Joan Smith discusses the decline of spoken Arabic in the Turkish province of Hatay (formerly the Sanjak of Alexandretta, a part of Greater Syria in Ottoman times).

Although there are no official statistics on language use or on ethnic groups in Turkey, it is clear that in the province of Hatay (in the south, bordering Syria), most people are descended from Arabic speakers. Arabic entered the area as a result of the Arab conquests in the seventh century. Prior to this, the cities were Greek-speaking; people in surrounding areas spoke Aramaic. (Trimingham, 1979) The area first came under Turkish rule for a brief time at the end of the eleventh century, when Seljuks and Turkmen began eroding Byzantine control. Crusader rule followed…. The area subsequently came under Mameluke rule (from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries), then under Ottoman rule (from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries)…. As part of Greater Syria, Hatay was still largely Arabic-speaking when it was annexed by the Turkish Republic in 1938.

Until annexation, Turkish and Arabic co-existed for centuries; under republican policies, however, the use of Arabic began to decline.

Smith’s is one of a number of interesting articles on endangered languages (for example, Language Shift on the Kamchatka Peninsula [by Jonathan David Bobaljik], about the situation of Itelmen, and Gumbaynggirr [by Michael Walsh — not archived anywhere in 2021], about the comeback of an Aboriginal language of New South Wales in Australia) in a special issue of Cultural Survival. (Via wood s lot.)

Update (May 2021). Even though Cultural Survival is still in existence and I have been able to provide new and functioning URLs for the first two articles, they appear to have dumped the Walsh one down the memory hole, and Internet Archive also has no record of it (beyond the title liested in the archived “special issue” contents). And the current page for that issue silently omits that and other articles (and doesn’t put the authors’ names on the page — you have to click through to find out). I know they’re trying to support cultural survival, but that’s doubleplus ungood.


  1. karaali zied says

    who are yhe arabic speeking minorities in hatay?

  2. I presume they’re ethnic Arabs who have been there all along.

  3. after researches about my family(ben karaali or karaalooglu)they are an alawite from ahlalbeyt family wich was turkmen-that family learnt arabic in irak before coming in hatay-from there they convert to maronit religion and others to kurdish ethny –

  4. Nurten Fikir says

    My Greatmother was a Karaali from Zihrin (Syria).

  5. hi nurten fikir can you give me more informations about the family karaali from zihrin,their religion for example?

  6. karaali: You might want to send Nurten an e-mail (click on the name) rather than hope for a return visit.

  7. my family name (fatherside) karaalioğlu ı am from maraş-turkey

  8. Hello Zied,
    The family from Zihrin are Aribic.
    They are alawite.

  9. Basman Karaali says

    The family from Baghdad, about 1000 families living in Iraq now. we been in baghdad since 1523 since Karaali been Killed.

  10. karaali zied says

    please ozcan and basman contact me

  11. karaali zied says

    hello ozcan and basman and thank you-i want to know from basman from where they came in1523 and who wanted to kill them

  12. hi, my parents born´s samandag – hatay – we live in germany. greetings.

  13. hi MY EMAIL IS KARAALIZIED@YAHOO.FR i’m writng abook abouy karaalis since 7 years if your parents have an important informations as trees or some dates contact me.i’m ready to give you all i have bye

  14. name is ali.ı live in hatay samandağ.arabic not in hatay.we are turkish.ı love turkey.

  15. This is sure a weird comment thread. See Update for my complaints about the magazine I linked to.

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