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Northeastern Neo-Aramaic

Northeastern Neo-Aramaic
Traditionally spoken northeast to the plain of Urmia in Iran, southeast to the plain of Mosul in Iraq, southwest to Al Hasakah province in Syria and as northwest as Tur Abdin in Turkey. Diaspora speakers in North America and Europe.
Linguistic classification: Afro-Asiatic
Glottolog: nort3241[1]

Northeastern Neo-Aramaic (often abbreviated NENA) is a term used by Semiticists to refer to a large variety of Modern Aramaic languages that were once spoken in a large region stretching from the plain of Urmia, in northwestern Iran, to the plain of Mosul, in northern Iraq.[2]

As of the 1990s, the NENA group had an estimated number of speakers just below 500,000, spread throughout the Middle East and the Assyrian diaspora. More than 90% of these speak either the Assyrian Neo-Aramaic or the Chaldean Neo-Aramaic variety, two varieties of Christian Neo-Aramaic or Sureth which, contrary to what their names suggest, are not divided among denominational Chaldean/Assyrian lines. There are a number of other NENA varieties, but all of them are endangered or near-extinct.[3][4]


The NENA languages contain a large number of loanwords from the extinct East Semitic Akkadian language and also from their surrounding languages: Kurdish, Arabic, Persian, Azerbaijani and Turkish language. These languages are spoken by both Jews and Christians from the area. Each variety of NENA is clearly Jewish or Christian.

However, not all varieties of one or other religious groups are intelligible with all others of the group. Likewise, in some places Jews and Christians from the same locale speak mutually unintelligible varieties of Aramaic, where in other places their language is quite similar. The differences can be explained by the fact that NENA communities were small groups spread over a wide area, and some had to be highly mobile.

The influence of classical Aramaic varieties — Syriac on Christian varieties and Targumic on Jewish communities — gives a dual heritage that further distinguishes language by faith. Many of the Jewish speakers of NENA varieties, the Kurdish Jews, now live in Israel, where Neo-Aramaic is endangered by the dominance of Modern Hebrew. Many Christian NENA speakers, who identify as Assyrian or Chaldean, are in diaspora in North America, Europe, Australia and elsewhere.[5]


Blench (2006) considers Eastern Neo-Aramaic, including Neo-Mandaic, to be a single language, contrasting with Central (Turoyo) and Western Neo-Aramaic.[6] SIL Ethnologue assigns ISO codes to twelve NENA varieties, two of them extinct:


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic".  
  2. ^ Bird, Isabella, Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan, including a summer in the Upper Karun region and a visit to the Nestorian rayahs, London: J. Murray, 1891, vol. ii, pp. 282 and 306
  3. ^ The Nestorians and their Rituals; George Percy Badger.
  4. ^ A Short History of Syriac Christianity; W. Stewart McCullough.
  5. ^ Heinrichs, Wolfhart (ed.) (1990). Studies in Neo-Aramaic. Scholars Press: Atlanta, Georgia. ISBN 1-55540-430-8.
  6. ^ Blench, 2006. The Afro-Asiatic Languages: Classification and Reference List
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