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Latest News: Languages

The strange tales behind how some English words found their way into the Iraqi dialect of Arabic

Tuesday, June 5, 2018  
Posted by: Dana Walker

The British “Mesopotamian Campaign” of World War I took almost three years to get to


Baghdad – and the occupying force faced many challenges once it arrived. In fact, Britain’s overwhelming predominance over Iraq from 1917 to 1947 was a time of rough and violent political and economic “communication”.

But the interesting number of English “loanwords” in the Iraqi dialect of Arabic tell us that the communication was not always defensive. More important, the quality of borrowed words and the way they are twisted to fit Iraqi usage reflect the fact that Iraqis were fascinated by the language and culture of their occupiers whom they ironically nicknamed “Abu Naji” after the commonly held belief that Iraqi monarch Ghazi bin Faisal had been murdered at the behest of the British by his driver, Abu Naji, in a faked car accident.

However, while I can clearly identify many words as English in origin – for example, biskit, tȏrch, rādīȏ, shȏrt – there are many other words altered enough to look like anything but English, including timman, paīcha, fuṣṣ glāṣṣ, and others.

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