Public Radio International took a break from covering Donald Trump in order to do a report on Judeo-Arabic. In Montreal, they tracked down Elsie Solomon, Lisette Shashoua and Gladys Kattan, three Iraq-born women who still speak the language. Regrettably we don’t hear much of the dialect in this report: we get more of the historical context. One thing is sure: This language, while experiencing a mini-revival, is on its way to extinction.
Judeo-Arabic is more than a dialect. New York University Hebrew and
Judaic studies professor Benjamin Hary calls it a “religiolect.”
But as a natural language, it’s dying.
With so few Jews left in Arab countries, it is barely spoken — especially among the young.
There is, though, renewed interest in Judeo-Arabic as a cultural
artifact. In 2013, an Israeli feature film about the exodus of Jews from
Iraq included mainly Judeo-Arabic dialogue. And there are attempts to
capture and document the language before it dies out.
All of which makes the three women Alina spoke with happy that their native tongue won’t entirely vanish.