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Syriac (sērˈēăkˌ) [key], late dialect of Aramaic, which is a West Semitic language (see Afroasiatic languages). The early Christians of Mesopotamia and Syria gave the Greek name Syriac to the Aramaic dialect they spoke when the term Aramaic acquired the meaning of "pagan" or "heathen." The oldest Syriac script, which dates back to the 1st cent. A.D., evolved from the Aramaic alphabet. Syriac began to yield to Arabic after the coming of Islam in the 7th cent. A.D. Today it survives as the tongue of a few thousand people in the Middle East. However, it is also used as a liturgical language of the Syrian Church.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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