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Baghdad Arabic

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Title: Baghdad Arabic  
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Subject: Varieties of Arabic, Baghdad Jewish Arabic, Arabic languages, Tihamiyya Arabic, Shihhi Arabic
Collection: Arabic Languages, Fertile Crescent, Languages of Iraq, Mashriqi Arabic
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Baghdad Arabic

Baghdad Arabic or Baghdadi Arabic is the Arabic dialect spoken in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. During the last century, Muslim Baghdadi Arabic has become the lingua franca of Iraq, and the language of commerce and education. It is a subvariety of Mesopotamian Arabic.

An interesting sociolinguistic feature of Baghdad is the existence of three distinct dialects: Muslim, Jewish and Christian Baghdadi Arabic. Muslim Baghdadi belongs to a group called gilit dialects, while Jewish Baghdadi (as well as Christian Baghdadi) belongs to qeltu dialects (more closely related to the North Mesopotamian dialects of Mosul).

Muslim Baghdadi Arabic is a dialect of Bedouin provenance that contains some very distinct phonetic and grammatical characteristics and is layered with influences from urban Medieval Baghdadi Arabic and foreign languages such as Turkish, Persian, Kurdish, and Aramaic. This dialect which belongs to the so-called gilit-group should not be confused with the Mesopotamian dialects of the qeltu-group (Jewish Baghdadi Arabic, Christian Baghdadi Arabic, and North Mesopotamian Arabic), all of which seem to be direct descendants of Medieval Baghdadi Arabic, a sedentary medieval dialect. The qeltu-group dialects have different sound systems and morphologies from Muslim Baghdadi and also seem to have in general retained a greater number of foreign loans that have been more vigorously and comprehensively weeded out of the Muslim dialect under the Ba'ath regime.

Baghdadi gilit Arabic, which is considered the standard Baghdadi Arabic, shares many features with Gulf Arabic and with varieties spoken in some parts of eastern Syria. Gilit Arabic is of Bedouin provenance, unlike Christian and Jewish Baghdadi, which is believed to be descendant of Medieval Iraqi Arabic. Until the 1950s, Baghdad Arabic contained a large inventory of borrowings from English, Turkish, Persian and Kurdish language.

During the first decades of the 20th century, when the population of Baghdad was less than a million, some inner city quarters had their own distinctive speech characteristics, maintained for generations. From about the 1960s, with the population movement within the city, and the influx of large numbers of people hailing mainly from the south, Baghdad Arabic has become more standardized, and has come to incorporate some rural and Bedouin features and Modern Standard Arabic.


  • Phonology 1
  • The 'Ch' Phoneme 2
  • The 'P' Phoneme 3
  • Grammar 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6


1.) Qaaf is pronounced differently depending on the word. Sometimes this may seem arbitrary, but there is historical and phonemic reasoning for it. For example, in words that denote higher or abstract concepts, the Classical pronunciation of the "qaaf" has been retained, such as the in the words حقيقة Haqiqa "truth", مستقبل mustaqbil "future", and اقتصاد IqtiSaad "economy". The archaic uvular pronunciation of "qaaf" is also retained in the extensive borrowings from Medieval Baghdadi Arabic: daqiqa "minute, moment", qira "he read".

2.) In general in more quotidian or mundane words of Arabic origin, there is a Bedouinization of the qaaf from "q" --> "g". For example, "I say" اقول is pronounced "agool", "I arose/began" قمت is pronounced "gumit", "heart" قلب is pronounced "gaLub" (the "L" is emphatic), and "moon" قمر is pronounced "gumar". There is also a tendency to retain the "g" phoneme in loanwords and in some instances to evolve in favor of it (i.e. xashooga "spoon", from Persian "qaashogh"). However as mentioned above, lexical borrowings from Medieval Baghdadi Arabic regardless of usage retain the Classical uvular pronunciation of "qaaf".

3.) In some very specific instances, the classical "qaaf" sound is realized as "k" (q-->k). These are in specific words and seem to stem from voiced/unvoiced consonant agreement. For example, the word "time" وقت can be pronounced wakit or alternatively waqit. However, in the fixed word shwakit ("when"), only the former form is used. We also see this sound change in the 3rd person simple past of the verb "to kill" قتل, which can be heard as kital. These pronunciations are by and large not interchangeable, and in fact switching between the "q" and "g" phonemes can result in change of meaning (i.e. farraq "to divide" and farrag "to distribute"; warga "leaf" and warqa "piece of paper"). Thus the short answer is that the pronunciation of qaaf depends on the word. Also as a note, the Levantine and Egyptian pronunciation of qaaf ق as hamza ء is not found in any Mesopotamian dialects.

The letter "Daad" ض is always pronounced as "Dhaa" ظ, and "Dhaa" is in turn pronounced as its classical voiced alveolar fricative pronunciation (as in Modern Standard Arabic).

