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Iraqi ArabicYasin Al-Khalesi

Iraqi Arabic

Yasin Al-Khalesi teaches a new course in Iraqi Arabic

The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures offers an introductory course in Iraqi Arabic in Spring term (Arabic 115, Studies in Arabic Dialectology), taught by Yasin Al-Khalesi Khalesi. The course introduces students to the dialect spoken in contemporary Iraq, with an emphasis on conversational proficiency. After students learn to recognize and produce the sounds of Iraqi Arabic, they will learn basic vocabulary and idiomatic expressions and acquire cultural background through dialogues and other conversational exercises.

There are three major varieties of Arabic: Classical, Modern Standard and Spoken. Classical Arabic is the language of the Qur’an, of Muslim prayer, and of Christian worship in some of the Eastern churches. It was also the language of scientific, literary and historical writing in the Middle East and North Africa from 600 CE to the early modern period. Modern Standard Arabic, based on Classical Arabic, is the language currently used in books, periodicals, media and formal speech everywhere in the Arab world. Spoken or Colloquial Arabic is the language used in conversation. The vernacular form varies from region to region and is not ordinarily written. The Iraqi vernacular is spoken by approximately 25 million people.

The differences between the various Arabic dialects are basically in pronunciation and idiomatic phrases. Iraqi Arabic is almost unique among Arabic dialects in having the sound “p” as in Peter and the sound “ch” as in chair (also used in Gulf Arabic). There are three major Iraqi dialects, that of Baghdad and the surrounding area, that of Basra and that of Mosul, with Baghdadi being the most widely spoken and understood. It is also the dialect spoken wherever Iraqis live in the Diaspora, mainly in Detroit, Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as in Europe.

With funds provided by CNES, NELC was able to invite one of the leading scholars of Iraqi Arabic to teach the course. Yasin Al-Khalesi holds a Master of Arts degree from the University of Baghdad and a PhD in Near Eastern Archaeology and Languages from Yale University. He has taught courses in Modern Standard and Colloquial Arabic at UCLA and elsewhere since 1975. He is the founder and president of Arabico, Inc., a Middle Eastern language and cross-cultural orientation service, and the author of Modern Iraqi Arabic: A Textbook (Georgetown University Press, 2001), which is being used in the course, and of the Iraqi Phrasebook: The Essential Language Guide for Contemporary Iraq (McGraw-Hill, 2004).

“The challenge is to keep the students interested,” says Al-Khalesi, “to keep it fun and stimulating and make the course productive. Iraq is going to be an important player in the Middle East for many years to come. There’s a great need to teach our students the language of this vital country to enable them to better understand its culture and communicate more easily with its people for peace and a better world.”

Center for Near Eastern Studies