A cradle of civilizations, a crossroads of cultures and a melting pot of different nations, Syria has a rich history and a diverse population. It is not surprising that this country is home to a wealth of different languages.
In this article, we’ll dive into the linguistic kaleidoscope that is Syria by discovering the languages that are most prevalent here.
Arabic is the main constituent of the Syrian linguistic landscape, with the majority of the population fluent in this language. Syrian Arabic, a variant of the Levantine dialect, shares similarities with its counterparts in neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan.
Although most of its vocabulary is of Arabic origin, Syrian vernacular is also distinguished by the presence of foreign influences, chiefly Aramaic, Kurdish and Turkish.
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With approximately 1.6 million speakers, Kurdish is the second most widely spoken language in Syria. This language of the Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family has multiple dialects, Kurmanji being the most widespread in Syria. An idiom in its own right, it is one of the many examples of Syria’s linguistic diversity.
Kurdish is spoken mainly in northeastern Syria, as well as in Afrin and Kobani, two predominantly Kurdish towns in the Aleppo district.
Turkish, the official language of Turkey, is also spoken by the Turkmen ethnic minority whose presence in the Levant dates back to the 11th century Seljuk Empire.
This dialect is found mainly in villages east of the Euphrates and along the Syrian-Turkish border, as well as in other pockets of Turkmen populations such as Gharnatah and Burj Qa’i in the Houla plains north of Homs.
The Turkish spoken in Syria has distinct features, shaped by the country’s unique cultural landscape which has influenced it more by Arabic than other Turkish dialects outside Syria.
Syriac is an Aramaic language spoken by the Syriac, or Suryoyo, minority in northeast Syria. With roots in ancient Mesopotamia, Syriac has several dialects, primarily Turoyo and Sureth. Despite its distant origins, Syriac is a thoroughly modern tongue, spoken mainly in the province of Al-Hasakah, with a significant presence in the cities of Qamishli and Al-Malikiyah.
The most widespread dialect of Syriac in Syria is Turoyo, which originated in the Tur Abdin region of southern Turkey, which also had a large Syriac community, but was introduced into Syria with the migration of this community to the northeast of the country.
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Circassian is the language of the Circassian minority in Syria, originating in the North Caucasus region of Russia. With Adyghe and Kabardic as the two main dialects, this idiom was introduced into Syria during the 19th century with the waves of migration of Circassians to the Levant from the regions of Adyghe, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachaevo-Cherkessia, who settled especially in the governorate of Quneitra in southern Syria as well as in the district of As-Safira in Aleppo.
The Circassian language pic.twitter.com/BBCEMj0lQp
— The True Caucasians (@TrueCaucasus) January 11, 2022
In addition to the Circassians, the Chechens are also a community originating from the North Caucasus that settled in the Levant, mainly in Jordan and Syria, starting in 1861. As a result, the Chechen language is also part of the linguistic mosaic of Syria. Chechens in Syria live mainly in Ras-al Ain and Al Quneitra, while Chechen is still spoken in the Khabur Valley in northeast Syria.
Armenian is spoken by the Armenian diaspora in Syria, which migrated from the Caucasus and eastern Anatolia in the early 20th century. With its unique script, this Indo-European language is now an integral part of the Syrian linguistic landscape.
This language is mainly spoken in the Aleppo region, in Damascus and especially in Al-Kassab, a city almost exclusively inhabited by Syrians of Armenian origin.
Greek, also from the Indo-European family, is used by the Greek community in Syria who reside mainly in the city of Al-Hamidiyah, where their native language remains a majority language. Al-Hamidiyah is mainly composed of Syrian Muslims of Cretan origin, who settled in the city at the end of the 19th century following the Greek-Turkish war of 1897.
Greek, in its ancient form, is also a liturgical language, in addition to Arabic, used in the rites of the largest Christian communities in Syria, namely the Melkites and Rûm Orthodox Christians.