Documentation of the Beth Qustan Dialect of the Central Neo-Aramaic language, Turoyo

Documentation of the Beth Qustan Dialect of the Central Neo-Aramaic language, Turoyo

Language: Turoyo (ISO639-3:tru)
Depositor: Mikael Oez
Location: Turkey
Deposit Id: 0433
ELDP Id: IPF0244
Level: Deposit

Summary of deposit

A dialect of Neo-Aramaic dialect is the vascular of the Christian village of Beth Qustan or Beth Kustan since time immemorial. It is known in Neo-Aramaic as 'Be Qusyone', in Syriac 'ܒܝܬܼ ܩܘܣܛܢ‎' (literally 'the house of Constantine'), in Kurdish 'Baqisyan', and it has become known by its Turkish name 'Alagöz' since the 1930s. Beth Qustan is one of dozens of villages in Tur 'Abdin (in Syriac, literally 'the Mountain of worshipers') speaking a Neo-Aramaic dialect. It is one of the few remaining Christians villages within the Christian stronghold of Tur 'Abdin (in Syriac, literally ‘the Mountain of worshipers), and it is a mountainous enclave of the Mardin Province, South Eastern Turkey of Turkey. Beth Qustan was a flourishing rural centre part of the food basket of the Fertile Crescent at the turn of the 20th century, however, only an estimated 20 families remain inhabitants of Beth Qustan in 2017. The Qusneans still speaks a specific dialect of the Central Neo-Aramaic (CNA), which is better known to the community as Turoyo, and it is the language of Tur 'Abdin, South Eastern Turkey.

Beth Qustan, like many other villages in the Tur 'Abdin region, was probably inhabited in pre-Christian times, and it is believed that the village was a place of rest for travellers and the army of Constantine I repeatedly marching through the village. Located near the village is the rock of Helen which was named after St Helen, the mother of the Roman Emperor, Constantine I. Beth Qustan has nursed the renowned saint St Gabriel, who was born in 574 who dedicated his life to the Monastery of Qartmin. Following the performance of several miracles, St Gabriel became the patron saint of the Monastery of Qartmin, which by the end of the 15th century became known as the St Gabriel Monastery.

This project will document socio-cultural practices of the Turoyo speaking community in Tur 'Abdin, focusing on vernacular tales, particularly those that demonstrate cultural interaction between Muslims and Christians, including Muslim visitations to the shrines of Christian saints, and consultation of soothsayers by Christians.

Further information on the Documentation of the Beth Qustan Dialect of the Central Neo-Aramaic language can be accessed on the ELAR blog comprising an article authored by Mikael Oez following the fieldwork undertaken in Gütersloh and Kirchardt in Germany.

Group represented

This deposit focuses on speakers of North-Western Neo-Aramaic dialect of the Beth Qustan village of Tur 'Abdin in South Eastern Turkey, who have immigrated and settled in diaspora. These are among the last remaining inheritors of the Aramaic language, which was the lingua franca from ca. 600 BC until 200 BC. It was the official language of the Achaemenian Persian dynasty in 559-330 BC. The Aramaic language was replaced by Greek following the conquests of Alexander the Great, who reigned in 336-323 BC, and it became the official language throughout the former Persian Empire. Nevertheless, the Aramaic language continued to be widely used until it was replaced by Arabic in ca. 650 AD.

All Aramaic dialects are now in danger of extinction since due to most speakers of the Aramaic dialects have been forced, for many reasons, to abandon their original homelands and they have settled down in Diasporas over the last few decades. The younger generations of these communities are increasingly losing competence in these dialects due to their newly adopted homeland, culture and language.

There are at least a couple of dozen Neo-Aramaic dialects originated from Tur 'Abdin yet to be documented and archived. Unless these dialects are documented, prior to losing the generation of native speakers, which will perish by the year of 2025, then we will find ourselves deprived of all invaluable knowledge on their culture and traditions. The Aramaic civilisation goes back more than 3000 years, which has not been preserved, nor comprehensively documented. We have the technology and equipment today to capture this fascinating civilisation at a very low cost. Our only impediment is time which is certainly not on our side.

Language information

The Modern Aramaic language of the mountainous region of Tur 'Abdin (literally in Syriac, ‘the mountain of worshippers’), South Eastern Turkey, is known to its native-speakers as Surayt or Turoyo, that is, ‘the language of the Tur 'Abdin’. It belongs to the Central Neo-Aramaic (CNA) language group. This group of languages is sometimes also referred to as North Western Neo-Aramaic (NWNA).

The Turoyo dialect of Central Neo-Aramaic has been spoken by Christians living in Tur 'Abdin and the surrounding areas. Spoken or vernacular dialects are, by definition, not written down (until modern times). It is only recently that scholars have started to look for evidence of its earlier use. Therefore, it is rather difficult to ascertain precisely how far back Turoyo was being spoken as a distinct language. Turoyo is related to the North Eastern Neo-Aramaic (NENA) dialects spoken by other ancient Christian and Jewish communities of Eastern Turkey, Northern Iraq, and North Western Iran. Speakers of Central Neo-Aramaic cannot easily understand speakers of North Eastern Neo-Aramaic.

Other languages sporadically included in the material are Syriac, German, Kurdish, Turkish and Arabic.

Special characteristics

There is currently a fierce debate in some parts of the diaspora over the question of which script should be used to write Turoyo - the traditional Syriac alphabet of 22 consonants and 5 vowels, written from right to left, or a modification of the European 'Latin' alphabet, written from left to right.

