Did you know that an Assyrian medical doctor compiled and published an Assyrian-English dictionary with his wife during his spare time? Dr. Alexander Oraham published Oraham’s Dictionary of the Stabilized and Enriched Assyrian Language and English in 1943. It contains 21,000 words, is primarily in the Urmian dialect of Assyrian, and is still one of the main Assyrian-English dictionaries that Assyrians use today. Dr. Oraham spent 26 years working on this dictionary, which ultimately helped many new Assyrian immigrants to the United States learn English over the decades.
Alexander Joseph Oraham was born in Armudaghaj, a village in Urmia, Iran (Persia at the time) on February 7, 1898. However, in 1913, he moved to the United States at the age of 15. In 1915, he began medical school at the Jenner Medical College in Chicago, and stayed there until it closed in 1917. After a short break, he resumed his medical studies in 1924 by attending the Physicians and Surgeons College of Microbiology, where he earned a Doctor of Microbiology degree in 1925. Interested in the new field of radiology, he established an X-ray lab in Chicago in 1928, which he ran until he moved to California toward the end of his life.
Although medicine was his primary career, Dr. Oraham helped his Assyrian community on the side. In 1941, he started a printing press in Chicago called “The Consolidated Press,” which could print books in the Syriac typeface. He used this printing press to publish his dictionary. Additionally, Dr. Oraham was involved with the Assyrian National Association of Chicago (now the Assyrian American Association of Chicago). When the organization published a book in 1944 about the Assyrians from Chicago serving in World War II, he wrote the book’s introduction.
In the introduction to his dictionary, Dr. Oraham mentions how he could not have created his dictionary without the help of his wife, Almas. Not only did she help with the editing, but she set the Assyrian type for it as well, while Dr. Oraham set its English type. In addition to helping her husband with his dictionary, Almas also worked as a dressmaker, since she never had any children. Almas was actually a distant relative of her husband’s, so like Dr. Oraham, she was from Armudaghaj. Her brother, William Ibrahimi, became the first Assyrian Representative in Iran’s Parliament in 1963.
Sadly, Dr. Oraham passed away at the age of 55 on July 27, 1953. He is buried in Turlock, California. Because he worked with X-rays, perhaps radiation exposure helped cause his early death, since people were not aware of the dangers of radiation at the time?
Written by Esther Lang
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