The Nahrein Network


Dictionary of Marsh Arab dialects

Team: Hussein Mohammed Ridha, Basim Olaiel Khalaf, Faris Ajeel Jassem, Ali Raheem Abu Alhail Al Jaberi (University of Thi-Qar

Duration: funded for 6 months from 1 January 2021 

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1BBAsaHKes&ab_channel=NahreinNetwork

To learn more about this project, watch above video from the Nahrein Network Colloquium.

The Marsh Arabs are a minority group of the Marshlands of southern Iraq, with Sumerian and Bedouin origins. They have their own specific culture and architecture, way of life and dialect, all rooted in and shaped by their environment: the marshes. Their way of life and their tangible heritage, such as the reed architecture and their boats, have been well documented. However, their dialect was not and is now as risk to be lost forever, as only a very small number of elders still speak it.

The Marsh Arabs have suffered considerably over many generations, and their dialect is generally looked down upon by other Arabic speakers. They also suffered destruction and attacks during Saddam Hussein’s time in power. Despite some investments in restoring it, the region has continued to suffer. Past and current threats include the 2003 US/Coalition occupation and conflict, oil industry interests and, increasingly, the climate crisis. Dams in Turkey reduce water flow and endanger the Marshes' existence, which in turn, endangers the Marsh Arabs' way of life.  

The project contributes to preserving the linguistic heritage of the marsh dwellers, especially since much of the vocabularies are at risk of extinction. The project also contributes to providing important data about language-related research, such as finding the origin of words, some even belong to Sumerian or Akkadian origin. The team hopes to highlight the importance and value of the Marsh Arab dialect, raising awareness among the young people of the marshes to reclaim their dialect and be proud of the language.

The team hopes their work will help preserve and allow a better understanding of the Marsh Arab dialect. 

Project Outputs

  • Conducting several trips to the marshes and interviewing the Marsh Arabs collecting over 1000 words that are spoken only by them.
  • Full documentation of the Marsh Arab lifestyle, including their day-to-day life of the people Hundreds of videos, photos and recordings have been taken.
  • Publish "Dictionary of the Colloquial and Marsh Arab Dialects in Southern Iraq" which unique words to the region and the origins of the words and explanation in Arabic and English.

Book cover of the dictionary

YouTube playlist of vocabulary explanation can be found here

Iraq Marshlands

Read Equal Times article with Dr. Hussein Mohammed Ridha:

 In Iraq’s Marshlands, Researchers are racing to document a disappearing dialect