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Judeo-Arabic language

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Title: Judeo-Arabic language  
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Judeo-Arabic language

Native speakers ca. 540,000  (1992–1995)Template:Infobox language/ref
Language family
Writing system Hebrew alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-2 jrb
ISO 639-3 jrb – Judeo-Yemeni Arabic
Linguist List Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
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The Judeo-Arabic languages (Arabic: عربية يهودية‎, Hebrew: ערבית יהודית‎) are a continuum of Arabic dialects spoken by Jews living or formerly living in the Arab world; the term also refers more or less to Classical Arabic written in the Hebrew script, particularly in the Middle Ages. Just as with the rest of the Arab world, Jews had different dialects depending on where they lived. This phenomenon may be compared to cases such as different forms of Yiddish (Judeo-German) such as Western Yiddish and Eastern Yiddish, or forms of Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) in areas such as the Balkans, Thessaloníki/Istanbul, Morocco, etc.


The Arabic spoken by Jewish communities in the Arab world differed slightly from the Arabic of their non-Jewish neighbours. These differences were partly due to the incorporation of some words from Hebrew and other languages and partly geographical, in a way that may reflect a history of migration. For example, the Judeo-Arabic of Egypt, including in the Cairo community, resembled the dialect of Alexandria rather than that of Cairo (Blau).[1] Similarly the Jewish Iraqi Arabic of Baghdad was found reminiscent of the dialect of Mosul.[2] Many Jews in Arab countries were bilingual in Judeo-Arabic and the dialect of the Arab majority.

Like other Jewish languages and dialects, Judeo-Arabic languages contain borrowings from Hebrew and Aramaic. This feature is less marked in the traditional Judeo-Arabic translations of the Bible, as the authors clearly took the view that the business of a translator is to translate.[3]


Jews in Arab countries wrote—sometimes in their dialects, sometimes in a more classical style—in a mildly adapted Hebrew script (rather than using Arabic script), often including consonant dots from the Arabic alphabet to accommodate phonemes that did not exist in the Hebrew alphabet.

Some of the most important books of medieval Jewish thought were originally written in medieval Judeo-Arabic, as well as certain halakhic works and biblical commentaries. Only later were they translated into medieval Hebrew so that they could be read by the Ashkenazi Jews of Europe. These include:

Most communities also had a traditional translation of the Bible into Judeo-Arabic, known as a sharħ (meaning): for more detail, see Bible translations (Arabic). The term sharħ sometimes came to mean "Judeo-Arabic" as such, in the same way that "Targum" was sometimes used to mean Aramaic.

Present day

In the years following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, most Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews in Arab countries left and went mainly to France and to Israel. Their distinct Arabic dialects in turn did not thrive in either country, and most of their descendants now speak French or Modern Hebrew almost exclusively; thus resulting in the entire continuum of Judeo-Arabic dialects being considered endangered languages. There remain small populations of speakers in Morocco, Yemen, Israel, Lebanon, the United States, and Tunisia.

See also



  • Blanc, Haim, Communal Dialects in Baghdad: Harvard 1964
  • Blau, Joshua, The Emergence and Linguistic Background of Judaeo-Arabic: OUP, last edition 1999
  • Blau, Joshua, A Grammar of Mediaeval Judaeo-Arabic: Jerusalem 1980 (in Hebrew)
  • Blau, Joshua, Studies in Middle Arabic and its Judaeo-Arabic variety: Jerusalem 1988 (in English)
  • Blau, Joshua, Dictionary of Mediaeval Judaeo-Arabic Texts: Jerusalem 2006
  • Mansour, Jacob, The Jewish Baghdadi Dialect: Studies and Texts in the Judaeo-Arabic Dialect of Baghdad: Or Yehuda 1991
  • Heath, Jeffrey, Jewish and Muslim dialects of Moroccan Arabic (Routledge Curzon Arabic linguistics series): London, New York, 2002.

External links

  • Alan Corré's Judeo-Arabic Literature site
  • Judeo-Arabic Literature
  • Kol Israel radio station broadcasting a daily program in Judeo-Arabic (Mugrabian)
  • Jewish Language Research Website (description and bibliography)
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