ELDP Project Highlight: Documentation of the North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic dialect cluster of Gargarnaye

Today on the ELAR blog, we are featuring a community highlight from ELDP grantee and ELAR depositor Lidia Napiorkowska. Lidia is researching Gargarnaye, one of the North Eastern Neo-Aramaic dialects in Iraq. To learn more about Gargarnaye and Lidia’s work, see the Gargarnayeon deposit on the ELAR catalogue. 

The speakers of the Neo-Aramaic cluster of Gargarnaye are a community of Assyrian Christians living in the picturesque mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. Neighbours of both Arab and Kurdish Muslims, they have preserved their distinct identity, religion, and language for centuries. The community of the Neo-Aramaic speakers, especially from the North-Eastern subgroup, to which the Gargarnaye cluster belongs, have been on a journey for a long time. After the First World War they were dispersed from their original homelands in present Turkey. Currently, they face many socio-political challenges in Kurdistan, thus many have moved to Europe and the US in a search of a safer abode. Despite all these difficulties, and in a situation of language endangerment, the speakers feel a deep connection with their language and welcomed research of their varieties with great enthusiasm. The project aimed at documenting the differences between the villages of the Gargarnaye tribe and thus help to create the detailed map of the Neo-Aramaic dialects from before the time of dispersion.

Preparations for Easter (all women of the household are making the traditional Easter pastry called kulleje)

Neo-Aramaic continues to be used in families, villages, churches and, in some regions, also at schools. Nevertheless, extensive mixing and migration of the communities lead to fading out of the dialectal hallmarks and many of the features are found predominantly with elderly speakers. Also, many lexical items are gradually falling into oblivion and in the context of towns, the accounts of husbandry work or agricultural techniques seem to belong to the reality that has already passed away. Therefore, many of the consultants that I have met over the duration of the project were delighted to have an opportunity to share their knowledge, realising that they were the last bearers of the rich Assyrian cultural heritage. Their detailed descriptions of farming, bread baking, construction works and animal keeping that they provided, full of specialised terms for particular items, processes, tools, and utensils reflected their deep engagement in passing on the precious knowledge, with the hope of it being preserved. In some cases, the younger speakers present in the recording sessions would take notes or enquire about particular lexemes as this was the first time they came across these words.

It needs to be added that the Gargarnaye cluster has many phonological features that the speakers of other Neo-Aramaic dialects find amusing. Other dialects in which books are printed or public speeches delivered enjoy a much higher status. Especially some of the younger generation who attend Assyrian schools consider their village dialect less worthy of attention. In this light, a part of the efforts of the project has been directed to help the dialect appear more prestigious in the eyes of the Gargarnaye people and in the eyes of other dialectal communities. A booklet listing some of the most conspicuous features of Gargarnaye was printed and deposited with the community with precisely this goal in mind- if our dialect is worthy of attention from the outside, if foreigners travel long distances to hear us speak and learn our language, how proud we should be to use it!

Conducting fieldwork in Diyana (improvised, unexpected session)

Post & photos by Lidia Napiorkowska

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