Learning Syriac — first session

As I mentioned earlier, I am trying to learn Syriac.  A week ago I went down to London, and 5 of us had a day of intensive tuition.  It was interesting that several had bought the grammars, but had been quite unable to get into them.  We were taught how to form and transliterate the Serto letters — something that all the books do very badly indeed –, with the vowel-system of Jacob of Edessa, and given some homework.  In the afternoon the mysteries of Syriac nouns and adjectives were laid out.  My general impression is that the language is not complicated, and that the poor quality of the books is actually the main obstacle.  The homework so far has really succeeded in teaching me the serto alphabet — much more easily than my struggles to learn the simpler estrangelo alphabet by myself.

10 thoughts on “Learning Syriac — first session

  1. What books are you using?

    You know, don’t you, that you are likely to have to learn all three languages?

    I’m trying to teach myself a little Arabic myself.. Compared to that Syriac is child’s play.

    Good luck!

  2. I have Healey, Coakley and Thackston. They’re all terrible. Coakley uses a font so tiny as to be unreadable unless you already know Syriac. Thackston is better, but doesn’t transcribe things properly, so you’re left wondering how the transcription relates to the Syriac. Healey has some excellent transcription exercises, but needs a complete rewrite of the first chapter from a beginners point of view.

    I suspect once one can do Serto, the others are trivial.

  3. I used Robinson. Although its old its pretty good. And Muraoka for some in depth grammar, but the English of that book is almost impenetrable. It has very good reading exercises once you feel ready to take on some real texts.

    Yeah, the other alphabets is nothing to worry about, there are just a few letters that one tends to confuse at first. In manuscripts it gets a bit more complicated, but that’s just how it is.

    Also, get yourself Payne-Smith’s dictionary as soon as you start read texts, it’s one of the best dictionaries I have worked with in any language, because it makes finding the right word quite easy.

    And unless you have already, do visit http://www.bethmardutho.org/ where you can find a free desktop dictionary and Syriac fonts for Word.

  4. You classicists amaze me. I read modern Greek and without a dictionary am pretty lost reading ancient Greek, and you guys want to learn Syriac? My gosh, if you had applied yourself to {engineering, medicine, law,etc} now, you’d be making money! LOL. Good luck to you.

  5. I’m using the Coakley reprint of Robinson. But I can’t read the vowels! The hboso and usoso are identical to my eye, because they are printed so small. Tomorrow I shall go and get a magnifying glass. But I do wonder why on earth anyone would print text so small in the first place.

    Thank you for your suggestions. Muraoka is new to me — do tell me more.

    The Beth Mardutho fonts are good stuff. I have in fact made use of unicode for the transcriptions — signalling het as an ‘h’ with a dot underneath, etc. Complete unicode fonts like Titus Cyberbit Basic include all the characters needed.

    I certainly want to read texts. In addition some electronic tool like QuickLatin for Syriac would be good, to help with this.

  6. I’m completely new to Syriac, painfully so. I’m doing part-time PhD on medieval hagiographic writing in French and English but am becoming aware of the importance of the Syriac versions of the texts, as certain details preserved in later versions of legends make sense in the Syriac but are later retain undigested. At the moment I’m relying on translations – profoundly unsatisfying – and am looking for a very basic introduction to Syriac. Any reommendations for a total neophyte, please? (I live in a rural area up from Swansea, so London’s a bit far.)

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