Office: (44) (0) 5603 676623  |  Independent Communications Consultancy based Westminster, London SW1
Office: (44) (0) 5603 676623  |  Independent Communications Consultancy based Westminster, London SW1

An Iraqi Success Story: its Language

Some background

30 million people speak the Arabic of Iraq, based on the Arabic of the city of Baghdad. It is a very distinctive type of Arabic with an ancient heritage, expanding as the population grows and evolving with new technology and neologisms. If one were to use the old tongue-in-cheek distinction, “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy”(*), then Iraqi Arabic is a language, but for complex reasons of Arab (and Arabic) political and religious history, it’s properly referred to as a dialect of Arabic. 

As shown on the map, there are nearly 30 variations of Arabic throughout North Africa, the Middle East and Arabian peninsular. With pan-Arab satellite TV channels reporting from these countries, and cultural output like TV series, YouTube channels and vloggers, most variations are understood by speakers of other variations. Many educated people speak more standard forms in public.

Iraqi Arabic has its own grammar and vocabulary that in many cases is quite distinct from standard or classical Arabic, let alone other major variations like Egyptian or Levantine. 

It seems like Iraq has seldom been out of the news in the past 40 years, for all the wrong reasons of dictatorship, invasions and almost constant warfare and violence. Yet, for all that, people have built and rebuilt and rebuilt again, determined to maintain their society. All this is done in Iraq’s Arabic. Yet, in terms of language learning, Iraq’s Arabic might as well be invisible.

Map showing the many dialects that form the Arabic language.

Learn Arabic as Egyptian, Levantine, Gulf or Modern Standard, but not Iraqi?

Over the years as I’ve learnt Arabic and then reviewed Arabic language materials, one constant has been the lack of any Iraqi Arabic learning materials. We know there are obvious reasons for this, with the almost constant violence over two generations making the country unfashionable for tourists and most business visitors. 

In contrast language institutes in Egypt have thrived, and multitudes of learning materials have been written and spoken in Egypt’s distinctive accent. Until recently this was true in Lebanon and Syria too, but even both these countries have become difficult for foreigners, by security or economic reasons. The Gulf states have been too far for casual visitors and Saudi Arabia has only just begun to issue tourist visas. 

I’ve been listening and watching news and programmes on Iraqi TV since 2005 and have been frustrated at the lack of Iraqi Arabic language materials. So I’ve collated some audio Mpg3 audio files complete with the dialogue written in Iraqi Arabic (with the extra letters) and translated into English. I can also recommend this article by Xavier Bisits where he reviews the materials he encountered while learning Iraqi Arabic in Kurdistan.

If you’re interested in finding out more, please get in touch. 

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