Mandaic language

Mandāyì, Raṭnā
Native to Iran, Iraq, United States, Australia
Region Iraq - Baghdad, Basra
Iran - Khuzestan Province
Native speakers
5500 (2001–2006)[1]
Mandaic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
mid  Modern Mandaic
myz  Classical Mandaic
Linguist list
myz Classical Mandaic
Glottolog mand1468[2]

Mandaic is the language of the Mandaean religion and community. Classical Mandaic is used by a section of the Mandaean community in liturgical rites. The modern descendent of Classical Mandaic, known as Neo-Mandaic or Modern Mandaic, is spoken by a small section of the Mandaean community around Ahvaz, Khuzestan Province, Iran. Speakers of Classical Mandaic are found in Iran, Iraq (particularly the southern portions of the country) and in diaspora (particularly in the United States). It is a variety of Aramaic, notable for its use of vowel letters (see Mandaic alphabet) and the striking amount of Persian influence in its lexicon.

Classical Mandaic is a Northwest Semitic language of the Eastern Aramaic sub-family, and is closely related to the language of the Aramaic portions of the Babylonian Talmud, as well as the language of the incantation texts and Aramaic incantation bowls found throughout Mesopotamia. It is also related to Syriac, another member of the Eastern Aramaic sub-family, which is the liturgical language of many Christian denominations throughout the Middle East.


Main article: Neo-Mandaic

Neo-Mandaic represents the latest stage of the phonological and morphological development of Mandaic, a Northwest Semitic language of the Eastern Aramaic sub-family. Along with the other surviving dialects of Aramaic, it is classified as Neo-Aramaic; these form a constellation of dialects ranging from Lake Van and Lake Urmia in the north to Damascus and Ahvaz in the south, clustered in small groups. Having developed in isolation from one another, most Neo-Aramaic dialects are mutually unintelligible and should therefore be considered separate languages; however, determining the exact relationship between the various Neo-Aramaic dialects is a difficult task, fraught with many problems, which arise from our incomplete knowledge of these dialects and their relation to the Aramaic dialects of antiquity.

Aramaic became the lingua franca of the Fertile Crescent largely during the Neo-Assyrians (ca. 934–609 BCE) and the Achaemenids (576–330 BCE) after them, who adopted it as an auxiliary language for both international communication and internal administrative use. It gradually came to supplant the native languages of the region, but due to its wide geographic distribution and political circumstances, it soon evolved into two major sub-families, the Western sub-families comprising Palestinian Talmudic, Christian Palestinian, and Samaritan and the Eastern subfamilies comprising Jewish Babylonian Aramaic (which was in use until the Geonic period), Syriac, and Mandaic.

Although no direct descendants of Babylonian Talmudic Aramaic survive today, most of the Neo-Aramaic dialects spoken today belong to the Eastern sub-family; these include Central Neo-Aramaic (Ṭuroyo and Mlaḥsô), Northeastern Neo-Aramaic (the largest Neo-Aramaic group, which includes various Jewish Neo-Aramaic dialects, and the dialects of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and Chaldean Neo-Aramaic), and Neo-Mandaic. The only surviving remnant of the Western subfamily is Western Neo-Aramaic, spoken in the villages of Maʿlūla, Bakhʿa, and Jubb ʿAdīn to the northeast of Damascus. Of all of these dialects, Eastern or Western, only Neo-Mandaic can be described with any certainty as the direct descendent of one of the Aramaic dialects attested in Late Antiquity. For this reason, it is potentially of great value in reconstructing the history of this sub-family and the precise genetic relationship of its members to one another.

In terms of its grammar, Neo-Mandaic is the most conservative among the Eastern Neo-Aramaic dialects, preserving the old Semitic "suffix" conjugation (or perfect). The phonology, however, has undergone many innovations, the most notable being the loss of the so-called "guttural" consonants.

Neo-Mandaic survives in three subdialects, which arose in the cities of Shûshtar, Shāh Wāli, and Dezful in northern Khūzestān, Iran. The Mandaean communities in these cities fled persecution during the 1880s and settled in the Iranian cities of Ahvaz and Khorramshahr. While Khorramshahr boasted the largest Mandaic-speaking population until the 1980s, the Iran-Iraq War caused many to flee into diaspora, leaving Ahvaz the only remaining Mandaic-speaking community.


  1. Modern Mandaic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Classical Mandaic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Mandaic". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.


  • Häberl, Charles. 2009. The Neo-Mandaic Dialect of Khorramshahr. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  • Voigt, Rainer. 2007. "Mandaic" in Morphologies of Asia and Africa, ed. Alan S. Kaye. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.
  • Malone, Joseph L. 1997. "Modern and Classical Mandaic Phonology" in Phonologies of Asia and Africa, ed. Alan S. Kaye. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.
  • Macuch, Rudolf. 1993. Neumandäische Texte im Dialekt von Ahwaz. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz.
  • Macuch, Rudolf. 1989. Neumandäische Chrestomathie. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz.
  • Macuch, Rudolf. 1965. Handbook of Classical and Modern Mandaic. Berlin: De Gruyter.
  • Drower, Ethel Stefana and Rudolf Macuch. 1963. A Mandaic Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon.
  • Nöldeke, Theodor. 1875. Mandäische Grammatik. Halle: Waisenhaus.
  • Nöldeke, Theodor. 1862. “Ueber die Mundart der Mandäer.” Abhandlungen der Historisch-Philologischen Classe der königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen 10: 81-160.

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