As with the article on Hebrew, there are many excellent articles on the Aramaic language; I just want to give a brief overview here of the place that Aramaic holds within our culture.
After Hebrew, Aramaic is the second most important language within Talmidaism. The sayings of Yeshua` can best be understood from the standpoint of Galilean Jewish Aramaic, which has many idioms which are not immediately obvious to the modern western reader.
I also want to say a little about Syriac. Many Christians have started to think that the language that Yeshua` spoke was actually Syriac; however, although Syriac is indeed a language descended from Aramaic, it is as different from the language Yeshua` spoke as Danish is from Norwegian. Syriac and Galilean Aramaic are quite different; their vocabulary is often different, the nuance of meaning is different, and most of all the cultures of the two are very different (and always have been). One cannot look at Syriac and apply what one finds wholesale to Galilean Jewish Aramaic.
For example, compare the Syriac and Galilean Jewish Aramaic translations of the Our Father (the Abbun d’bishmayya):
First, the Syriac:
aykano d’bashmayo of bar`o
hab lan lachmo d’soonqanan yawmono
washbooq lan chawbayn
aykano dof ch’nan sh’baqnan l’chayobayn
w’lo ta`lan l’nesyuno
elo patson men bisho
The English translation is little different from what you already know. Now compare it with the reconstructed Jewish Aramaic, including Galilean pronunciation:
ken af bar`a
ab lan yoma den uma`ra
ushbaq lan `obayn
ekhma daf shbaqnan le`aybayn
w’la ta`elan l’nissayuna
ala atselan mibbisha
Some people have begun to claim that Jews of Yeshua`’s time did not speak Aramaic but were all fluent speakers of Hebrew – that after the Babylonian Exile, there was no shift from Hebrew to Aramaic. This is not our view. Some present proof of Hebrew modes of expression in Yehsua`’s sayings, but what is claimed for Hebrew can be equally claimed for Aramaic. Why would translations of Torah after Torah readings in services be necessary? Why would the Oral Law be written in Talmudic Aramaic? Why would Jews bother to have their gravestones inscribed with Aramaic inscriptions?
While Aramaic is not as important as Hebrew, a basic knowledge of Jewish Aramaic is useful for serious students of the sayings of the prophet Yeshua`.