghdad, Basra, Habbaniya and Kirkuk), which became the meccas for the rural Assyrian population. By the end of the 1950s, vast number of Assyrians started to speak Iraqi Koine. Today, Iraqi Koine is the predominant use of communication between the majority of the Assyrians from Iraqi cities and it is also used as the standard dialect in music and formal speech.[69]

Some modern Hakkari speakers from Iraq can switch back and forth from their Hakkari dialects to Iraqi Koine when conversing with Assyrian speakers of other dialects. Some Syrian-Assyrians, who originate from Hakkari, may also speak or sing in Iraqi Koine. This is attributed to the growing exposure to Assyrian Standard-based literature, media and its use as a liturgical language by the Church of the East, which is based in Iraq. Elements of original Ashiret dialects can still be observed in Iraqi Koine, especially in that of older speakers. Furthermore, Assyrian songs are generally sung in Iraqi Koine in order for them to be intelligible and have widespread recognition. To note, the emergence of Koine did not signify that the rest of the spoken dialects vanished. The Ashiret dialects are still active today and widely spoken in northern Iraq and Northeastern Syria as some Assyrians remained in the rural areas and the fact that the first generation speakers who relocated in urban areas still maintained their native dialects.[69]

Dialect continuum

Neo-Aramaic has a rather slightly defined dialect continuum, starting from the Assyrians in northern Iraq (e.g. Alqosh, Batnaya) and ending with those in Western Iran (Urmia). The dialects in Northern Iraq, such as those of Alqosh and Batnaya, would be minimally unintelligible to those in Western Iran.[105]

Nearing the Iraqi-Turkey border, the Barwari and Tyari dialects are more "traditionally Assyrian" and would sound like those in the Hakkari province in Turkey. Furthermore, the Barwar and Tyari dialects are "transitional", acquiring both Assyrian and Chaldean phonetic features (though they do not use /ħ/). Gawar, Diz and Jilu are in the "centre" of the spectrum, which lie halfway between Tyari and Urmia, having features of both respective dialects, though still being distinct in their own manner.[69]

In Hakkari, going east (towards Iran), the Nochiya dialect would begin to sound distinct to the Tyari/Barwar dialects and more like the Urmian dialect in Urmia, Western Azerbaijan, containing a few Urmian features. The Urmian dialect, alongside Iraqi Koine, are considered to be "Standard Assyrian", though Iraqi Koine is more widespread and has thus become the more common standard dialect in recent times. Both Koine and Urmian share phonetic characteristics with the Nochiya dialect to some degree.[101]


Early Syriac texts still date to the 2nd century, notably the Syriac Bible and the Diatesseron Gospel harmony. The bulk of Syriac literary production dates to between the 4th and 8th centuries. Classical Syriac literacy survives into the 9th century, though Syriac Christian authors in this period increasingly wrote in Arabic. The emergence of spoken Neo-Aramaic is conventionally dated to the 13th century, but a number of authors continued producing literary works in Syriac in the later medieval period.[106]

Because Assyrian, alongside Turoyo, is the most widely spoken variety of Syriac today, modern Syriac literature would therefore usually be written in those varieties.[107] The conversion of the Mongols to Islam began a period of retreat and hardship for Syriac Christianity and its adherents, although there still has been a continuous stream of Syriac literature in Upper Mesopotamia and the Levant from the 14th century through to the present day. This has included the flourishing of literature from the various colloquial Eastern Aramaic Neo-Aramaic languages still spoken by Assyrians.

This Neo-Syriac literature bears a dual tradition: it continues the traditions of the Syriac literature of the past and it incorporates a converging stream of the less homogeneous spoken language. The first such flourishing of Neo-Syriac was the seventeenth century literature of the School of Alqosh, in northern Iraq.[108] This literature led to the establishment of Assyrian Aramaic as written literary languages.

In the nineteenth century, printing presses were established in Urmia, in northern Iran. This led to the establishment of the 'General Urmian' dialect of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic as the standard in much Neo-Syriac Assyrian literature up until the 20th century. The Urmia Bible, published in 1852 by Justin Perkins was based on the Peshitta, where it included a parallel translation in the Urmian dialect. The comparative ease of modern publishing methods has encouraged other colloquial Neo-Aramaic languages, like Turoyo, to begin to produce literature.[109][110]

See also