Language is the key to communication. Many believe that it is Man’s greatest invention. It dates back to thousands and thousands of years ago, however few know that the very first alphabet in human history was found on the shores of Syria, in the old city of Ugarit, modern day Ras Shamra, Lattakia. Many ancient civilizations inhabited Syria since then speaking different archaic and mostly extinct languages.
So what do Syrian people speak today?
Arabic is the official language of The Syrian Arab Republic. Modern Standard Arabic is taught in schools and used in printed materials like books, newspapers and official documents, yet it is not spoken between people. Syrians use several spoken Arabic dialects in their everyday lives. Those dialects include Mesopotamian Arabic, Levantine Arabic, Najdi Arabic and Bedawi Arabic. Refugees living in Syria from Palestine and Iraq also speak their Arabic dialects, respectively. Many languages influenced Spoken Syrian such as Aramaic, Syriac, Turkish and French.
Arabic is not the historical language of Syria. It entered Syria with Islam in the 7th century and was first used as an official language during the Umayyad reign of the area.
Kurdish is the second spoken language in Syria, after Arabic, with approximately 1.7 million speakers. The Kurdish communities, mainly in Eastern Syria, speak it. While they pride themselves with their good Arabic skills, the Kurds prefer to speak their mother languages among themselves, despite failed attempts to Arabize them.
The language of Jesus Christ, Aramaic dates back to 900 BC and it has been spoken in the Syrian region through all these centuries. Most Syrian cities and towns today still hold their old Aramaic names.
It is estimated that 30 villages in Syria speak Aramaic, though most speakers have adopted Arabic as a first language instead of Aramaic. Today there are three villages north Damascus, Ma’loula, Bakh’a, and Jubb’adin, that still speak Aramic in their everyday lives. The reason goes back to the Christian religious nature of these villages. The villages have Muslim population as well.
The fear that this language might go extinct has led Aramaic religious institutions to offer courses and lectures to teach Aramaic to younger generations
The language that gave Syria its name. Syriac was one of the three prominent Christian languages in older centuries. Syriac replaced Aramaic after Christianity spread through the region. Before the Arabic Islamic conquest, Syriac was the main spoken language in the region. Syriac is still spoken today among Assyrian groups in southeastern Syria. The religious value of the language and its rich literature kept its presence strong in the area.
Following the Armenian Genocide, many Armenians immigrated to Syria in end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Like many Armenians in diaspora, Syrian Armenians still speak their language amongst themselves. Most Syrian Armenians live in Aleppo and the city has many schools that teach the Armenian language and culture. Other regions in Syria have Armenian schools as well.
Originally from the eastern shores of the black sea, Circassians settled in Syria during the 19th and 20th century after the Russo-Circassian war. They have been living in different areas of Syria since then. Even after all these years, Circassians have kept their language, traditions and culture while assimilating to Syria’s language and society. The spoken Circassian languages in Syria are Adyghe and Kabardinian with their different dialects.
Having migrated to Syria during the Ottoman rule over the region, most Syrian Turkmen speak Turkish alongside Arabic in their everyday lives. Turkmen mostly live near the Turkish-Syrian boarders, which helped them be close to Turkish traditions and language. Syrian Turkmen along with Iraqi Turkmen do not classify themselves as Turkmen of Turkmenistan; they consider themselves closer to the Turks of Turkey.
While education is conducted mainly in Arabic, Syrian schools also teach English and French. Schools begin to teach English from the first grade and French from the 7th grade. That is why you may find many Syrians speaking English or French, although English is more common.
In addition to that, during the last couple of years the Ministry of Educations in Syria has been introducing the Russian language as an option for school students instead of French.
Other spoken languages in Syria include Domari, Chechen, Turoyo, Lomavren and Afshar, even though some of them are going extinct.