Similarities and differences between Colloquial and Standard Arabic

Discussion in 'العربية (Arabic)' started by JLanguage, Oct 28, 2005.

  1. JLanguage Senior Member

    Georgia, US
    USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
  2. BasedowLives

    BasedowLives Senior Member

    i'd like to start up with arabic.

    the 2 options i have are "egyptian arabic" and "eastern arabic"

    which one do you advise i go with?
  3. Jana337

    Jana337 Senior Member

    Could you shed some light on your motives? And what's your target level, approximately? Touristy vocab, or do you want to read newspapers? Are you inherently interested in a particular Arab-speaking country? Are you planning on taking courses, or do you want to teach yourself?

  4. BasedowLives

    BasedowLives Senior Member

    Sorry, i guess i should've been more specific. As of right now, it would be just touristy and a little conversation.

    And if i get good at it, i'd like to be able to possibly work with translation. (may sound like a long shot, but how many native USA citizens can speak arabic in the USA) Which dialect is spoken in the countries that are most politically charged? (meaning the most likely to hear when i watch tv. seeing as how tv will probably be the only chance i get to listen to it)

    I have CD's, (so all audio, no reading:(). If i eventually get verbal communication decent, i may go buy more resources to learn how to read/write it as well.
  5. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    If you wish to become a translator, then I guess literary Arabic is best for you. This is the written language, common between all Arab countries.
    As for the spoken language/dialects, they are so many. The most common is Egyptian (due to the large production of movies and songs since long time ago) and lebanese (eastern Arabic) again because of the songs :) (definitly Arabs love arts):D
    As for "politically charged" countries... well, i guess they all are. Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan...
    So you go ahead, and start with the written language, and then see where you go from there.
    Good luck
  6. българин Senior Member

    hmm....what is the closest dialect to MSA?? i've always wondered that, but everyone keeps telling me their dialect is closest...
  7. greg from vancouver

    greg from vancouver Senior Member

    vancouver, canada
    Canada, Vancouver
    hmmm... depends on your criteria... go to Wikipedia, search for the term "Arabic dialects" and you'll find a laundry list of information about the different dialects. I find it a fascinating article. [can't post weblinks in this forum, or I would]

    To answer your question... from a grammar standpoint, I have no idea-- I think the've all diverged so much from MSA that the question becomes somewhat moot.

    From a spoken/accent standpoint, you're right, I think most of the dialects like to claim that theirs is the most unchanged. I read a recent article that said that Iraqi Arabic is probably closest to the Arabic of hundreds of years ago.

    As usual, wait for a native to answer.

  8. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    Yeah, many Arabs will claim that their dialect is the closest. Here is an educated answer/opinion by a professor of Arabic who claims, after many many years of studying Arabic and its dialects, that no dialect is any closer than the others to MSA.

    Go to "Presentation by Kristen Brustad (Part 2)."
  9. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Thanks for that link, Josh! I am in complete agreement with everything that the woman says - you will find that most of it overlaps with the stuff I've been scattering on these forums. :) I would strongly recommend listening to her presentation to anyone interested in having many of the most common rumors about Arabic dispelled.
  10. Hibou57

    Hibou57 Senior Member

    french & english
    Moderator's note :
    This post was the starter of a new thread. I thought I'd merge threads for conciseness.
    Please, guys, before starting a new thread, don't forget to search for the subject in the forum, to avoid redundancies and repetitions.

    This is a short question...

    Many threads here and else where in the web talk about the differences between MSA and dialects. But two paradoxical statements live in the same time :

    1) Dialects are based upon MSA and are most time a simplification of MSA (appart of abbreviations which are loosy)

    2) People speaking different dialects does not understand each-other.

    If dialects are really based upon MSA, what is the phenomenon interfere with comprehension between different dialects ?

    Is it a matter of conjugation ? A matter of functional words (the ones shorts and very commons, used to express logical relations for example). Or is it just vocabulary ?

    What I would like, is not to discuss only about what relates dialects and MSA, but an answer to this paradox.

    What is the most common percentage of comprehension between two dialects ?
  11. Taalib Senior Member

    United States
    United States
    Some Arabic dialects are difficult to comprehend because they integrate elements of languages other than MSA. For instance, the Maghribi dialect in Morocco, with its rich Berber influence and far distance from the historical "core" of classical Arabic speakers in the Arab east, is often regarded by Arabic snobs as utterly corrupted.

