The Vowel Systems:
Now that you've gone over the consonants in Aramaic, one needs to remember
that they cannot form a proper word without vowels (unless you really
really really want to kill your vocal cords). I mean, just take a look
at every word that I have typed up here so far. Each one has vowels. :-)
Aramaic, is no different from any other language, only vowels were a
later addition to the various writing systems that it employs. Greek was
the first alphabet to incorperate vowels as seperate characters. Up until
then (Aramaic came to be waaaay before Greek :-) ) vowels were implied
by knowing the words, giving rise to many dialects, but making it impossible
for a foriegner to read the script.
Because of this, vowel marks were developed that were placed either under
or over the consonants at about the 5th Century AD. Since there were many
writing systems, 4 vowel systems were developed, and 2 of them are used
in almost all modern Aramaic publications, while 1 is used mainly in Hebrew
Let me introduce you first to the system that I favor:
FOR NOW I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THAT YOU ONLY LEARN THE WESTERN
VOWELS AND IGNORE THE OTHER SYSTEMS.
Although I do list other vowels systems here, I will only
be using Western Vowels for the rest of the Lessons. After you're
more familliar with the language I would recommend you learning
about the other vowels.
I warn about this only because trying to learn 4 different
vowels systems for the same language at once will only
result in a headache.
In my opinion, this is the simplest of all Aramaic
vowel systems. For these examples I use an alép, for it is silent.
These can appear above, or below (in which case they are written
upside-down), any consonant, and the sound they make comes
after that consonant. There are 5 vowels (going right to left):
Zqapa: As in father.
Pthakha: As in day.
Atsatsa: As in rule.
Rvatsa: As in ever.
Khvatsa: As in in.
...and 3 "combination" vowels.:
Khvatsa follwed by a Yud: As in ear.
Atsatsa follwed by a Nun: As in rule.
Ésaqa (Rwatsa followed by a Yud): As in day.
A note on the combination vowels. Treat the letter
that comes after the vowel as the sound indicated. Don't repeat
For example, Dalath-Rwatsa-Yod would sound exactly
like the word "day."
This is as simple as it gets.
Throughout the lessons I will be using the following
Eastern vowels are a bit more complicated. They
are harder to read in most ancient manuscripts, for Eastern punctuation
is strictly dots. I have used marks in 5 of the examples to make
them easier to distinguish from other dots.
The Eastern system's vowels, unlike the Western
system's can only be written as shown above. The placement of
a dot above or below a letter changes the vowel. Here are all
8 vowel names and pronounciation. Please also note that some Eastern
vowels (like Rvatsa) share the same name as Western vowels, but
make different sounds. Going from right to left:
Zqapa: As in father.
Pthakha: As in day.
Zlama Quéshya: As in ever.
Zlama Pshiqa: As in in.
Khvatsa: As in ear.
Rvatsa: As in you.
Rwakha: As in over.
Eastern vowels only have one combination vowel:
Ésapa (Zlama Quéshya - Yod): as in day.
Jacob of Edessa Vowels:
Now, these, are unique. You won't find
many documents written today with Jacob of Edessa vowels. They
were designed by the person who they were named after (Jacob of
Edessa :-) ) and were an attempt to make the Syriac Aramaic alapbet
more like the Greek: Including vowels as seperate letters instead
of extra marks.
Unfortunately, in all of my study, I have yet
to find the "official" names for each letter, so the
names I have provided is my attempt at finding parallels. Going
from right to left:
"Zqapa" (Alép): As in father.
"Unvoiced Rwakha": As in of.
"Rwakha:" As in over.
"Rvatsa:" As in you.
"Zlama Pshiqa:" As in in.
"Khvatsa:" As in ear.
"Ésapa:" as in yes.
"Zlama Quéshya:" As in ever.
"Pthakha:" As in day.
The advantage of these vowels is that they are
part of the alapbet, the disadvantage is that no one uses them.
An example of a good idea that never caught on.
The most complicated of all the vowel systems would have to be
Hebrew Vowels. There are 13 normal vowels, and 4 vowel combinations,
for a grand total of 17 different vowels! The first 7 basic vowels
are as follows (top, righthand corner, starting from right to
Pathakh: As in bat.
Seghol: As in better.
Hireq: As in bitter.
Qamets: As in bottle.
Qibbuts: As in ruler.
Tsere: As in day.
Holem: As in role.
Next there are the vowel combinations as found in
Eastern and Western vowels. With Hebrew vowels, however, there
are a total of 4 combinations (top, middle group, starting from
right to left):
Qamets-Yod: As in bought.
Tsere-Yod: As in day.
Seghol-Yod: As in better.
Hireq-Yod: As in evening.
Next there are the Waw-vowels. I combined them
into normal vowels in the Eastern vowels section, but here, I
have them seperately (top, left group, starting from right to
Holem-Waw: As in role.
Shureq: As in ruler.
Fourthly, there are the Reduced, or "Hatef"
Hatef Pathakh, Hatef Seghol, and Hatef Qamets:
As in amuse.
And finally, there is a mark that acts like a
vowel, but behaves rather unusually. It is called the "Shewa."
(bottom, right-hand group). If it is found on the first consonant
of a word, it acts just like the vowel Seghol (As in better),
BUT if it is found anywhere else, it is silent.
There is more information about Hebrew vowels.
But, this is all you will need to know in order to speak Aramaic.
FOR THOSE WHO ARE NOW FAMILLIAR ENOUGH WITH THE LANGUAGE
TO EXPERIMENT WITH NEW VOWELS:
At the end of each lesson, from here on in, there will be a
Comparison Chart, listing a summary of the lesson in Serta w/Western
vowels, Swadaya w/Eastern vowels, Estrangela with Jacob's Vowels,
and Hebrew Blockletters with (duh!) Hebrew vowels.
Have fun, but don't confuse yourself! (Believe me it HURTS.)
Asperations (and Other Dialect Marks):
It sounds vulgar... What is an asperation?
Certain letters in the Syriac alapbet can make
more than one sound when they are "asperated" or "breathed."
The tone is given an airier quality.
Asperated letters are marked by placing a symbol
(usually a dot) under them, but different symbols can change the
can become Vit (ܒ݂) as in very.
can become Khamél (ܓ݂) (sounds like
a Ghayth) ("GH")
or it can become Jamél (ܓ̰) as in
(In some Western manuscripts and documents,
Jamél is marked by a dot, and there is no such
thing as Khamél).
can become Dhalath (ܖ݂) as in this.
(Note how the dot on a normal Dalath
is written lower than usual.)
can become Khap (ܟ݂) (sounds like
a Kheyt) ("KH")
or it can become Chap (ܟ̰) as in
can become Fe (ܦ݂) as in fish.
(The roman letters in parenthesis after each asperation are
the romanziations that I will use).
Knowing these asperations also makes things easier to pronounce.
For example, many times where Dalath is written twice
without a vowel, the first one is "hard" where the
second one is asperated, making a "d-dh" sound.
On to Lesson 3: Your First
(I am so proud!)