I've lately attended a series of lectures on the history of Christianity held by a Coptic scholar. He gave a few examples of Aramaic or Syriac sentences (translated from the Bible) which might be found in a similar form in the (Arabic) Quran.

That made me a bit curious and I would like to know how people learn such an ancient language, which is no longer in daily use and maybe can only be derived from ancient scripture like Aramaic and (what I understand as) it's derivative Syriac.

What special techniques exist to learn Aramaic vocabulary?

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    To narrow the scope of your question, you should start with just one language that would be the best example. If the techniques between languages are not the same, each should be asked in a separate question. – user3169 Apr 25 '16 at 17:33
  • Are you trying to learn Aramaic? If so, what specific struggles are you having? This will make for a much better question than asking for an impossibly broad overview of how "people" learn Aramaic. – Flimzy May 21 '16 at 10:48
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    Would it be helpful to narrow down the question to just vocabulary and ask a separate questions about learning grammar and pronunciation? – user800 Sep 22 '16 at 15:36
  • @ChristopheStrobbe after re-reading a few times your comment I re-edited my original post! Thanks :) – Medi1Saif Sep 23 '16 at 6:10

In order to learn an ancient language, scholars usually rely on one (or several) of the following:

  1. Knowledge of related extant languages. In case of Egyptian, Koptic was the clue.
  2. Bilingual texts where one of the two languages is already well known. In case of Egyptian, the famous Rosetta stone was of great help.
  3. Some knowledge about the writing system (Cuneiform was used for several unrelated languages, but knowledge of the writing system could be transferred). Same is true for Etruscan: It can be read (but not everything is understood).
  4. Transcriptions of proper names into better-known languages help both on pronunciation and on deciphering an unknown writing system.

Ancient pronunciation is a difficult theme, and scholarly informed opinions on the pronunciation of Ancient Egyptian have changed considerably over time. Usually, the focus lies on understanding the Ancient texts, not in pronouncing them correctly.

EDIT: Since Ancient Aramaic is a well documented language that is taught on universities (e.g., for students of Christian theology or Semitic languages), there are grammars, dictionaries and even teaching materials and courses available. There is also the Bible in Aramaic language, a text with many local translations. This makes life much easier than the situation sketched above.

  • How can bilingual texts help with pronunciation? – Schullz Apr 25 '16 at 13:30
  • @Schultz: I will make an edit to my answer. Transcribed proper names are a clue on pronunciation (and in deciphering an otherwise unknown writing system). – jknappen Apr 25 '16 at 13:35
  • @jknappen does this mean that in case of Aramaic even the pronunciation has been "Preserved" some how? – Medi1Saif May 23 '16 at 12:03
  • @Medi1Saif: This is a different question and I am probably not fully qualified to answer it. But there are some Aramaic phrases in the Greek NT and other clues giving us at least an idea of the ancient pronunciation of Aramaic. – jknappen May 23 '16 at 12:08

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