    In addition, even though other dialects may be based on a more fundamental understanding of MSA conventions, pronunciation and word choice have all evolved in different directions. This is one source of confusion, and I'd put my money on these two as explaining much of the incomprehension.
  12. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    Someone said on a blog and it was confirmed here that Eastern Arabic dialects are mutually comprehensible to a large extent (but never 100%), there is a lot of common vocab, some very common words across dialects but different from MSA, the most used are different, notoriously the word for "what", so you need a little a bit of exposure to that particlular dialect if you know only one of them. With Maghriby - it's also pronunciation of the common Arabic words (dropping and changing vowels), which also makes them incomprehensive and as Taalib said the vocabulary. Grammar is even more simplified in Western dialects - there is no dual, for example.

    I think grammar differences can be described in from a few sentences to one page. Most of the time it's less forms but sometimes it is a bit different method to express the same thing - e.g. negation of verbs or present tense forms are different from MSA. Indicative, subjunctive and jussive forms coincide in dialects, as well as in casual MSA - tashrabii(na) - you (female) drink. In brackets, I put the ending, which is in indicative mode in MSA only but is not strictly followed, similar to case endings.

    I personally find the vocab difference - the biggest obstacle in mastering dialects, besides you can mostly pick them up from speech, not from books or dictionaries.

    Natives and advanced users may give you a better description.
  13. Hibou57

    Hibou57 Senior Member

    french & english
    Many, many thanks for your answer Taalib :) I think the first statement is the one who best suit the original question (the second statement being more obvious, although worth to note too)

    And as so much thanks too Anatoli... I had suspected this, but was not really sure...

    You've said an other big thing :
    That is very good to know :) You made me happy this night :) (Taalib too, of course)
  14. Tariq_Ibn_zyad Senior Member

    Concerning maghribi dialects,I would like to say that I don't really agree that they are that far from classical.
    The main causes of incomprehension with eastern Arabic speakers are:
    -Pronounciation and accent:A lot of sukkuns;the rythm is very different,and it is very hard to distinguish short vowels from long vowels
    -A particular lexicon: Borrowings from French,Spanish and Berber
    -conjugation of the 1rst person at present tense
    nekteb/neketbu= I write/we write instead of akteb/nekteb

    But in many other aspects,Maghrebi dialects are closer to classical than eastern Arabic is

    I will take Northern Moroccan (Tangiers) as an example,because to my ears it's the most conservative in Morocco
    -Exclusive pronounciation of Qaf
    -The conservation of diphtongs (eg:"bayn" instead of "biin"=between;"sayf"instead of "siif"=sword,"fawq" instead of "fuuq" or "fuug"...etc etc
    -Many expressions which are not borrowings from classical,but have always been used in this dialect such as: Li 'anna,Bi 'anna, etc
    -The conservation of the "hamza" practically all the time(eg=3aa2ila)
    -Many words slighty modified in eastern dialects conserve theit classical form in this dialect.
  15. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    You're welcome, I hope you understood that I meant if you had MSA background, then it is easy to understand dialectal grammar, the other way around is not true, IMHO :)

    Thanks, Tariq_Ibn_zyad

    Agree with your point, there are features that make Western Arabic closer to classical but Western pronunciation is still harder to follow than Eastern dialects to my ear and there are a bit more words that are different from MSA, compared to Eastern dialects.

    Pronunciation of Q - it makes it harder to understand when it is skipped altogether like in Northern Egyptian but sort of not hard to follow when it is replaced with G, like in some other dialects.

    You are right about diphthongs, they are a bit of a problem but I learned some common mappings.

    From what I gather, Najdi (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) and one of the Levantine dialects are probably the closest to MSA. Egyptian, though a bit further away from Levantine and Gulf dialects is widely understood in the Arab world and known due to popular movies and songs. Some sources claim it is the spoken lingua franca for Arabs, I am not sure how true it is.
  16. Taalib Senior Member

    United States
    United States
    As an addendum, it should be noted that there are sub-regional varieties of Eastern Arabic dialect that pronounce the "qaf" as well. In Jordan, for instance, there are four major branches of spoken Arabic that qualify as dialects. The Palestinian variety, spoken mainly in Amman, Irbid, and Zarqa', does indeed elide the "qaf" into "hamza" (and approximates the "Eastern" Arabic often discussed by linguists) but there are other kinds spoken by the Bedouin, the hadari, and the fallahin that actually pronounce this letter. There are also areas in the West Bank that exhibit this pronunciational convention, well within the geographic boundaries of the Palestinian spoken language.
  17. Tariq_Ibn_zyad Senior Member

    As you said it's a mather of ears:),To my ears,eastern Arabic,especially Syrian Damascene sounds very funny,and tends to over exagerate long vowels.A kind of "sung" arabic,while we,in Morocco hardly pronounce any vowels.

    I agree,I just took the example of Tangiers to show to similarity with Fus7a.In my region we tend to use "G" 60% of the time.

    In practically all dialects "aw" becomes "uu" or "oo" and "ay" becommes "ii" or "ee"

    I think that Bedwin is the closest to MSA.despite the pronounciation of some letters,its vocabulary,its grammar and its syntax is extremely close to MSA.
    as you said Egyptian appears to be the most widely understood,although not everybody watches egyptian soaps and listens to umm kulthum;).
  18. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    I prefer them to be sung, so that I could hear ;)

    You're right, Najdi and Bedouin are identical but Najdi is more modern and urban and Bedouin more rustic and traditional, if I am not mistaken but I mean Sa`udi Bedouins, not sub-Saharan.

    Back on the topic, my guess is sooner or later, globalisation becomes more of an issue with the Arabic language as well. Learned words are penetrating speech, the more educated, well read you are and common colloquial words are used in print and upgraded to "official" status. There will be diglossia for quite some time but I don't see it happening for ever, otherwise it will contradict all the evolution laws, he-he :) (No purist can hold the amount of written and spoken word but media helps to spread it) Fortunately or unfortunately, one form of speech usually dominates others, it would happen sooner, if there was stability in the middle East and more communication between countries. There is no single dominating dialect in the Arab world but differences are smoothened out, not deepened with the time, also, taking into account that Arabic united dissimilar groups of languages (I don't think Algerians and Yemenis ever belonged to the same tribe) and then some dialects appeared, then you can see the trend.
  19. MarcB Senior Member

    US English
    I think it is almost impossible to determine which dialects are closer to fus7a see Josh’ post
    Some aspects of Eastern are closer to fus7a and some aspects of Western are closer.
    Many dialects are mutually intelligible at least to some extent.
    Arabic is usually divided into Iraqi and Eastern Gulf, with some Persian loan words. Levantine sometimes with Egyptian, Turkish and French loan words.
    Western with Berber, Spanish and French loan words. Libya and Tunisia also have Italian loan words.
    Of course many of the loan words exist in countries not mentioned.
    The following letters differ from each lahaja and from fus7a : ق,ض,ث,ذ,ظ the sounds of Θ Δ like English th of this and th of that. They are t,th,z,d depending on the dialect. Most Levantine speakers pronounce ة as eh and while non-Levantine speakers say ah.
    You will see the lahajat are not so different after all. The problem is more with pronunciation not vocabulary. Vowels have variations from one place to another. None of the variants is random as some might have you believe. They have rules just as fus7adoes but they are often different and the grammar has been simplified. If you compare the vocabulary there is a small percentage of words that are found in any one variant and not the others, probably less than five percent.. This occurs in all languages. If you learn basic and frequently used phrases in several variants you will be able to carry on a conversation. Some examples of what to expect: Western sbah il kher, eastern sabah il kher. Ramadhan,Ramadan,Ramazan are all the same holiday. Gulf samach is samak elsewhere. Finally qlem,qalam,galam and ‘alam are the same word, pen. So you can see how the variants are still the same language and they would all be written the same way. You can also see why when spoken quickly some of the people may not understand each other while others do. Arabic is based on three letter root words and unwritten vowels are added to finalize the meaning. In most of the examples the root is the same. In some a letter is pronounced differently but the root remains intact. There is also a continuum as one goes from east to west or from west to east. To illustrate Libyan Arabic is a blend of Egyptian and Tunisian. I have also noticed that when people speak their dialect deliberately they can communicate with people who they normally have trouble understanding. Finally The Bedouin of most countries have closer lahajat than sedentary people. This site has free textbooks which compare Eastern to Western and Egyptian to Levantine.
  20. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    I found this interesting reasearch on Arabic diglossia, similarities between fuS-HA and `ammiyya and and the trends:

    That's in line with what I said in my previous post but the author said it better.

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