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Jewish Iraqi, spoken by the Jews of Iraq, is disappearing fast as
there are very few native speakers (less than 8) in
The language has a core of Arabic with its own grammar, lexicon and phonetic rules, influenced by Aramaic, which the Jews of Iraq spoke from around 500 B.C. to around 800 A.D. It has many lexical borrowings from Hebrew which was used for religious purposes. It also has imports, albeit fewer, from Turkish, Persian and English.
There is no established orthography for the language. Most Jewish Iraqi writers and poets in the first half of the 20th century wrote in Standard Arabic. There are one or two plays and novels in Jewish Iraqi written in Arabic orthography. Apart from recent recordings made by myself, very few old recordings exist and those are of poor sound quality. Two books about Jewish Iraqi were written during the sixties and early seventies, but one cannot easily recreate accurately the sound of the language from the orthography used in them.
This project was
conducted with funding from ELDP. Its purpose was to prepare the ground for a
major follow up language documentation project with the aim of preserving the
spoken Jewish Iraqi language (JI) by means of audio recordings with
time-aligned transcriptions and an audio dictionary. It follows and builds on a
previous pilot project funded by the
Some 43 hours of
interviews were conducted in the
As a bonus, the recordings contain rich historical material on the life of Iraqi Jews in the 20th century.
During the trip to
The Iraqi Jewish
community have lived in Babylonia (present day
There are only 7 Jews
3- Interviews, audio recordings and material collection
The largest Jewish
Iraqi community today is in
The age span of the speakers was between 45 and 93 years old. Priority was given to interviewing older speakers for obvious reasons.
Speakers came from a
wide variety of social backgrounds. Speakers in the
A wide variety of
topics were covered, including life in the old oriental houses in Baghdad,
schools, marriage, and historical events affecting the life of the Jewish
community in Iraq. Also covered were the years just before the mass
Interviews were also
conducted with speakers who stayed in
interviews were conducted with speakers who left
There were some 46
interviews conducted with 59 speakers and 43 hours of conversation. The
youngest speaker was 46; the oldest was 93 years old. Only two speakers were
Extensive field notes were hand written about the speakers and the recording sessions. These, we have called metadata. They will be digitised in a database for archiving purposes.
Digital images of photographs and paintings have also been recorded.
Sample audio recordings have been assembled and transcribed for this pilot project. They consist of a total of 1.5 hour recordings of 10 sessions with 5 speakers.
The recordings cover
For some recordings, transcriptions were done in Arabic to show the potential for future Arabic transcriptions which has the advantage of being the nearest in syntax and lexicography, containing the guttural letters, but suffers from the lack of suitable vowels to represent the JI accent.
More tiers can be
added in the future, e.g. Hebrew translations to benefit the younger generation
An important aim of this pilot and future projects is the ease of availability of the audio recordings with its transcriptions to the JI speaker community across the world for linguistic and historical research.
With this in mind,
published media should be capable of being accessed by means of widely
available computer software using English in the main, as this language is
widely spoken by the Iraqi Jewish communities in the Diaspora. The internet
will be the main method of publishing, though the original material in high
quality image and sound will be kept physically at different Jewish Iraqi
centres in the
A broad phonemic transcription has been used. Since the transcription would always accompany the audio, there is no need for an exact phonetic representation. Future researchers can add a tier for narrow phonetic transcription. Roman letters on a standard QWERTY keyboard have been used with Capital letters to represent long vowels and some specific JI phonemes. Other phonemes are represented by 2 letters using current popular conventions followed in everyday English transcription of Arabic, such as kh
This will hopefully ensure that the work is accessible to a wide audience including the speaker community and Arabic speakers worldwide. It also has the advantage of searching on phonemic rather than the more complex phonetic transcription.
A detailed description of the transcription convention used with the logic behind follows
Transcription Conventions used
The following general principles apply to the transcription conventions used in this project:
a- JI being a Semitic language, there are a lot of affixes. Very frequently, these will alter the sound of the word by assimilation or elision. In this case, the root and the affixes have been retained, separated by a dash (-). You have to listen to the recording in order to find out how the transcription sounds. However you can easily carry out a search on the proper root of the word using ELANs internal search engine.
b- Common with Baghdad Christian Arabic, the JI pronunciation of the letter r is not a trill but a sound similar to the Parisian French r. For clarity and to distinguish it from the letter gh which is pronounced the same way, it is transcribed as R i.e. in CAPTAL. This will facilitate better searching for the speaker community as well as Arab academics. Note that it is not always the case with JI that r is pronounced as the soft R; examples are Hebrew imports and modern Arabic words. In this case the trill is transcribed as r.
c- If the word originates from another language, or there is a code switching by the speaker, the following convention applies in a Note tier:
(EN) = English
(CA) = Classical Arabic
(H) = Hebrew
(P) = Persian
(T) = Turkish
d- Where a square bracket [..] appears in a translation line, it indicates an addition by the translator for clarification.
