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The Reason for the Dissimilarity Between Different Arabic
Zaki Obaid
Horizon International School
April 2019
I dedicate my dissertation work to my family and many friends. A special
feeling of gratitude to my loving parents, Hani Obaid and Rita, whose words of
encouragement and push for tenacity ring in my ears. My brother and sister, Joe
and Rodrica, have never left my side and are very special. I also dedicate this
dissertation to my many friends and my kind and helpful supervisor, Mr. Alaa
At the very outset, my head kneels before Almighty God, the creator of the
whole world, the most Gracious and Benevolent, for bestowing His favor upon
me. Due to His blessings, I complete this research study which would otherwise
have not been possible.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Mr. Alaa Maayah, my thesis
supervisor, for his help and guidance, enthusiastic and useful notes on this thesis.
In addition, I would like to acknowledge the moral and financial support of
my parents throughout the study.
Table of Contents
Thesis Title ………………………………………………………1
Dedication ……………………………………………………… 2
Acknowledgments ……………………………………………… 3
Table of Contents………………………………………………... 4
List of Phonetic Symbols ……………………………………… 6
Abstract ………………………………………………………
Chapter One: Introduction
1.1 Overview …………………………………………………… 9
1.2 Dialects …………………………………………………… 11
1.2.1 Difference between Dialect and Language ……………… 13
Chapter Two: Review of Related Studies
2.0 Introduction ………………………………………………
2.1 Studies Related to Dialects ………………………………
Chapter Three: Methodology
3.0 Introduction ……………………………………………… 17
3.1 Population of the Study ……………………………………
3.2 Sample of the Study ………………………………………
3.3 Data Collection ……………………………………………
3.4 Data Analysis ……………………………………………
Chapter Four: Findings and Discussions
4.0 Introduction ………………………………………………
4.1 Education and Literacy …………………………………… 19
4.2 Conquests and Colonization ……………………………… 20
4.2.1 Syrian Dialect …………………………………………
4.2.2 North African Dialect …………………………………
4.2.3 Jordanian Dialect ………………………………………… 23
4.2.4 Egyptian Dialect…………………………………………
25 Geography ……………………………………………
27 Mixture of Languages …………………………………
Chapter Five: Summary and Conclusions
5.0 Introduction ………………………………………………… 29
‫‪List of Arabic Phonetic Symbols‬‬
‫‪Arabic Letter‬‬
‫يه ي‬
‫االلف الممدودة‬
‫الواو الساكنة وما قبلها مضموم‬
‫الياء الساكنة وما قبلها مكسور‬
Obaid, Zaki. H The Reason for the Dissimilarity Between
Different Arabic Dialects
This study was designed to shed the light on four dialects or
varieties of the Arabic language. It aimed at: (a) determining the
factor that influences the difference in Arabic dialects from one
country and another, (b) studying the reason as to why the
Egyptian dialect is so different from other Arabic-speaking
countries and whether its location on the map, being in Africa,
influences that, and (c) finding out what causes the Syrian,
Lebanese, and Jordanian dialects to be closely related or similar.
The study used four Arabic vernaculars, Syrian, North African,
Jordanian, and Egyptian, and compared their current colloquial
dialects to languages of the countries that occupied their respective
countries. The results showed that in fact conquests and contact
between two languages do influence the modern dialect in terms of
vocabulary used.
Key Words: Arabic dialects, Language contact
Chapter One
1.1 Overview
There are numerous varieties of Arabic, also known as dialects of Arabic or
vernacular languages, in existence. Arabic is a Semitic language originally of
the Arabs of the Hejaz and Nejd that is now the prevailing speech of a wide region
of southwestern Asia and northern Africa (Merriam Webster). It is the official
language of 22 countries, stretching from the Arabian Peninsula up to Syria, and
across North Africa, and is spoken by over 200 million people. It is recognized
as a macrolanguage made up of 30 modern assortments, including its standard
form. The most recognizable divisions occur between the spoken languages of
different regions. For instance, varieties of Arabic in North Africa, including
those of Egypt, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria, are not easily
interpreted to an Arabic speaker from the Levant, a historical geographical term
referring to the historical region of Syria. Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan
are the major countries that make up the Levant.
