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culture wars
mosul locals fear loss of their local language

Internal migration means more people are moving to the northern city of Mosul. As a result, locals say they’re afraid to speak in the local dialect and they fear they will lose one of the tenets of their…
11.07.2013  |  Mosul
A Christian church in Mosul: many Christians have left the city, taking the local dialect with them.
A Christian church in Mosul: many Christians have left the city, taking the local dialect with them.

“We are strangers in Mosul now, villagers have invaded our city,” says Hamza al-Fakhry, a student from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. He was saying this in the dialect native to the city. “These villagers are taxi drivers or they own grocery stores. We’re not against them and we do not hate them,” al-Fakhry argued. “But it is true that they’re dominating our environment and obliging us to change our dialect.”

“I speak their language when I’m outside my house,” al-Fakhry said passionately. “Because I feel that the Mosul dialect has become one that is only used at home. We only use it speaking to our families or our children. And a lot of people do this now to avoid criticism from villagers who don’t understand the dialect.”

Hamza\'s friend agreed with him. “Some say that our dialect here is soft and flabby somehow, more feminine than masculine. People think we use it to show off and to prove we’re special or different.”

The original Mosul dialect is usually learned by speaking it at home and for generations, it has been used in the city by locals. But now it seems that this language is slowly being lost through disuse.

Eighty-year-old local Yousef Thanoun knows the Mosul dialect well and is passionate about it. In a room decorated with paintings he has done himself, the old man meets with others who take an academic and intellectual interest in it. Thanoun says the origin of the Mosul dialect dates back to the Arab tribe, Bani Tamim, who settled Iraq in pre-Islamic times. The tribe’s language was spoken throughout the country but was eventually lost everywhere in Iraq except for Mosul.

“Actually it’s a dialect that’s very similar to Syrian Arabic,” Thanoun says.

There are various reasons as to why Mosul’s dialect is slowly fading from the streets. Firstly there has been migration into and out of the city due to the security situation, as well as because of desertification and drought. Many of the migrants to the city are coming from areas dominated by the Turkmen ethnicity and all in all, the city’s population has risen from an estimated 900,000 inhabitants in 2003 to more than 1.5 million, according to the latest statistics from 2009. Additionally may of the people leaving the city are Christian – they’re endangered because of the security situation in Mosul and they’re also the ones using the local dialect most.

One of the most obvious differences between those new to the city and the locals is the language. So to avoid any kind of conflict, many locals are apparently trying not to use their own dialect out in public.

“It’s very difficult for outsiders to learn our dialect because they didn’t start learning it when they were young,” a retired Mosul army officer, Akram Khattab Omar, told NIQASH.

But Omar is not as worried about losing the Mosul dialect as some. He thinks it won’t vanish. “People avoid using it outside of their homes because of courtesy, rather than shame or fear,” he explains. “Mosul is always open to any other Iraqis who want to come to live here. We’re not afraid of them and we integrate them into our own community – but,” he added, “we do need to continue to preserve our own identity and our dialect.”

Interestingly some locals have made a cause celebre of the Mosul dialect. Broadcast journalist Watheq al-Ghadanfari started presenting a television show in the Mosul dialect on a local satellite television station. Although at first he was criticized the show has eventually become very popular with Mosul’s people.

Al-Ghadanfari believes the city’s new inhabitants are causing the Mosul dialect to fade out and he says he started broadcasting in the dialect because he wanted to stop this. “Today outsiders’ dialect is more commonly heard than the Mosul dialect,” al-Ghadanfari says.

And al-Fakhry and his family have been watching episodes of al-Ghadanfari’s show, called Mosul Danihki, or Let’s Talk About Mosul. Al-Ghadanfari started the broadcast off by saying proudly that language was one’s identity and that locals should be proud of their own; he ended the show by imitating his grandmother, speaking in the Mosul dialect and in her accent.

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