This represents the Western dialect of that branch of the Shemitic or Syro- Arabian languages usually termed the Aramaean (q.v.), the Eastern being represented by the Challee (q.v.). The affinity between the Chaldee and Syriac is indeed so close that but for a few orthographical changes, and especially the difference in written character, they would scarcely be distinguishable. In speech they could' hardly have differed more than the several dialects of the Greek (e.g. the Doric, Eolic, Attic) from each other. While the Chaldee is written in the square character, now usually called the Hebrew, the Syriac is written in a very different and more cursive hand, and exhibits (in addition to the peculiar forms for final letters, as usual in all the Shemitic group) a method of combining certain letters or running them together in writing, similar to the practice in Arabic. There are also two forms of the characters (which correspond precisely to the Hebrew in number and power); the ordinary or light-stroke form now generally used in printing, and an older form called the Estrangelo, of heavier strokes and more uncouth shape. The vowel-points also (of which there are five, corresponding in general to the modern vowels a, e, i, o, and u, as pronounced in Italian) differ entirely from the Hebrew (and Chaldee), and, moreover, vary in these two methods of writing; with the ordinary letters they consist of modified forms of the Greek vowels (α, ε, ι, ο, υ), while in the Estrangelo they are denoted by two dots in various positions. Other orthographical peculiarities of the Syriac as compared with the Hebrew and Chaldee are the use of a small line (linea occultins.) beneath silent letters, the suppression altogether of the Sheva when silent, the disuse of the Dagesh (some writers, however, employing a dot above a Begad Kephath letter, called Kushoi, i.e. "hardness," to remove the aspiration, and a dot beneath it, called Rukok, i.e. "softness," to retain the aspiration), and the indication of the plural (when identical in form with the singular) by two horizontal dots placed above it, called Ribbui, i.e. "increase." For the leading differences in the formation and construction of words in Syriac, which are throughout analogous with the Chaldee, SEE ARAMIEAN LANGUAGE. The ancient or proper Syriac is believed to be now wholly a dead language, and is used only in the old liturgies and sacred books. The modern Syriac, which is used almost solely by the Nestorian Christians of Persia, and to some extent by their Koordish neighbors, differs considerably from the old Syriac, or that of literature. The principal value of a knowledge of the latter is its use in the elucidation of rare words in the Old Test. and the comparison with the Heb. roots; and it is also of much importance from the fact that the oldest and best version of the New Test. (the Peshito) is in this language. SEE SYRIAC VERSIONS. The principal literature of the Syriac, besides this and the inferior version of the Old Test., consists of certain historical works of the Early and Middle Ages, particularly the writings of Ephrem Syrus (q.v.), and a number of religious poems and hymns (see Select Hymns and Homilies [Lond. 1853], translated from the Syriac by Rev. H. Burgess).
General treatises on the Syriac language and literature, many of them in connection with the Hebrew, but exclusive of those that treat likewise of the Chaldee, are by the following: Lysius (Regiom. 1726), Michaelis [J.B.] (Hal. 1756), Michaelis. [J. D.] (Gött. 1768, etc.), Agrell (Upsal, 1791; Lond. 1816), Svanborg (Upsal, 1795), Lengerke (Regiom. 1836), Larsow, (Berol. 1841).
See the Jour. of Sac. Lit. Oct. 1862; an art. on the Syro-Arubian Languages and Literature, in the Christ. Rev. 17:393 sq.; on Syriac Biblical Literature, in the Church Rev. 5, 36 sq.; on Syriac Philology, in the Biblioth. Sacra, 8:554 sq.; and the list in Uhlemann's Syr. Grammar, p. 22 sq.
Grammars on the Syriac, exclusively are those of Dilherr (2nd ed. Hal. 1646), Opitius: (Leips. 1691), Leusden (Ultraj. 1658), Beveridge (Lond. 1658), Michaelis [C. B.] (Hal. 1741), Michaelis [J. D.] (Gött. 1784), Adler (Alton. 1784), Zel (Lemgo, 1788), Tyschen (Rost. 1793), Yates (Lond. 1821), Ewald (Erlang. 1826), Hoffmann, (Hal. 1827), Uhlemann (Berl. 1829; N. Y. 1855), Tullberg (Lond. 1827), Phillips (2nd ed. ibid. 1845), Cowper (ibid. 1860), Merx (Halle, 1867). A Grammar of the Modern Syriac Language, by Rev. D. T. Stoddard, is printed in the Jour. of the Amer. Oriental Society (N. Y. 1855), vol. 5, No. 1. Lexicons have been executed by Gutbir (Hamb. 1667; new ed. by Henderson, Lond. 1836) and Schaaf (Lugd. Bat. 1708); the abstract of the Syriac part of Castell's Heptaglot Lex. by Michaelis [J. D.] (Gött. 1788); Smith, Thesaurus (Lond. 1858). It is a new and extensive Syriac lexicon was undertaken by Prof. Bernstein of Germany. Syriac chrestomathies are those of Kirsch (Leips. 1789), Grimm (Lemgo, 1795), Knaes (Gött. 1807), Hahn and Sieffert (Leips. 1825), Oberleitner (Vien. 1826), Ddpke (Gött. 1829), Wenig (Innsbr. 1865), and Rodiger (2nd ed. Halle, 1868). The most convenient reading-book for beginners is the Syrirc New Test., published by Bagster (Lond.), and containing a brief lexicon edited by Dr. Henderson. SEE SHEMITIC LANGUAGES.