The origins of the Kuwaiti dialect

Jeri Al-Jeri

It made me wonder how much lesser Arabic we use

Understanding a people’s language is pivotal to understanding how the community thinks and develops its ideology. Kuwait was a “kout” – a storage place for goods, rising from humble beginnings. Early on, it had an independent and tax-free government system made up of various tribes. Kuwait’s mostly bilingual people use Turkish, English, Persian and Indian words in their homes and business meetings without realizing how much of a “cocktail” their dialect has become. It made me wonder how much lesser Arabic we use.

Unfortunately, the randomness of our dialect’s formation arouses many parents’ fears and anxiety that the lack of “Arabness” will damage our religiosity or our inherent Arabian way of life. Our “rainbow” argot began as a fusion of multiple languages used by multicultural merchants, even before the “kout” struck black gold, mainly due to Kuwait’s coastal nature. Needless to say, we speak Persian peppered with some Hindi, with a lot of Turkish sweetness added to the mix. Certainly,

So when a Kuwaiti – whether bedouin or hathari – points to a window, he will say “jam” or “banjara”, which are both Persian for “glass” and “window”. When we hop on our bicycles, we call them “gari”, which is Hindi for “vehicle”, and when we want to reverse our cars, we say we are going “geri”, which is Turkish for “reverse”. Due to the limited space and regulated format of the newspaper, it is difficult to create an entire dictionary of non-Arabic words in our dialect, yet if they are gathered, it would be a 101 in Persian and advanced course in Turkish, merely for the fact that the Turkish method of formulating novel Turkish words is synced with Turkish grammar itself.

The (J/Ch) principle dictates that if a noun or a verb is related to a certain individual, it will attribute to the person by using either (J/Ch) to his name. Baklava, which is a very famous treat, will become “baklavji” when its business is associated to an individual; same for footballji, coffeeji etc, keeping in mind that the spelling is modified to fit the English pronunciation. And in Kuwait, we use this very principle ( بقلاوجي، مصلحگي، مشكلگي).

All in all, it is my belief that these non-Arabic influences are seemingly fading away, due to the fact that our education system, since the 60s during the oil boom, is giving more weight to the authentic linguistical nature of Arabic, while the Ottoman Empire is resting in history books. Not to mention the technological Arabization of all the devices that the Arab world has learned to use and hopefully will soon manufacture. Until now, let us enjoy the randomness while it lasts.

By Jeri Al-Jeri







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