Another major distinction exists between the colloquial spoken varieties, or
language used in ordinary or familiar conversations, and the formal standardized
language, used in news broadcasts, legal documents, official speeches, books, and
newspapers. Generally, children acquire the regionally prevalent variety as their
first language while the formal language is subsequently learned in school.
The most significant differences between the standard and the colloquial Arabic
1) loss of grammatical case
Cases describe the grammatical functions of nouns, pronouns and noun phrases,
such as whether they are the subject of the clause or a subordinate object. Types
of cases include:
a) Nominative case - ‫( المرفوع‬al-marfū3):
‫ذهب الولدُ إلى المدرسة‬.
(dahaba l-waladu ila l-madrasati.)
b) Accusative case - ‫( المنصوب‬al-manSūb):
‫( ال تشعل نارا‬la tuš3il nāran)
c) Genitive case - ‫( المجرور‬al-majrūr)
‫( إلى اليمين‬ila l-yamīni)
2) a different and strict word order
3) restriction in the use of the dual number and the loss of the feminine plural.
4) loss of grammatical mood, verbs that allow speakers to express their attitude
toward what they are saying (e.g. a statement of fact, of desire, of command, etc.).
Arabic has three moods: indicative, subjunctive and jussive. Indicative is the
default mood.
1.2 Dialects
According to Wolfram Schilling, dialect is a neutral label to refer to any
variety of a language that is shared by a group of speakers. All dialects or varieties
of a language are fully developed systems, not simply oddities as people might
think. As Max Weinreich said, a language is a dialect with an army and navy.
Everybody who talks a language talks some variety of the language; it is beyond
impossible to expect to talk a language without talking a dialect of the language.
A few dialects get much more consideration than others, however this social
acknowledgment is random to vernacular status. Dialects result from
unsuccessful attempts to speak the “correct” form of a language is one commonly
known myth. In reality, dialect speakers adopt their language by acquiring the
speech patterns of those around them. Dialects, like all language systems, are
systematic and regular; socially disfavored dialects can be described with the
same kind of linguistic precision as socially favored, prestigious language
“The varieties in (1a) – (1g) may all be called English is some sense, but it is
not at evident that these varieties represent the same language. Likewise, the
varieties in (1h) – (1k) may be characterized as Arabic, but this does not
necessarily mean that only one language is involved, and what we have referred
to here as one variety, Standard Written Arabic in (1p), may be divided into at
least two different varieties, Classical Arabic (the language of the Quran and
writers like Ibn Khaldun) and Modern Literary Arabic (the language of modern
newspapers and many modern authors.” (Richard Hudson, 1996)
1.2.1 Difference between Language and Dialect
Different notions or ideas regarding the differences between languages and
dialects have emerged over the course of the past few years. One notion state that
a language is generally bigger, as in has a larger population of speakers and is
spread over a wider area than a dialect. “Another such notion is that dialects are
subsets of language, or that a language is generally believed to be the 'standard'
or 'correct' form and that a dialect is somehow inferior.” (McPeek, 2011)
However, 'mutual intelligibility' - that is to say, that if two speakers of different
varieties can understand one another, then they are speaking different dialects of
the same language; and if two speakers of different varieties cannot understand
one another, then they are speaking different language, is the most accepted idea.
“It is interesting to note that, for the majority of cases, this distinction works someone who speaks Standard English will be able to understand someone who
speaks in the Yorkshire variation, but will not be able to understand someone who
speaks Welsh.” (Crystal, 2010, p.25) However, not all cases fit such a criterion.
As a matter of fact, both the Norwegian and Swedish, although being mutually
intelligible, are identified as two separate languages.
