In this paper, I seek to explore the differences between Modern Standard Arabic (MSA hereafter) and the Iraqi dialect, with particular preference given to lexical borrowing and morphosyntactic variation. Beginning with the expansion of Islam from the Arabian Peninsula, moving to the foundation of Baghdad and its importance as a center of linguistic prestige, and continuing to the history of successive conquests and colonial occupations, I intend to show that the variety of Arabic spoken in modern-day Iraq differs substantially from MSA, and that this variation has occurred since the early Baghdadi grammarians first began to document the grammar of Classical Arabic (CLA hereafter). I intend to support the hypothesis of Holes (2004) and several other Arabic scholars who contend that Second Language Acquisition, and not pidginization, is the more likely explanation for how the Arabic language was promulgated over successive centuries among the disparate tribes and communities of practice that came to comprise the modern-day nation of Iraq.
The spread of the Arabic language from the Arabian Peninsula during the 7th century A.D. is one of the most dynamic and impactful spreads of a language and culture in human history. While the initial path which this language travelled is well-understood by historians, the mechanism by which Arabic came to be adopted by disparate cultures and people-groups throughout the 8th and 9th centuries has been a subject of some conjecture. The two prevailing theories on its transmission to other cultures can be generally summarized as either a “pidginization” hypothesis or a Second Language Acquisition (SLA) hypothesis, both based on modern observations of how languages generally behave during a cultural interaction. According to the pidginization hypothesis, Najdi and Hejazi speakers from the Peninsula likely would have encountered speakers of other languages and cultures as they expanded outward, and due to the rapid nature of the cultural contact it may have been necessary for speakers of diverse languages to devise a rudimentary method of communication. From a sociolinguistic perspective, pidgins tend to form in cases of limited or incidental cultural interaction, as in a situation of international trade or first contact between native cultures and outside explorers. One of the hallmarks of a situation where pidgins are created is a mutual lack of trust or understanding on the part of the cultures. This is exemplified by the evolution of such Creoles (a pidgin which has acquired native speakers over successive generations) as those developed in the Caribbean as a result of the slave trade.
The more likely theory, in my opinion, is that of Second Language Acquisition. SLA is a more likely hypothesis because it does not necessitate a phonological or grammatical leveling, as usually witnessed in cases of pidginization, and allows for the retention of complex grammatical and morphosyntactic structures as cultures gradually learn to speak one another’s language over time. This is consistent with much of the phonological and lexical diversity, and yet the relative morphosyntactic similarity, seen within the spoken dialects of Iraq and the Gulf as compared to the more conservative features of MSA. Iraq in particular is a country with a rich linguistic history; with the establishment of Baghdad as capital of the Abbasid Caliphate circa the 750s A.D., Iraq became a major center of prestige and cultural interaction for roughly the next five centuries. Subsequently, the Mongols, Turks, and eventually the British and other colonial powers became dominant over the region, and continual linguistic interactions took place between Persian and Arabic-speaking Shia populations. This abundance of linguistic influences has led to a very rich phonological (as with the addition of [ʧ], [g], [p], and [v] to the phonological stock) and lexical diversity within the dialect, however overall it remains mostly true to form with the grammatical conventions of CLA/MSA. Over the centuries, Iraqi has incorporated numerous phonological and lexical features from these languages while usually (with some notable exceptions) retaining the grammatical forms imposed by Arabic as it took root from the 7th to the 9th centuries.
Fischer (2006) introduces general issues in morphosyntactic change, including what constitutes good practice in historical linguistics. In defining principles, mechanisms, and causes of change, she sets forth both the Principles and Parameters model and the Grammaticalization model as her primary vehicles to describe diachronic change. She then presents a series of case studies providing illustrative examples.
