I love this story:
It is the language that Christ spoke, but is regarded as “endangered” with ever fewer scattered groups of native speakers.
But in Oxford, Aramaic has been flourishing again, with a course in the ancient language drawing people from as far afield as Liverpool and London. There are now 56 people learning Aramaic at the university, including three classics professors, solemnly completing their weekly homework tasks and regularly attending the free lunchtime lessons, more than the numbers studying Greek.
Their first lesson might have surprised the writers of the books of David and Ezra in the Bible, and of the Talmud, both originally written in Aramaic: the scholars pored over a transcription of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
Ma, a fellow and tutor at Corpus Christi, took the lessons himself and is beginning to dream in Aramaic. Very dull dreams, he admits. “Mostly verb paradigms (since there’s some rote learning, as with other languages) and once saying to someone, ‘Mindeam la avdeth anah’ … I didn’t do anything.”
And he ruefully quotes a fellow student on mastering a particular vowel sound, “a guttural throat sound not unlike incipient vomiting”.
However, after two lessons he could read in the original the words spoken by Christ on the cross: “My God, my God why did you forsake me.” After eight, he realised to his surprise that he could understand the Aramaic dialogue in Mel Gibson’s 2004 film The Passion of the Christ.
“It was very satisfying, it’s not always like that when you learn a new language,” he said.