Protecting Vienna's hidden language minorities!
Case studies: Turoyo and Boyash

The project financed by MA7 aims to develop concepts for the protection of endangered languages based on two immigrant communities in Vienna. The most important method is narrative field research among speakers of hidden language minorities from two of the main immigration countries, Turkey and Serbia.

    Turoyo (Assyrian, Syriac)

    Turoyo (Assyrian, Syriac)

      Turoyo or Surayt is a New East Aramaic language that was originally spoken by Syrian Orthodox Christians mainly in the Tur Abdin area in south-eastern Turkey and north-eastern Syria and is still spoken today – despite massive emigration.

      Turoyo is partly similar to the Assyrian / New East Aramaic language, which is also called "Swadaya", "Ajsor" or "Sūreṯ". However, mutual understanding between these two languages is only partially possible, whereas this is not or hardly possible with other Aramaic languages or dialects. Turoyo was primarily handed down orally; written sources were only developed very late. Despite their massive oppression and persecution by various peoples and states (especially in 20th century Turkey), the Christian Arameans have succeeded in saving their language from extinction. The majority of the speakers are migrants who have emigrated from their original homeland to mostly Western countries, such as Austria, Germany, Sweden and America. In Turkey there are only about 2,000 rather elderly people in the Tur Abdin region who dominate Turoyo (Jastrow 1993; Waltisberg 2016). Current figures from Syria (formerly 7,000 speakers) are not available because of the war which has been going on for several years.

      Awde, Nicholas; Lamassu, Nineb; Al-Jeloo, Nicholas (2007): Modern Aramaic (Assyrian/Syriac). Dictionary & Phrasebook. Hippocrene Books, New York.



      The ancestors of the Boyash or Rudari lived from the 14th to the 19th century as gold panners – often working in underground mines and in many cases as slaves. Other traditional occupations were the carving of wooden household objects and the production of bricks. Boyash speak archaic sub-varieties, which originate from the Transylvanian and Wallachian varieties of the Romanian language. They are spoken by small groups in Eastern Slovakia, in Transcarpathia, in Hungary (Baranya), in the Romanian Plain, Croatia (especially Slavonia), Serbia (Eastern and Central Serbia, Vojvodina and Bačka), northern and north-eastern Bulgaria (especially Varna, Zlatarica) (Kahl, Nechiti 2019).

      Today Boyash is highly endangered in all the regions mentioned. In Vienna, an active immigrant community has formed, which strives to preserve the language and traditions of the Boyash. The few attempts to preserve the Boyash in Hungary and Serbia fail because of cross-border cooperation. Those who will write Boyash use the Hungarian alphabet in Hungary and the Serbian alphabet in Serbia. This scientific project at the ÖAW (für Austrian Academy of Sciences) tries to develop a dialogue between several countries.


        Austria complies with the provisions of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages of the Council of Europe. Language protection measures in the fields of education, justice, administration, culture and media concern the officially recognised minority languages Burgenland Croatian, Czech, Hungarian, Romani, Slovak and Slovenian. These are comparatively well organised in Austria through their self-representations, associations, parties and institutions. Since young immigrants are recorded according to national criteria, the authorities fail to notice that groups who speak languages that are not included in any statistics also immigrate to Vienna. Their national affiliation makes them "hidden" to "invisible" as a language minority.

        This is particularly clear from the example of minorities who have immigrated from Turkey: Turks who speak a (mother tongue) other than the official and educational language of Turkish and who do not appear either in their region of origin or in the statistics migrate to Vienna: these are e.g. speakers of Kurdish (Kurmanji, Zajaki), Romani, but also of Greek (Rumeika/Rumca, Pontic Greek) and Aramaic (Surit, Turoyo).


        The main objective of the project is to help the two selected language communities to protect their practices, expressions, knowledge and skills that they recognise as communities, groups or individuals as part of their cultural heritage. Through interviews with speakers, their (also in Vienna) threatened cultures will be recorded and documented. The VLACH laboratory promotes a dialogue between researchers and speakers, which in turn will have an impact on the communities of origin. Turoyo and Boyash speakers should be encouraged to preserve the practices, expressions, knowledge and skills they wish to preserve as communities, groups or individuals as part of their cultural heritage. This includes the threatened immaterial cultural heritage (oral traditions, social practices) as well as the notions of language displacement, preservation and loss. One focus will be the dialogue on the situation in the regions of origin (Turkey, Serbia), where the value of minority languages is challenged.

        Key questions are why the two varieties have survived so well in Vienna to this day, what role the threat in the regions of origin plays and what strategies can be developed to protect them.

        Vienna plays a key role as a location for science due to the high immigration of Arameans and Boyash. Aramaic can definitely not be studied in its areas of origin in south-eastern Turkey and northern Syria due to anti-minority regimes or civil war.

