15 Apr How Different Are Arabic Dialects?
The Arabic language is classified into three different forms: Classical Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic and Dialectal (Colloquial) Arabic.
Classical Arabic (CA) or Quranic Arabic is more common in literature and writing. It is the language used in the Holy Quran as well as ancient literary texts from the 7th century AD to the 9th century AD. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) fuS-Ha; فصحى is the “official” Arabic taught in schools and universities, used in books, magazines, media, legal documents, etc. MSA is the standard form of Arabic that nearly all native speakers uniformly understand. It is the language of writing and formal speaking. Dialectal Arabic, on the other hand, is the informal language that Arabs use to communicate in their daily lives. The basics of the language are fundamentally the same, yet Arabic dialects are not mutually intelligible because each Arab country has its own dialect. Let’s look at how 5 unique dialects differ from around the Arab world.
Of all dialects, Egyptian, or Masri is by far the most widely used and understood Arabic dialect across the majority of the Arab-speaking nations. Masri is comprehensible for many Arabs due to the huge influence and historical presence of Egyptian media industry; be it music, movies or drama. Egypt has dominated the Arab cinema from as early as the mid 1920’s spreading its films and dramas extensively across the Arab countries. That explains why most Arabs are to a large extent familiar with the dialect! There are also historical influences on the dialect by languages such as French, Italian, Turkish and Greek. Below are some examples:
aywa – أيوا – Yes
la mu-akhza – لا مؤاخذة – Excuse me
ezzayyak? – إزيك (m) ; ezzayyek? – إزيك (f) – How are you?
kowayyes, shukran – ًكويس شكرا (m) kowayyesa, shukran – ًكويسة شكرا (f) – I’m doing good, thanks!
Haseb – حاسب (m) ; Hasbi – حاسبي (f) – Look out!
kiteer – كتير – A lot
:Eeyal – عيال – Kids
merci awi – مرسي أوي – Thank you very much!
Note: Shukran is used in all Arabic dialects; however, merci (borrowed from French) in Egypt is more common.
The Emirati Arabic dialect or Al Ramsa Al Emaratia is a branch of the Gulf dialects family spoken in the United Arab Emirates. Languages including Farsi (Persian), Urdu, Indian and English all had a linguistic influence over the years on the Gulf dialects, including Emirati. With that being said, there are a lot of words borrowed from Farsi (Persian), Urdu and Hindi, including “khashugah”, meaning spoon (originally came from Persian) and the word “seeda” taken from Urdu, which means straight (for direction).
Here are a few words and phrases in the Emirati dialect that you can practice pronouncing:
heh – هيه – Yes
kaif Halak? – كيف حالك؟ (m) ; kaif Halich? – كيف حالج؟ (f) – How are you?
zayn – زين (m) ; zayna – زينة (f) – I’m Okay
wayed – وايد – A lot
Tarrish – طرّش – Send
abaa – أبا – I want
ilHeen – الحين – Now
yahal – جهال – Kids (j is pronounced y)
There are three main ethnic groups in Iraq: Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen. The dominant ethnic group is, however the Arabs. From Mesopotamia to the Ottoman Empire, Iraq’s history and multicultural inheritance heavily influenced its spoken dialect. Hence, there are extensive borrowings from the Turkish and Persian languages. On the contrary, it is also closely linked to the Khaleeji (Gulf) dialect, but it has its own distinct vocabulary. Iraq is the only country that uses anee; أني for I (first person). The rest of the Arab countries use ana; أنا. Pick up on some common words and phrases unique to the Iraqi dialect from the list below:
hallaw – هلاو – Hi
eey– اي – Yes
shaku maku? – شكو ماكو؟ – What’s up?
hessa – هسة – Now
howaya – هواية – A lot
areed – أريد – I want
shwakit – شوكت – When?
jahal – جهال – Kids
The Lebanese dialect is a branch of the Levantine Arabic spoken in Lebanon. It is somewhat comparable to the Syrian, Jordanian, Palestinian Arabic dialects spoken in the rest of the Levant region. Despite the regional dialect similarities, the Lebanese dialect closely resembles the Syrian dialect for the most part. Many Lebanese people are trilingual; fluent in Arabic, French and English. The dialect is so unique due to the multilingualism in the country. People tend to mix the three languages when speaking. If you hear a Lebanese person speaking, you’ll most likely hear some French words and phrases! For e.g. bonjour (good morning), bonsoir (good evening) and bonne nuit (good night) are very commonly used. Let’s look at how the dialect is different:
kifak? (m) – كيفك؟ ; kifik? (f) – كيفيك؟ – How are you?
mneeH (m) – منيح ; mneeHa (f) – منيحة – Good
eza bit reed (m) – إذا بتريد ; eza bet reedeh (f) – إذا بتريدي – Please
:an jad? – عن جد؟ – Really?
yemkin – يمكن – Maybe/Perhaps
pardon – باردون – Excuse me
oo:aa – اوعى – Look out!
Some dialects might be harder to understand; Moroccan, a North African dialect is known to be extremely different from other Arabic varieties. It has moderate phonological compatibility compared to other dialects. The spoken dialect is still considered Arabic, but with a strong Berber (a branch of the Afroasiatic language family), French and Spanish influence. Generally, Moroccans tend to find it easier to converse in French when communicating with others.
:aafak – عافاك – Please
iyyeh – إييه – Yes
bezzaf – بزاف – A lot
wakha – واخا – Okay
Bghit – بغيت – I want
Mezyan – مزيان – Good
Daba – دابا – Now
The question remains, can all Arabs understand each other? The answer is: it depends. However, I’d definitely say that all Arabs can understand one another, more or less. At the end of the day, “continuum understanding” plays a big role. Although communicating in one’s own dialect is ideal, yet I sometimes feel the need to ‘adjust’ my spoken Arabic with speakers of a different dialect. In fact, the majority of Arabs are somehow able to manipulate the way they speak – thanks to pan-regional TV channels and programs, of course.
Want to learn Arabic? Choose from one of the many Arabic dialects or learn MSA to be widely understood.