Meisel et al (2013) and many others have put forth the theory that child language acquisition is the likely locus for many of the changes which occur within a language (Meisel, pp. 52-72). A significant body of research points to the soundness of children’s grammatical acquisition even in the absence of complete exposure (Chomsky’s poverty of the stimulus) to a language; nevertheless structural ambiguities and language contact resulting in conflicting inputs for a child learner have been proposed as two of the most salient factors in diachronic change (Meisel, p.64). As stated by Alqassas (p.89-94), the categories of language which exhibit more syntactic and morphological complexity tend to be more vulnerable to simplification or outright suppression, such as case endings, relative pronouns, subordinate clauses, etc. whereas more resilient categories such as complementizers and noun-verbal agreements tend to persist even among heritage speakers whose comprehensible input is likely to be much lower than a child learning in their country of origin. This assertion is supported by Silva-Corvalan (2016), wherein she examined the productive capabilities of heritage Spanish learners raised in the United States. Silva-Corvalan found that increased object clitic omissions and increased use of subject pronouns accompanied by a decreased strength of coreferentiality constraint were systemic among children aged six and below whose limited exposure to Spanish led to incomplete acquisition of these more-complex syntactic features (Silva-Corvalan, pp.6-9). Though Silva-Corvalan was not articulating the concept of “vulnerability” per se, there is an emerging body of evidence to make the case for certain linguistic categories being more resilient while others seem far more difficult to acquire and retain, particularly in an environment where the Language Alpha is only practiced at home. This in turn lends some credence to the overall hypothesis of Second Language Acquisition as the major vehicle for the spread of Arabic, wherein it is highly likely that the Language Alpha in conquered Muslim lands was spoken in the homes of non-Arabs and therefore influenced the acquisition process of successive generations of Arabic learners.
Holes (2004) asserts that, “The morphological structure of the Arabic dialects as a whole is simpler than that of CLA/MSA in the sense that there are fewer separate categories. In the verb, some morphosemantic patterns have been lost...In inflectional morphology, a number of categories have disappeared completely.” (Holes, pp.117-118) He goes on to illustrate that low-frequency, marked categories were by far the most vulnerable to loss. In morphosyntax, the functional load of vowel patterns have generally been reduced and uses of particles and affixes have increased to compensate for the loss. (Holes, p.123) According to Holes’ (Chapter 8) and Bassiouney’s (Al-Wer and De Jong pp. 273-284) articulation of the various intermediary levels between “pure” MSA and “pure” dialect, many of the borrowed words and grammatical features (as articulated by Holes p.307) in the Iraqi dialect retain the phonological and occasionally syntactic features of their original language.
Conversely, Trudgill, in Al-Wer and De Jong (2009), set forth the assertion that while many linguists believe simplification to be the natural result of language contact, there is also a significant and emerging body of evidence in favor of complexification as an equally likely result (Al-Wer & De Jong, 2009 pp. 173-185). Trudgill proposes that, in cases where simplification occurs, it is likely the nature of the language contact was more brief, whereas in cases of complexification it was likely more protracted (p.177). Al-Essa (Al-Wer & De Jong 2009, pp. 203-222) also discusses the dialect leveling which likely took place in Jeddah as a result of extended contact between speakers of the Najdi and Hejazi dialects, and Ingham (Al-Wer and De Jong, pp. 99-108) examines the dialect of the Euphrates Bedouin tribes, demonstrating that they shared certain features of both the urban Baghdadi dialect and several features of the much-older Najdi dialect as studied by him in Ingham (1994). All of these illustrate the complex nature of language interaction which allows for both complexification and simplification to occur simultaneously.
Talmon (2003) provides excellent examinations of the historical texts of the CLA gammarians. Their early attempts to standardize and codify the grammar of 8th-century Arabic, specifically comparing the “Old Iraqi School” and Halil and Sibawayhi’s later reformations, allows us to see the progression of development within the communities of practice in 8th century Baghdad and Basra. Talmon provides excerpts and analyses from many of the earliest grammarians, from ‘Isa Bin ‘Ummar and Yunus Bin Habib to Halil Bin Ahmad and later reformers such as Sibawayhi. Talmon examines Halil’s selection of functional terminology and his systematic attempts to explain grammatical features which were extant at the time. Taken alongside Ingham’s (1994) work, this volume allows for comparison between the Arabic codified by the Classicists and, when compared with the features of Najdi, allows us to make the case that the Arabic language was diglossic in nature from its earliest days as a codified linguistic system.
