The average Iraqi who listens to a conversation between two old fellows in the city of Tikrit, in the province of Salahaddin, might find it difficult to understand exactly what they were saying. Because most likely they would be speaking in a dialect that is distinctive to Tikrit and its surrounds.
Now a group of historians and intellectuals in Tikrit are trying to ensure that the city’s distinctive sounds are not lost.
“The dialect of Tikrit is very different from other Iraqi accents and dialects,” says Riad al-Jaber, a writer, director and researcher into local folklore. “That’s why I’ve been trying to document it for years. Many of the words have started to disappear because of the evolving nature of the city’s inhabitants and because of the security crisis, the way that locals are mixing with locals of other cities.”
Al-Jaber, who has tried to write down and record the dialect as well as composed lyrics and poems in it, believes popular heritage is an important part of any culture and should be preserved.
“In fact, a lot of Iraqis don’t even know that Tikrit has its own dialect, and that it is similar to dialects in Mosul, and to some Syrian and Lebanese dialects,” al-Jaber told NIQASH. “I think it is because of the mixture of ancient cultures that came through this area, including the Assyrians, Babylonians and Romans.”
There are some aspects of the Tikrit dialect that make it really hard for anyone outside of the area to understand it, or, in some cases, even pronounce it, says Ahmad Atiyah Alu, an expert in Arabic dialects at the University of Tikrit. “It’s only the people of Tikrit who can spell these words and that’s an indication of how important phonetics are.”
For example, there is the word “kafnak” that Tikrit locals use when asking “how are you?” In the rest of Iraq, people say “keef halak”.
“The dialect here is similar to that in Syria,” he continues. “Because of a lot of trade, especially across the Tigris River.”
Farouq Salloum, a poet from Tikrit who’s been living in Europe for the past few years, was one of the first to start to use the simple Tikrit dialect in his work.
“The nature of the simple and kind hearted people who live there inspires me to write poetry,” Salloum told NIQASH. “Poems about my childhood, my mother, my longing to return to those old alleys and their smells, the banks of the Tigris with its coloured pebbles, that I adored as a child. It gives me peace of mind in this land of frost and fog,” the poet says, referring to Sweden where he now lives.
Hussein al-Sameet is another local poet who has used the dialect in his work. Now in his 80s, al-Sameet published the poems in a book that came out in 2015 – it was a long-held ambition but it had to be postponed because of the fact that the extremist Islamic State group entered Tikrit, the elderly writer notes.
“Poems in the Tikrit dialect are similar to those in Arabic, with regard to their rhythms,” al-Sameet explains. “But sometimes the local vocabulary makes it difficult to conjure up an appropriately poetic image.”
The son of one of the city’s best known novelists, Yassin Faraj, believes it is part of his responsibility to preserve the city’s heritage too. He sings his songs in the city’s dialect and tries to spread them on social media.
To listen to one, please click here: