Cyprus Mail

Maronite language gets written for the first time

Sanna speaker Elena Skoullou

The Sanna language, spoken by only 800 people from the island’s Maronite community, has received a writing system in an effort to preserve the language considered to be severely endangered by Unesco.
According to a BBC Travel documentary, the language – a blend of Arabic and ancient Aramaic – did not have a writing system, initially being learned through speaking.

Following the Turkish invasion in 1974 Sanna, widely spoken in Kormakitis in the north, took a blow as the Maronite community members moved to the state-controlled areas.

There the community adopted Greek as their language and did not push younger generations to learn Sanna, the BBC reported.

However, linguist Alexander Borg came along and helped to create an alphabet for the language, allowing speakers to start to transcribe and teach it.

Elias Zonias, a teacher of Sanna, told the BBC: “Now we are constantly writing, translating books, songs and Christmas carols to Sanna.”

He added that he hopes that he is not one of the last Sanna speakers, because it would be a loss to their cultural for the language to die out.

Another Sanna speaker, Antonis Skoullos, was asked why it is important to revive the language. He said:

“And I think the answer, for me at least, is very clear, it is very precise. Sanna is our past, our history, and without that we cannot aim into our future.”

The language was first introduced to the island when Maronites came mainly from Lebanon and Syria starting in the 7th century. Sanna was first classified as severely endangered by Unesco in 2002, and since 2008 is has been recognised as a minority language on the island by the EU Council’s charter for regional and minority languages.

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