Salih J. Altoma’s The problem of diglossia in Arabic offers phonological, lexical, and syntactic comparisons between MSA and Iraqi. Of particular value is Altoma’s articulation of the formation of composite morphemes, such as [š-] and [-eyš] used as interrogatives. Altoma notes that [š-] can occur as a prefix to verbs, nouns, and particles, whereas [-eyš] can only occur as a suffix to nouns and particles. He also notes the use of [man] in Iraqi takes on the characteristics of a suffix to particles and nouns, i.e. [haða kitaabman] for “who’s book is this?” (Altoma, p.91); whereas [minuu], a likely elision of [man huwa], is the preferred interrogative particle for “who.” With regard to lexical comparison, Altoma provides an entire chapter on loanwords and their origins, some with complex or even unknown etymologies which may be a synthesis of multiple languages, such as [balaakit] for “but,” which Altoma hypothesizes may be a fusion of two particles, or was derived from [balki] for “perhaps,” of Turkish origin (Altoma, p.99).
Muller-Kessler (2003) also theorizes that Aramaic (specifically referencing examples from Babylonian Talmudic Aramaic texts and Folmer’s 1995 study of Achaemenid Aramaic) likely contributed its particle of existence [yk] and its negative equivalent [lyk] to the koine dialects of the surrounding Mesopotamian region (Mueller-Kessler, p.624-643), which gradually became [ekko] or [ekka] per later inscriptions. She contends this has survived in present times as the particles [aakuu] and [maakuu]. Mueller-Kessler addresses dissenting opinions by fellow Arabic/Aramaic scholars by demonstrating that similar inscriptions in contemporary Syraic Aramaic artefacts show no use of the Mesopotamian particles, and the modern use of the particles is still highly regionally localized (Mueller-Kessler, p. 645).
According to Georgetown’s A Dictionary of Iraqi Arabic, there are numerous examples of both borrowed verbs and nouns which have adopted the morphological rules of the assimilating language; specifically I intend to highlight the influence of British English on car-related vocabulary. The verbs [pnʧr] and [prk] as applied to automobiles are borrowed directly from British English as a result of the period under which Iraq was ruled as a British mandate from 1920-1932, when automobiles first became widespread within the region. These verbs conform to the standard inflectional and derivational forms of Arabic morphology as illustrated by phrases such as [anii ʧnt atparak siyarti hun], i.e. “I used to park my car here.” Or, for another example [pnʧrt siyarti], meaning either “my car got a flat (tire),” or, “my car broke down,” thus generalizing the meaning to include any mechanical failure; which exhibits the type of polysemy often encountered when words are borrowed as in a pidgin. Likewise with nouns, the word [dašbuul] refers to the dashboard of the car, and [steern] refers to the steering wheel, as well as [sipring] “spring,” aka the car suspension, and [speer], the “spare” car tire. All of these nouns follow the regular [-aat] plural format [dašbuulaat], [steernaat], [sipringaat], and [speeraat], respectively. These all provide excellent support to the Behnstedt chapter Words and Things (Al-Wer and De Jong, pp.63-75), wherein borrowed words often tell a great deal about the technologies brought by foreign occupiers. Specifically, Behnstedt illustrates the different rates of use for words like “Forno” versus the more native [tabuun] to describe an oven, and even to denote the specific style of an oven’s construction in places where both kinds are in more or less widespread use (pp. 69-71). Iraqi is also famous for its use of the adjective /xooš/, a Turkish loanword meaning “good,” however the adjective does not conform to the standard N-A construct which is otherwise used uniformly in Arabic. Instead, if for example an Iraqi speaker wanted to say “good idea,” s/he would say /xoš fikra/ in conformity with Turkish A-N grammar (Clarity, B. E. 2003: 148), instead of the more commonly-used /fikra zayna/ attested elsewhere throughout the Levant. Notably, this illustrates a case of both borrowed syntax and simplified gender construct, as the adjective is used in the same manner regardless of whether the noun is masculine or feminine.
With regard to Modality, Iraqi generally suppresses case endings like all spoken dialects (Holes, p.226), and tends to rely more on the use of [xaaf] either at the outset of an utterance or preceding a verb to indicate a subjunctive mood. The particle [qad] is also used to a certain extent, as evidenced by utterances attested by Holes (p.234) [qad ʔakuunu wasˁaltu baʕda yawmayni], which to my admittedly-foreign ear sounds more proper than the second example [saʔakuunu qad wasˁaltu] based on past experience. The relation between expressions of epistemic uncertainty in Iraqi and MSA, particularly the Iraqi retention of [qad] as a particle expressing possibility despite the fact that [xaaf] is more preferred (Nydell, M. K. 1991), seems to me to indicate that the underlying grammar of MSA remains robust in spite of newer additions to the language. This is further supported by Ingham’s chapter on the Rufai’, Ahl al-Shimal, and ħumaid Bedouin tribes of the Northern Najdi/Mesopotamian regions whose morphological features essentially “split the difference” between traditional Najdi and the Southern Iraq region (Al-Wer & De Jong, p. 101).
Tense generally follows CLA/MSA conventions, although the imperfect is often marked by the preverbal morpheme [daa] to form a present progressive, as in [ʔanii daaštuɣul mutariʤim] i.e. “I am working as a translator.” As articulated by Holes (p.232-238), there are several particles and auxiliary verbs (notably [kaana], or [ʧaan] in Iraqi) which denote the past tense clearly, although like MSA the use of the auxiliary verb denotes primarily habitual past actions whereas the simple past is denoted with the traditional suffixes (usually with a final sukuun). Negation almost categorically favors the use of [maa] in Iraqi, as attested by numerous examples in Owens et al (2009, ch.2) and Holes (p. 239-245), where a verbal predicate is negated by an immediately preverbal [maa] (Holes p. 243), however unlike other dialects Iraqi does not use circumfixal negation with a final [š].
Regarding word order and phrase structure, Iraqi examples cited in Owens et al (2009, ch.2) indicate that while V-S sentences predominate most narrative descriptions, utterances 13-16 (p.65) illustrate that even in narrative use in mononodal sentences there is a pragmatic application for fronting a subject. Similarly, utterances 17-23 (pp.66-67) show further use of the focus-fronting feature whereby new information is introduced or a subject is expounded upon for emphasis. This topic marking via dislocation (or extraposition, as Holes calls it) is exemplified by utterances 13, 14, and 16 in Owens et al Ch. 2., as well as the use of resumptive pronouns. Ingham (1994) also found numerous instances of focus-fronting a subject in the Najdi dialects spoken in the regions spanning from the Peninsula up into the Southern deserts of Iraq. Because Ingham’s informants represent some of the most isolated and conservative speakers of the dialect (Ingham, 1994: 5-7), his conclusions regarding the age and prevalence of mononodal and binodal sentence constructs in Najdi may be used to infer that it was Najdi which contributed this feature to the Baghdadi/Iraqi dialects (Al-Wer and De Jong, pp. 99-108). This is also discussed in the Palva reading, wherein a kind of Bedoinization of the Baghdadi dialect took place in the wake of the devastation and resettlement of the city following the Mongol invasions (Al-Wer and De Jong, pp. 29-33).
While Palva (Al-Wer& De Jong, pp.17-40), for example, attests the existence of variations of the word [rɑħ] such as [lɑħ] and [ɣɑħ], I have yet to encounter these particles in any of the translation work I have done in my ten years of experience. Admittedly the flight of minority Christian and Jewish populations from Iraq in the wake of the 2003 US invasion has likely played a significant factor.
Verbal nouns appear to remain consistent with the morphological patterns laid out by Holes (pp. 146-149), although there are several cases which, anecdotally, I have seen the noun of instance used polysemously in place of the traditional verbal noun. For example, the use of [dˁrba] in context could mean “a hit,” or the act of hitting itself, i.e. [ðˁrbat ʔalmadrasa ʧaant ʕiib] (Iraqi phonology commonly substitutes a [ðˁ] in place of a [dˁ]). Active participles in Iraqi take on a very different appearance from their use in any neighboring dialect. Here we find an example of lexical borrowing from neighboring Persian, where the word [ʧii] is appended to essentially any noun or verb to make an active participle of it, i.e. [ʧaaii ʧii] would be one who serves tea, [panʧaarʧii] would be one who repairs cars, etc. Passive participles behave in the same predictable patterns as verbal nouns, marked again by word-initial and word-final vowel suppression.
