Among the many controversies surrounding Mel Gibson's new film, The
Passion of the Christ, is the use of two ancient languages - Aramaic and
Latin - throughout. Some believe audiences may be put off by having to read so many subtitles, but for George Kiraz the language was the highlight.
For Dr Kiraz, who lives in New Jersey, this
was the first time he could hear his own language in a Hollywood
"From a language point of view, they did a
good job," the Aramaic-speaker told BBC News Online after being one of the
first to see the film when it opened on Wednesday.
"I understood 60% or more of the Aramaic -
not bad considering I wasn't used to the particular dialect they used."
Dr Kiraz is founder and president of the
Beth Mardutho Syriac Institute in Piscataway, New Jersey. The organisation
promotes the study of Syriac, an Aramaic dialect.
He was brought up with the language as a
child living in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, through his church, the
Syrian Orthodox Church.
Now, it is the language he uses to speak to
his three-year-old daughter Tabetha.
"It's our only form of communication," he
said. "My wife speaks to her in Turkish and the babysitter uses English.
"She switches from one to the other with no
Aramaic is spoken by about one million
people worldwide, Dr Kiraz said.
It is used by a handful of Christian groups
in northern Iraq and other parts of the Middle East including Turkey and
Iran. The language has been around for at least 2,500 years, and has links
to both Hebrew and Arabic.
"What I speak with my daughter is a kind of
classical Aramaic, mostly a language used in churches, like Latin," Dr
Sometimes, Dr Kiraz finds he has to adapt
the language to describe things in the modern world.
After all, no-one was watching television or
using mobile phones 2,000 years ago.
"The word we use for 'television' is 'surqolo',"
Dr Kiraz explained. "It's made up from the words for 'vision' and
For Aramaic speakers, The Passion of the
Christ is their first chance to hear their language on the big screen. It
remains to be seen whether other directors will follow Mel Gibson's lead.
The film is opening at 2,800 cinemas in the
US - and is released in the UK on 26 March.