Page:Compendious Syriac Grammar.djvu/37

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XXXIII
INTRODUCTION.

The Persian Syrians decided mostly for the teaching of the Nestorians,—the Roman Syrians for that of the Monophysites or Jacobites. And when the Academy of Edessa, the intellectual capital, was closed (489) to the former as declared heretics, they founded educational institutions of their own,—of which in particular the one at Nisibis attained to high repute. This separation had as a consequence an abiding severance of tradition, even with respect to the language and the mode of writing it. Assuredly the variety of the common dialects in olden time cannot have been without influence upon the pronunciation of Syriac, in the mouths even of cultivated persons in different localities,—just as in Germany the Upper-Saxon language of polite intercourse assumes a very perceptible colouring, conditioned by the local dialect it meets with, in the case of the inhabitant for instance of Holstein or the Palatinate or Upper Bavaria,—or as in Italy the Tuscan tongue is similarly modified, in the case of the native of Lombardy, Genoa or Naples. Many of these differences, however, rest doubtless upon rules of art laid down by the Schools. So far as we find here a genuine variety in the forms of the language, it is sometimes the Eastern, sometimes the Western tradition, which preserves the original with the greater fidelity. Naturally the more consistent of the two is the Western, which as a whole restores to us the pronunciation of the Edessans, in the remodelled form in which it appeared about the year 600 or 700,—that is, at a time subsequent to the golden age of the language.

The conquest of the Aramaean regions by the Arabs brought the commanding position of Syriac to a sudden close. True, it lived on for sometime longer in Edessa, and Aramaic dialects long maintained themselves in remote districts, as they partly do up to the present day; but Syriac speedily lost its standing as a language of cultivated intercourse extending over a wide region. The very care which was now devoted to the literary determination of the old speech is a token that men clearly perceived it was passing away. It can hardly be doubted that about the year 800 Syriac was already a dead language, although it was frequently spoken by learned men long after that time. The power of tradition, which keeps it up as an ecclesiastical language, and the zealous study

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