Chapter Two
Review of Related Literature
2.0 Introduction
This chapter analyzes previous studies that investigate the different
varieties of the Arabic language in terms of grammatical and syntaxial
2.1 Studies Related to Dialects
Yasir Suleiman’s book “A War of Words: Language and Conflict in the
Middle East” (2004) draws a connection between national identity and language,
as in the way in which a language can be altered to imply certain political,
cultural, or even historical difference. Suleiman’s analysis provides enough
evidence to prove Arabic as an alternative device for investigating the different
and various conflicts in the Middle East and revealing the diversity of people and
their viewpoints. Suleiman’s book offers an abundance of observational material
and powerful illustrations of hostility. For example, Gazans would every now and
again react “bomba” (Couldn’t be better) to questions about their health. They
showed optimism in the face of Israeli bombings by drawing a phonetic
connection between the Arabic “bomba” and the English word “bomb”.
Caubet, Janet C.E Watson’s “Arabic in the City: Issues in Dialect Contact
and Language Variation” book (2007) examines the interplay between
urbanization, language variation and language change in fifteen major Arab
cities. History of settlement, the linguistic impact of migration, and the emergence
of new urban vernaculars are all topics that have been discussed in this book.
Containing a broad selection of case studies from across the Arab world and
featuring contributions from leading urban sociolinguistics and dialectologists,
this book presents a fresh approach to our understanding of the interaction
between language, society and space. As such, the book will appeal to the linguist
as well as to the social scientist in general.
Clive Holes (2009) introduces an analysis of how changes in the social
structure of the countries of the Arabic-speaking Middle East are being reflected
in new patterns of dialect use, since the last 30 years have seen an enormously
increased interest in Arabic as a living mode of everyday communication,
reflected in many dialectological, typological and sociolinguistic studies.
Mirjam Ballmer, David Bauer, Sibylle Bläsi, Elisabeth Dickinson, Daniela
Flückiger, Samuel Mattli, and Michael Späth (2014) shed the light on the
significance of dialects in terms of how much they tell about Language history.
The main point discussed in this paper is the fact that dialects can be used to
account for and describe developments and changes in a particular language.
They conclude that because dialects of a specific language are always a product
of their historical evolution, they can be used as pointers to reconstruct historical
events and illuminate how and why a language changed over time.
Kathrein Abu Kwaik, Motaz Saad, Stergios Chatzikyriakidis, and Simon
Dobnik (2018) analyze one of the most prominent dialects of the Arabic language,
the Levantine Arabic. In this paper, Levantine dialects which are spoken in
Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon and collecting a corpus of their usage from
social media, labeled as Shami, is the main aim of the study.
The unique point that makes this study different is the procedures it takes in
order to prove the thesis of this paper. The researcher draws a connection between
languages and dialects of countries that have been occupied from different
regions of the world. The dialects chosen are original and probably an open-field
that haven’t been studied or analyzed before.
Chapter Three
3.0 Introduction
This chapter describes the population and the sample of the study. Data
collection and analysis are also mentioned.
3.1 Population of the Study
The population of the study are all native speakers of the Arabic language
and dialects of the Middle East and North Africa.
3.2 Sample of the Study
The sample of the study consists of four different Arabic vernaculars or
varieties, Syrian, North African, Jordanian, and Egyptian.
3.3 Data Collection
This study is analytical in nature. It mostly depends on collecting the
linguistic habits of the specified Arabic dialects and finding their origins.
3.4 Data Analysis
The analyzed data are the specified vernaculars. The analysis is based on
comparing a dialect of a certain country to the language of the country
occupying it.
Chapter Four
Findings and Discussions
4.0 Introduction
This chapter aims at analyzing the several and different reasons regarding
the wide variety of vernaculars or dialects of the Arabic language. In addition, the
limitations which have been shown to agree with variation in different Arabicspeaking communities.
4.1 Education and Literacy
Education is one of many limitations within which the vernacular variation
of Arabic is widespread. It is considered as one of the most essential factors
contributing to the variation in modern-day Arabic. Since Standard Arabic (SA)
is the Arabic used in instruction, this variety has become attainable to a large
portion of the Arabic-speaking population. Its use in education is strengthened by
its use in many public forms, those include religious contexts, media, and
communication between Arabs of different regional origins. Educated Spoken
Arabic (ESA) is the name given for this variety, the one taught in schools.
Both native varieties of Arabic (NA), traditionally called dialects, and SA
are thought of as the essential components that make up ESA. NA is considered
as the basic input, which will be altered in the direction of SA. Although this
notion may be uncontroversial or known for someone who lives and works in
Arab countries, finding a distinction between natively learned native Arabic and
formally learned SA is of foundational importance.
Three reasons may be specified for this interpretation of ESA. According to
Ibrahim (1983), the first reason is that SA is formally learned in school whereas
NA is learned at home. For the second reason, several observational patterns
suggest that NA acts as a base variety. Take for example the word bi-yu-qal “it is
said”. It is composed of an Egyptian Arabic prefix bi- + an SA preformative
vowel. And according to Meyers-Scotton, affixal material is regarded as crucial
in the definition of language, proving NA as the basis variety. Third and final
reason is that generally people tend to express excitement or anger using the NA
4.2 Conquests and Colonization
One of the most prominent factors that influence any dialect is conquests or
conflict between two countries of different language origins. People may invade
a land whose people speak a language of their own, fighting a violent struggle
between the mother tongue; Thus, the inevitable result is either the elimination of
one language or the creation of a new language derived between the two
"invasive" languages. TO further illustrate this point, the Syrian, Jordanian, North
African, and Egyptian dialects will be examined in order to prove this point
4.2.1 Syrian Dialect Origin
Since the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire had administrative control over
most of the Middle East and North Africa, from Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Yemen,
Hijaz, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria. Like most societies under colonial or imperial
rule, Arabs looked up to Turkey and everything Turkish. Many things were
borrowed, adopted, integrated, and imitated. As a result, the Syrian dialect is
largely influenced by that of Turkey.
The following is a list of words used commonly by Syrian people which are
originally found in the list of Turkish vocabulary words.
Table 1. Similarities between Syrian and Turkish Dialects
Equivalent to “Ok”
“Finished”, “over”, “done”
Ice cream
Carbonated Drink
flower seller
As the table shows, it is evident that many words regularly spoken by Syrian
people are in fact adopted from the Turkish language.
4.2.2 North African Dialect Origins
In the 19th century, the decline of the Ottoman Empire, which had loosely
controlled the area since the 16th century, left the region vulnerable to other
forces. In 1830, French troops captured Algiers and from 1848 until
independence in 1962, France treated Mediterranean Algeria as an integral part
of France, the Métropole or metropolitan France (Roland Anthony Oliver,
1986). Seeking to expand their influence beyond Algeria, the French
established protectorates to the east and west of it. The French protectorate of
Tunisia was established in 1881, following a military invasion, and the French
protectorate in Morocco in 1912 (William E. Watson, 2003). These lasted until
1955, in the case of Morocco, and 1956, when Tunisia gained full independence.
The French language is so ingrained and prevalent in the North African
linguistic habits. As a result, this variety has a name of its own ‘Frarabe’,
‘’Aransiyya’ or ‘Franco-Arabe’. Take for example the phrase ‘dak l-warqa bleue’
“that blue paper”. The French word bleue is implemented in a phrase that consists
of Arabic words as well. This is called code-switching (CS), which “refers to the
mixing, by bilinguals (or multilinguals), of two or more languages in discourse,
often with no change of interlocutor or topic.” (K. Reusser, 2001)
4.2.3 Jordanian Dialect
The modern Jordanian dialect, known as the hybrid form, was formed after
Amman was named a capital for the Jordanian kingdom, which was in the early
20th century. This variety is a result of the different languages whom people from
northern Jordan, southern Jordan and later from Palestine brought into the country
as they moved in. As a result of this mixing, the Jordanian dialect includes a
mixture of features of the Arabic varieties spoken by these populations. The
northern Jordanian dialect had a strong influence on the emergence of the modern
Jordanian dialect.