In my opinion, there is no need for resentment, hostility, and confrontation. The glory of Classical Syriac will never diminish. It is the language of the Scriptures and of the liturgy of the Syriac churches; it is the literary language of the Syriac intelligentsia and has been chosen and used by the greatest writers, poets, and thinkers among the Aramaic-speaking people. The status of the Syriac script is guaranteed by its continued use in the liturgy. The language will not be threatened by the adoption of the Latin script for Turoyo. The Latin alphabet is more familiar than any other alphabet for members of the Syriac communities, both in Tur 'Abdin and in the diaspora. Therefore, the use of the Latin alphabet would greatly help their learning of the language, and will also encourage them to use Turoyo in written communication: letters, emails, SMS texts and social media.

A modified Latin alphabet has been used to transcribe the recordings of this documentation. The specific alphabet used was designed for Oez Mikael, Modern Aramaic in Practice: Turoyo: The Language of Tur ‘Abdin, Modern Aramaic Press 2014. Click here to view the Alphabet and its Pronunciation consulted for the transcriptions of this project.

Deposit contents

The deposit comprises 606 bundles of the Beth Qustan dialect. The bundles have been categorised by topics to make the navigation more manageable when consulting specific themes. The recordings have captured socio-cultural practices of the community in the Beth Qustan village, with a wide range of themes such as legendary stories traditionally told at village gatherings, historical narratives, personal stories, explaining the process of local produces like raisins, and the sophisticated culinary art of cooking cultural food.

Each bundle contains a video and an audio recording with picture(s), ELAN files, and PDF consent document(s). The total length of the videos exceeds 26 hours, and all video recordings of the Beth Qustan deposit have been segmented in ELAN and they are available to be accessed by registered users for transcriptions and/or for further research and analysis. 3.5 hours of the recordings have already been transcribed, and more than 2 hours have been provided with free translations in the English language.

Deposit history
The data for this deposit was collected during the postdoctoral research of Mikael Oez, the principal investigator. The data was collected in August and September 2016, when Mikael Oez went on fieldwork in Gütersloh and Kirchardt in Germany.

Other information
None of the data in this collection may be used as evidence in court.


Users of any part of the collection should acknowledge Mikael Oez as the principal investigator, the data collector and the researcher. Users should also acknowledge the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP) as the funder of the project. Individual speakers whose words and/or images are used should be acknowledged by respective name(s). Any other contributor who has collected, transcribed or translated the data or was involved in any other way should be acknowledged by name. All information on contributors is available in the metadata.

To refer to any data from the corpus, please cite as follows:

Oez, Mikael. 2017. Documentation of the Beth Qustan Dialect of the Central Neo-Aramaic language, Turoyo. ID: Qustan[insert ID number here]. London: SOAS, Endangered Languages Archive, ELAR. URL: The page was accessed on [insert date here].


Resources online and curated


Mikael Oez
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Affiliation: SOAS University of London

Deposit Statistics

Data from 2017 April 30 to 2017 April 30
Deposit hits:10
Files downloaded:
Without statistics

Showing 1 - 10 of 610 Items

Suleyman tells us about a man who found a naked djinn in his house. The djinn promised that it would make him wealthy if kept this as a secret, and that it would make him poor if he revealed the secret. The man did not believe the djinn and exposed it to the villagers. That man lived in poverty and without children for the rest of his life.

Recorded on: 2016-09-06

Suleyman tells us about an incident when a Qusnean woman is robbed of her gold by Muslims. She made an SOS call to her fellow villagers and a Qusnean man came to help her. The Qusnean man was shot dead by the Muslims. This incident was told by the Muslim who killed the Qusnean and he explained that he was left we no choice.

Recorded on: 2016-09-08

Suleyman explains that a man called Simon would be taken by the djinns for weeks. They would provide him food and drink. He would even dance with them. He then went to sorcerers to have writings composed so that the djinns would no longer come near him.

Recorded on: 2016-09-01

Lahdo tells us about a man he met from the village of Zaz who told him that the Djinns used to abduct him.

Recorded on: 2016-09-05

Isa tells us about the hardships they faced in the diaspora. Amongst are the language, the culture and the food. It took them a long time to adapt to the changes.

Recorded on: 2016-09-05

Iskender tells us about the advice of the elderly. He says that this was very important, however, he disagrees with curses they used to employ when telling off other for their mistakes.

Recorded on: 2016-08-31

Iskender advises on how people should be good. He explains that good people are always cared for by God, however, evil people will always be insufficient and in need of more to survive.

Recorded on: 2016-08-31

Musa tells us that he recals shepherds speaking an alien language in 1964/5. He does not know the name of the language. One day after the prayer, the villagers told the priest about this alien language as they were worried that their own language would be harmed or forgotten. The priest preached in the church the following Sunday banning this alien language to spoken.

Recorded on: 2016-09-02

Eliyo tells us about an incident when they found alien shpherds one morning grazing their animals amongst their vineyards. They told them nicely to leave and the alien shepherds agreed to leave. They alien shepherds did leave bur returned later and continued grazing their animals. Eliyo came across the alien shepherds and warned them that unless they left he would report them to the authorities.

Recorded on: 2016-09-08

Lahdo explains how amulets were used for healing at his time. He also speaks of the healing of children falling on the moon, and children breaking their spines. His mother was one of the healers in the village of Beth Qustan.

Recorded on: 2016-08-28