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Mesopotamian Arabic

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Mesopotamian Arabic
Iraqi Arabic
اللهجة العراقية
Native toIraq (Mesopotamia), Syria, Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, parts of northern and eastern Arabia
RegionMesopotamia, Cilicia
EthnicityMainly Iraqi Arabs also used as a L2 language by non Arab communities in the region
SpeakersGelet/South (acm): 17 million (2020)[1]
Qeltu/North (ayp): 10 million (2020)[1]
Arabic alphabet
Iraqi Sign
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
acm – Gelet
ayp – Qeltu
Areas where Mesopotamian Arabic are widely spoken.[image reference needed]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Mesopotamian Arabic (Arabic: لهجة بلاد ما بين النهرين) or Iraqi Arabic (Arabic: اللهجة العراقية) is a group of varieties of Arabic spoken in the Mesopotamian basin of Iraq, as well as in Syria, Kuwait, southeastern Turkey, Iran, and Iraqi diaspora communities.[2]


Aramaic was the lingua franca in Mesopotamia from the early 1st millennium BCE until the late 1st millennium CE, and as may be expected, Mesopotamian Arabic shows signs of an Aramaic substrate.[3] The Gelet and the Judeo-Iraqi varieties have retained features of Babylonian Aramaic.[3]


Mesopotamian Arabic has two major varieties: Gelet Mesopotamian Arabic and Qeltu Mesopotamian Arabic. Their names derive from the form of the word for "I said" in each variety.[4] Gelet Arabic is a Bedouin variety spoken by Muslims (both sedentary and non-sedentary) in central and southern Iraq and by nomads in the rest of Iraq. Qeltu Arabic is an urban dialect spoken by Non-Muslims of central and southern Iraq (including Baghdad) and by the sedentary population (both Muslims and Non-Muslims) of the rest of the country.[5] Non-Muslims include Christians, Yazidis, and Jews, until most Iraqi Jews left Iraq in the 1940s–1950s.[6][7] Geographically, the gelet–qeltu classification roughly corresponds to respectively Upper Mesopotamia and Lower Mesopotamia.[8] The isogloss is between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, around Fallujah and Samarra.[8]

During the Siege of Baghdad (1258), the Mongols killed all Muslims.[9] However, sedentary Christians and Jews were spared and northern Iraq was untouched.[9] In southern Iraq, sedentary Muslims were gradually replaced by Bedouins from the countryside.[9] This explains the current dialect distribution: in the south, everyone speaks Bedouin varieties close to Gulf Arabic (continuation of the Bedouin dialects of the Arabian Peninsula),[9][10] with the exception of urban Non-Muslims who continue to speak pre-1258 qeltu dialects while in the north the original qeltu dialect is still spoken by all, Muslims and Non-Muslims alike.[9]

Gelet/qeltu verb contrasts[11]
s-stem Bedouin/gelet Sedentary/qeltu
1st sg. ḏạrab-t fataḥ-tu
2nd m. sg. ḏạrab-t fataḥ-t
2nd f. sg. tišṛab-īn tǝšrab-īn
2nd pl. tišṛab-ūn tǝšrab-ūn
3rd pl. yišṛab-ūn yǝšrab-ūn


Gelet dialects include:[8]

Qeltu dialects include:[8]

Baghdadi Arabic is Iraq's de facto national vernacular, as about half of population speaks it as a mother tongue, and most other Iraqis understand it. It is spreading to northern cities as well.[12] Other Arabic speakers cannot easily understand Moslawi and Baghdadi.[12]


