Neo-Mandaic, also called modern Mandaic, is the contemporary form of Mandaic, the language of the Mandæan religious community of Iraq and Iran. Although there are some 60,000 members of the greater Mandæan community around the world, who are generally familiar with the classical dialect through their sacred literature and liturgy, only several hundred people speak the contemporary language. Most live in Iran. Many have fled Iraq in the decade since the American invasion—formerly they had been free to practice their religion but in recent years the security situation had deteriorated, and only a fraction of the population remains.
Neo-Mandaic can be considered a dialect of Aramaic, a Northwest Semitic language which was once widespread across the Middle East. As such, it is the only known form of any of the classical literary dialects of Aramaic to survive down to the present day. Two surviving dialects of Neo-Mandaic have thus far been documented, that of Ahvāz (in Macuch, 1965a, 1965b, 1989, and 1993), and Khorramshahr (in Häberl, 2009). These dialects are mutually intelligible to the extent that speakers of either dialect will deny that there are any substantive differences between the two
Neo-Mandaic is severely endangered today, with few young speakers and few communities or households where it is in daily use. Almost all Mandæans are fluent in Arabic and Persian, the important contact languages where most of them live. Yet as recently as the 19th century, the language was still spoken by the Mandæans in several cities across northern Khuzestan (Iran), including Šuštar, Dezful, and Šāh Wali. It was during the reign of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah (1848-96) that these communities departed for Khorramshahr (Ḵorram-šahr) and Ahvāz in southern Khuzestan, as well as the cities of southern Iraq, then under Ottoman rule. Neo-Mandaic is generally unwritten. On the rare occasions on which it is written, in personal letters and in the colophons attached to manuscripts, it is rendered using a modified version of the classical script.
Charles Häberl, a linguist who directs the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University, has been documenting Mandaic for several years and recently published his exhaustive grammar, The Neo-Mandaic Dialect of Khorramshahr. There are over a thousand Mandæan adherents now living in the United States, including some recent arrivals, concentrated in the New York area, Detroit, and Los Angeles. Häberl and ELA have connected with Mandaic speakers in both New Jersey and Long Island, recording stories and other texts.
There are over a thousand Mandæan adherents now living in the United States, including some recent arrivals, concentrated in the New York area, Detroit, and Los Angeles. There may be as many as 300 in the New York area, with eastern Queens a focal point and Ali Baba a popular gathering spot, but few today speak the language.