Arabic dialects

from Wikipedia.

Following Jastrow, the present-day Arabic-speaking world can be broadly subdivided into three geographic zones: Zone I covers the regions of the Arabian Peninsula where Arabic was spoken before the beginning of the Islamic expansion in the seventh century; Zone II includes the Middle Eastern and North African areas into which Arabic penetrated during the Islamic expansion, and where it is today spoken as a majority language; and Zone III encompasses isolated regions where Arabic is spoken today by minority bilingual communities 1see also Owens 2000b.

Christopher Lucas, Introduction, in Arabic and contact-induced change.

Dialects of Arabic form a roughly continuous spectrum of variation, with the dialects spoken in the eastern and western extremes of the Arab-speaking world being mutually unintelligible. On the basis of certain linguistic features, Arabic dialects can be divided into two major geographical groups: the first comprises dialects spoken east of a line running from Salum in the north to roughly the Sudan–Chad border in the south; the second comprises the Maghribi dialects spoken to the west of this line. The main phonological features which distinguish the western dialect group from the eastern include the typical reduction of the triangular system of short vowels, a, i, u, which is found in eastern dialects, to a two-vowel system; and a contrast between an iambic word stress system in the western group and a trochaic word-stress system in the eastern group. . . . Dialects are also commonly distinguished along a bedouin–urban axis: bedouin dialects tend to be more conservative and homogenous, while urban dialects show more evolutive tendencies and usually exhibit fairly clear intra-dialectal variation based on age, gender, social class, and religion. Typical bedouin features include the voiced reflex of Classical Arabic qaf, preservation of the Classical Arabic interdentals, and a gender distinction in the second and third persons plural of the verb, pronouns, and pronoun suffixes. Distinctions between bedouin and urban dialects appear to be less marked in the East, however, particularly in the Peninsula, than they are in North Africa.

Janet C. E. Watson, The Phonology and Morphology of Arabic (2002)
From Arabic and contact-induced change.
  1. ‘Aden
  2. Afghan-Uzbeki-Tajiki
  3. Aleppo
  4. Al-Hasaa
  5. Algerian 2{reddit}, {Dialogues arabes-français: avec la prononciation figurée en caractères français (1847) – 208 pp.}
  6. Algerian Saharan
  7. Amman
  8. Anatolian
  9. Andalusi
  10. Anizah of the Syrian desert
  11. Arabian Peninsula
  12. Balkh
  13. Beda
  14. Beqaa
  15. Baharna
  16. Bahraini 3Clive Holes, Dialect, Culture, and Society in Eastern Arabia [v. 3]
  17. Bahraini Gulf
  18. Buxara
  19. Cairene
  20. Central Bedouin Najdi
  21. Central Najdi
  22. Chadian/Chadic
  23. Cypriot
  24. Dhofari
  25. Eastern
  26. Egyptian
    1. Bedouin Sinai
  27. Euphrates Bedouin
  28. Fellahi
  29. Gilit Mesopotamian
  30. Gulf
  31. Habban
  32. Hadrami
  33. Ḥassāniyya
  34. Hijazi
  35. Khamseh
  36. Iraqi
  37. Jordanian
  38. Judeo-Arabic
  39. Judeo-Levantine
  40. Judeo-Yemeni
  41. Lebanese
  42. Kawliya
  43. Khorasan
  44. Kuwaiti
  45. Kuwaiti Hadari
  46. Levantine
  47. Libyan
  48. Madani
  49. Maghrebi
  50. Maltese
  51. Mauritanian
  52. Moroccan
  53. Mosul
  54. Negev
  55. Najdi
  56. Nigerian
  57. North African
  58. North-Central Lebanese
  59. North Lebanese
  60. North Najdi
  61. North Mesopotamian
  62. North Qatari
  63. Northern Fertile Crescent
  64. Nubi4Heine, Bernd. 1982. The Nubi language of Kibera: an Arabic creole. Berlin: Reimar
  65. Omani
  66. Palestinian
  67. Qashqa-Darya
  68. Qatari
  69. Qeltu
  70. Saida Sunni
  71. San’a
  72. Saudi
  73. Shihhi
  74. South Arabian
  75. South-Central Lebanese
  76. South Najdi
  77. South Qatari
  78. Southern Iraqi
  79. Sudanese
  80. Sunni Beiruiti
  81. Syrian
  82. Šawāwī
  83. Ta’izzi
  84. Tigris
  85. Tripolitanian
  86. Tunisian
  87. Western Egyptian Bedawi (Bedouin)
  88. Western Saharan
  89. Yemeni
  90. Zubair-Faau

