The term “Neo-Aramaic”, or modern Aramaic, is conventionally applied to varieties of Aramaic that have been used as spoken vernaculars since around 1200 AD. These language varieties exhibit substantial diversity, such that many are not mutually intelligible with each other, and have been spoken across a wide swath of the Middle East. Several religious groups inside and outside the region make active use of liturgical languages based on Aramaic–examples includes the Targumic Aramaic of the Jewish Talmud, the Classical Syriac of Syriac Christianity, and Classical Mandaic–but these are distinct from the modern vernaculars. As many as half a million may still speak Neo-Aramaic varieties, according to the Ethnologue database, with Iraq and Iran representing the largest numbers and Western Aramaic varieties spoken by a comparatively small number of people.
All varieties of Neo-Aramaic–the Ethnologue lists 19 of them, primarily Northeastern varieties associated with Iran, Iraq, and Kurdish areas–are classified as Central Semitic languages, connected historically and through recent contact with many different forms of Arabic. The North Eastern Neo-Aramaic Database Project, spearheaded by researcher Geoffrey Khan, has demonstrated how considerable the diversity is just within that particular branch.