Kuwaiti Persian

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Kuwaiti Persian, known in Kuwait as ʿīmi and spelled Eimi in some works[n 1] is a dying (endangered) combination of different varieties of the Persian language and Achomi language that has been spoken in Kuwait for more than two centuries. Persian was spoken since the foundation of Kuwait, especially in the Sharg district of the historical Kuwait City, where families that emigrated from Persia had settled.[1]

Kuwaitis of Iranian ancestry are called Ayam (ʕɐjɐm). After conducting research about the usage of Persian language in Kuwait in 2004, Abdulmuhsen Dashti, a professor at Kuwait University, projects that the Persian language will disappear in Ayam families within two generations.[2]


Kuwait is a country with no indigenous population. Starting in the eighteenth century, many people started emigrating to Kuwait seeking better life and escaping persecution. The immigration happened mainly (but not only) from territories geographically close to Kuwait, including Eastern Province of the nowadays Saudi Arabia, Nejd, Persia (nowadays called Iran) and Iraq. Immigrants from Persia were the basis of multilingualism in Kuwait, since they brought with them a completely different and distinct language than Arabic. It is projected that more than 30% of Kuwaiti citizens are Ayam.

Most Ayam resided in the Sharg historical district in the old Kuwait City, thus forming a linguistic enclave that preserved the language for generations until the discovery of oil. They communicated in Persian between each other, and did not mingle a lot with Arabic speakers who resided in other districts of Kuwait City until after the industrialisation of Kuwait and Kuwait City that scattered people who lived in the districts of Kuwait City to the suburbs. The linguistic enclave wasn't there any longer and Ayam had to learn Kuwaiti Arabic to survive in the new environment.

The Persian emigrants spoke a variety of dialects and sub-dialects. This mixture came to be called 'imi ([language] of the Ayam in Arabic and Persian), over generations, the variety of Persian spoken today by Ayam developed. As all Ayam acquired Kuwaiti Arabic by time, Kuwaiti Persian is expected to be gone within no more than two generations. Ayam people who still speak Persian are bilingual in both Kuwait Arabic and Persian, while most young Ayam nowadays are native speakers of Kuwaiti Arabic only.


`imi has no official status and it is not standardised. As a Koine, `imi is often seen as a "childish" patois by the public.

Below is a table the compares some words in Kuwaiti and Standard Persian, as collected by Batoul Hasan. Some changes seen in Kuwaiti Persian are also common in other non-standard Persian dialects in Iran as well.

English word In Standard Persian In Kuwaiti Persian
Lunch /næhɒ:r/ /t͡ʃas/
Nose /bi:ni:/ or /dumɒ:q/ /pu:z/
Mum/Mom /mɒ:mɒ:n/ /daja:/
Pretty /qæʃæŋ/ /qæʃæŋin/
Gorgeous /xoʃgil/ /qæʃæŋin/
Dinner /ʃɒ:m/ /ʃu:m/
Come (imperative) /bijɒ:/ /bijow/
It is cold /særde/ /sardin/
What's wrong with him/her /t͡ʃite/ /t͡ʃiʃin/
Excuse me/sorry /bibæxʃid/ /bibaxʃin/
That boy /un pesæar/ /pisaru/
That girl /un du:xtær/ /duxtaru/
One /yek/ /yak/
cheap /ærzɒ:n/ /arzu:n/
water /ɒ:b/ /ow/
Oh God /aj khodɒ:/ /ja xuda/


The anti-preservation attitude of the Kuwaiti government towards the Persian language led and will eventually lead to the disappearance of the language in the Kuwaiti society, as Abdulmuhsen Dashti projects. The government tried and tries to delegitimise the use of `imi in as many domains as possible.

Interviewer: Does it disappoint you that 50 years down the line Ajam will

not speak Eimi anymore?
Interviewee: For what? Why? The minority is always'likely to be absorbed by the

majority. It is a historical fact, it is apart of life

from an interview with an Ayam conducted by Batoul Hasan

Some Ayam reported unwillingness to pass the language to future generations for pragmatic reasons, as it will hurdle integration into the dominant culture. The minority group may feel pressure to abandon ties that could be interpreted as showing belonging to other countries, in this case Iran, as Persian is synonymous with Iranian for a lot of Kuwaitis, and the Persian language is actually called Iranian (Kuwaiti Arabic: إيراني) in Kuwaiti Arabic. In several interview conducted by PhD student Batoul Hasan, several have shown hesitation to use or learn Persian due to stigmatisation and prejudice. One person said: "We live in an Arab country where Arabic is the main language and Eimi has no place in this society.", "Speaking Eimi is a sensitive issue that could erupt. It would be more acceptable to speak Israeli (Hebrew) in public, but when you speak Farsi due to societies prejudices you are asking for problems". Many thought that Persian has no place and no use in the Kuwaiti society, as Arabic is the language of Kuwait (according to them). Multilingualism was not favourable, in the eyes of people interviewed by Batoul, unless it involved the acquisition of Arabic and English. Some people even believed that the acquisition of Kuwaiti Persian as a first or second language may affect the acquisition of Arabic.

Persian in Kuwait[edit]

The Persian language in general has been considered a threat by some Sunni Islamists. In 2012, MP Muhammad Hassan al-Kandari called for a "firm action" against an advertisement for teaching Persian.[3]. The Kuwaiti TV series Karimo received some criticism for showing Kuwaiti actors speaking fluent Persian; with some calling it a dictated enforcement of Iranian culture on the Kuwaiti society.[4]

In the educated circle, Persian is seen as a language with high cultural value. According to an Iranian cultural advisor to Kuwait, Khameyar said that a lot of Kuwaitis speak Persian proudly. He also added that many state officials carry conversations in Persian; including non-Ayam Kuwaitis who speak and answer in Persian with embassy officials. Khameyar also expressed his surprise from the reception their Persian language courses had received.[5]

Persian is taught in many institutes across Kuwait, including academic institutes, such as Kuwait University, diplomatic cultural institutes, such as the Iranian Embassy cultural office, language institutes, such as Berlitz, and religious institutes, such as Al-Imam Al-Mujtaba seminaries.[6]

See also[edit]

  • 'Ajam of Kuwait: Kuwaitis of Iranian ancestry.
  • Kuwaiti Arabic: The variety of Arabic spoken by almost all Kuwaitis (including Ayam). It had a lot of influence on Kuwaiti Persian (and vice versa).
  • Tarakma: Also called Lamerd, is where a lot of Ayam emigrated from.

Notes and References[edit]

  1. ^ Written in Arabic alphabet as "عيمي", and pronounced /ʕi:mi/ in Kuwaiti Arabic and /[ʔ]i:mi:/ in Kuwaiti Persian. Sometimes it is also referred to as ايراني "Iranian", but this could refer to the Persian language as well.)
  • Ideology, identity, and linguistic capital : a sociolinguistic investigation of language shift among the Ajam of Kuwait. Batoul Hasan. 2009. The University of Essex.
  • Taqi, Hanan (2010). Two ethnicities, three generations: Phonological variation and change in Kuwait (PDF) (PhD). Newcastle University.