From A Grammar of the Bedouin Dialects of Central and Southern Sinai
“to go.” From Wortatlas der arabischen Dialekte : Band III: Verben, Adjektive, Zeit und Zahlen
“to jump.” From Wortatlas der arabischen Dialekte : Band III: Verben, Adjektive, Zeit und Zahlen
“to stay.” From Wortatlas der arabischen Dialekte : Band III: Verben, Adjektive, Zeit und Zahlen


By Chadian Arabic I do not referto Central-African (or Chadian) Pidgin Arabic, nor do I refer to Central-African (or Chadian) immigrant Arabic, but rather to the colloquial Chadian Arabic (hereafter just Chadian Arabic) of monolinguals basically, who can neither read nor write any kind of Arabic. I take as my basis the Chadian Arabic of the largest city (town-village, Chadian Arabic hille) of native speakers, viz. Abéché. Thus by Chadian Arabic I mean, to a great extent, Abéché Arabic.

Alan S. Kaye, Chadian and Sudanese Arabic in the Light of Comparative Arabic Dialectology (1976).


One of the most eye-catching, or rather ear-catching features when listening to what is generally called “Egyptian Arabic”, is the voiced velar plosive /g/ [g]. This sound corresponds to ج /ǧ/ in Classical Arabic, and, respectively, in other Arabic dialects to a variety of other palatalized or affricated prepalatals, dentals or sibilants such as [ʤ], [gj], [d], [ʒ], [z], [j], [ɟ], [ʧ], [ʦ], to mention only the most common of them. Within contemporary Egypt we find /g/ in the standard variety as spoken by urbanized persons, which is based on the dialect of the capital Cairo and its surroundings, as well as in modern Alexandria, the central parts of the Delta, in the north-eastern Delta in a corridor stretching along the Damietta branch of the River Nile, and south of Cairo in the Provinces of Fayyūm and Bani Swēf. Other rural areas show one of the other allophones indicated above. The distribution of /g/ ~ /ǧ/ parallels within Egyptian territory that of /’/ ~ /g/ (Old Arabic *q), in the sense that the two phonemes show an implicational relationship: /g/ (< *g) implies /’/ or /q/ (< *q), and a dialect with /ǧ/ ~ /ž/ (< *g) will have /g/ (< *q).

Classical /ǧ/ and Egyptian /g/ both hark back to Semitic /g/, a fact which immediately begs the question whether this Egyptian /g/ derives directly from an older variety of Arabic which had kept the old Semitic /g/ and which did not, like the variety which we call “Classical Arabic”, take part in the palatalization and affrication of /g/, or whether this Egyptian /g/ is a newly developed sound, i.e. a de-affrication of /ǧ/ or something like it.

Ths question has been answered by Blanc (1969:23, 27), and above all Blanc (1981), who resolves the issue in favour of the idea that Egyptian [g] for ج is an innovation. This position is upheld by Hary (1996) in an article which aptly adduces all the arguments in favour of this opinion. Both assume the depalatalization/back-shifting of the /ǧ/, referring to Bergsträßer’s (1928:157) remark “ǧ ist in Ägypten in das altsemitische g zurückverschoben” [ǧ has back-shifted in Egypt to the old Semitic g]. According to them, this depalatalization dates back to quite recent times and was only completed in the fist half of the 19th century. Hary (1996:153) describes the subsequent stages in the following way:

g (6th–7th cent.) => g~ǵ~ǧ (8th–11th cent.) => ǧ (12th–17th cent.) => ǧ~g (17th–19th cent.) => g (19th–20th cent.)

ǵ has to be seen here as a slightly palatalized /g/ [gj] and ǧ as a [ʤ]. As Zaborski (2007:495b) rightly remarks, this supposed phonetic shift ǧ > g, i.e. from a dental affricate back to a full velar stop contradicts the normal development we know from other language families such as Romance or Germanic languages, all of which show the reverse, i.e. a shift from stop to affricate.

Manfred Woidich & Liesbeth Zack, The g/ǧ Question in Egyptian Arabic Revisited, in Arabic Dialectology.

Iraqi / Mesopotamian

From Haim Blanc, Communal dialects in Baghdad, 1964

Since Haim Blanc’s Communal Dialects in Baghdad (1964), it is a well-known fact that the dialects spoken in Baghdad can be divided into three communal groups, corresponding to the speakers’ religious affiation. The dialect of the Muslims (MB) belongs to the so-called gǝlǝt group of Mesopotamian Arabic, whereas the dialects of the Jews (JB) and the Christians (CB) belong to the qǝltu group. Historically, JB and CB are regarded as direct descendants of medieval Iraqi Arabic, whereas the present-day MB with its numerous Bedouin-type traits clearly diverges from it.

As a gǝlǝt dialect MB is often classified as a dialect of Bedouin type, or being of Bedouin provenance. These are of course rather impressionistic notions based on a number of linguistic variables the relative typological significance of which depends on the adopted standpoint. This, in comparison with qǝltu dialects, most differences displayed by MB are undeniably of Bedouin type, but if MB is compared with Bedouin dialects of ʿAnazī or Šammarī, or even of the šāwiya type, its sedentary profie would become apparent.

. . .

The development of a new indetermination marker is a sedentary feature found in the Mesopotamian dialect area as well as in a number of North African dialects (*wāḥid plus article). Apart from the dialects spoken in Baghdad, it is attested in the qǝltu dialects of ʿĀna (fadd, farǝd) and Mosul (fadd, faġǝd), and signifcantly, insular Arabic dialects in Central Asia (fat), a fact that is evidence of its early, Abbasid times emergence (Blanc 1964:119).

From Enam Al-Wer & R.E. De Jong, Arabic Dialectology.


Within the Levant (historical Syria, Jordan and Lebanon) there is, if not linguistic homogeneity, at least clearly visible evidence of close similarity between the many dialects. The differences are what one would expect. A Sidon (Lebanon) fisherman will use different metaphors from those of a Syrian from the Jebel Druze; because of close community ties over long historical periods villages tend to preserve distinctive features of vocabulary and phonology.

Leslie McLoughlin, Colloquial Arabic (Levantine) (2009)


Moroccan Arabic (MA) initially took shape when Arab-led troops, probably Arabized Berbers from the central Maghreb who spoke a contact variety of Arabic, settled precariously in a triangle of Roman cities/towns consisting of Tangier, Salé, and Volubilis, starting around 698 AD. Mid-seventh-century tombstones from Volubilis, inscribed in Latin, confirm that Roman Christians were present, though in small numbers, when the Arabs arrived. Shortly thereafter, in 710– 711, an Arab-led army from Morocco began the conquest of southern Spain, a richer and more secure prize that drew away most of the Arab elite. In Morocco, turnover of the few Arabs and of their Arabized Berber troops was high; they were massacred or put to flight in the Kharijite revolt of 740. The eighth and ninth centuries had perfect conditions for the development of a home-grown Arabic in the Roman triangle in Morocco, and in the emerging Andalus, with a strong Latinate substratum.

During the eleventh century, the Arabian Bedouin often called Banu Hilāl entered the central Maghreb in large numbers (cf. Benkato, this volume). They partially bedouinized the Arabic dialects in Tunisia and Algeria, producing hybrid varieties that combined pre- and post-Hilalian features. They also gradually pushed their way south and west across the Sahara, bringing their distinctively Bedouin Arabic, known as Ḥassāniyya, into the southern Maghreb, including some oases of southern Morocco proper and the entire Western Sahara. Meanwhile, hybridized Algerian dialects, also reflecting a Berber substratum, were spreading into western Morocco, taking root in new farming villages in the central plains around Fes, and in the younger cities such as Meknes and Marrakesh (Heath 2002).

. . .

The MA that one is likely to hear in cafés in Rabat, Fes, Meknes, Marrakesh, Oujda, and even Tangier is the Moroccan koiné, a hybridized variety mixing pre- and post-Hilalian features and showing heavy Berber inflence in prosody and vocalism.

Jeffrey Heath, Moroccan Arabic, in Arabic and contact-induced change.


Najd. From Ingham, Najdi Arabic: Central Arabian (1994)

The Arabian peninsula can, in a simplified way, be divided into certain regions which are both geographical and ethnic in nature and are based on topography, land use, and population distribution and were in the past of great relevance to trade routes and political areas. These are: Hijaz, Yemen, Oman, Eastern Arabia and Najd. Certain large desert tracts, namely the Nufud and the Euphrates hinterland in the north, the Dahana in the east and the Rub’ al-Khali in the south constitute vacuums or hinterlands into which the influence of these centres may spread at different periods and which may be regarded as no-man’s land at other periods. Hijāz, the land of the Holy Cities of Islam, is the mountainous region of the west. Its present importance lies in its association with the shrine of the Ka’bah at Mecca, the birth place of the prophet and its association with the beginnings of Islam. Originally the area seems to have grown to importance as a land link in the spice route from Yemen northwards although the area of al-Hijr in the north of the Hijāz associated with the Nabateans was the original centre. The Hijāz blends into the Yemen in the south west, which although equally mountainous is blessed by a monsoon climate making extensive agriculture possible; this fertile area spreads eastward as what might be called Greater Yemen to encompass the area of the Hadhramaut. In the South east, the mountainous and highly varied area of Oman forms an important cultural unit. Both Yemen and Oman have from ancient times been important centres of maritime trade with the East coast of Africa and India. Eastern Arabia or the Gulf Coast has had a changeable history, but may in very early times have been the centre of the thriving civilisation of Dilmūn which lives on in the Babylonian legends. In the Islamic period it has been important at various periods, as a centre of maritime trade, fishing and pearling and because of the palm groves of the oases of al-Hasa.

