Judeo-Arabic languages

Native speakers
ca. 540,000 (1992–1995)[1]
Hebrew alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-2 jrb
ISO 639-3 jrbinclusive code
Individual codes:
yhd  Judeo-Iraqi Arabic
aju  Judeo-Moroccan Arabic
yud  Judeo-Tripolitanian Arabic
ajt  Judeo-Tunisian Arabic
jye  Judeo-Yemeni Arabic
Glottolog None
A page from the Cairo Geniza, part of which is written in the Judeo-Arabic language

The Judeo-Arabic languages (Arabic: عربية يهودية, Hebrew: ערבית יהודית) are a continuum of varieties of Arabic spoken by Jews living or formerly living in the Arab world; the term also refers more or less to Classical Arabic written in the Hebrew script, particularly in the Middle Ages. Just as with the rest of the Arab world, Jews had different dialects depending on where they lived. This phenomenon may be compared to cases such as Yiddish dialects or forms of Judaeo-Spanish (Ladino) in areas such as the Balkans, Thessaloniki-Istanbul, Morocco, etc.

Many significant Jewish works, including a number of religious writings by Maimonides and Judah Halevi, were originally written in Judeo-Arabic as this was the primary colloquial 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).[2] Similarly, Baghdad Jewish Arabic is reminiscent of the dialect of Mosul.[3] 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.[4]


Jews in Muslim 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.

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. Only later were they translated into medieval Hebrew so that they could be read by the Ashkenazi Jews of Europe. These include:

Most communities also had a traditional translation of the Bible into Judeo-Arabic, known as a sharḥ ("meaning"): 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

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 left for mainly France and Israel. Their distinct Arabic dialects in turn did not thrive in either country, and most of their descendants now speak French or Modern Israeli Hebrew almost exclusively; thus resulting in the entire continuum of Judeo-Arabic dialects being considered endangered languages. 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. There remain small populations of speakers in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Yemen, Israel and the United States.


Arabic Semitic name Transliteration
א ا ʾAleph ā and sometimes ʾI
ב ب Bet b
גׄ ج Gimel ğ, an English j sound
ג غ Ghayn ġ, a guttural gh sound
ד د Dalet d
דׄ ذ Ḏāl , an English th as in "that"
ה ه He h
ו و Waw w and sometimes ū
ז ز Zayin z
ח ح Heth
ט ط Teth
טׄ ظ Ẓāʾ , a retracted form of the th sound as in "that"
י ي Yodh y or ī
כ ك Kaph k
כׄ خ Ḫāʾ , a kh sound like "Bach"
ל ل Lamedh l
מ م Mem m
נ ن Nun n
ס س Samekh s
ע ع ʿAyin ʿa, ʿ and sometimes ʿi
פ ف Pe f
צ ص Ṣade , a hard s sound
צׄ ض Ḍād , a retracted d sound
ק ق Qoph q
ר ر Resh r
ש ش Shin š, an English sh sound
ת ت Taw t
תׄ ث Ṯāʾ , an English th as in "thank"

See also


  1. Judeo-Arabic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Judeo-Iraqi Arabic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Judeo-Moroccan Arabic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Judeo-Tripolitanian Arabic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Judeo-Tunisian Arabic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Judeo-Yemeni Arabic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. For example, in Cairene Arabic, as in Classical Arabic, "I write" is aktub. In Egyptian Judeo-Arabic, in western Alexandrian Arabic and in the Maghrebi Arabic dialects (Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian) it is nektob, resembling a first person plural.
  3. 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.
  4. Avishur, Studies in Judaeo-Arabic Translations of the Bible.


  • 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

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