Arabic and Aramaic are Semitic languages, both originating in the Middle East. Though they are linguistically related, with similar vocabulary, pronunciation and grammatical rules, these languages differ from one another in many ways. Aside from linguistics, the greatest difference between these languages is the historical roles they have played.
Semitic languages have a unique vocabulary system. Verbs and nouns have a three-consonant "root," meaning every word with those three consonants is conceptually related. Students of Semitic languages can guess the meaning of new vocabulary by identifying these root letters. Arabic and Aramaic share this quality, along with other Semitic languages, such as Hebrew, and the Ethiopian languages of Amharic and Tigrinya.
Arabic and Aramaic each have their own alphabets. Both alphabets are classified as consonant alphabets, meaning that consonants are spelled out, but little to no vowel indication is provided. Arabic is only written with the Arabic script, except in transliteration for language learners, or to adapt to modern technology, such as online chat or text messaging. Aramaic has been written using many scripts over the years, including Latin, Hebrew, Syriac and Cyrillic. The early Aramaic script is no longer in use.
Aramaic and Christianity
Though most of the Old and New Testament are written in Hebrew, many passages are found in Aramaic. Aramaic is believed to be the language spoken by Jesus and his apostles. For this reason, Aramaic is still used to some extent as a liturgical language by Christians in several Middle Eastern countries. Mel Gibson insisted his actors speak in Aramaic when filming his controversial 2004 film, "The Passion of the Christ."
Arabic and Islam
Arabic is the language of Islam. The holy book of Islam, the Qur'an, is written in Arabic. All Muslims are expected to be able to read the Qur'an in Arabic. A large population of the world's Muslims do not speak Arabic as a first language, but because of its central role in the religion of Islam, Arabic is studied and understood to a degree by Muslims the world over.
The Arabic language is spoken by a large population of the world. The 22 countries in the Arab League count Arabic as an official or co-official language. Efforts are being made by the United States government to increase the number of Arabic speakers in the U.S. through several programs, such as the Critical Languages Scholarship. Aramaic has been replaced by other languages in different areas over time, meaning the current population of speakers is quite low. People do continue to study Aramaic for cultural purposes, and several options exist for those interested in studying Aramaic.
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