Arabic is an official – or co-official – language in 25 countries, spoken by almost 400 million people globally. The spread of Islam and Qu’raanic (Classical) Arabic throughout Western Asia (Middle East) and North Africa has led to the wide use of Arabic within religion, politics, and social affairs.
The global standard for Arabic is known as Modern Standard Arabic, “فصحى” (pronounced fus-ha), which contains the grammar rules and applications of Arabic in writing across the Arabic world. However, because of the variations in the tongue of the people that used the language, the different vocabulary terms, and the isolation of the language in different places, individual grammar and vocabulary developed in different regions.
This led to individual, unique, dialects that can sometimes be likened to entirely different languages.
Here are some of the main “groupings” of Arabic dialects. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list. There are many more dialects, and multiple dialects can be spoken within one region/country.
For example, while “Levantine Arabic” is spoken in multiple countries: Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan; however, there are differences between the Levantine dialect in these countries. There are also regional differences within a country. Syria, for example, will have different speaking tones, depths, speeds, and vocabularies depending on where one lives. Someone who lives in the North will have a different “sound” and way of speech than someone who lives in the South, or someone who lives in a village, “ضيعة”(pronounced day-a).
These macro groupings will help you understand the different Arabic dialects.
1. Gulf Arabic
Gulf Arabic is spoken in the Arabian peninsula and is a combination of sub-dialects across Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Yemen, Bahrain, Oman, and Yemen. It is considered one of the closest (if not the closest) dialects to MSA. It is also called “خليجي ” (Kha-leej-i).
2. Egyptian Arabic
Egyptian Arabic is spoken in Egypt, especially in the Northern area populating Cairo. It is the most common Arabic dialect used and is featured prominently in the film and entertainment industry. It has more vowels (both long and short) than MSA. This dialect is recognized for being fast-paced and its distinct pronunciation with the “qa-” and “ja-” sounds being converted to “-ga” sounds. For example, “qalbi” (meaning heart) would be spoken as “galbi”, and “ana jaya” would be spoken as “ana gaya”.
3. Levantine Arabic
Levantine Arabic is a group of dialects spoken in the Levant, a region comprising Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, and sometimes Jordan. In Levantine Arabic, grammar rules change in the spoken variation. This includes the combination of prefixes or suffixes with vowels or diacritics. For instance, the word “يشرب ”(pronounced yish-rub), a conjugated form of the verb to drink, can have the sound “b” added in the Levantine dialect. This results in the word “byishrub” – an example of a change from Modern Standard Arabic. Because of these casual and informal conversations, Levantine Arabic is becoming increasingly popular in Arab media and entertainment.
4. Maghrebi Arabic
While the “Maghreb” is officially known as Morocco in Arabic, Maghrebi Arabic can encompass the multiple dialects of Arabic across Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and even Libya. These dialects have been impacted by Berber and French presences across North Africa, with certain vocabulary terms being directly taken from the French vocabulary. It is interesting to note that while Maghrebi speakers may be able to understand Egyptian, Levantine, or Gulf Arabic, the inverse is unlikely.
5. Chadian Arabic
Chadian Arabic is also known as Shuwa Arabic. This Arabic dialect is mainly spoken in Chad and Sudan but is also found in South Sudan, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, and the Central African Republic. In Chadian Arabic, there are changes in certain verb forms. It also does not utilize diphthongs like the “ي” (making an “iy” sound) and the “و”(making a “uw” sound). Arabic uses a lot of pharyngeals, where the pharynx is used to make noises. It also has many consonants which are interdental fricatives, where the sound is made using the tip of the tongue against the teeth. Chadian typically does not use these sounds and utilizes different letters in place of them.
6. Juba Arabic
Juba is spoken in South Sudan. It has influence from Arabic and local languages. Juba is considered to have a simplified grammatical structure. Like Chadian, it also does not use certain consonants. It also does not have a distinction between plain and emphatic consonants. For example, “ت” and “ط” or “س” and “ص”, among other pairs. Lastly, it does not differentiate between short and long vowels or use consonant doubling.
Want to Learn More about Arabic?
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Meet The Author
Hiba Shaqra is currently a junior at Rutgers University, majoring in molecular biology and biochemistry, and minoring in Arabic, math, and chemistry. Hiba furthers her passion for Syrian and Arab culture in general by serving as vice president of the Arab Cultural Club, where she plans and organizes events to shine a light on Arab traditions. In addition to this, Hiba maintains a second-degree Taekwondo black belt, enjoys reading fiction novels, and loves to experiment in the kitchen. Hiba aspires to assist and help communities around the world, including communities in her home country of Syria.