Judeo-Arabic dialects

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ערביה יהודיה
A page from the Cairo Geniza, part of which is written in the Judeo-Arabic language
EthnicityMizrahi Jews
Native speakers
240,000 (2022)[1]
Early forms
Hebrew alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-2jrb
ISO 639-3jrb – inclusive code
Individual codes:
yhd – Judeo-Iraqi Arabic
aju – Judeo-Moroccan Arabic
yud – Judeo-Tripolitanian Arabic
jye – Judeo-Yemeni Arabic

Judeo-Arabic dialects (Judeo-Arabic: ערביה יהודיה, romanized: ‘Arabiya Yahūdiya; Arabic: عربية يهودية, romanizedʿArabiya Yahūdiya (listen); Hebrew: ערבית יהודית, romanized‘Aravít Yehudít (listen)) are ethnolects formerly spoken by Jews throughout the Arabic-speaking world.[2] Under the ISO 639 international standard for language codes, Judeo-Arabic is classified as a macrolanguage under the code jrb, encompassing four languages: Judeo-Moroccan Arabic (aju), Judeo-Yemeni Arabic (jye), Judeo-Iraqi Arabic (yhd), and Judeo-Tripolitanian Arabic (yud).[3][4]

Judeo-Arabic can also refer to Classical Arabic written in the Hebrew script, particularly in the Middle Ages.

Many significant Jewish works, including a number of religious writings by Saadia Gaon, Maimonides and Judah Halevi, were originally written in Judeo-Arabic, as this was the primary vernacular language of their authors.


The Arabic spoken by Jewish communities in the Arab world differed slightly from the Arabic of their non-Jewish neighbours. These differences were partly due to the incorporation of some words from Hebrew and other languages and partly geographical, in a way that may reflect a history of migration. For example, the Judeo-Arabic of Egypt, including in the Cairo community, resembled the dialect of Alexandria rather than that of Cairo (Blau). Similarly, Baghdad Jewish Arabic is reminiscent of the dialect of Mosul.[5] Many Jews in Arab countries were bilingual in Judeo-Arabic and the local dialect of the Muslim majority.

Like other Jewish languages and dialects, Judeo-Arabic languages contain borrowings from Hebrew and Aramaic. This feature is less marked in translations of the Bible, as the authors clearly took the view that the business of a translator is to translate.[6]



Jews in Arabic, Muslim majority countries wrote—sometimes in their dialects, sometimes in a more classical style—in a mildly adapted Hebrew alphabet rather than using the Arabic script, often including consonant dots from the Arabic alphabet to accommodate phonemes that did not exist in the Hebrew alphabet.

By around 800 CE, most Jews within the Islamic Empire (90% of the world’s Jews at the time) were native speakers of Arabic like the populations around them. The language quickly became the central language of Jewish scholarship and communication, enabling Jews to participate in the greater epicenter of learning at the time, which meant that they could be active participants in secular scholarship and civilization. The widespread usage of Arabic not only unified the Jewish community located throughout the Islamic Empire but also facilitated greater communication with other ethnic and religious groups, which led to important manuscripts of polemic, like the Toledot Yeshu, being written or published in Arabic or Judeo-Arabic.[7]

Some of the most important books of medieval Jewish thought were originally written in medieval Judeo-Arabic, as well as certain halakhic works and biblical commentaries. Later they were translated into medieval Hebrew so that they could be read by contemporaries elsewhere in the Jewish world, and by others who were literate in Hebrew. These include:

Most communities also had a traditional translation of the Bible into Judeo-Arabic, known as a sharḥ ("explanation"): for more detail, see Bible translations into Arabic. The term sharḥ sometimes came to mean "Judeo-Arabic" in the same way that "Targum" was sometimes used to mean the Aramaic language.

Present day[edit]

In the years following the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the end of the Algerian War, and Moroccan and Tunisian independence, most Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews in Arab countries emigrated, without their property, mainly for mainland France and for Israel. Their distinct Arabic dialects in turn did not thrive in either country, and most of their descendants now speak French or Modern Hebrew almost exclusively; thus resulting in the entire continuum of Judeo-Arabic dialects being considered endangered languages.[citation needed] This stands in stark contrast with the historical status of Judeo-Arabic: in the early Middle Ages, speakers of Judeo-Arabic far outnumbered the speakers of Yiddish.[citation needed] There remain small populations of speakers in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Yemen, Israel and the United States.


