Aramaic and Hebrew: A linguistic comparison

The first part provides some context around Hebrew and Aramaic. The second part contains a linguistic comparison between these languages.

Hebrew and Aramaic: Some context

Hebrew and Aramaic in the Bible

The Hebrew Bible is mostly written in Hebrew, but it also includes parts written in Biblical Aramaic, for instance in the books of Daniel and Ezra.

Though only about 1% of the Hebrew bible is written in Aramaic, those are some important passages.

Hebrew and Aramaic in the Dead Sea Scrolls

Hebrew and Aramaic are also languages used in the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of nearly a thousand manuscripts discovered in caves in the Judaean Desert during the middle of the 20th century.

About 80% of the Dead Sea Scrolls are written in Hebrew, and about 17% of them are written in Aramaic. There are also a few which are written in Greek.

Hebrew and Aramaic in history

The Aramaic language is connected to a historical region named Aram where the Arameans lived. One of the main kingdoms in the region, Aram-Damascus was centered around the city of Damascus which is now the capital of Syria.

When the region of Aram was conquered by the Assyrians around the 8th century BC, resettlements caused the Aramaic language to spread. This led Aramaic to gradually become an international language, spoken in many parts of the near east.

Today, there are still some forms of Aramaic which are spoken in parts of the middle east. But these modern varieties of Aramaic are considered to be endangered languages, because they are not widely spoken.

In contrast, Hebrew (which for a period had become mainly a liturgical language) underwent a revival and is now spoken daily by millions of people in Israel.

Aramaic and Hebrew both belong to the north-western branch of the semitic language family.

The Canaanite shift is the origin of some of the differences between Hebrew and Aramaic

The Canaanite shift is a vowel shift from ā to ō which occurred in Hebrew and other Canaanite languages. Since Aramaic is not a Canaanite language, it was not affected by the Canaanite shift. This resulted in some differences between Hebrew and Aramaic.

Some Patterns in the differences between Hebrew and Aramaic

Pattern 1: Some Hebrew words have the letter Zayin (ז) where the corresponding Aramaic word has the letter Dalet (ד).

One pattern in the differences between Hebrew and Aramaic is a sound change where a Hebrew word may have the letter Zayin (ז) whereas the corresponding Aramaic word may have the letter Dalet (ד) instead.

For example:

Pattern 2: Some Hebrew words have the letter Shin (שׁ) where the corresponding Aramaic word has the letter Tav (ת).

Another difference between Hebrew and Aramaic is a sound change where some Hebrew words have the letter Shin (שׁ) and the corresponding Aramaic word has the letter Tav (ת) instead. Here are some examples of such pairs of words:

Pattern 3: Some Hebrew words have the letter Tsadi (צ) where the corresponding Aramaic word has the letter Tet (ט).

Another sound change difference occurs in some pairs of words where the Hebrew word has the letter Tsadi (צ) whereas the Aramaic word has the letter Tet (ט) instead. Here are some examples of such pairs of vocabulary words:

Pattern 4: Some Hebrew words have the letter Tsadi (צ) where the corresponding Aramaic word has the letter Ayin (ע).

Here are some examples of pairs of words which illustrate this 4th pattern of sound differences between Hebrew and Aramaic:

Pattern 5: Some Hebrew words have the letter Shin (שׂ) where the corresponding Aramaic word has the letter Samekh (ס).

Here are some examples of pairs of words which illustrate this 5th pattern of sound differences between Hebrew and Aramaic: