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Dozens of Dialects: Diversity in the Arabic Language

posted on: Dec 25, 2021



With more than 300 million native speakers, Arabic is one of the most spoken languages around the world. The rich and complex language has more than 12 million words.

Although standard Arabic, which is also called Fus-ha, is the written and scholarly version of the language, it is not what most Arabic-speakers use in everyday conversation.

Experts estimate that there are more than 25 dialects and different varieties of Arabic that are unique to the country from which they originate.

The most common is Egyptian Arabic, spoken by at least 83 million people, and containing influences from French and Turkish, among other European languages. The Algerian language is second-most common with 40m speakers.

These four phrases belong to some of the most-used dialects in the Arabic language:

1. Izzayyak

The Egyptian dialect is one of the easiest to learn and is well known to Arabic speakers thanks to the country’s film industry. Popular phrases used in the Egyptian dialect include izzayyak, which means ‘how are you’. The standard Arabic phrase is keef halak.

2. Shahalak

The Emirati dialect is among those most recognised in the Gulf. The popular phrase shahalak in the UAE translates to how are you.

Citizens of the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia all speak in the Gulf dialect, which varies slightly from country to country. While Emiratis ask shahalak, Kuwaitis and Bahrainis ask shlonak.

There are differences in the pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary of each country’s individual style of speaking.

3. Wakha

Dr Samia Al Abouri, who is an Arabic teacher at the University of Ribat in Morocco, said the word wakha originates from the standard Arabic language. It is used as a way of saying wait.

“Morocco is a mix of different cultures and traditions,” she said.

The Moroccan Arabic, known as Darija, is part of the Maghrebi Arabic dialect and is spoken in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Western Sahara, and Mauritania. Darija means ‘to rise’.

4. Yu’burni

Yu’burni can be heard across Lebanon, often dramatically said by women about their children or another loved one. It means “you bury me” or “you send me to my grave”. It is used when someone is so overwhelmed by love that they feel they could die.

The Lebanese dialect is part of a greater Levantine dialect, used across Jordan, Palestine and Syria too.

Like the Gulf dialect, it varies from country to country, and contains varying levels of influence from French and Turkish. It formed in the 7th century from Aramaic and is spoken by more than 21 million people.

It is the most popular dialect used on television and in film after Egyptian.