The 'Ch' Phoneme

Another point of interest is the affrication of "Kaaf" ك to "ch" (k-->ch), which is a Bedouin feature. This occurs again mostly in quotidian words or lexical borrowings from Persian and Turkish. For example, the past tense of the verb "to be" كان is conjugated as follows:

Ani chinit Inta chinit Inti chinti Huwwa chaan Hiyya chaanat E7na chinna Intu chintu Humma chaanow

In quotidian words of Arabic origin, the "ch" pronunciation is favored over "k", although there is incidence of both:

kalb كلب ----> chalib ("dog") shubbaak شباك ----> shubbaach ("window") kabeer كبير ----> chibeer ("big, large") bakaa' بكاء ----> bachi ("cry, weep") sikkeen سكّين ----> sichcheena ("knife")

In lexical borrowings:

chakooch = "hammer" (from Turkish) -chi = archaic occupational suffix, as in qundarchi "shoemaker" (from Turkish) charpaaya = "bed, stand" (from Persian) chakmak = "boots" (from Persian) chai = "tea" (from Persian) paacha = a traditional dish consisting of sheep's head and hooves (from Persian)

In some instances, foreign lexical borrowings have adopted the "ch" sound when they originally lacked it:

chafcheer = "spatula, large pouring spoon" (from Persian "kafgeer")

The k-->ch sound change also serves an important morphological purpose—namely, to distinguish between masculine and feminine personal suffixes. The masculine form is -k while the feminine form is -ch. Ex:

Akhook = Your (m.) brother Akhooch = Your (f.) brother Wiyaak = with you (m.) Wiyaach = with you (f.)

The 'P' Phoneme

The phoneme "p" also exists in Muslim Baghdadi Arabic, but almost entirely in loanwords, and can often be used interchangeably with "b".

parda = "curtains" (from Persian) paalTo = "overcoat" (from Persian, but ultimately from French) paasha = "high ranking official" (from Turkish, but ultimately from Persian) Salman Paak = a town north of Baghdad near the Sassanid-era ruins of Ctesiphon (المدائن), named after a Persian companion of the prophet Muhammad pulaadh = "steel" (from Persian, but ultimately from Mongolian)

However, some words have been irreversibly adapted to the standard Arabic sound system and have undergone the resulting sound change "p" --> "b". Curiously enough, the resulting "b" sound is often emphatic:

toBa ="ball, cannonball" (from Turkish 'top') guBBa = "room, vault" (from Persian 'qoppeh')


1.) The present progressive tense is formed by adding the prefix da- to the conjugated stem of the verb. This is likely a borrowing and adaptation from Persian into the early Abbasid-era Baghdadi vernacular. For example, "I am saying" is "أني دأقول" pronounced "Ani da-agool", and "I am laughing" is "أني دأضحك" pronounced "Ani da-adhHak".

2.) The particle of existence as in "there is/there are" is "اكو"/"aku" and "there is not/there are not" is "ماكر"/"maaku". The origin of this word is believed to be from the southeastern Babylonian Aramaic that was spoken in central Mesopotamia prior to the Arab invasion (for further reading, check the author Christa Muller-Kessler).***

3.) The existence of an indeterminate indefinite article fad ("a, some") that precedes the noun it describes is highly unusual and unique to Mesopotamian Arabic (i.e. "fad rijjaal, fad imreyye" = "a man, a woman"). This likely developed from the use of the Classical word "fard" فرد meaning "one, single (thing)" in colloquial Medieval Baghdadi Arabic (although it would have been pronounced with guttural "r" as in French and Modern Hebrew according to the sound system of that dialect, which provides insight to the development of its modern pronunciation), which is itself probably a grammatical influence from Persian or Aramaic via substrate/superstrate or bilingualism.

4.) The use of the proclitic d(i)- to add a note of impatience to an imperative verb. The role of this marker is just to intensify the sense of imperative (duklu = "eat!", dig3ud = "sit!", digoom = "get up!"). This was originally a feature of Medieval Baghdadi Arabic.

5.) The word gaam as an indicator of the future or "to begin to do something", which is based on the Aramaic word "qa'em" formerly employed in Mandaic and Talmudic Aramaic.***

6.) The Classical feminine 2nd and 3rd person plural pronouns are retained and exist as intan and hinna and their suffix pronouns are -chan and -hin respectively. This retention of feminine plurals is highly unusual among Mashriqi sedentray dialects and can be attributed to the dialect's Bedouin origin.

7.) Sometimes colloquially there is an omission of the future tense altogether, and this is again an influence from Persian. For example "I will come with you" can be expressed "Ani aji wiyaak".

8.) Muslim Baghdadi Arabic has consonant harmony, which is essentially the ability of certain consonants (emphatic consonant, bilabials, and velars) to affect or "color" the quality of the vowel they occur directly next to. For example, gumar <--- Classical قمر qamar ("moon") ; buSal <--- Classical بصل baSal ("onion"); sima <--- Classical سماء samaa' ("sky").

See also


  • Kees Versteegh, et al. Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics, BRILL, 2006.
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