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Robinson's Paradigms and Exercises in Syriac Grammar Paperback – 27 Mar 2003
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About the Author
J. F. Coakley is Senior Lecturer in Syriac at Harvard University
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I think I would rather use Wheeler Thackston if my aim were to read widely in Syriac outside Biblical texts from an early stage, not least because Thackston uses Syriac without vowel marks (with an accompanying transcription) and you are unlikely to find vowelled non-biblical texts. Vowel marks are a crutch that it's not always easy to give up, as most Biblical Hebrew students will know. This is less of a problem for bible students as the more popular biblical texts are vocalized.
Both books are reasonably hard for an absolute beginner without help: Robinson due to concision and Thackston due to highly technical language. John Healey's First Studies in Syriac, now in a new edition (with CD), might make a better first book if you find technical language a big problem.
This book (Robinson) uses Serto script with Western vocalization throughout (like the Bible Society's Syriac New Testament: most older publications use partly-vocalized Serto), while Thackston uses the Estrangolo script (more widely used in current academic publications). Robinson's still in handy pocket size, and one can again get it in hardback too!
Beginning with the script and pronunciation it advances through pronouns, nouns and verbs in a very orderly fashion. A lot of information is presented in tables which is handy for reference. The exercises are very basic. I recommend reading the Gospel in Syriac for further excercise.
The grammar does not assume knowledge of other semitic languages, but given its compactness such knowledge is recommended. You should at least be familiar with the semitic verb system.
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