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Documentation of formal and spoken Mandaic

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Language Mandaic
Depositor Qais Al Saadi
Affiliation The Mandaean Academy for Online Studies
Location Germany
Collection ID 0650
Grant ID
Funding Body
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

The Nhura dictionary and Zazai text were created independently by myself, Dr. Qais Al Saaidi, a Mandaean and native speaker of Mandaic. These projects were not funded by any sponsor.

The content of the Nhura Dictionary depends on the Mandaic vocabularies from Mandaean literature, as well as benefiting from the efforts of Theodor Nöldke, Mark Lidzbarski, and Lady Drower in their published translation from Mandaic into German and English. The dictionary covers as many Mandaean vocabularies as possible. It is not limited to a technical language, but rather to general words and terms. The words are from the formal language and not from neo-Mandaic.

All the Mandaeans who are living in Iraq and Iran will benefit from this content because it will reinforce their origin and their history in their homeland. All those wanting to learn the Mandaean language will benefit from this content as well, especially the new Mandaean generation who are living in the Diaspora and searching for an identity for themselves; they may find in their original language an essential aspect of their identity.


Group represented

Mandaic is an old south-eastern Aramaic dialect used by the Mandaean community. It has its own Alphabet consisting of 24 letters. Classical Mandaic is still employed by Mandaean priests in liturgical rites. Neo-Mandaic or Modern Mandaic is spoken by a small group of Mandaeans around Ahwaz (Iran). Mandaic is an endangered language according to the UNESCO Atlas 2006.

As a threatened language, there are not many Mandaean speakers who can use this language in their houses. There are some attempts to start classes in Iraq, Iran, Australia, and Sweden. Mandaeans used to speak some common Mandaic vocabularies within the languages that they use where they live now.

On the other hand, this language is still used in all the Mandaean rituals. The readings of the texts of ablution, prayers, baptism, marriage, burial rites, are in this language.

As for the non-Mandaeans, they are interested in this language because it is the pure branch of Eastern Aramaic and the closest to understand the Babylonian Talmud.


Special characteristics

The Nhura dictionary is the second one in this field. There is a dictionary issued by Drwoer and Macuch (1963). The advantage of the Nhura dictionary is that the Mandaic words were written in the Mandaean font, which provides an opportunity to learn the alphabet of this language as well. It provides the meanings directly without any details that may distract the researcher. The most important thing is that it is the first and only dictionary to provide an English-to-Mandaic translation.


Collection contents

This project is a contribution to documenting this threatened language and supports its learning. Those who wish to translate the written texts or write new texts will find it provides them with good information. It will help them to find the Mandaic word according to the English word they search for.

  • NHURA, a Mandaic-English/English-Mandaic Dictionary:

    This is a dictionary of the classical Mandaic language. The title is Nhura, which means light in Mandaic. It is a very popular word in Mandaean literature. The words of the dictionary were collected from Mandaean books, which are a large material and include a lot of vocabularies.

    The book is divided into two parts, the right is a Mandaic / English dictionary, and the left is an English / Mandaic dictionary. Each page is divided into two parts in order to contain a large number of words to reduce the size of the book. Each part of the page contains three columns: the Mandaean word, its pronunciation according to the Mandaean way, and the meaning or some times more than one meaning. The pronunciation of some unknown letters in English is explained in the introduction of the book. The verbs were written in bold letters and placed in brackets.

    The alphabetical arrangement of the Mandaean section was ABGD HOZ…, as is customary in the Mandaic sequence. As for the alphabetical arrangement in the English dictionary, it was according to the usual ABCD… Each letter starts with a quote of the Mandaean hymn of letters from the canonical prayer book and written in the Mandaic along with its translation into English. At the end of each letter, according to the space provided, there is Mandaic calligraphy for Mandaean texts of my artworks.

    At the beginning of the dictionary, I placed a page from the Ginza Rabba, the Mandaean Holly Book, written in the Mandaic, and the pronouncing is under each line, while the translation is on a separate page. Between the two parts of the dictionary, there are two pages that contain 40 colored pictures for the popular Mandaean terms of tools and figures, their names in the Mandaic, and the translation into English. I myself designed the cover of the book. The Mandaic font which used in this dictionary I myself created for this purpose. I named it (K. Zazai) and it is available for free with this project.


  • ZAZAI, a Mandaic font for computer printing:

    I named the font after the oldest copyist of Mandaean books who lived about two thousand years ago. The font was created in 2005 for the purpose of printing instructional Mandaic books and for documenting others.

    Instructions for download and use: 
    Copy the font and place it in the list of the fonts. Then, set the language of the computer to Arabic. Arrange the places of the letters according to the tables provided in the collection.


Collection history

I started working on the dictionary in 2004 when I worked on my first instructional book titled, I learn Mandaic. This work required the translation of words and sentences into Arabic and English. The work on the dictionary basically was in 2010. It took two years until published in 2012. The work required great efforts, especially in adding the Mandaic font, and because the press asked to have the work in PDF format for they do not have the font.


Acknowledgement and citation

Users of any part of the collection should acknowledge Qais Al Saadi.

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Al Saadi, Qais. 2020. Documentation of formal and spoken Mandaic. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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