Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On the Aramaic of the Talmud Bavli and Geonic Responsa

I came across an interesting article by Yochanan Breuer about rabbinic Aramaic of the Talmudic period. In his discussion about the Aramaic of the Geonim he makes the following comparison and (to my mind) keen observations:

Here are two typical sentences culled from Geonic responsa:

הכין חזינא דהדא שאלה לא כשאלתא קדמייתא
'So we have seen this question is unlike the first question.'

ופקידנא וקרו יתהון קדמנא ועיננא בהון וקמנא על כל מאי דכתיב בהין ופקידנא וכתבו תשובות דילהין לפום דאחזו לנא מן שמיא
'And we ordered that they read them [the questions] in our presence and we studied them and we investigated all that was written in them and we ordered that they write answers to them according to what we were shown from heaven.'

The language in these snippets differs from the Aramaic of the Bavli in several respects:

  • הכין; in the Bavli the final n is dropped, and the form הכי is typical (Berachos 18b, מאי טעמא עבדת הכי).
  • הדא; in the Bavli the d has been dropped, and the typical form is הא (Zevachim 44a, כי הא מילתא).
  • קדמייתא; in the Bavli the d is assimilated to m, so we find קמייתא (Gittin 55b, גזרתא קמייתא).
  • לנא, קדמנא; in the Bavli the final letter is dropped and forms are קמן and לן (Chullin 11a, כי קא מיבעיא לן רובא קמן).
The explanation Breuer offers, convincing to my mind, is not merely that language changes. This is true, but typically we would expect the Bavli forms to be later, as languages have a tendency to decay, drop sounds and letters, become less flowery than the classical form, not more so. The explanation may be that the teshuvas ha-Geonim were written and therefore preserved a more classical form of Aramaic. The Bavli, however, was oral until it was written down, perhaps early in the period of the Geonim, and so the forms it preserves are actually a later, spoken form of Aramaic.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails