As the archbishop walks down the church aisle a melodic hymn rises from the congregation in an ancient tongue that Jesus would have recognized. The Aramaic language of the earliest Christians lives on in the church services of a tiny village on the Turkish Cypriot side of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where a hybrid dialect of Aramaic is commonly spoken by just 1,000 people who are striving to keep it alive.
Maronites from the village of Kormakitis, on a sun-baked peninsula in northwestern Cyprus, have for centuries used a unique language to communicate now codified by experts as Cypriot Maronite Arabic, or CMA. Rooted in Aramaic, CMA evolved with influences from Arabic, Latin, Turkish and Greek.
Locals admit that not many in the congregation understand the meaning of the words in the Syriac-Aramaic hymns they were taught from infancy. Like their own CMA language, it has been passed down to them phonetically. But in an attempt to boost dwindling numbers of people using CMA, an alphabet was established three years ago.
“We are among the last to use this language,” said Elias Zonias, who teaches CMA to children. He is compiling a dictionary for what was until now considered a “dead” language.