Varieties of Arabic

Discussion in 'العربية (Arabic)' started by Erich, Apr 30, 2005.

  1. Erich New Member

    United States
    Hello all,
    I just recently began studying Arabic. Before starting i was aware there were variations of Arabic, but i did not realize how many. So i am a little overwhelmed. I decided to start with Egyptian Colloqial Arabic because I've read this version is widely understandable in most Arabic countries. My question is, how different are the other dialects? Will speakers of the other dialects be able to understand me and I them? Did I make a good choice in starting with Egyptian Arabic?
  2. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Well, as I've been taught, there're many dialects: The North-Western African ones are rusty (and sometimes uncomprehensible) Arabic, whereas the Far East Arabic is maybe like Urdu, another language. I tried to start with High Arabic, because it'll be considered educated if you know that as a foreigner. Then you should learn the Syriac Arabic, because it's the finest one.

    There're also many differences between spoken and written Arabic. Almost only the reading of the Qur'an is well-understandable Arabic for learners. You will never write what you speak in a colloquial letter, as I've been told. And it's good to start studying High Arabic which will get colloquial after you've been to any Arabic-speaking country.

    Natives may correct me.
  3. ayed

    ayed Senior Member

    Arab countries & their languages affected by foreign colonization:

    1-Algeria (al-jaza’er) much affected by French colonization
    2-Libya much affected by Italian colonization
    3-Egypt (Maser) influenced by French and British colonizations
    4-South African countries experienced French colonization as well.
    5-Syria by French:
    In a town called “Ma’loola”--which means “The Narrow Route “in Aramaic, located at the foot of Honey Mountain, 50 km, northeast of Damascus, there are some Syrians exercise their old customs and speak Aramaic language which is Jesus’ (Allah’s peace be upon him) .Closer to the capital, Damascus, there are two villages called “Bakha’a “ and”Jaba’deen” of ( 12000 )inhabitants who speak in Aramaic language. Unfortunately, Aramaic language right now is neither written nor read at all.

    Mr. Enrich, you have two cups of orange juice one is diluted with some castor oil while the other is pure .Which of which would you prefer?
    It is axiomatic that you would choose the pure one. So is in the case of learning Arabic.
    Honestly, I strongly advise you firstly, if you are keen to Arabic, to learn Standard Arabic -- Classic Arabic in Saudi Arabia. You had better join series of learning Arabic language or live either with a nomadic or settled tribe in Nejd desert in the central of the Arabian Peninsula or in any town closer to Riyadh city so as to acquire classical vocabularies, expressions, habits and customs similar to that of Navaho, Apache, Chippewa or (Cherokee is of Arab lineage came down earlier to USA).

    To ease you, find the nearest Institute for Learning Arabic affiliated with Imam University, in your county or hometown that teaches classic Arabic.

    I repeat myself; learn not colloquialism at the beginning .Have strong primary basics of standard Arabic and snatch different local accents and slang later on.
    Remember that any language is best acquired by only and only listening, listening listening …and reading

    Different utterances:

    Egyptian says:
    --Iz-zayyak? It means “How are you”?ازيك
    --Iz-zay al-Ssihah?”How is your health”?ازي الصحة

    ٍ--Saudi says:
    --kaif al-Haluk? How are you?كيف حالك
    --kaif al-Ssihah?”How is your health”?كيف الصحة

    Syrian says:
    --kaifak or kaifkoon”How are you”كيفك او كيفكن
    --kaif sihhatkoon “How is your health”?كيف صحتكن

    The final decision is yours and up to you.
  4. Erich New Member

    United States
    Thanks guys for all the information. I think im closer now that i was before. I have a few mor questions though. Ayed, when you say Standard Arabic, do you mean Modern Standard Arabic(MSA)? or Classical Arabic? If I did start with Classic Arabic or MSA, how hard would it be to pick up the other dialects? Because, from my research my impression of Classic Arabic is that it is not really spoken anymore. And my impression of MSA is that is is only used for Formal settings and some television and radio. Also, if I learned one language, would it be impossible for me to speak to others who spoke a different dialect? is there that much of a difference between languages?

  5. ayed

    ayed Senior Member

    “Classical Arabic”, means ancient words .Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) means words, intonation and the whole style speaker applies nowadays. It is used in formal settings and some television and radio as you have just said.
    If you started with Classic Arabic or MSA, it would be very easy for you to read any Arabic text in ancient “classic”style.You would be able to read the Holy Quran and get the meaning of its expressions. There are no difficulties to pick up the other dialects if you established lingual proactive bases for your second language .Otherwise, you will be in state of lingual instability, just as if you were astray .
    Frankly, I grew up and lived in desert some years before I move to urban life. While I was studying at English college, most of my classmates did not understand some of my vocabularies while other just laughed at me.Why?Because I lived in pure linguistic environment that did not under go changing factors.
    Once upon a time ,a Muslim scholar”sheikh” was reading one Hadith”a prophetic Tradition “in hear of his students, he mentioned a word adduced in that hadith.That word was “Anag”.The scholar asked all his student “what does Anag mean?”.No student was able to give the meaning except Saad who had lived in desert.Saad answered:”Shaikh , it means “ cub of nanny goat”.
    Now, Mr.Enich , have noticed what I mean?
    Language is as a tree trunk. Dialect is as a tree bough .Which is stronger that you would grab? If you grab the tree trunk, you really grab the tree trunk and its boughs. However, if you grab the tree bough you just catch a part of it. I hope you understand me well.

    Mr.Enich, Arabic language is one.If you learned it , people around you will understand you well while you might not understand some of ,them because they are affected ,as I have stated ,by colonization.

    For example , car :
    In Egypt , they say :Arabiyyah عربيه

    In Saudi:”sayyarah”سياره

    Any more question?
    Thank you
  6. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    <Interesting, interesting!>

    But I thought it would be عربة ('araba) instead of عربية. I know that العربية (l-'arabiyya) means 'the Arabic language' and عربي ('arabi) means 'Arabic', but I didn't know that there's a mixture of them. As I read your examples, I notice that I've been learning the Syrian 'dialect'.
  7. ayed

    ayed Senior Member

    Yup, be aware of these things so as to grab the gist or the skeleton of the language if it were to say.
    Very welcomed are you, Whodunit.

  8. Erich New Member

    United States
    Thank you again Ayed for the wealth of information on the Arabic Language. I'm very excited to begin learning, although learning a new language (especially Arabic) still seems very overwhelming for me. Well, "the longest journey begins with one step" as they say..

  9. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Urbana-Champaign, IL
    Am. English, Pal. Arabic (See profile)
    Allow me to add my two cents.

    Aside from the differences Ayed pointed out, "classical Arabic" and "modern standard Arabic" really refer to the same language. Obviously, if you were to choose one or the other, you should choose Modern Standard Arabic. It's like the difference between Modern Standard English (whatever that is) and Shakespearean English.

    Now, on to spoken Arabic, which is where it gets complicated and tricky. First of all, you need to bear in mind that written Arabic and spoken Arabic are extremely different. That is, there are many speakers of Arabic who really don't know the written languages very well, and many foreign learners of the language who learn the standard language but don't know the spoken language. The difference is huge. Let me give you an example:

    Conjugation of the verb "to eat" in the present tense:


    ana akulu (I eat)
    anta ta'kulu (you - m. eat)
    anti ta'kulin (you - f. eat)
    huwa ya'kulu (he eats)
    hiya ta'kulu (she eats)

    antuma ta'kulan (you - dual eat)
    huma ya'kulan (they - dual eat)

    nahna na'kulu (we eat)
    antum ta'kulun (you - m.p. eat)
    antunna ta'kulna (you - f.p. eat)
    hum ya'kulu (they - m. eat)
    hunna ya'kulna (they - f. eat)


    ana bakol (I eat)
    inteh btokol (you - m. eat)
    inti btokli (you - f. eat)
    huwweh bokol (he eats)
    hiyyeh btokol (she eats)

    ihna mnokol (we eat)
    intu btoklu (you - p. eat)
    hummeh/hinneh boklu (they eat)

    Notice that not only is the conjugation system very different; many of the personal pronouns simply do not exist in the colloquial version, not even as alternatives.

    Now, it gets even trickier because the spoken versions really are very different from each other. How well you understand various spoken versions (provided you speak one of them) depends on how similar they areto yours and/or how much you've been exposed to them. Here's an example. My native languages is Palestinian Arabic. I understand Jordanian, Syrian, and Lebanese Arabic very well because they are very similar to Palestinian Arabic. I can also understand Egyptian very well because of geographic proximity and exposure to the language through media. I can understand Gulf Arabic pretty well, although there are many words I wouldn't understand. North African Arabic is another story altogether. I think I can safely say that the amount of what I hear that I don't understand exceeds the amount that I do. Granted, I'm sure that if I spent a few weeks in one of those countries, I would pick it up relatively fast, but the fact of the matter remains that they are very different - in terms of grammar and structure. As far as which one is most universal, I don't think it would be the Egyptian one. On the contrary, it has many peculiarities that other dialects don't have - although I must admit that due to the influence of the media many people are exposed to it, so that might be why you heard it was more universal. I have been told that the Palestinian dialect is very easy to understand by most other Arabs, and Iraqis claim their dialect is the most similar to classical/standard Arabic, for all that's worth.

    Lastly, I want to comment on the variations of "how are you?" The Syrian one Ayed suggested isn't actually correct.

    EGYPTIAN: izayyak?
    PALESTINIAN: keef halak?
    SYRIAN: shlonak?

    These are just 3 of over 25 different possibilities.

    Another example - different variations of the word "now":

    al'an (standard)
    halla' (Jerusalem)
    hal'et (Palestinian, no specific region)
    halket (Palestinian, no specific region)
    halkete (Palestinian, no specific region)
    halheen (Bethlehem)
    'issa (Galilee)
    dil wa'ti (Egypt)
    hassa (Palestinian Bedouin)

    These are just some of the ones I know.

    Now - as for which version you should learn first. I think you should start out with the standard version, just to have a basis, but don't expect too much daily utility from it. Definitely choose a spoken version and study it - it doesn't matter which one; the point is that you won't sound awkward!

    Have I answered your questions? If not please let me know!

    PS - In this post I used the terms spoken/colloquial and standard/classical/written interchangeably, respectively.
  10. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Urbana-Champaign, IL
    Am. English, Pal. Arabic (See profile)
    I don't really understand your descriptions of the dialects.

    Northern African Arabic is "rusty"??? :confused:
    Syrian is the "finest"??? :confused:

    You're right about the letter-writing, though.

    What do you mean by saying that High Arabic will "get colloquial"?

    Please explain.
  11. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Okay, let me start. (Remember, I said "I've been told")

    As I've been told, it seems to be rusty, like bad French and Arabic. The Beduins use it, as far as I know. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

    I don't know. But I'm positive it's the closest dialect to High Arabic. Am I wrong?

    Good to know!

    Well, if you started studying High Arabic, and you move or make a trip to an Arabic speaking country, you will extremely fast acquire/develop a specific dialect (mostly colloquial) of some country. Do you know what I mean? Your well-educated Arabic will become (sorry, maybe "get" was incorrect here) more and more colloquial, unless you keep studying it.

    Please explain.[/QUOTE]
  12. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Urbana-Champaign, IL
    Am. English, Pal. Arabic (See profile)
    Hm, I don't know about that. What makes it "bad" or "worse than other spoken dialects"? Compared to classical standard Arabic, all of our dialects could be considered "bad," or at least "vulgar," linguistically speaking. I don't see why it should be different from other dialects.

    I don't know about that. Iraqi Arabic is supposed to be a lot closer.

    Your classical Arabic shouldn't "become" colloquial. Even if you learn a colloquial dialect, that shouldn't replace the classical; rather, you should always mentally separate the two but retain your command of both.
  13. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
  14. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Ok, of course, you're the native speaker here. I can only say "I don't know", because I'm afraid I've never been there.
  15. f_zadi Junior Member

    Algeria and France
    I was born in France to Algerian parents. Maghrebi derjas have Amazigh (Berber) loan words to varying degrees. Some people describe some dialects as "Berbers speaking Arabic". Which could describe the way I speak Arabic because my family is from the edge of the Kabylie. We are also probably Tuareg somewhere, I trace this by the way my grandfathers dressed.

    During French colonial rule there was a ban on Arabic and Arabic schools were shut down. So Algerian Arabic was cut off from developments in language that informed speakers from other Arabic countries. We do have some French loan words, mostly for modern things. We have some Spanish loan words as well. The Moors were from Algeria and Morocco and that's where they returned to.
  16. f_zadi Junior Member

    Algeria and France
    Wikipedia has a some misleading information on what Magrhebi derja is.

    I will post more about if anyone is interested. right now I am very tired from a long day at work.
  17. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    If you have the patience to do a careful rewrite, in English or for the Arabic version of the Wikipedia, they may accept your edit.
  18. audreycalifornie Junior Member

    English, United States
    Yes, interested. Also, since you're from France, I'd like to know what derija sounds like there. Since there's a mixture of Moroccans, Algerians and Tunisians, do you think boeur derija is now its own dialect? Also, is there a word for people living in France or another European country, who are of North African heritage, and don't speak Arabic? In California, people from Spanish-speaking backgrounds who only know how to speak English are called pochos or pochas. It's an embarassing thing to be called. Just curious.
  19. bartonig Senior Member

    UK English

    Are you sure about this. I teach a language - English, and I take care to help my students exercise and develop all three skills - reading, writing, speaking and listening. But, if there is a bias, it is towards speaking and listening. There is no listening without speaking and no speaking without listening.
  20. ayed

    ayed Senior Member

    Welcome, Bartonig.
    Yes, I meant all of skills are included in educational process.
  21. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    I was n't sure if I should start a new thread or add to one of the existing threads. So, please forgive me if you feel my question is not related to the topic in hand.

    I am aware that there is a large variety of Arabic dialects spoken in the Arab world. I am led to believe that in extreme cases two Arabs may not be able to communicate effectively with each other and would therefore have to resort to the Arabic they have learnt from books, call it MSA or fuS-Haa. This should not surprise us if we consider the distance involved between say the Gulf and the west coast of Africa! But what does surprise me is that if I speak English, I can go to any English speaking country and make myself understood. Do we have a different phenomenon taking place here?

    My main question is this. Taking into consideration the fact that education in most if not all Arab countries is pretty widespread, will there come a time when everyone in the Arabic world will be speaking something akin to MSA and the dialects will fade away?

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