The Language.—Influence of the Literature In the Eighth and Ninth Century.
THE LANGUAGE.—The Aramaic language, early spoken in Syria and Mesopotamia, is a branch of the Semitic, and of this tongue the Chaldaic and Syriac were dialects. Chaldaic is supposed to be the language of Babylonia at the time of the captivity, and the earliest remains are a part of the Books of Daniel and Ezra, and the paraphrases or free translations of the Old Testament. The Hebrews having learned this language during the Babylonian exile, it continued in use for some time after their return, though the Hebrew remained the written and sacred tongue. Gradually, however, it lost this prerogative, and in the second century A.D. the Chaldaic was the only spoken language of Palestine. It is still used by the Nestorians and Maronites in their religious services and in their literary works. The spoken language of Syria has undergone many changes corresponding to the political changes of the country.
The most prominent Syriac author is St. Ephraem, or Ephraem Syrus (350 A.D.), with whom begins the best period of Syriac literature, which continued until the ninth century. A great part of this literature has been lost, and what remains is only partially accessible. Its principal work was in the eighth and ninth centuries in introducing classical learning to the knowledge of the Arabs. In the seventh century, Jacob of Edessa gave the classical and sacred dialect its final form, and from this time the series of native grammarians and lexicographers continued unbroken to the time of its decline. The study of Syriac was introduced into Europe in the fifteenth century. Valuable collections of MSS., in this language, are to be found in the British Museum, and grammars and dictionaries have been published in Germany and in New York.