Around the Arab World: Arabic Dialects

Similar to other languages, there are different dialects of Arabic that are spoken in different regions and countries throughout the Arabic world. It isn’t uncommon to find different Arabic dialects within the same country. Learning the Modern Standard version of Arabic is highly recommended for new Arabic language learners. It is also encouraged that students learn a specific dialect of a country they are interested in or will be travelling to for work or vacation.

Modern Standard Arabic vs. Classical Arabic

These two foundational versions of Arabic aren’t native languages in and of themselves, but are foundations for basic Arabic upon which the other dialects build upon. These foundations are often only found in writing, and not spoken. They are taught so Arabic students can write and read Arabic.

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the most commonly used version as it is concise, uses modern words and language that Arabs now speak.  MSA is the Arabic you will hear nearly every Arab speak on the street. It is easier to learn than Classical Arabic, but is less formal. This form of Arabic is what is taught in schools both in Arabic countries and abroad in language schools as it is the current foundational version of the Arabic language. It is noticeably slower and more measured, making it clearer to understand.

Classical Arabic is the language of the Koran, the holy book of the Muslim religion. Many Muslims are taught Classical Arabic at a young age so they can read the Koran. This language is often not spoken in everyday life, but rather just read or occasionally recited in religious ceremonies.

The Dialects of the Arabic Language

All Arabic dialects are based off either the Modern Standard Arabic or Classical Arabic framework. Because of this there are noticeable similarities between dialects despite them also differing from one another. Below are the most common dialects of Arabic you will most likely hear spoken:

Egyptian Arabic

This form of Arabic is the most widely spoken dialect, not only by 60 million people in Egypt, but also across the Middle East and parts of Africa thanks to its prevalent use in Arabic movies, television shows, music, books and news media. If you’re interested in learning Arabic, this dialect is a good one to learn first. You can even start practicing your comprehension of this Arabic dialect by watching Arabic television, movies or news broadcast online or on T.V. Egyptian Arabic uses much of the same vocabulary found in MSA, though there are noticeable unique characteristics including a different grammar and sentence structure in its writing and a peculiar pronunciation of certain words and letters such as coffee and the letter jeem (G).

Levantine Arabic

This Arabic dialect is the common form of Arabic spoken in the eastern part of the Middle East along the Mediterranean Sea in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. Levantine Arabic is the second largest Arabic dialect spoken and is also featured in Arabic films, Arab news broadcasts and television programs. Similar to Egyptian Arabic, this dialect also closely follows the vocabulary of Modern Standard Arabic. However, the Levantine dialect has unique lexical, phonological and grammatical characteristics including the personal pronouns such as “I,” “he,” and “she.” Some greetings and expressions and the simplification of verbs are also unique features of the Levantine dialect. Depending on the social context and one’s location, the Levantine dialect can have up to 12 different forms of personal pronouns.

Sudanese Arabic

This dialect of Arabic is spoken by various tribes within the country of Sudan. Many tribes have different dialects of the Sudanese Arabic. This form of Arabic is so widely spoken that it has developed its own Arabic dialect. This Arabic dialect varies widely from MSA used in other Arabic dialects in the form of pronunciation and vocabulary.

Mesopotamian Arabic

This Arabic dialect, which is mostly spoken Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey contain vocabulary and linguistic elements borrowed from other languages such as Turkish and Farsi. This is largely due to the area’s muliculturalistic history.

Peninsular or Gulf Arabic

Peninsular or Gulf Arabic also has many different forms and sub-dialects because his area is also multicultural. This form of Arabic is seen as closest to MSA as it has fewer loan words from other languages than other dialects. This dialect is commonly spoken in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

North African Maghrebi Arabic

This Arabic dialect is spoken in Northern Africa in countries such as Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. The dialects here have been heavily influenced by the area’s history of European colonization with several loan words and word pronunciation from romantic languages like Spanish and French. An example of this is the pronunciation of the letter jeem in dajaal (chicken) which is pronounced like the “j” in “bonjour” instead of “j” in “jay.” The North African Arabic dialect also has some elements of the Berber language as well. This dialect of Arabic is spoken very fast and requires much concentration to understand.

There are different dialects of Arabic that are spoken throughout the Arab world. While there are multiple differences in these spoken dialects of Arabic, most of the writing and reading, spelling, grammar and punctuation come from Modern Standard Arabic. Classical Arabic is what the Koran is written in and is taught to Muslim children. If one is new to learning Arabic, getting a good grasp of Modern Standard Arabic and the Egyptian Arabic dialect are good starting places from which to build proficiency in a different dialect of Arabic.

Whether it’s for school, work or leisure, Arabic is a useful language to learn. Arab Academy is a world-recognized online Arabic language school, offering Arabic language courses for all ages and ability levels in Modern Standard Arabic and Egyptian Arabic as well as Classical Arabic. If you want to learn Arabic from a high-quality school with native Arabic speaking instructors, contact us at Arab Academy today to learn more or to enroll.

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