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Aspects of the Oral Heritage of the Neo-Aramaic-Speaking Jewish Community of Zakho

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This thesis examines three genres of the oral heritage of the Neo-Aramaic-speaking Jewish community of Zakho, Kurdistan: the proverb, the enriched biblical narrative, and the folktale. During the past three decades, there has been a renewed interest in research on Neo-Aramaic, and a substantial growth of research in the field has been seen. However, the contemporary study of Neo-Aramaic has been focused almost exclusively on linguistic description and analysis. Content-based aspects of the study of the language and its cultures have received very little attention. This thesis is a first step towards filling this gap. The introduction to the thesis provides background information about the Jewish community of Zakho and about the Neo-Aramaic subgroup to which the Jewish Zakho dialect belongs, North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic (NENA). It then gives a brief review of relevant aspects of the study of folklore, before providing a description of the database of audio recordings upon which this thesis is based. The first chapter presents several approaches to the study of the proverb (paremiology). It is argued that an important component for the understanding and analysis of proverbs, one that is often overlooked, is the context of each proverb. The second chapter analyses an example of the genre of enriched biblical narrative through the lens of a concept taken from the field of thematology: the motifeme – a small meaning-bearing contextual-structural unit of the narrative. It demonstrates the non-linear historical development of the sequence of motifemes in the narrative analysed here, a feature which is particularly typical of Jewish narratives. The folktale is a genre central to the formation and maintenance of the Jewish Zakho communal identity, and the third chapter contains a detailed analysis of one particular folktale. The folktale chosen for analysis in this chapter features a cross-culturally uncommon motif: the motif of magical gender transformation. The NENA materials contained in this thesis are transcribed and translated into English. They are drawn from a database of recordings of members of the Zakho community living now mainly in Jerusalem, and were collected in the course of fieldwork undertaken by the author.





Khan, Geoffrey


Jewish Community of Zakho, Kurdistan, North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic, Biblical Narratives, Ruth and Naomi, King David, King Saul, Proverbs, Folktales, Oral Literature


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Cambridge Overseas Trust