Mesopotamian Arabic, especially Qeltu, has a significant Eastern Aramaic substrate,[13] and through it also has significant influences from ancient Mesopotamian languages of Sumerian and Akkadian. Eastern Aramaic dialects flourished and became the lingua franca throughout Mesopotamia during the Achaemenid and Hellenistic period, where different dialects such as Syriac, Mandaic and Hatran Aramaic came to being.[14][15] Mesopotamian Arabic also retains influences from Persian, Turkish, and Greek.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Gelet at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
    Qeltu at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Enam al-Wer, Rudolf Erik de Jong, ed. (2009). Arabic Dialectology: In Honour of Clive Holes on the Occasion of His Sixtieth Birthday. Vol. 53. Brill. pp. 99–100. ISBN 9789047425595.
  3. ^ a b Muller-Kessler, Christa (2003). "Aramaic 'K', Lyk' and Iraqi Arabic 'Aku, Maku: The Mesopotamian Particles of Existence". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 123 (3): 641–646. doi:10.2307/3217756. JSTOR 3217756.
  4. ^ Mitchell, T. F. (1990). Pronouncing Arabic, Volume 2. Clarendon Press. p. 37. ISBN 0-19-823989-0.
  5. ^ Jasim, Maha Ibrahim (2022-12-15). "The Linguistic Heritage of the Maṣlāwī Dialect in Iraq". CREID Working Paper 18. doi:10.19088/creid.2022.015.
  6. ^ Holes, Clive, ed. (2018). Arabic Historical Dialectology: Linguistic and Sociolinguistic Approaches. Oxford University Press. p. 337. ISBN 978-0-19-870137-8. OCLC 1059441655.
  7. ^ Procházka, Stephan (2018). "3.2. The Arabic dialects of northern Iraq". In Haig, Geoffrey; Khan, Geoffrey (eds.). The Languages and Linguistics of Western Asia. De Gruyter. pp. 243–266. doi:10.1515/9783110421682-008. ISBN 978-3-11-042168-2. S2CID 134361362.
  8. ^ a b c d Ahmed, Abdulkareem Yaseen (2018). Phonological variation and change in Mesopotamia: a study of accent levelling in the Arabic dialect of Mosul (PhD thesis). Newcastle University.
  9. ^ a b c d e Holes, Clive (2006). Ammon, Ulrich; Dittmar, Norbert; Mattheier, Klaus J.; Trudgill, Peter (eds.). "The Arabian Peninsula and Iraq/Die arabische Halbinsel und der Irak". Sociolinguistics / Soziolinguistik, Part 3. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter: 1937. doi:10.1515/9783110184181.3.9.1930. ISBN 978-3-11-019987-1.
  10. ^ Al‐Wer, Enam; Jong, Rudolf (2017). "Dialects of Arabic". In Boberg, Charles; Nerbonne, John; Watt, Dominic (eds.). The Handbook of Dialectology. Wiley. p. 529. doi:10.1002/9781118827628.ch32. ISBN 978-1-118-82755-0. OCLC 989950951.
  11. ^ Prochazka, Stephan (2018). "The Northern Fertile Crescent". In Holes, Clive (ed.). Arabic Historical Dialectology: Linguistic and Sociolinguistic Approaches. Oxford University Press. p. 266. doi:10.1093/oso/9780198701378.003.0009. ISBN 978-0-19-870137-8. OCLC 1059441655.
  12. ^ a b Collin, Richard Oliver (2009). "Words of War: The Iraqi Tower of Babel". International Studies Perspectives. 10 (3): 245–264. doi:10.1111/j.1528-3585.2009.00375.x.
  13. ^ del Rio Sanchez, Francisco (2013). "Influences of Aramaic on dialectal Arabic". In Sala, Juan Pedro Monferrer; Watson, Wilfred G. E. (eds.). Archaism and Innovation in the Semitic Languages: Selected Papers. Oriens Academic. ISBN 978-84-695-7829-2.
  14. ^ Smart, J. R. (2013). Tradition and Modernity in Arabic Language And Literature. Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781315026503. ISBN 978-1-136-78805-5. [verification needed]
  15. ^ R. J. al-Mawsely, al-Athar, al-Aramiyyah fi lughat al-Mawsil al-amiyyah (Lexicon: Aramaic in the popular language of Mosul): Baghdad 1963
  16. ^ Afsaruddin, Asma; Zahniser, A. H. Mathias, eds. (1997). Humanism, Culture, and Language in the Near East: Studies in Honor of Georg Krotkoff. Penn State University Press. doi:10.5325/j.ctv1w36pkt. ISBN 978-1-57506-020-0. JSTOR 10.5325/j.ctv1w36pkt. [verification needed]

Further reading[edit]