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SYRIAC, SYRIAK. The Syrian language. Once in KJV ’ărāmîth is translated Syriak (Dan.2.4; Aramaic niv), four times Syrian (2Kgs.18.26; Ezra.4.7; Isa.36.11; Aramaic niv). Syriac is Eastern Aramaic, the literary language of the Christian Syrians. Early Syriac versions of the Bible are important for textual study (see TEXTS AND VERSIONS).

A Semitic language belonging to the East Aramaic group. Originally the dialect of Edessa, it was already in use there in pre-Christian times. With the increased stature of Edessa as a center of Christianity, the use of Edessan Syriac spread throughout Mesopotamia. As a literary language it is represented by texts from the second to the thirteenth centuries. By a.d. 800 Syriac had been replaced by Arabic as the language of Mesopotamia, but some Syriac-speaking communities survived, and Neo-Syriac dialects, chiefly of East Syriac, are still spoken in parts of Turkey and Iraq. The name “Karshuni” is given to Arabic texts written in Syriac script. Three distinct Syriac scripts, all of them cursive, were used. The oldest inscriptions and manuscripts are in Estrangelo; following upon the christological disputes and the division of the Syriac-speaking church in the fifth century, two other scripts were adopted by the respective traditions: Nestorian in the East, and Jacobite (or Serta) in the West. Separate systems of vowel notation were also evolved in the latter part of the first millennium a.d., the Jacobite being influenced by the Greek vowel symbols. Syriac literature is almost entirely Christian; much of the literary activity was centered upon the Edessan School of the Persians until its closure, by command of the emperor Zeno, in 489. In addition to the translation of Greek theological treatises, original Syriac works in prose and poetry were composed.

C. Brockelmann, Lexicon Syriacum (1895); P.K. Hitti, History of Syria (1957); T.H. Robinson, Paradigms and Exercises in Syriac Grammar (1962); T. Nöldeke, Kurzgefasste Syrische Grammatik (rep. 1966); J.B. Segal, Edessa "The Blessed City” (1970).