Otto Jastrow

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2012/2013
discipline Linguistics
Professor of Arabic in the Department of Middle East and Asian Studies on the Estonian Institute of Humanities of the Tallinn University

Research project

A Linguistic Description of the Neo-Aramaic Dialect of Midyat (Ţūr ‘Abdin)


The term Neo-Aramaic is applied to a group of contemporary languages and dialects who are descended from the Aramaic of Late Antiquity. Until the beginning of the Islamic era, Aramaic (in a number of slightly divergent varieties) was one of the great languages of Middle Eastern civilization, but after the Islamic conquest it suffered a steady decline and survived only in some peripheral areas. Only since the second half of the 19th century researchers have gradually been rediscovering and investigating these idioms who, during a period of oblivion comprising more than a millennium, had developed into full-fledged languages and dialects different from each other but also from the Aramaic idioms of old. The research into Neo-Aramaic is one of the most fascinating subjects of Semitics and general linguistics because it opens up a diachronic perspective stretching over a period of three thousand years – very few languages and language families of the world can offer a recorded history of similar length. Unfortunately, for more than one hundred years, the speakers of Neo-Aramaic have been subjected to permanent persecutions because they belong to religious minorities (Christians, Jews and Mandaeans). As of today, almost all speakers of Neo-Aramaic languages are emigrants who have been forced to leave their ancestral home countries and are now scattered over much of the western world. Their tragedy lies in the fact that they cannot rely on their distant home country to preserve their culture and language – that home country does not exist any longer. This poses a severe danger for the survival of modern Neo-Aramaic. Although a number of Neo-Aramaic idioms now can be investigated with less difficulty than ever before – because the speakers live in various European countries (like Germany, Sweden, Holland) as well as in the US and even in Australia, in a longer perspective the survival of these languages seems to be highly unlikely; they are thus endangered languages which need to be recorded and described urgently, before the last competent speakers die out.

The present proposal concerns itself with one specific Neo-Aramaic language which is usually referred to as ūrōyo, the language spoken by the Christian population of the ūr ‘Abdin region in south-eastern Turkey. Until the beginning of the 1970s some 20.000 people were speaking this language in its original habitat; due to permanent harassment and persecution they have since left their homeland where only a few hundred speakers still hold out under precarious conditions. ūrōyo therefore is an endangered language although at present several thousand speakers can still be found living in the diaspora, especially in Central Europe.

The Midyat dialect is the most conservative dialect of ūrōyo but so far has been neglected in research; a description of this dialect is an urgent desideratum. The proposed research will take into consideration all the published material on the subject, but to a large extent will be based on unpublished material owned by the present writer. The planned tome will also contain a selection of hitherto unpublished texts in the Midyat dialect as well as a glossary; both are considered urgent desiderata.



Otto Jastrow is Professor of Arabic in the Department of Middle East and Asian Studies on the Estonian Institute of Humanities of the Tallinn University, formerly of Heidelberg University and Erlangen University, both in Germany. He holds a Ph.D. in Semitics and Islamology from the Saarbrücken University, and a Habilitation from the Erlangen University.


His main subjects of research are Neo-Aramaic languages and Arabic Dialectology. 

Selected publications


‘Is there an Islamic Linguistic Sphere? Islamic Idiom in the Languages of Muslim Peoples’, in W. Ende and U. Steinbach (eds), Islam in the World today, Ithaca, London, 2010, pp.792-799.


‘The Arabic Dialects of the Carmel Coast’, in G. Goldenberg and A. Shisha-Halevy (eds), Egyptian, Semitic and general grammar. Studies in memory of H.J. Polotsky, The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Jerusalem, 2009, pp.230-238.


‘Old Aramaic and Neo-Aramaic: Some Reflections on Language History’, in H. Gzella and M. L. Folmer (eds), Aramaic in its Historical and Linguistic Setting, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2008, pp.1-10.


‘Anatolian Arabic’, in K. Versteegh (ed.), Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics, vol.I, Leiden-Boston, 2006, pp.86-96.


‘Iraq (Arabic dialects)’, in K. Versteegh (ed.), Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics, vol.II, Leiden-Boston, 2007, pp.414-424.


‘Uzbekistan Arabic: A language created by Semitic-Iranian-Turkic Linguistic Convergence’, in E.A. Csato, B. Isaksson and C. Jahani (eds), Linguistic Convergence and Areal Diffusion. Case studies from Iranian, Semitic and Turkic, London/New York, 2005, pp.133-139.


senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline Religious Studies
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline Southeast Asian Studies
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline Religious Studies