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The so-called "Chaldeans" of Mesopotamia received that title, as you know, from the pope, on their becoming Catholics. Their ancient language is also the Syriac, and their written character was the same with that of the Nestorians; except among that portion of them who were converted from the Jacobite sect, who, I believe, use the common Syriac character familiar to European scholars. These "Chaldeans" all used the ancient Syriac as their written language, until their modern conversion to popery. Since that event, some of their books have been prepared in the Arabic tongue; in order, as is supposed, that the people, having abandoned their own ancient language and literature, may be the more easily induced to embrace all the peculiarities of the papal church. I am informed, however, that their liturgy is still in the ancient Syriac, among many of the Chaldean villages of Mesopotamia.
The above statements in reference to the language of the Chaldeans of Mesopotamia have been repeatedly made to me by individuals of their own people. They have also just been confirmed by a Chaldean deacon from the region of Mosul, who recently arrived here, and has spent a considerable part of his time, during the past week, in my study.
The spoken language of the Nestorians of Persia and of the Kurdish mountains is derived directly from the ancient Syriac. It differs somewhat in different regions. According as a given district is situated in the vicinity of the Turks, Kurds, or Persians, the language has become corrupted by the introduction of a great number of words and phrases, borrowed from the languages of those nations respectively; and thus differs much more widely from the ancient Syriac, than the dialects spoken by some of the independent Nestorians of the Kurdish mountains, who have come less in contact with these barbarizing influences. In all these regions, however, the body of the spoken language of the Nestorians comes from the ancient Syriac, as obviously and directly as the modern Greek comes from the ancient Greek.
The "Chaldeans" of Mesopotamia are also said to have formerly spoken a corruption of the Syriac. At present most of them are said to use Arabic, particularly in and about the city of Mosul. In some of the villages, however, they still speak a corrupted Syriac,-the same that is spoken by the Nestorians of Ooroomiah, save that it approaches nearer to the ancient language. It was undoubtedly this language which Niebuhr
heard in some of those villages and pronounced to be "Chaldean."* The deacon above named is from a village about fifteen miles distant from Mosul. He states that the inhabitants of that village and others in the vicinity usually speak corrupt Syriac instead of the Arabic. His own dialect differs but little from that spoken here.†
Of the difference between the ancient Chaldaic language and the Syriac, you are of course better qualified to judge than I am. I feel quite clear, however, in reference to the points which I have stated above, viz. that the ancient language of both the Nestorians and the present "Chaldeans" is the same, -and that, the ancient Syriac; also, that the spoken language of the Nestorians and of these " Chaldeans" is the same, (except so far as the Arabic prevails among the latter,) and that it is derived directly from the ancient Syriac.‡
I have almost constant occasion to notice the very strong relationship which exists between all these cognate Semitic languages, as the Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, etc. The Nestorian ecclesiastics, for example, very easily learn the Hebrew language, from its resemblance to their own. I have, at present, a class of these ecclesiastics in Hebrew, whose proficiency, with
* Niebuhr, however, calls it Syrianisch; see the Note on p. 456, above. R.
†The very same statements respecting the language of the papal Nestorians in the villages around Mosul, were made to the writer at Constantinople in 1838, by Mr. Rassam, now British Consul at Mosul, himself a native "Chaldean" from that city or the vicinity. R.
In the article above referred to, (Am. Bib. Repos. Jan. 1841, p. 12,) Mr. Perkins remarks that he and his colleague, Mr. Holladay, "have taken some pains to compare the language of the Nestorians with the Chaldaic, as exhibited in the books of Daniel and Ezra, and at the same time with the ancient Syriac of those portions of Scripture; and the result has been a most decided preponderance in favor of deriving the modern language directly from the Syriac." I cite this in order to subjoin the remark, that the Chaldaic of Daniel and Ezra is hardly a fair standard of comparison, since it approaches much nearer to the Hebrew than does the ordinary Chaldee dialect. The comparison should rather have been made with some portion of the Chaldee translations exhibited in the Targums. R.
very little effort, is such as would do honor to an Andover lecture-room. There are also Jews in this city who speak a corrupt dialect of the Hebrew; and their language so nearly resembles that spoken by the Nestorians, that individuals of the two nations can readily understand each other.
The spoken language of the Nestorians has scarcely been reduced to writing by themselves. Hence, as I have said above, the epistolary correspondence is still conducted in their ancient language, the Syriac. I find, too, by referring to Mr. Smith's "Researches," that the manuscripts which he procured here, were the only works, as he supposed, existing in the spoken language.* I have found no other manuscripts prepared in the vulgar tongue in this region. I obtained, some time since, from the vicinity of Mosul, what purported to be a translation of a part of the Gospels, into the spoken language. It proved to me that the "Chaldeans" of the villages in that region speak a corrupted Syriac; but the preparation of the work was so entirely without rule or standard in construction, orthography, etc., as to prove, also, that the spoken language of the Nestorians and Chaldeans has been as little cultivated on the western, as on the eastern side of the Kurdish mountains.