Table of Phonemics used
The table below shows the roman characters used on a QWERTY keyboard with the equivalent Arabic script.
Consonants (For the IPA equivalent, ctrl + click)
= ع voiced pharyngeal fricative
b = ب voiced bilabial stop, similar to English b in bake
B = emphatic (velarized) b
ch = چ alveolar affricate, similar to English ch in chime. Used mostly for imported Persian or Turkish words or Muslim Iraqi pronunciation of the k.
d = د voiced dental stop, similar to English d in dad.
dh = ذ voiced interdental fricative similar to the English th in than.
DH = ظ velarized dh, voiced inter-dental fricative , no equivalent in English.
f = ف unvoiced labio-dental similar to English f as in fan.
g = گ voiced velar stop similar to English g in get. Used for imported words from Persian, Hebrew or Muslim Iraqi where the q is pronounced as g.
gh = غ voiced velar fricative, no English equivalent.
h = ه voiceless glottal fricative similar to English h in home.
H = ح voiceless pharyngeal fricative; no English equivalent.
j = ج voiced alveolar affricate similar to English j in jail
k = ك voiceless velar stop, similar to English k in kit
kh = خ
voiceless velar fricative similar to Scottish ch in
l = ل voiced alveo-dental lateral similar to English l in lame.
L = velarized l similar to English l in full.
m = م voiced bilabial nasal similar to English m in man.
M = emphatic m .
n = ن voiced dental nasal similar to the English n in neat.
N = emphatic n .
p = پ voiceless bilabial stop similar to English p in patrician
P = emphatic p similar to English p in Path
q = ق voiceless uvular stop; no equivalent in English
r = ر alveolar trill similar to Spanish rr in burro. Note that where the JI pronunciation of the trill r has been rendered as gh, it is transcribed as Capital R
R = the JI pronunciation of r .It sounds like gh almost like the Parisian French r in ratter
s = س voiceless alveolar fricative, similar to English s in sad.
S = ص emphatic or velarized s.
sh = ش voiceless post-alveolar fricative, similar to English sh in sheep.
t = ت voiceless alveolar stop, similar to English t in take.
T = ط emphatic or velarized t, no equivalent in English.
th = ث voiceless interdental fricative similar to English th in thank.
v = voiced labio-dental fricative, similar to English v in volition. It is used for import words from French and English.
z = ز voiced alveolar fricative similar to English z in zebra.
zh = voiced alveolar fricative similar to French j in Je. Rare; used for imported French names such as Giselle or French sentences. It occurs in JI where the affricate j is followed by a consonant, e.g. Jdidi > zhdidi.
w = و voiced labial-velar approximate, similar to English w in way. Note this is equivalent to the Arabic consonant و and not the long vowel و transcribed as u; see below.
y= ي voiced palatal approximate, similar to English y in Yes
a low front/back unrounded, similar to English a in snap.
o mid back rounded, similar to English o in tomato.
i high front unrounded similar English i in tip.
e the central vowel, similar to French e in je. Also used for anaptyctics
u high back rounded, similar to English u in bull.
Long Vowels: The vowels are capitalized to render them long.
A similar to English a in father.
I similar to English ee in cheese.
O similar to English o in horn.
U similar to English oo in choose.
ai mid front, unrounded, similar to English a in late.
Note on the Arabic Hamza (the glottal stop):
Spoken JI has no glottal stops except at the start of a word . In this case the short vowels will be used. For example, ana (I am), enta (you, masculine, sing.), u (and). Where code switching to standard Arabic is found with a glottal stop in the middle of the word, the symbol /~/ is used.
Epenthetic (helping) vowel
Generally no epenthetic vowels have been used for transcription. This is in order to keep to the phonemic integrity of the word. Some exceptions occur, for example the Arabic prefix b (meaning in ) when followed by a consonant, would require an epenthetic vowel to sound eb . This will be transcribed as either eb- or more frequently as b followed by the noun.
For a table of
consonants used laid out in IPA form see Consonants
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