Language, as in the study of a foreign language, is one of those things that fascinates me while also driving me absolutely bananas. I’ve studied several and struggle at pretty much all of them, but I enjoy learning about them and that’s why I sometimes note interesting stories about language here at this very English-language internet place. A couple of stories caught my attention this week that I thought might interest at least some of you.
From Al-Monitor, there’s the story of Oded Amit, a 70 year old Iraqi Jew fighting probably in vain to preserve Judeo-Iraqi Arabic. Historically, of course, there was a substantial Jewish population in modern-day Iraq, going all the way back to the Babylonian captivity (read the Bible), and Iraq was for centuries really, after the Romans destroyed the Temple, the center of the worldwide Jewish community. Iraq continued to contain a large Jewish community all the way up to the 20th century, when the rise of antisemitism and hostilities over the situation in Mandatory Palestine began to kick in. The formation of Israel and the subsequent Arab-Israeli War made the situation for Jews throughout the Middle East untenable, and in the early 1950s tens of thousands of Iraqi Jews were airlifted to Israel. Another large group of Iraqi Jews left for Israel in the early 1970s (that’s when Amit’s family left), owing to harsh persecution after the Six Day War in 1967, and there’s been a steady trickle of Jews out of Iraq ever since. Some estimates in recent years put the number of Jews in Baghdad, which once had a relatively large Jewish population, in the single digits.
During the centuries in which there was a large Jewish community living in predominantly Arab Iraq, that community, as isolated communities do, developed its own language. Mostly Arabic but incorporating elements from Hebrew, Aramaic, Turkish, etc., it’s a unique tongue that’s probably going to disappear not long after the last of the Jews who fled Iraq in the 20th century passes on. Amit has been trying to preserve it by teaching it to young people in Israel, with emphasis on one of its more unique characteristics: Continue reading