Saving a Dying Language in Cyprus

December 14, 2016


Cyprus is a small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Turkey and West of Syria. In a village in the northern part of the country, a community is working to save an ancient language and reunify a divided land. This town, Kromakitis, was once the unofficial "capital" of Cyprus's Maronite minority. These people were descendants of Lebanese and Syrian Christians who spoke a unique dialect of Arabic known as Sanna. This language was influenced by Aramaic and is now severely endangered according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Many Maronites fled Cyprus after the 1974 Turkish invasion and were assimilated into Greek-Cypriot communities where they sought asylum. Recently, leaders of both Greece and Turkey have intensified talks to reunite this population with their homeland. Despite many years of Sanna classes in Cyprus, the language is still on the decline. Maronites hope that by returning home they will be able to revive the language and keep it alive."The problem is that because we have lost our village it's very difficult to keep our language," said Katy Goradari, a local teacher. Young Maronites have attended a Sanna summer camp in the village every August for the past 6 years, taught by Goradari.

Though Maronites make up less than 1% of the island's population, they have been in Cyprus since the 8th century and are considered a branch of the Catholic Church. Cyprus is home to 4 Maronite villages with Kormakitis being the largest. It is also the last village where Sanna is spoken. Though Maronite churches were established in the south of Cyprus after the northern coup, the language did not fully survive the trek. Those living in the south have gotten accustomed to speaking Greek over the past 40 years which has also led to the loss of Sanna.

Talks are set to resume in January and hopefully all parties involved will come to an agreement and preserve one of the world's truly unique languages.

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