In Amman, for example, one notes the coexistence of rural/urban Palestinian
dialects and rural/Bedouin Jordanian dialects. Jordanian men are said to keep
their Bedouin pronunciation (cf. *q = [g]) and to have a favorable attitude toward
it, while urban Palestinian men tend to hide their Palestinian identity and to adopt
the Bedouin pronunciation (Abdel Jawad 1986, Sawaie 1994).
In Enam Al-Wer’s paper, she sums up the stages of the formation of the
dialect of Amman. “In Stage I, first generation speakers arrived in the city as
adults. They spoke the dialects which they had acquired as children in their
home towns. In the context of a location where no one was native to the place,
they came into contact with speakers of different dialects. To the extent that
they were linguistically capable of acquiring new habits, or alter old habit, and
through contact with and exposure to speakers of other dialects, their native
dialects underwent rudimentary levelling, Their children, Stage II, the first
native-born generation, were not only exposed to the dialects of their parents,
but, in their formative years and unlike their parents, they were also exposed to
a wide range of variations. In other words, they would have acquired a variable
model. The data from this generation showed that the mixture of features from
more than one dialect stock was still present in their speech as adults, and
although some of the features which appear in the third generation appear in the
second generation, in Stage II there is little stability, which she described as a
chaotic situation, a defuse language situation in the terms of Le Page &
Tabouret –Keller (1985). In Stage III, the second native-born generation, some
aspects of the koineisation process continue (e.g reallocation). However, there is
an evolution of norms, stability of usage, and reduction of the extreme
variability found in Stage II. In the Amman situation, the derivation
Ammaniyyiin may be considered as an emblem of such identification.” (Eman
Al-Wer, 2007)
4.2.4 Egyptian Dialect
The modern Egyptian colloquial dialect is largely influenced by the Coptic
language, also known as Coptic Egyptian. “It was the spoken language of ancient
Egypt until the Arab Conquest of Egypt in the seventh century. It was recorded
first in the hieroglyphic (sacred) script, the earliest form of Egyptian pictorial
writing, and succeeded by the hieratic (priestly), which was the simplified
running script, and the demotic (from "demos," meaning people), which became
the popular form of Egyptian writing.” (Ishaq, Emile Maher, 1991)
In fact, many Coptic words are still applied in the Egyptian linguistic habits.
Coptic meaning
from the Coptic word “aha meaning yes
from the Coptic word “seb-sweb” which means the
measurement of feet
Coptic for woman
derived from the Coptic for ignore
Coptic for crumbs or small pieces
the Coptic word for small/little
Moreover, the Turkish language is also put into practice in the Egyptian
dialect. As is the case with Syria, Egypt was also occupied by the Ottomans in
1517. As a result, Egyptians learned the Turkish language at that time and carried
or borrowed words that are implement now in the Egyptian vernacular.
Brigde. The original Arabic words is ‫جسر‬
(Jessr) or ‫( قنطرة‬Qantara)
A story in a building. The correct Arabic
term is ‫( طابق‬Tabiq).
Room. The original Arabic is ‫( غرفة‬Ghorfa)
Affirmative answer. Used when replying to
a superior, especially in the military.
Affirmative answer. In everyday use.
Maker of Kabab (skewered meat)
The Egyptian dialect has always been a question mark to everyone,
including Egyptians themselves. Each Arabic speaking country has its own accent
or dialect — most countries are split into groups though. The Levantine dialects
for instance are quite similar, the Gulf countries also share their similarities as
well. However, Egypt happens to be one of the few countries that just stands
alone. Several reasons have been suggested as to why such a distinction occurs. Geography
Because Egypt lies in Africa, it has not come into contact with other Arabic
dialects, such as those of the Levantine, which are found in Asia, Middle East.
