Neuaramaische Texte in den Dialekten der Khabur-Assyrer in Nordostsyrien. By Shabo Talay. Semitica Viva, vol. 41. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2009. Pp. xv + 712. 148 [euro].
The present work, the companion volume to a reference grammar previously published in the same series (Die neuaramaischen Dialekte der Khabur-Assyrer in Nordostsyrien [Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2008], for which see my review in Orientalistische Literaturzeitung 105 : 517), is the fruit of an extremely ambitious program of language documentation: a collection of ninty-five hitherto unpublished short texts from twenty-three Northeastern Neo-Aramaic (NENA) dialects, formerly and currently spoken in thirty-two villages and three hamlets along the banks of the river Khabur, in the Syrian panhandle. The author's research, which developed over the course of eight years from 1997 to 2005, took him from Syria to Turkey, Sweden, and the American cities of Chicago and Detroit, all of which host significant Assyrian diasporan populations. The thirty-eight informants represented in this collection are primarily middle-aged men between the ages of thirty and fifty, although older and younger men and women are also represented, and his informants even include a child (otherwise almost entirely unrepresented in Neo-Aramaic studies, as most dialects are moribund and have not been transmitted to the most recent generations).
The ancestors of his informants, representing several communities of Christians belonging to the Assyrian Church of the East and its Uniate counterpart, the Chaldean Catholic Church, had previously resided in the mountains of Hakkari (today in southeastern Turkey), but the fortunes of the First World War and a series of massacres displaced them from their homeland. They migrated to a series of refugee camps in Iran and then Iraq, where they remained for fifteen years until they were once again forcefully expelled in August, 1933. Studies on the fate of the Neo-Aramaic-speaking Christian minorities of the Ottoman Empire are still few in number despite a recent revival of interest, reflected by publications such as Sebastien de Courtois's The Forgotten Genocide (2004) and David Gaunt and Jan Bet-[section]awoce's Massacres, Resistance, Protectors (2006), both published by Gorgias Press, and most recently Biilent Ozdemir, Assyrian Identity and the Great War: Nestorian, Chaldean and Syrian Christians in the 20th Century (Dunbeath, UK: Whittles, 2012).