The Syriac language belongs to the northern branch of the Semitic family. (See Semitic Race and Languages.) It is an Aramaic dialect, which rose to a literary language under the name of Syriac in the Christian schools of northern Mesopotamia. In writing it various forms of character are used, all of them of kindred origin, and coming from the same source whence are derived the other Semitic alphabets. The oldest character is the Palmyrene, represented by sundry inscriptions dating from the time of Christ. Next in age is the Estranghelo alphabet, commonly employed by the Syrians till the 8th or 9th century. The common modern Syriac alphabet is an adaptation of the Estranghelo to an easier and more rapid style of writing; it began to come into use in the' 5th and 6th centuries, and by degrees crowded out its predecessor, which was at last employed only for headings and similar purposes. The Estranghelo is also the parent of the Cufic, from which the modern forms of the Arabic are derived. Finally, we have the Nestorian character, still in common use with modern Nestorian Christians; it is heavier and squarer than the last named, and less altered from their common mother, the Estranghelo. All the Syriac alphabets contain the same 22 characters with the Phoenician and the Hebrew. The Syriac contains many Greek and Latin words, chiefly nouns; it has also partly filled out the scanty structure of the Semitic verb with forms of periphrastic origin.

Thus, besides the usual perfect and imperfect (or preterite and future), each of which is capable of standing for time past, present, or future, it has a distinctive present, formed by a participle and following pronoun; an imperfect, formed of a participle and the verb to be; a pluperfect, formed of the perfect (or preterite) and the verb to be; and even a future, with the adjective ready, about to. Of the Semitic conjugations, the Syriac has but three, each with its passive; the second and third are hardly distinguished in meaning, both expressing intensive or causative action. The dual number has entirely disappeared. The ancient Syriac was a vernacular dialect during the first centuries after Christ; after being raised to the rank of a cultivated literary language, it maintained itself as such, unaltered, throughout the whole period of growth of the Syriac literature; and it is still the sacred language of the scattered bodies of Christians in Asia representing the ancient Syriac church. It is no longer properly understood, however, even by the best instructed among them.

The vernacular dialect of the once powerful and active sect of Nes-torians has been lately, by the efforts of the American missionaries at Urumiah, raised to the rank of a printed language, with a Christian literature, school and scientific books, periodicals, etc. (See Nestorians, and Perkins, Justin.) - The Syriac literature is Christian, composed under Greek influence and after Greek models; and besides the important part it has played as the intermediary between Greek and Moslem science and philosophy, it is a source of valuable historical information. The oldest Syriac work still existing is the translation of nearly the whole Bible, of unknown authorship, commonly called the Pe-shito; it is supposed to have been made not later than about A. D. 200. The earliest authors whose names, with fragments of their works, have come down to us, are a few years older; they are Bardesanes and his son Har-monius. Besides philosophical works, they composed the first hymns in the language, and fixed its poetic style, giving it a properly metrical form, dependent on accent and number of syllables, with occasional rhyme; it was the first time that any Semitic dialect had been subjected to such rules.

But the most prominent early Syriac author is St. Ephraem, or Ephraem Syrus, of the middle of the 4th century; with him begins the full career of the Syriac literature, which continued uninterrupted until the 9th century. A great part of this literature has been lost, and what remains has as yet been but partially worked up and made accessible. It may be said to have done its principal work in the 8th and 9th centuries, in introducing classical learning to the knowledge of the Arabs. The grammatical study and culture of the Syriac began after the founding of the famous school of Edessa, long a chief centre of oriental learning, in the 5th century. The works of previous laborers in this field were effaced by those of Jacob of Edessa, of the 7th century, whose authority gave the classical and sacred dialect its final form. From his time the series of native grammarians and lexicographers is almost unbroken; of most note among the former are Elias of Nisibis (11th century), John Bar-Zugbi (beginning of the 13th century), and Bar-Hebra3us, known also as an Arabic author by the name of Abulfaraj (13th century); of the latter the most important are Bar-Ali and Bar-Bahlul, of the 9th and 10th centuries.

