Aramaic is the lingua franca of the ancient Middle East, the linguistic root of modern day Hebrew and Arabic.
"Once you understand Aramaic," says Karen Stern, "you can read anything. You can read Hebrew, you can read Phoenician. I always call it the little black dress of Semitic languages."
Stern, 35, is an archaeologist and an assistant professor in the history department at Brooklyn College. Her passion is the tomb graffiti of the ancient Jews in what was then Roman Palestine. Graffiti has been "published, but sort of disregarded," she says. "Whereas I think it is intimate, vocal and spontaneous, and adds to the historical record."
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