What Language Is Spoken In Iraq?

Asma Wahba

Author

Asma Wahba

Arabic is the main language spoken in Iraq, but many people are surprised to learn that both Arabic and Kurdish are the country’s official languages. Iraq has a rich linguistic history stretching back to ancient Mesopotamia, which has influenced today’s colloquial Iraqi. The Arabic dialect (including sub-varieties) that people speak in Iraq differs a lot from those in other Arabic-speaking countries.

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What language is spoken in Iraq?

Mesopotamian Arabic (Iraqi Arabic)

Mesopotamian Arabic has more similarities with the Arabic spoken in neighbouring Syria and the Gulf, than those used in North African countries. There are dialectical variations of it in different regions of Iraq. For example, people north of the Hamrin Mountains often speak the North Mesopotamian Arabic dialect.

Mesopotamian Arabic has Greek, Persian, Kurdish and Turkish influences. Since the Aramaic Syriac language came from ancient Mesopotamia, which comprised part of modern-day Iraq, Mesopotamian Arabic retains some influence from it. It also has influences from several ancient languages that were once used in the region.

In ancient Mesopotamia’s Kingdom of Sumer and Akkad, the earliest language that historians found evidence of was Sumerian, which was tied to the cuneiform writing system. In 1700 BCE, the Akkadian language replaced Sumerian and maintained the cuneiform writing system.

Babylonian and Syrian dialects developed from Sumerian and Akkadian, utilizing cuneiform script as well. Eventually, Akkadian became obsolete as Aramaic became the dominant language in 1200 BCE, and the inhabitants used it until about 100 CE.

Since Aramaic survives even today through influence in Neo-Aramaic languages, it is considered the language with the lengthiest time of use of Iraq. Syriac was also commonly used until Arabic became the main language soon after the Islamic conquests in the 7th century CE.

Kurdish

Kurdistan is an autonomous area in Northern Iraq with its own language, and it encompasses portions of three other countries as well. In Iraq, Kurdish language instruction is mostly limited to schools that are in Kurdish villages. However, it was not recognized as an official language of Iraq until 1970.

Since Kurds also migrated out of Northern Iraq in the past, Kurdish is a minority language in Turkey, Iran and Syria as well. The use of the Kurdish language dates back more than 2,000 years. Like other languages, it has multiple dialects. Kurmanji, or Northern Kurdish, is the most common dialect among the diaspora of Kurds.

Central Kurdish, also known as Sorani, is the dominant dialect in Iraqi Kurdistan. It is also the standard of Kurdish orthography in Iraqi schools that teach Kurdish. In the Iraqi district of Khanaqin, some Kurds speak Southern Kurdish, which is also called Pehlewani.

Other Languages in Iraq

Many people who wonder what language is spoken in Iraq are surprised to learn that people in some regions speak languages other than Mesopotamian Arabic or Kurdish.

Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and Turkoman, which is a dialect of a Turkic language called Oghuz, are also regionally recognized in Iraq. Regions or provinces in Iraq can vote to declare other official languages of their own with support from the majority of the area’s population.

Some other minority languages in Iraq include Shabaki, Persian, Armenian and Mandaic.


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