An AFP report on the Cypriot Maronite Arabic language, also known as Sanna, caught my attention few years back. Unfortunately, and based on this most recent article, no substantial efforts have been done to save it. In fact, according to linguists, Cypriot Arabic will cease to exist within the next 50 years if nothing changes.
Why is this language severely endangered?
– The key reason is the Turkish invasion in 1974 that divided the island and left Maronite communities stranded. Over 80% of Cyprus’ Maronites were uprooted and had to flee and seek shelter in the Greek-speaking south, while only few hundreds mainly in Kormakitis opted to stay behind.
– The Sanna language was entirely oral until 2007 and an alphabet was only established few years ago. This being said, linguists still are not sure on how to classify Cypriot Arabic. Is it a semitic language? Is it a blend between old Lebanese Arabic/Aramaic and Cypriot Greek?
– The language is unique to Kormakitis and the younger generations are majority opting to learn Greek. However and in an attempt to keep the language alive, a summer camp called “Xki Fi Sanna” (“Speak in Our Language”) is being organized since 2007 for children.
On a positive note, Turkey did allow back in 2017 Maronites to return to the villages of Asomatos, Kormakitis and Karpasia in the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus. Nevertheless, only few returned so far while the majority remained in Nicosia, Limassol and Larnaca.
Whether the language persists or not, I think it’s important for the Maronite Church to preserve it in its history books and libraries and make it available for future generations to learn.