Contact between languages is one reason that makes two vernaculars similar in
their features or characteristics (Jonathan Owens). Because Lebanon and Syria
are so close in terms of geographical space, their dialects share a lot of linguistic
features. Predynastic Egypt noticed no large-scale migration and the cultures
were at first largely self-contained. This independence and this isolation from
other countries is what makes Egyptian Arabic so unique to other Arabicspeaking populations. Mixture of Languages
Several languages have had their share of influence on the dialect, some
words were carried over and some were Arabized. This mixture of words from
four or five languages created a divergent vernacular. Ancient Egyptian or Coptic
(tuta tuta), Greek (kanaba, tarabeiza), Turkish (abla, gazma), Persian (kham,
khana), and languages of Latin Origin (doseh, ballona) have had an impact on the
modern Egyptian colloquial vernacular.
Chapter Five
Summary and Conclusions
5.0 Introduction
This chapter provides a summary, some conclusions, and recommendations
for further research.
5.1 Summary and Conclusions
One of the objectives of this study was to determine what factor influences
the emergence of the different Arabic varieties. The factor focused on in this study
was invasions and migrations. The idea was that When invading an area, the
invaders will carry their dialect. Therefore, wars of another kind will begin, which
will eventually decide which dialect will prevail. Either one dialect will be
eliminated, or two dialects will be merged, forming a new dialect that mixes
between the two. To prove this point, the researcher provides a comparison
between a dialect and the language of the country that took over the country of
that vernacular a long time ago. The results show that in fact conquests do
influence the linguistic habits of a dialect largely, especially in the usage of
vocabulary words.
The second main point studied in this paper was whether geography was the
main reason for the uniqueness of the Egyptian dialect. The researcher used other
well-credible research in order to demonstrate this issue. According to Jonathan
Owens, contact between languages is one reason that makes two vernaculars
similar in their features or characteristics. Because Egypt is somewhat isolated,
located in Northeast Africa, little contact occurred between Egypt and the other
Middle Eastern countries. As a result, Levantine Arabic speakers, for example,
find Egyptian colloquial Arabic different and in some way vague.
In addition, the main reason for the similarity between the Syrian, Lebanese,
and Jordanian dialect is geography. Because they happen to be located on the
same regional area, these dialects share a handful of common features. For
example, “/dʒ/ (j in judge) is commonly realized as [ʒ] (s in measure). Moreover,
Interdental consonants /θ, ð/ (th of thing and th of these) are lost and
dental/alveolar consonants /t, d, s, z/ are pharyngealized, i.e., pronounced as [tˤ,
dˤ, sˤ, zˤ].” (Irene Thompson, 2016)
1. Al-Wer, Eman. Arabic in the City. Issues in dialect contact and language
variation. 2009.
2. Al-Wer, Enam. The formation of the dialect of Amman: from chaos to order.
3. Crystal, D., 2010. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. 3rd Edition.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
4. Doss, Madiha, and Catherine Miller. Les Langues En Égypte : Introduction.
26 Apr. 2017.
5. Hudson, Richard. Language and Variation. Vol. 6, 1996. Holes, Clive.
Language and Identity in the Arabian Gulf. 15 Dec. 2011.
6. Maher, Emile. The phonetics and phonology of the Bohairic dialect of Coptic
and the survival of Coptic words in the Colloquial and Classical Arabic of
Egypt and of Coptic Grammatical Constructions in Colloquial Egyptian Arabic.
Sept. 1975.
7. McPeek, T., 2011. The Difference Between a "Language" and a "Dialect"
[video,online].Available from:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbvCD29Sg58 [Last accessed 25 April
8. Merriam Webster.
9. Miller, Catherine. Impact of Migration on Arabic Urban Vernacular:
Advocating a Comparative Analysis. 2003.
10. Miller, Catherine. Arabic Urban Vernaculars: Development and Change. 10
Sept. 2007.
11. Omari, Osama, and Gerard Van Herk. A Sociophonetic Study of Interdental
Variation in Spoken Jordanian Arabic. 15 May 2016
12. Owens, Jonathan. Arabic Sociolinguistics. 2014.
13. Qwaider, Chatrine, and Stergios Chatzikyriakidis. Shami: A Corpus of
Levantine Arabic Dialects. 2018.
14. Thompson, Irene. Arabic (Levantine). 6 July 2016.