By: Hanna Hajjar
Before getting into the semantics of the names, let's ask ourselves this question:
I know that some people prefer not to use the term Semitic language as a definition, but nevertheless it has been accepted (not necessarily as a fact) as a general name grouping of several languages that belong to the same family. Having said that, let's ask ourselves the following questions (following the time sequence of the evolution of languages):
* What is the oldest Semitic language?
The answer without any shred of doubt is Akkadian.
This places Aramaic down stream from Akkadian, in other words, without Akkadian there would have been no Aramaic, (and no other Semitic languages, such as Hebrew, and Arabic). Akkadian to Aramaic is like a parent to a child, without the parent there would be no child.
* What was the language of the ancient Assyrians?
It was without any shred of doubt Akkadian, and written in Cuneiform script.
* What did the Bedouin Aramean tribes of the Aramean desert (west of the Euphrates) contribute to the language?
Definitely not the alphabet, since early Aramaic script is identical to Phoenician, in other words they carbon copied the Phoenician alphabet the same way the French, British, Spaniard and other European nations copied the Latin alphabet.
* Did the Phoenician alphabet evolve without any Akkadian influence?
No! And the proof is found in the name of the alphabet (Alap-Bit). Early Phoenicians used Cuneiform at one time, however they turned it into an alphabet, where we have the Ugaritic Cuneiform Alphabet. However what is interesting is the names of those 22 letters, they all have meanings. According to the Phoenicians Alap means Bull (and even the letter Alap is shaped like the head of a bull) Bit means house, etc. Now comes the missing link to proof its Akkadian origin: The word for Bull is Tawra in both Aramaic and Phoenician, while it is Alapu in Akkadian, so if Alap means bull then that alphabet was created with Akkadian influence if not by directly involving Akkadian/Assyrians.
* How did Aramaic get into Assyria?
The Assyrians during the rule of Sargon II sifted to Aramaic, and turned it into the Lingua Franca of the world, you will notice Assyrian sculptures with two scribes next to each other one writing in Akkadian Cuneiform on a piece of clay, and another writing on a parchment in Aramaic. It was through the military muscle, traders, and schools of the Assyrian Empire that the Aramaic language spread all over the Middle East, and not through a bunch of goat herding desert Aramean tribes.
* Was Aramaic an import into Assyria or an Export from Assyria (i.e. created by Assyrians)?
Historical facts show us that there was an Aramic script of Ashur different than the widely known Aramaic one. Additionally to my knowledge so far (this statement might need updating to be in line with latest discoveries) the oldest Aramaic script were found in Assyria. If this is still the case, then what explains this is simply that what is genuinely an Assyrian language, the Hebrews called Aramaic and because of the Bible the name Aramaic stuck to the Assyrian language and Assyrian alphabet. Here are two facts that further proofs my point:
a- In the Bible when the Assyrian Rab-Shake was laying siege to Jerusalem, the Jewish clergymen asked him to speak to them in Armaic and not Hebrew so that the Jews on city wall won’t understand what he was saying. Now if that Armaic was the same like the Aramaic Spoken in Damascus, then most probably many people on the wall would have understood it having interacted with the Aramaic speaking Damascus. Therefore that Armaic is different than the Aramaic of Damascus, and most probably it means the language of the Highlands (i.e. Assyrian).
b- In the Talmud (the Jewish Holy book, they refer to the Hebrew script as Ktav Ashuri (Assyrian Script), and it is the holiest script style they use. And they call the script that is similar to the Phoenician and early as Ktav Ivri (Hebrew Script). And the language in which they write they call it Hebrew or Aramaic, depending on the contents of the text. So the question here is why would the Jews call the script as Ktav Ashuri and the language as Aramaic?
The logical explanation is that Aramaic meant language of the highlands and not a language that was invented by a person in antiquity called Aram or by some Aramean tribes. We all know that there were many Aramean kingdoms, they were not united, and at war with each other, that environment does not lead to a developed Aramaic language, instead it leads to different languages. Furthermore if you study history you will find that it is always the conqueror that imposes his language and culture on the conquered peoples, and the Aramean kingdoms were conquered by the Assyrians, so it is unlikely that they imposed their language on Assyrians, I believe that it is the other way around, that the correct name of the language is Armaic, and not Aramaic, (i.e. it means the language of the highlands and not the language of person called Aram, or a people called Arameans).
* The Aramean tribes evolved in the Desert plains west of the Euphrates River, and not in the Highlands. While Assyrians evolved in the highlands of Ashur in Northern Mesopotamia. The Arameans came from outside Mesopotamia into Mesopotamia either as immigrant settlers, or captors. While Assyrian fanned out from Mesopotamia to all over the Middle East. The key proof in settling this argument is to establish how this language spread. If Armaic spread from Mesopotamia outward, then Armaic is definitely an Assyrian language that evolved internally. But if Aramaic spread from outside Mesopotamia inward, then it is the influence of the Aramean tribes.
So far the oldest Aramaic writing was found in Assyria, so until they find an older Aramaic writing outside Assyria, I think that Aramaic (or more specifically Armaic) is an Assyrian Export.
Note: Armaya/Ormoyo and Aramaya/Oromoyo are written exactly the same (Alap, Reesh, Meem, Yud, Alap / Olaf, Reesh, Meem, Yud, Olaf), so if the text does not have diacritical signs, a reader can easily read Armaic as Aramaic, and vice versa. And I believe that this added a lot to the present confusion. Here is an example:
Let’s take the Scottish people, they are highlanders just like Assyrians, and in fact when you say highlander in Britain it means Scottish. Now lets say an Aramean historian is writing about Scottish people and he writes the following statement “The Scottish People are Highlanders” he writes it in without any diacritical signs as “Amma Skotlandoye hawi Armaye”. His manuscript is buried for 1000 years, then rediscovered by an archeologist, who translates it to English as “The Scottish People were Arameans!” However that is not what the historian wrote, the problem is it was lost in translation, and this is exactly what had happened when some people (knowingly or unknowingly, i.e. intentionally or unintentionally) took the word Armaye (or Armaeet) and read it as Aramaye (Aramaeet). It’s the addition of the letter “a” after the “r” that screwed up the original meaning!