Quest to Save Dying Language Passes Through North Shore

A linguist, a tax preparer and a journalist scour the north suburbs of Chicago for native speakers of a 3,000-year-old language.

Aramaic was once the language of the entire Middle East, used for commerce and government, and spoken by Jesus. Today, it is down to its last generation or two of speakers.

Many of those speakers live in Chicago’s northern suburbs.

That’s what drew Aramaic scholar Geoffrey Kahn here last May, writes Ariel Sabar in January’s Smithsonian Magazine.

Guided by Elias Bet-Shmuel, a Chicago tax preparer and local Assyrian, the three men visit Agnes Nissan Esho, a widow in Niles; St. Andrew’s Church in Glenview, and Skokie resident Nemo Toma.

“The Windy City is a heady place for one of the world’s foremost scholars of modern Aramaic, a man bent on documenting all of its dialects before the language—once the tongue of empires—follows its last speakers to the grave,” Sabar writes.

Read the Smithsonian's full article.


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