In the centre of this ring is Najd, a featureless plateau region in which at various points concentrations of wells are enough to permit permanent settlement and agriculture. These wells and settlements are sufficiently numerous and frequent as to constitute a belt of villages usually within a day’s walking distance of each other. However, although there are substantial oases in parts of al-Aflāj, Qasim and Sudair, Najd does not represent an important agricultural region. Whereas al-Hasa to the east, the Euphrates valley to the north and Yemen to the south were traditionally rich agricultural regions exporting their produce to the world, Najd is purely a zone of settlement based on agriculture. The towns of Najd were, it seems, never rich and imported most of their needs from outside the area. They did export small quantities of dates of high quality, but never in the quantities of al-Hasa and the Shatt al-‘Arab region. Most of their effort seems to have gone into the utilization of pasture and they owned large flocks of sheep and camels which were grazed with the help of the bedouins wherever pasture could be found, often far away from their own region. . . . The displaced ‘Anizah moved north to the area west of Jabal Shammar from where large sections of them gradually moved on to occupy most of the Syrian desert from the mid 18th century. The Mutair moved north east to the area between Qasīm and Kuwait while the Ghatan have contracted back southwards to what was perhaps there original area of influence. All of these tribes however share a fairly homogenous type of dialect and culture, though the Ghatan differ from them in some respects as regards dialect.

. . .

The process of settlement of nomads either as individuals, or families or whole clans in Najd and in the outer regions is recorded in memory and in genealogical tradition. What is not recorded is how settled populations have turned in the past to nomadism, though this must also have happened, as the history of settlement in the Arabian peninsula is far older than the history of large scale camel nomadism, the latter having begun according to the prevalent theory in the begining of the Christian era as nomads came to the fore initially as controllers of the caravan routes and later also the Hajj routes across Arabia.

. . .

Associated with this geographically far-flung but culturally relatively homogenous population we can discern a group of dialects which are also fairly homogenous and which we can term the Najdi dialects. These include the following:

(1) The speech of the sedentary population of the areas of Central Najd (i.e., the districts of al-‘Ārid, al-Washm and Sudair), of Qasīm and Jabal Shammar to the north and Najrān and Bīsha to the south.

(2) The speech of the main bedouin tribes of those regions ie’Anizah, ‘Utaibah, Subai’, Suhul, Bugum, Dawāsir, Harb, Mutair, ‘Awāzim and Rashāyidah in the centre, Shammar and Dhafīr in the north and Ghatān, Āl Murrah and ‘Ājman in the south and east.

(3) The speech of the emigre bedouin tribes of the Syrian desert and the Jazirah of Iraq of ‘Anizah and Shammar extraction.

The geographical core of the dialect area can be seen to be Central Najd and Jabal Shammar, which is where the sedentary population speak a dialect of that type, while the dialects of the bedouins can be seen to be an overspill of the Najdi type into the surrounding area. The borders of the area can be taken to be the sand desert ring formed by the Nufud to the north, the Dahana to the east and the Rub’ al-Khāli to the south. To the west it is less easy to define the borders of the area and in fact it blends into the Hijāz gradually. The major bedouin tribes of ‘Utaibah and Harb span Hijāz and Najd, traditionally occupying the areas between the Holy Cities and Najd, Harb to the east of Madīnah and ‘Utaibah to the east of Mecca. The dialects Usted above can all be classed as Najdi in a general sense in sharing certain definable features setting them off from other dialects of the surrounding area. They can however be divided into sub-groups in the following manner: (1) Central Najdi. The dialects of Central Najd as described above and the central bedouin tribes also the ‘Anizah of the Syrian desert. (2) Northern Najdi. The dialect of Jabal Shammar and of the Shammar tribes of Northern Najd and the Jazirah. (3) Mixed Northern-Central. The dialect of Qasim and of the Dhafìr tribe. (4) Southern. The dialect of Najrān and the Ghatān tribe of the south and of the Al Murrah and ‘Ājmān tribes of the east.