We regard the necessity of cultivating the spoken language of the Nestorians as so obvious and great, in order to reach the mass of the people with religious and intellectual matter, that I long since commenced reducing it to writing. I have made a translation of some parts of the Scriptures, of a small geography, and of some other things, into the language. Our translations are doubtless still imperfect in orthography as well as in other respects; as I have had no standard to aid me, but the Syriac language. In the hope, however, that they may gratify you and your German friends, and afford you some light, I will send you a few specimens of which we have duplicates. We have as yet printed nothing. Our press is now on the way to this country. As I send by the English post, I can forward
* Vol. II. p. 192. See above, p. 456.
In consequence of many delays, the press did not reach Ooroomiah until Nov. 1840. The following entries in Mr. Perkins' journal of that month, show the joy with which it was welcomed.
"Nov. 7th, 1840.-Our printer, Mr. Breath, arrived. His coming with the press is, we believe, the dawn of a new era on the Nestorians.-9th. We took the press from the boxes in
but few manuscripts at this time; but will endeavor to send more, together with some manuscripts in the ancient language, when an opportunity for transportation shall occur. Lying on my table are two letters which I lately received; one from the Patriarch and one from a bishop. I send you these also with a translation. They are in the ancient language, i. e. the ancient Syriac.
You are doubtless aware that the British and Foreign Bible Society has published the entire Scriptures in the Syriac language. Only the four Gospels, however, are in the Nestorian character. These were published in the year 1829. The type is very perfect. Have you seen a copy of these Gospels?
The idea is sometimes sugested, that these corrupt languages, -such for instance as the modern Greek, the modern Armenian, the modern Syriac, etc.-ought not to be reduced to writing; that only the ancient languages should be cultivated; and that thus, by general education, the people of these nations may be led back to the re-adoption of their respective ancient tongues. What is your opinion on this subject?
It has appeared to us obviously impossible ever to effect the object which the theory proposes in reference to the Nestorians. The mass of the people understand almost none of the pure Syriac, unmodified by vulgar contractions and inversions, and by the importation of barbarisms. We, however, encourage the cultivation of the old Syriac, as well as of the spoken language. We wish the Nestorians to contrive to study and use it in some measure; and we hope that by regarding it and using it as their classical language, they may be able to cultivate and enrich their vulgar tongue. Can we do better than adopt such a course?
When our press and type reach us, we design to print an
which it was brought, and set it up. It appears like an exotic in this dark and distant land; and, at the same time, like a familiar old acquaintance, whose arrival is inexpressibly welcome to us.-21st. We put our press in operation by printing on small scraps, a few copies of the Lord's Prayer in ancient Syriac, merely to gratify the curiosity of the natives, who have never before seen any thing of the kind. The press is now the lion here. Numbers call daily to visit it. The Nestorians are greatly delighted with it." See Mission. Herald, Sept. 1841, p. 351.
edition of the entire Syriac Scriptures in the Nestorian character. From this you will infer, that we do not wish the Nestorians to cease cultivating that noble language.
With my kind regards to Prof. Roediger, please assure him that it will ever afford me great pleasure, to do all in my power to facilitate his inquiries in reference to these eastern languages. Yours, most truly,
P. S. Nov. 23d. I have just found among my papers two other letters from the Patriarch, both in the ancient Syriac, which I send, with translations.
From the reply made to this letter, Mr. Perkins has given the following extracts:* "The views contained in your letter, leave no room to doubt of the character of the language; nor that the Chaldean, so called, of Mesopotamia, is the same. I have myself had no doubt of this before; although on inquiring of Mr. Rassam and others in Constantinople, I could get no satisfactory information. The prevailing view among scholars, at present, is that the ancient Chaldee and Syriac are, at the bottom, the same dialect; the former having developed itself in a more Jewish form, and adopted the Hebrew alphabet, and the latter having been diffused among Christians with a different alphabet; i. e. one being a Hebraizing Aramæan and the other a Christian Aramæan. A similar fact exists at this day, in relation to the Servian and Illyrian languages. They are the same, or nearly so, as spoken; but the Servians are Greek Christians, and use a peculiar alphabet; while the Illyrians are Catholics, and write with the Latin letters.†
"There can be no doubt, I think, as to the propriety and necessity of cultivating the modern Syriac, in the manner you mention, any more than there is in the case of the modern Greek. It is the language, and the only language of the people, and must remain so; though it should be purified and refined, by a reference to the ancient language, so far as possible."
* Amer. Bibl. Repos., Jan. 1841, pp. 11, 12.
† Very recently an alphabet has been proposed by Mr. Gai, an Illyrian scholar, adapted to both his own and the Servian lan