Bar-Hebrseus, who is distinguished by both his Syriac and Arabic works, and in various departments of knowledge, is the last great name in Syriac literary history. The study of Syriac was introduced into Europe in the 15th century, and the names of Ambrosius, Widmaristad, the two Ecchellenses, and Assemani are prominent among its cultivators. The only comprehensive dictionary is that contained in Cas-tell's polvglot lexicon, and published separately by Michaelis (Gottingen, 1788). Of the Latin grammar of Hoffmann (Halle, 1827), an English abridged translation has been published by Cowper (London, 1858); it has also been worked over and much extended and altered by Merx (1867). The German one of Uhlemann (Berlin, 2d ed., 1857) includes also a chrestomathy and glossary; this, too, has been reproduced in English in this country by E. Hutchinson (2d ed., New York, 1875). Among the other chrestomathies published, the most useful are those of Rodiger (Halle, 1838) and Kirsch, edited with a glossary by Bernstein (Leipsic, 1832). A complete lexicon was begun by Bernstein, but interrupted by his death; his collections and Quatremere's have since passed into the hands of Dean R. Payne Smith, who is now (1876) publishing a very full and learned dictionary.

Besides Dean Smith, Cowper and Cureton are the best English cultivators of the study, and the latter especially has done great service by the publication of extracts from the precious collection of MSS. some time since acquired for the British museum from the convent of St. Maria Deipara in Egypt. A grammar of the dialect of Urumiah, by the Rev. D. T. Stoddard, was published in 1856 by the American oriental society. Noldeke has produced a fuller and more learned one, founded on this and on the texts published by the missionaries, entitled Grammatilc der neusyrischen Sprache (Leipsic, 1868). Dr. Adalbert Merx has published a Neasyrisches Lesebuch; Texte im Dia-lekte von Urmia (Breslau, 1874).

Syriac names of characters.

Estranghelo of MSS.

Modern Syriac type (initial forms).

Modern Arabic type (independent forms).

Arabic names of characters.

Approximate sounds.

Olaph...

Striac Language And Literature 1500318

Striac Language And Literature 1500319

Striac Language And Literature 1500320

Elif...

Spiritus lenis.

Beth____

Striac Language And Literature 1500321

Striac Language And Literature 1500322

Striac Language And Literature 1500323

Be....

B

Gomal...

Striac Language And Literature 1500324

Striac Language And Literature 1500325

Striac Language And Literature 1500326

Jim.. .

G

Dolath...

Striac Language And Literature 1500327

Dal...

D

Striac Language And Literature 1500328

Striac Language And Literature 1500329

He......

Striac Language And Literature 1500330

Striac Language And Literature 1500331

Striac Language And Literature 1500332

He....

H

Vau

Striac Language And Literature 1500333

Striac Language And Literature 1500334

Striac Language And Literature 1500335

Waw..

W or V

Zain ....

Striac Language And Literature 1500336

Striac Language And Literature 1500337

Striac Language And Literature 1500338

Ze....

Z

Cheth...

Striac Language And Literature 1500339

Striac Language And Literature 1500340

Striac Language And Literature 1500341

Kha.....

Kh

Teth....

Striac Language And Literature 1500342

Striac Language And Literature 1500343

Striac Language And Literature 1500344

Tha...

Th

Yud.....

Striac Language And Literature 1500345

Striac Language And Literature 1500346

Striac Language And Literature 1500347

Ye... .

Y

Koph....

Striac Language And Literature 1500348

Striac Language And Literature 1500349

Striac Language And Literature 1500350

Qef....

K

Lomad ..

Striac Language And Literature 1500351

Striac Language And Literature 1500352

Striac Language And Literature 1500353

Lam ..

L

Mim....

Striac Language And Literature 1500354

Striac Language And Literature 1500355

Striac Language And Literature 1500356

Mim.....

M

Nun ....

Striac Language And Literature 1500357

Striac Language And Literature 1500358

Striac Language And Literature 1500359

Nun ..

N

Semkath...

Striac Language And Literature 1500360

Striac Language And Literature 1500361

Striac Language And Literature 1500362

Sin....

S

Ee......

Striac Language And Literature 1500363

Striac Language And Literature 1500364

Striac Language And Literature 1500365

Ain....

Indefinite.

Pe....

Striac Language And Literature 1500366

Striac Language And Literature 1500367

Striac Language And Literature 1500368

Phe.....

Ph

Tsode.....

Striac Language And Literature 1500369

Striac Language And Literature 1500370

Striac Language And Literature 1500371

Dhad.....

Ts

Kuph......

Striac Language And Literature 1500372

Striac Language And Literature 1500373

Striac Language And Literature 1500374

Kaf...

K

Risk____

Striac Language And Literature 1500375

Striac Language And Literature 1500376

Striac Language And Literature 1500377

Re....

R

Shin....

Striac Language And Literature 1500378

Striac Language And Literature 1500379

Striac Language And Literature 1500380

Shin ..

Sh

Thau....

Striac Language And Literature 1500381

Striac Language And Literature 1500382

Striac Language And Literature 1500383

Te....

T