Turoyo (henceforth Surayt) is a Neo-Aramaic language, traditionally spoken by the Syriac Christians (also known as Arameans and Assyrians) in different countries in the Middle East, and today by approximately 250,000 people in Europe. Surayt is a continuation of the ancient Aramaic language – famous as the language of Jesus – with a distinguished cultural and linguistic history over a period of more than 3,000 years.
Surayt has predominantly been a spoken language, and classified as ‘severely endangered’ by the UNESCO, because of the emigration or expulsion of its speakers from their native areas in the last 50 years. The number of active speakers in Western countries is rapidly decreasing, particularly among the second generation due to the lack of educational sources, its status and the dominance of majority languages. The future viability of Surayt is, therefore, related to the efforts and projects that aim to develop durable educational sources and innovative tools for teaching Surayt. This is also an important aim for the preservation of linguistic diversity in Europe, which is identified as the ‘cornerstone’ of the European project in EU’s Multilingualism Policy (COM(2008) 566 final).
Prior to the project, the consortium partners have organized three workshops and identified the following problems:
- Surayt is missing in the language courses offered by the Erasmus+ Program countries. There is no institution that provides linguistic support to people who want to learn Surayt, although the Erasmus+ program has the vision to develop e-learning sources for all languages spoken in Europe. Learning/teaching Surayt is not only important for the protection of linguistic diversity and intercultural awareness in Europe, but also for helping people to equip themselves with better linguistic skills in Surayt for increasing their employability and entrepreneurial opportunities both in Europe and beyond, particularly in the Middle East where language competence in Surayt can be a key for entering into micro markets.
- A key obstacle to learning Surayt is that only Syriac Aramaic (liturgical language) is taught, and not the spoken mother tongue Surayt-Aramaic (by the Syriac Orthodox Church and by several universities). Recently, the discourse in the field is in favour of teaching Surayt instead, but no courses are provided yet.
- Due to the lack of courses and language learning materials in Surayt, generations born in European countries often do not use their mother tongue much or do not learn it in properly. Also, non-native learners have difficulty in learning Surayt. Therefore, institutional efforts are urgently needed to cater for the needs of both native and non-native learners of Surayt.
- There is no standardized way of writing Surayt, both in Syriac and Latin alphabets. This is an obstacle for the production of literature and also for the written communication (e.g. email) in this language between people.
- Modern language teaching methods and CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) technologies have not been introduced to the present teachers of Syriac; the materials and methodologies used are out-dated. Except for a few, the existing language teachers of Syriac, who also want to teach Surayt, do not have the necessary pedagogical skills. It is therefore vital to train the future language teachers of Surayt.