Last night’s Foreign Correspndent featured a short report about the Amaraic language of the village of Malula, Syria.

The story goes that Aramaic was the language of Jesus and was spoken in a fairly large region of the Middle East, until the 7th and 8th centuries when Arabic spread with Islam. Aramaic speakers – both Christian and Muslim – were apparently persecuted by Arabic-speaking Muslims and anyone who dared speak Aramaic would have their tongue cut out.

As a result, Aramaic was soon restricted to Malula, and survives today with a community of about 5,000 people, split down the middle into Christian and Muslim, but who live in complete harmony with each other. Even the head of the local Coptic church reckons that the Muslims speak better, more traditional Aramaic than the Christians do.

Aramaic is of course the language made famous recently by Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, except that according to a Malula shepherd, a Muslim who has seen the film a dozen times, the Aramaic is ‘broken’ and they apparently speak too slow1.

The video of the report is up already, so if you have a spare ten minutes and are interested in this language, which sounds fantastic by the way, take a look.

  1. In keeping with the theme of accurate depictions of languages in films, I wonder if anyone knows whether the Mayan language in another of Gibson’s epics, that monstrosity Apocalypto, is at all accurate. I doubt it to be honest, as the film isn’t even consistent as to their location. At one point they’re in Guiana, at another they’re in Yucatec, and later on they’re in Brazil. []