Nouns of instance generally take a taa marbouta in conformity with CLA/MSA morphosyntactic norms, however there are cases such as the Iraqi [kabraan], [samnaan], and [ðablaan] examples cited in Holes (p. 158) and the Egyptian [ʔarfaan], [dafyaan], and [ʕayaan] (p.159) which indicate an expansion of pattern usage from CLA/MSA. Nouns of place in Iraqi diverge more widely than other dialects from MSA, due once again to an instance of lexical borrowing from Persian. Here, the word [xaana] is appended to any noun or verb to make a noun of place. For instance, a gas station in Iraqi is commonly known as a [banziin xaana], a coffee (or tea) shop is known as a [ʧaaii xaana], etc. Diminutives abide by standard MSA conventions, although vowels are usually flattened to conform more to the phonological preferences of the Iraqi palate, which also widely favors affrication of velar plosives. Gender inflections in Iraqi are denoted, in the feminine case, by the substitution of a [ʧ] in place of a [k], thereby eliminating the need for vowel-based gender marking. Any feminine possessive can be denoted in this way, i.e. [siyartiʧ] as opposed to [siyartik] for a feminine possessor of a car vs. a masculine one. This affrication of the [k], as well as a de-affrication of [ts] and [dz] among Najdi speakers is examined at length by Al-Essa (Al-Wer and De Jong, pp. 203-222) where she catalogues instances of dialect leveling in the Najdi and Hejazi variations found to have extended contact in Jeddah.
Meisel et al (2013) articulated the following:
While lexical borrowing, i.e. ‘the incorporation of a lexical item from one language into another, with only the recipient system operative’ (Poplack and Meechan 1998: 129), is a fairly common and uncontroversial phenomenon in situations of language contact, the question of whether language-specific word order patterns and grammatical structure can be borrowed from one language into another has met with considerable skepticism and has triggered contradictory claims in the research literature...Thomason and Kaufman (1998: 91) argue that, given the right sociocultural circumstances, any linguistic constraint on the stability or vulnerability of language structure may be overruled by extralinguistic factors and that ‘anything goes’ in situations of language contact. (Meisel et al 2013; 100)
- Holes, C., 1948. (2004). Modern arabic: Structures, functions, and varieties (Rev. ed.). Washington, D.C: Georgetown University Press.
- Al-Wer, E., De Jong, R. E., & Holes, C. (2009). Arabic Dialectology: In honour of Clive Holes on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday. Leiden: Brill.
- Ingham, B. Najdi Arabic : Central Arabian, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1994. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/georgetown/detail.action?docID=739959.
- Alqassas, A. (2015). Negation, tense and NPIs in jordanian arabic. Lingua: International Review of General Linguistics, 156, 101-128. doi:10.1016/j.lingua.2014.12.010
- Silva-Corvalan, C. (2016). Simultaneous bilingualism: Early developments, incomplete later outcomes? International Journal of Bilingualism, doi:10.1177/1367006916652061.
- Fischer, O. (2006) Morphosyntactic Change : Functional and Formal Perspectives, OUP Oxford, 2006. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/georgetown/detail.action?docID=415552.
- Altoma, S. J. (1969). The Problem of Diglossia in Arabic: A Comparative Study of Classical and Iraqi Arabic. Cambridge, Mass: Distributed for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies of Harvard University by Harvard University Press.
- Csató, É. Á., et al. (2014) Linguistic Convergence and Areal Diffusion : Case Studies from Iranian, Semitic and Turkic, Taylor & Francis Group, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/georgetown/detail.action?docID=199400.
- Meisel, J. M., Elsig, M., & Rinke, E. (2013). Language Acquisition and Change: A Morphosyntactic Perspective. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
- Nydell, M. K. (Margaret Kleffner). (1991). From Modern Standard Arabic to the Iraqi Dialect: Conversion Course. Arlington, Va: DLS Press.
- Muller-Kessler, C. (2003). Aramaic 'k', lyk' and Iraqi Arabic 'aku, maku: The Mesopotamian Particles of Existence. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 123(3), 641-646. Retrieved from http://proxy.library.georgetown.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/217141532?accountid=11091.
- Talmon, R. (2003). Eighth-Century Iraqi Grammar: A Critical Exploration of Pre-ḩalīlian Arabic Linguistics. Winona Lake, Ind: Eisenbrauns.
- Clarity, B. E. (2003). A Dictionary of Iraqi Arabic: English-Arabic, Arabic-English. Washington, D.C: Georgetown University Press.
- Wehr, H., 1909, & Cowan, J. M. (1994). A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic: Arabic-English(4th ed.). Ithaca, N.Y: Spoken Language Services.