From Ingham, Najdi Arabic: Central Arabian (1994)


Nigerian Arabic (NA) is spoken by perhaps – there are no reliable demographic fiures from the last 50 years – 500,000 speakers. These are found mainly in northeast Nigeria in the state of Borno where their homeland is concentrated along the Cameroon–Chad border as far south as Banki, spreading westwards towards Gubio, and south of Maiduguri towards Damboa. Mirroring a larger trend in Nigerian demographics, the past 40 years have seen a considerable degree of rural–urban migration. This has seen, above all, the development of large Arab communities in cities in Borno – the capital Maiduguri has at least 50,000 alone – though they are now found throughout cities in Nigeria.

Arabs in Nigeria are traditionally cattle nomads, part of what the anthropologist Ulrich Braukämper (1994) has called the “Baggara belt”, named after the Arab tribe in the western Sudan (Kordofan, Darfur; see Manfredi 2010) whose culture and dialect are very similar to those of the Nigerian Arabs. Until the very recent Bokko Haram tragedy, besides nomadism, Arabs practiced subsistence farming. As of the writing of this chapter, nearly all rural Nigerian Arabs have been forced to fle their home villages and cattle camps, and are living mainly in refugee camps in northeast Nigeria and neighboring countries.

Arabs fist came to the Lake Chad area – whether territorial Nigeria is at this point undetermined – in the late fourteenth century. They were part of what initially was a slow migration out of Upper Egypt towards the northern Sudan beginning in the early thirteenth century, which gained momentum after the fall of the northern Nubian kingdom of Nobadia (or Maris) in the fourteenth century. All in all, NA exhibits a series of significant isoglosses which link it to Upper Egypt, via Sudanese Arabic, even if it displays interesting “archaisms” linking it to regions far removed from Africa (Owens 2013). Its immediate congeners are found in what I have termed Western Sudanic Arabic (WSA; Owens 1994a,b), stretching between northeast Nigeria in the west and Kordofan in the east (Manfredi 2010). When properties of NA are contrasted with other varieties of Arabic, it is implicitly understood that these do not necessarily include other WSA varieties. Much more empirical work is necessary in this regard, but, to give one example, many of the extended functions of the NA demonstrative described in §3.3.2 below are also found in Kordofanian Arabic (Manfredi 2014). Moreover, where throughout the Sudanic region as a whole any given isogloss lies is also an open question, as is the issue of the degree to which the contact-induced changes suggested here represent broad areal phenomena. As my own in many cases detailed data derives from NA, I limit most observations to this area. NA itself divides into two dialect areas, a western and an eastern one that I have also termed Bagirmi Arabic, since it is spoken by Arabs in the Bagirmi-speaking region

Jonathan Owens, Nigerian Arabic, in Arabic and contact-induced change.


1.1. Arabic is not the only language spoken in the Republic of the Sudan today. . . 1.2. Like most of its neighbors, the Sudan, the largest country on the continent of Africa, was, and still is, the homeland of many languages and dialects. The central part of the country where nowadays Arabic is principally spoken as a mother tongue, must have previously been multilingual as are other parts of the Sudan. But the arrival of the Arabs to the Sudan in the fourteenth century from Egypt had revolutionary (not evolutionary) effects on the linguistic structure of the country. Direct Arabic influence depended to a large extent on the movement in the Sudan of the Arab tribes which were mostly located in the central part of the country. In the course of time, therefore, Arabic supplanted the local languages, as Arab conquest proceeded from the north and east.

1.3. Gasim points out that it is extremely difficult to speak of a Sudan Colloquial Arabic (SCA) in general, simply because there does not exist one single dialect used by all speakers to whom Arabic is the mother tongue. Every region, almost every tribe, has its own version of SCA, a situation similar to that in other Arabic speech communities. I, however, follow Gasim’s assertion that one can take the dialect of Khartoum and its vicinity as a common medium intelligible to most, if not all, who are native speakers of a Sudanese sedentary (not bedouin) Arabic dialect.

Alan S. Kaye, Chadian and Sudanese Arabic in the Light of Comparative Arabic Dialectology (1976).

References   [ + ]

1. see also Owens 2000b
2. {reddit}, {Dialogues arabes-français: avec la prononciation figurée en caractères français (1847) – 208 pp.}
3. Clive Holes, Dialect, Culture, and Society in Eastern Arabia [v. 3]
4. Heine, Bernd. 1982. The Nubi language of Kibera: an Arabic creole. Berlin: Reimar

Be the first to comment on "Arabic dialects"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.