Varieties of the Arabic language

Learning another language is an amazing and rewarding experience that everybody should try at least once during their lifetime. There are many different languages in this vast world, each with its own unique features.

The Arabic language will open your eyes and mind to a whole different world full of amazing opportunities. As the official language of more than 20 countries and mother language of more than 380 million people, learning it will open so many doors before you, both in the personal and professional aspects of your life.

But Arabic, unlike English, doesn’t have a unique vocabulary to be used by all of the speakers. Instead, there is a great variety of dialects, which can be so different from each other that people speaking them might not be able to understand each other at all, even though technically they are speaking the same language.

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about different Arabic dialects before starting to learn the language and how to choose which one to learn first.

Without further ado, let’s dive right in!

Table of contents:

1. The origins of the Arabic and it’s dialects
2. How many different Arabic dialectics are out here?
3. Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic

The origins of the Arabic and it’s dialect

The origins of the Arabic language can be traced back to the Arabian Peninsula. This is believed to be the language used by the nomadic tribes in the northwestern part of the peninsula. In fact, the name of the language, “Arabic”, originates from the Arabic word for nomads – “Arabs”, or simply said, it’s a language used by the nomads.

It is still speculated by many for how many years the language has existed. This is because we know for certain that even before there were any records of written Arabic, the language has been used for many years by the nomadic tribes.

But how did this language come to be one of the most popular languages in the entire world and an official language of so many countries?

Well, the spread of the Arabic began with the traveling of the same nomadic tribes outside of the Arabic Peninsula. They began to settle in further and further away territories and thus spread the language upon the local population. This also gave the birth of a great variety of dialects, due to the influence of the local languages and culture on the Arabic.

However, the most rapid growth of the Arabic language occurred in the 7th century C.E. This was the time of the Islamic Conquests during which period the language found its way to the Northern parts of Africa, the Middle East and even as further as the eastern regions of today’s China.

All of the conquered territories and nations had their own unique languages and culture, so each of these regions had a different influence on the Arabic used there. This is why there are so many and so different varieties of Arabic today, as these dialects are the outcome of the clash between the different cultures and the influence they had on each other.

How many different Arabic dialectics are out here?

Arabic people

The answer to this question is simple – a lot. The reason because we can’t determine an exact number of Arabic dialects, or even something close to it, lays again in the fact that Arabic is being used by so many different people, in so many different parts of the world, each with its unique culture and traditions.

We already talked about how these different dialects came to be and how over the years the differences between them have become even bigger. In order for us to make things more simple, we’ve labeled the different dialects based on the borders of the countries in which they are used. Or in other words, we’ve labeled them as regional dialects.

Here are some examples of the most commonly used regional Arabic dialects:

• Egyptian Arabic
• Sudanese Arabic
• Levantine Arabic
• Yemeni Arabic
• Gulf Arabic
• Hijazi Arabic
• Iraqi Arabic
• Maghreb Arabic

Each of them corresponds to a group of people living in a certain region of the world. Some of them are used mostly in a certain country (for example Egyptian Arabic is most commonly used in Egypt), while others might be common in several countries (for example Levantine Arabic is often used in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and some parts of Jordan).

The problem with this classification is that it is very simplified and in reality, it doesn’t really present a clear picture of the great variety of Arabic dialects out there. In fact, it is simply an artificial categorization of the different varieties of Arabic.

Each of these regional dialects is labeled as an official dialect of the counties in which is widely used. But it isn’t actually used in the same way by the people inside of these counties. So, there are actually dialects within the regional dialects.

Yes, this might sound a bit complicated, but in reality, there is a perfectly logical explanation about this. People within each of these regions have a different background. Some of them are poor, some of them are wealthy. Some of them live in the cities, some of them live in the countryside. Some people have different ethnic background than others and some people have different beliefs than others.

All of these differences have their influence on how people use a certain language. For example, you can tell the difference between a local Irishman speaking English and a person from Texas right away, right?

But how do all of these people even communicate with each other?

Modern Standard Arabic and Classic Arabic

Modern Standard Arabic

Modern Standard Arabic is an official language of most of the Arabic speaking countries. MSA (short from Modern Standard Arabic) is used by the majority of the Arabs and is a universal form of communication between them. It is taught in schools and it is most commonly used in the radio, television, magazines, and newspapers.

MSA is an artificial project of the 19th century, however, and not an actual dialect by itself. It is a result of the efforts to create universal and standardized Arabic for the entire Arab-speaking world. Its purpose is to be used as a written language, as most dialects are usually used only verbally and to make the communication between different Arab counties and with the rest of the world easier.

So, people within a certain region are still using their dialect to communicate with each other informally, but also understand MSA, so they can communicate with outsiders and get all of the information they need through the media.

MSA actually originates from the Classic Arabic, which is the language of Qur’an. The difference is that the modern version is very simplified for its purposes and has been influenced by English and other modern languages.

Classic Arabic origins can be traced back to the 6th century C.E. and is considered to be the pure form of the Arabic language. Today, though, it isn’t commonly used as a form of communication and is rather used in the readings of the Qur’an.

So, do you need to learn a dialect and which one should you choose to learn first?

Well, what you need to do is to learn the MSA first and there is no going around it. After all, this is its purpose – to be used as a universal form of communication and as commonly used written Arabic. This is especially true if you need Arabic for professional purposes and your intentions are to find a job, which requires a knowledge of the language.

If you want to learn Arabic just for the amazing experience and to be able to enjoy some of the great Arabic pieces of literature in their original form, then MSA might be enough for you.

But if you want to travel or move to an Arabic-speaking country, you might want to also learn the local dialect. After all, once you are there you will want to be able to communicate with the locals and this will definitely happen by using the local dialect.

So, the best thing you can do is plan out carefully what your intentions are, do some research on the local dialects to find out what you need to learn. Sure, once there you will start learning the language by practicing it, but we advise taking some lessons first to get the basics, makes the things a lot easier.

So, all in all, you need to know that Arabic has many different dialects and variations. That MSA is used as a formal and universal mean of communication, so you will need it to get information from the media and for your work. Also, if you want to interact with locals freely you will also want to learn to speak their dialect.

Sounds too complicated? It isn’t in reality. Once you start learning Arabic and get used to it, you will start finding some of the common rules and patterns in the different dialects and things will get much easier.

So, what are you waiting for? Begin this new and awesome journey now, start learning Arabic!