Arabic Semitic name Transliteration
א ا Alef /ʔ/ ā and sometimes ʾI
ב ب Beth b
ג ج Gimel ǧ, an English j sound in Jack // or deja vu /ʒ/
גׄ, עׄ or רׄ غ Ghayn ġ /ɣ/, a guttural gh sound
ד د Daleth d
דׄ ذ Dhaleth , an English th as in "that" /ð/
ה ه He h
ו or וו و Waw w and sometimes ū
ז ز Zayn z
ח ح Heth /ħ/
ט ط Teth //
טׄ or זׄ ظ Theth /ðˤ/, a retracted form of the th sound as in "that"
י or יי ي Yodh y or ī
כ, ך ك Kaph k
כׄ, ךׄ or חׄ خ Kheth , a kh sound like "Bach" /x/
ל ل Lamedh l
מ م Mem m
נ ن Nun n
ס س Samekh s
ע ع Ayn /ʕ/ ʿa , ʿ and sometimes ʿi
פ, ף or פׄ, ףׄ ف Fe f
צ, ץ ص Sadhe //, a hard s sound
צׄ, ץׄ ض Dhadhe //, a retracted d sound
ק ق Qof q
ר ر Resh r
ש or ש֒ ش Shin š, an English sh sound /ʃ/
ת ت Taw t
תׄ or ת֒ ث Thaw , an English th as in "thank" /θ/
Additional letters
الـ - Definite Article "al-".
Ligature of the letters א‎ and ל

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Judeo-Arabic dialects at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) closed access
  2. ^ Hary, Benjamin H. (1992). Multiglossia in Judeo-Arabic: With an Edition, Translation and Grammatical Study of the Cairene Purim Scroll. Brill. p. xiii. ISBN 90-04-09694-9. OCLC 231382751.
  3. ^ "jrb | ISO 639-3". iso639-3.sil.org. Retrieved 2022-11-13.
  4. ^ Shohat, Ella (2017-02-17). "The Invention of Judeo-Arabic". Interventions. 19 (2): 153–200. doi:10.1080/1369801X.2016.1218785. ISSN 1369-801X. S2CID 151728939.
  5. ^ For example, "I said" is qeltu in the speech of Baghdadi Jews and Christians, as well as in Mosul and Syria, as against Muslim Baghdadi gilit (Haim Blanc, Communal Dialects in Baghdad). This however may reflect not southward migration from Mosul on the part of the Jews, but rather the influence of Gulf Arabic on the dialect of the Muslims.
  6. ^ Avishur, Studies in Judaeo-Arabic Translations of the Bible.
  7. ^ Goldstein, Miriam (2021). "Jesus in Arabic, Jesus in Judeo-Arabic: The Origins of the Helene Version of the Jewish "Life of Jesus" (Toledot Yeshu)". Jewish Quarterly Review. 111 (1): 83–104. doi:10.1353/jqr.2021.0004. ISSN 1553-0604. S2CID 234166481.


  • Blanc, Haim, Communal Dialects in Baghdad: Harvard 1964
  • Blau, Joshua, The Emergence and Linguistic Background of Judaeo-Arabic: OUP, last edition 1999
  • Blau, Joshua, A Grammar of Mediaeval Judaeo-Arabic: Jerusalem 1980 (in Hebrew)
  • Blau, Joshua, Studies in Middle Arabic and its Judaeo-Arabic variety: Jerusalem 1988 (in English)
  • Blau, Joshua, Dictionary of Mediaeval Judaeo-Arabic Texts: Jerusalem 2006
  • Mansour, Jacob, The Jewish Baghdadi Dialect: Studies and Texts in the Judaeo-Arabic Dialect of Baghdad: Or Yehuda 1991
  • Heath, Jeffrey, Jewish and Muslim dialects of Moroccan Arabic (Routledge Curzon Arabic linguistics series): London, New York, 2002.

External links[edit]