        In Serbia, research is easily possible and has been carried out (Sikimić 2011; Sikimić, Ašić 2008; Sorescu-Marinković 2011a, 2011b), however, apart from the authors mentioned, politicians and scientists are interested in either the Roma or the Romanians, so that the Boyash are neglected. Vienna, as the main settlement area of these two minorities, is therefore not only significant from the point of view of migration history, but can also play a historical role for these two communities, particularly with regard to language documentation and language preservation.


          The most important method to approach the question of language preservation is narrative field research with speakers of Turoyo and Boyash in Vienna. On the basis of the interviews, a description of the situation (fund finding, identifying needs) of the languages under investigation in Vienna and the role of Vienna in the development of strategies and measures for the preservation of the language in Vienna and in the regions of origin is given.

          The project therefore cooperates closely (a) with the association "Oamenii noștri" of the Boyash people from Serbia and (b) with the Syrian Orthodox community of the City of Vienna. Active members of the association or community are be significantly involved in the project.


            As output the project promises the following results:

            • generally understandable report for the communities of the speakers of the Turoyo and the Boyash
            • Design of a catalogue of measures (strategy paper) with possible language preservation measures
            • Publication in an international peer-reviewed journal highlighting Vienna's role in the language preservation of hidden language minorities, in this case Turoyo and Boyash
            • Creation and presentation of the recorded data in the VLACH archive.

            The project is carried out in cooperation with:

            Projekt management: Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Thede Kahl



            • Andrews, Peter Alford (1989): Ethnic Groups in the Republic of Turkey. Wiesbaden.
            • Arnold, Werner (²2006): Lehrbuch des Neuwestaramäischen. Semitica Viva – Series Didactica 1. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
            • Arnold, Werner: Neo-Aramaic. In: Eid, Mushira; Versteegh, C. H. M. (ed.) (2008): Encyclopedia of Arabic language and linguistics. Bd. 3, 370-373. Leiden: Brill, 370-373.
            • Assyrian International News Agency (AINA): ISIS desecrates ancient Assyrian monastery in Iraq. 16.10.2014
            • Awde, Nicholas; Lamassu, Nineb; Al-Jeloo, Nicholas (2007): Modern Aramaic (Assyrian/Syriac). Dictionary & Phrasebook. Hippocrene Books, New York.Brock, Sebastian: An introduction to Syriac Studies. Gorgias Press, Piscataway NJ.
            • Henno, Sleman (ed., 1987): Die Verfolgung und Vernichtung der Syro-Aramäer im Tur Abdin 1915. Orig.: Gunhe d-Tur Abdin. Ü.: Gorgis, Amill u. Toro, George. Bar Hebräus Verlag, Glane/Losser (NL) 2005.
            • Hermanik, Klaus-Jürgen; Promitzer, Christian; Staudinger, Eduard G. (ed.) (2004): (Hidden) Minorities. Language and ethnic identity between Central Europe and the Balkans. Münster: LIT.
            • Hollerweger, Hans (2000): Turabdin. Lebendiges Kulturerbe. Wo die Sprache Jesu gesprochen wird. Unter Mitarbeit von Andrew Palmer und mit einer Einleitung von Sebastian Brock. Dreisprachige Ausgabe: Deutsch, Englisch, Türkisch. Living Cultural Heritage, Canli Kültür Mirasi. Where Jesus language is spoken, Isa Mesih dilinin konusuldugu yer. Linz: Freunde des Turabdin.
            • Jastrow, Otto (1993): Laut- und Formenlehre des neuaramäischen Dialekts von Mīdin im Ṭūr ʿAbdīn (=Semitica Viva 9). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
            • Jastrow, Otto (2011): Lehrbuch der Turoyo-Sprache. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
            • Kahl, Thede (2014): Ethnische, sprachliche und konfessionelle Struktur der Balkanhalbinsel. In: Himstedt-Vaid, Petra; Hinrichs, Uwe; Kahl, Thede (ed.): Handbuch Balkan. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 87-134.
            • Kahl, Thede; Nechiti, Ioana (2019): The Boyash in Hungary. Wien: Austrian Academy of Sciences.
            • Sikimić, Biljana (2011): Băieșii în contextul Sud-Slav. Piramida 2, 3-132.
            • Sikimić, Biljana; Ašić, Tijana (ed.) (2008): The Romance Balkans. Belgrad: Institut d´Études Balkaniques.
            • Sorescu-Marinković, Annemarie (2011a): Băieşii din Baranja. Memoria Ethnologica 40-41, 36-51.
            • Sorescu-Marinković, Annemarie (2011b): Strategies for creating an explanatory Bayash dictionary in Serbia. Revue roumaine de linguistique 56, 17-34.
            • Talay, Shabo (2015): Die Sprache des Tur Abdin, Turoyo, und ihre Zukunftsaussichten in der europäischen Diaspora. Hamburg: Mar-Gabriel-Verein zur Unterstützung der syrischen Christen.
            • Waltisberg, Michael (2016): Syntax des Ṭuroyo. Semitica Viva 55. Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden.