Jewish Iraqi spoken language documentation
|Deposit Id:||0026, 0102|
|ELDP Id:||SG0060, PPG0045|
This collection contains personal stories, songs and descriptions of life in Iraq in the first half of the twentieth century, as told by Jewish Iraqi informants in London, Canada and Israel between 2006 and 2007.
The image on the right is a painting by Eli Sawdayee, showing a man and his donkey with the Alambic, distilling rose water. To access the story and picture, search for or click on alembic in the left panel.
Group represented Iraqi Jews
The Iraqi Jewish community have lived in Babylonia (present day Iraq) for over 2500 years. They spoke Aramaic for 1,200 years until Iraq was conquered by the Muslim Arabs. Soon after, Arabic would become the dominant language in the region. One hundred years later, the Iraqi Jewish community (excluding Kurdistan) abandoned the Aramaic in favour of the Arabic, but with a lot of borrowings from Hebrew, Aramaic and Farsi. By the time of the mass exodus from Iraq in 1950/1951 of some 150,000 Jews, there were more borrowings from Turkish and English.
As of December 2009, the time of fieldwork, there are only 7 Jews left in Baghdad. Most of the community are settled in Israel and the West and have adopted the language of their host countries. It is hard to find anyone under the age of 45 who speaks the language. The major aim behind the project is to preserve the spoken language for the community/communities' future generations. The research will also benefit Semitics scholars and Iraqi dialectologists.
An interview was conducted with a speaker who left Baghdad recently, in 2003 who had lived with her family with little interaction with the rest of the small Jewish community. She uses a lot of standard Arabic in her speech. It is fascinating to observe the development of the language in 50 years. Although the accent, phonetic and grammar rules of JI were maintained (unconsciously) in her speech, a lot of the morphology was modern Baghdadi with a lot of standard Arabic expressions.
The deposit also contains original paintings by informants, which are the focus of discussions by Eli Sawdayee who painted them.Contains original paintings by informants, which are the focus of discussions by Eli Sawdayee who painted them.
Some 43 hours of interviews were conducted in the UK and Israel between March 2008 and February 2009. Handwritten field notes on recording sessions and speakers (metadata) were taken. Phonemic transcriptions and English free translations of sample recordings were done using ELAN software. A database of these recordings was established on an Excel workbook with linked datasheets. There are also original paintings on which some of the stories are based.
The age span of the speakers was between 45 and 93 years old. Priority was given to interviewing older speakers for obvious reasons. Speakers came from a wide variety of social backgrounds. Speakers in the UK tended to be more educated and well off, but Israel offered the widest social and cultural distribution. As expected there was constant language code switching to and from the host country language as well as to Muslim Baghdadi dialect which was the common dialect for communicating with people outside the JI community in Iraq. Frequent switching to classical- standard Arabic was observed mainly by speakers who were journalists, lawyers, writers or poets.
A wide variety of topics are covered, including life in the old oriental houses in Baghdad, schools, marriage, and historical events affecting the life of the Jewish community in Iraq. Also covered were the years just before the mass emigration/deportation from Iraq and the early difficult years in Israel when immigrants were living in tents and tin-roof shacks for up to seven years. Interviews were also conducted with speakers who stayed in Iraq and lived during a very difficult period under the Baath regime between 1967 and 1971, including the wives and children of people who were hanged or killed during this difficult period.
List of recordings
Below you have the opportunity to listen to some of the Jewish Iraqi recordings deposit at ELAR. Just click on the triangle symbol in the grey field to play, and click again to stop. See also Jewish Iraqi spoken language documentation (2008-2009) for more recordings of Jewish Iraqi.
Schools in Baghdad in the first half of the 20th Century
Heskel Qojaman, an Iraqi Jew now living in London, describes the schools he went to in Baghdad in the first half of the 20th Century.
Heskel Qojaman and Sabah Al Dahisi discuss the secondary education in Baghdad in the 30's and 50s respectively. The recording was made at the home of Heskel Qojaman in 2006.
Heskel Qojaman describes the houses in old Baghdad.
Home Life in Iraq 1930 to 1960, by Semha Cohen (Um Farid)
Mrs Semha Cohen describes her home life in Iraq as a little girl. She describes her house and her school education. The recording was at her home in London, United Kingdom.
Eli Sawdayee describes his illustrated painting where large amphoras are kept in the house cellar to store, cool and filtrate the water brought from the river Tigris by a "Saqqa", a term for the water carrier. The recording was made at his home in Israel in Dec 2006.
Eli Sawdayee describes his illustrated painting where rose water is made by distilling roses in a special device called Alembic. The recording was made at his home in Israel in Dec 2006.
Eli sawdayee describes his illustrated painting where Loulou is plucking body hair by using a special thin string. The recording was made at his home in Israel in Dec 2006.
Friday night prayer
Eli sawdayee describes his illustrated painting where the lady of the house is lighting Shabath's eve lights. The recording was made at his home in Israel in Dec 2006.
Eli sawdayee describes his illustrated painting where the joyous feast of Purim was celebrated at their house, in the inner courtyard in old Baghdad in the 1930's. The recording was made at his home in Israel in Dec 2006.
Eli sawdayee describes his illustrated painting where old mattresses were renewed by plucking the feathers inside them, in old Baghdad in the 1930's. The recording was made at his home in Israel in Dec 2006.
Eli sawdayee describes his illustrated painting where poultry were slaughtered as sacrifice on the eve of Yom Kippur, in old Baghdad in the 1930's. The recording was made at his home in Israel in Dec 2006.
Eli sawdayee describes his illustrated painting where a Soukah (canapy) was constructed for the duration of the Succoth festival, in old Baghdad in the 1930's. The recording was made at his home in Israel in Dec 2006.
Eli sawdayee describes his illustrated painting where a special kind of stew was made on a certain occasion, in old Baghdad in the 1930's. The recording was made at his home in Israel in Dec 2006.
Eli sawdayee describes his illustrated painting where a room was dedicated for food storage in old Baghdad in the 1930's. The recording was made at his home in Israel in Dec 2006.
Street in Baghdad
Eli sawdayee describes his illustrated painting about a famous street in old Baghdad in the 1930's. The recording was made at his home in Israel in Dec 2006.
Eli sawdayee describes his illustrated painting showing how date syrup was made in old Baghdad in the 1930's. The recording was made at his home in Israel in Dec 2006.
Eli sawdayee describes his illustrated painting showing his grandmother with a bed warmer telling the children bedtime stories in the cold winter in old Baghdad in the 1930's. The recording was made at his home in Israel in Dec 2006.
Heskel Zwili sings a lullaby where the mother sings about the handsome and brave qualities of her little boy. The interview takes place at Zwili's house in Gilo, Israel in January 2007.
Heskel Zwili sings a traditional Jewish Iraqi song at a Henni event about him ploying the mother in law of the bride to snare the groom.
Heskel Zwili sings a traditional song at a party before a wedding sung for the bridegroom.
Heskel Zwili sings a traditional song celebrating the henni before the wedding.
Farha Peres recalls life in Baghdad in the 1930's and 1940's and how she was betrothed. She also talks about her close friendship to her Muslim neighbours. She emigrated to Israel in the late 1940's and recalls a visit by a relative of the Sassoon's from India.
Farha Peres believes in spirits and that she has been sent to this world. She talks about extraordinary stories of hers and her grandmother's experiences.
The yellow Idendity card
Salman Dahud talks about the "yellow" Idendity certificate issued to Iraqi Jews in 1964. This was to prove that the Jew in question has not had his Iraqi nationality rescinded in 1950/1951 by the then Iraqi government. Every Iraqi Jew had to hold this certificate after 1964 in order to obtain any official permit for housing, education, travel and so on. It was the ultmate visible form of humiliation.
Two Revolutions in 1963
Salman Dahud recounts two revolutions in 1963 when he was caught between the combattants battling it out on the roof of his house which was situated in a strategic position in Baghdad.
Moving to Battaween
Salman Dahud persuades his father to move from the old family house in the old city to a safer and more modern house in Battaween district.
Escape through Kurdistan
Salman Dahud and his wife describe in summary the escape of Iraqi Jews from Iran during 1970 and 1971.
My father, Saleh Le-Kwaity
Shlomo Al Kuwaity talks about a meeting with a Kuwaity Sheikh who knew his father, the famous Jewish Iraqi composer Saleh Al-Kuwaity. He then talks about his father and the fame he had in Iraq, and about how, on the other hand, Israeli audiences did not appreciate Iraqi music. While Saleh lived in Israel, Iraqi radio played his music and compositions without mentioning his name. He was deeply hurt by the double "non-recognition".
Shuoua Jiji on anti-Jewish laws brought in by the Baath in Iraq in 1963
Shououa Jiji talks about the life of Iraqi Jews between 1951 and 1965. In 1955 he was the only Jew to gain a place at Law College because of the influence of his father in the Ministry of justice,.He then talks about the anti Jewish laws promulgated by the Baath regime in Iraq in 1963 which made life difficult for the jews. It became increasingly difficult for him and his father to work in Iraq so they decided to leave illegally in 1965.
Escape from Iraq
Shuoua Jiji talks about the way he and his wife were smuggled out of Iraq via Basra, Shat-Al-Arab to Iran then Teheran, Iran before flying to Israel.
Other information See also further information on this language on Eli Timan‘s website.
Acknowledgement You can cite this data collection as follows:
Timan, Eli, Documentation of the Jewish Iraqi spoken language, 2006 - 2007 [computer file]. London: Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR) [distributor], November 2010. http://elar.soas.ac.uk/deposit/timan2008jewishiraqi
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