Assyrian Dictionary Project

Date: August 6, 2021

In 1921, James Henry Breasted, the founder of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, decided to gather up a team of scholars to create an Assyrian Dictionary.  He envisioned that the scholars would study the texts of ancient Assyrian tablets to create a dictionary of the language used by Ancient Assyria.  Little did he know that this project would take 90 years to complete. 


The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute is often referred to as CAD, which stands for “Chicago Assyrian Dictionary.”  Eighty-eight scholars ultimately worked on this 21-volume set.  The volume containing the letter H (Het), which is now volume 6, was the first to be published in 1956.  The final volume was for the letters U/W, and was published in 2011 as volume 20.  As scholars worked on the dictionary, they ultimately left 2 million index cards of research, as they tried to determine the different meanings of all of the 28,000 words ultimately found in the dictionary.  CAD follows the style of the Oxford English Dictionary in that it not only provides the definition of a word, but also its cultural and historical context. 


The July, 1956 issue of The Assyrian Star (which was the same year that the first volume of CAD was published) has a brief article about the Assyrian Dictionary.  In the article, it says that the dictionary will be published in a span of 10 years, after 35 years of work, the aid of 50 scholars, and $800,000.  It also states that CAD will consist of 19 volumes and contain 300,000 words.  Little did The Assyrian Star know that the number of scholars, number of years, number of volumes, and number of dollars would all ultimately exceed its prediction. 


Although a full set of the Assyrian Dictionary can cost approximately $1,400, the Oriental Institute has made PDFs of the entire set available online for free.  Take a look at CAD and compare the language of ancient Assyria, called Akkadian, with the Assyrian language used today. 



Written by Esther Lang 



“The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (CAD).” The Oriental Institute (accessed April 19, 2021). 


“The Assyrian Dictionary Project.” The Assyrian Star. August 1987. 


Cohen, Sharon. “Assyrian Ancient World Dictionary Finished – After 90 Year.” Nineveh 35, no.2 (2011): 24-25. 


“Dictionary of Dead Language Complete after 90 Years.” Nineveh 40, no. 1-4 (2016): 34-36. 


Mullen, William. “University of Chicago Institute Completes Dictionary of Ancient Language after 9 Decades.” Chicago Tribune. June 5, 2011. (accessed on April 19, 2021). 


“New Assyrian Dictionary.” The Assyrian Star. July 1956. 


Reiner, Erica. An Adventure of Great Dimension. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2002. 

Alexander Oraham

Date: July 16, 2021

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 



Abbott, Nabia. “Martin Sprengling, 1877-1959.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 19, no. 1 (January 1960): 54-55. (accessed May 17, 2021). 


“Alex J Oraham.” 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2002. 


“Alexander Oraham.” 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. 


“Assyrians Mourn Passing of Dr. Oraham.” Assyrian Star, August 1953. 


Bowman, Raymond A. “Oraham’s Dictionary of the Stabilized and Enriched Assyrian Language and English.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 4, no. 2 (April 1945): 134-135. (accessed May 17, 2021). 


“Chicago Medical School: History.” Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science (accessed May 17, 2021). 


Ibrahimi, William. “Ibrahimi’s Biography as Given by Himself.” Assyrian Star, May-June 1966. 


Naby, Eden. “Oraham, Alexander Joseph.” Encyclopaedia Iranica, online edition. August 10, 2016. (accessed May 17, 2021). 


Oraham, Alexander. Assyrian Americans of Chicago Who Are Serving in the Armed Forces of Their Country. Chicago: Assyrian National Association of Chicago, 1944. 


Oraham, Alexander Joseph. Oraham’s Dictionary of the Stabilized and Enriched Assyrian Language and English. Chicago: Consolidated Press, 1943. (accessed May 17, 2021).