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The sea of Arabic dialects is vast, with dialects being spoken by more than 300 million native speakers. These dialects can be categorized into various groups based on variety of factors. The most popular factor to categorize the Arabic dialects is based on geographical location. These dialectal groups are Arabian Peninsula Arabic, Eastern Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, Levantine Arabic, and North African Arabic.
All Arabic dialects are based off either the Modern Standard Arabic or Classical Arabic framework, meaning there are noticeable similarities between dialects despite them also differing from one another. Below are the most common dialects of Arabic you will most likely hear spoken:
This form of Arabic is the most widely spoken dialect, not only by 60 million people in Egypt, but also across the Middle East and parts of Africa thanks to its prevalent use in Arabic movies, television shows, music, books and news media. Egyptian Arabic uses much of the same vocabulary found in MSA (Modern Standard Arabic), though there are noticeable unique characteristics including a different grammar and sentence structure in its writing and a peculiar pronunciation of certain words and letters such as coffee and the letter jeem (G).
This Arabic dialect is the common form of Arabic spoken in the eastern part of the Middle East along the Mediterranean Sea in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. Levantine Arabic is the second largest Arabic dialect spoken and is also featured in Arabic films, Arab news broadcasts and television programs. Similar to Egyptian Arabic, this dialect also closely follows the vocabulary of Modern Standard Arabic. However, the Levantine dialect has unique lexical, phonological and grammatical characteristics including the personal pronouns such as “I,” “he,” and “she.” Some greetings and expressions and the simplification of verbs are also unique features of the Levantine dialect. Depending on the social context and one’s location, the Levantine dialect can have up to 12 different forms of personal pronouns.
This dialect of Arabic is spoken by various tribes within the country of Sudan. Many tribes have different dialects of the Sudanese Arabic. This form of Arabic is so widely spoken that it has developed its own Arabic dialect. This Arabic dialect varies widely from MSA used in other Arabic dialects in the form of pronunciation and vocabulary.
This Arabic dialect, which is mostly spoken Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey contain vocabulary and linguistic elements borrowed from other languages such as Turkish and Farsi. This is largely due to the area’s multiculturalist history.
Peninsular or Gulf Arabic
Peninsular or Gulf Arabic also has many different forms and sub-dialects because his area is also multicultural. This form of Arabic is seen as closest to MSA as it has fewer loan words from other languages than other dialects. This dialect is commonly spoken in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
North African Maghrebi Arabic
This Arabic dialect is spoken in Northern Africa in countries such as Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. The dialects here have been heavily influenced by the area’s history of European colonization with several loan words and word pronunciation from romantic languages like Spanish and French. An example of this is the pronunciation of the letter jeem in dajaal (chicken) which is pronounced like the “j” in “bonjour” instead of “j” in “jay.” The North African Arabic dialect also has some elements of the Berber language as well. This dialect of Arabic is spoken very fast and requires much concentration to understand.
The most common form of greeting is a handshake and the phrase “Assalaam ‘alaikum” (May peace be upon you), to which the reply is “Wa ‘alaikum assalaam” (And peace be upon you). In Iran, It is generally expected that the person with the lower status greet the other individual first. For greetings between men and women, a handshake may be acceptable in certain circumstances and the woman must extend her hand first. If she does not, a man should bow his head as a sign of acknowledgement. Kissing on the cheek is acceptable if they are very closely related. For greetings between both men and women who are meeting each other for the first time, a simple nod of acknowledgement or a light handshake with the right hand is common. Friends and relatives tend to kiss on both cheeks while shaking hands. In Lebanon, people often address one another as 'habibi', meaning “my love” in Arabic. This is an affectionate way to address friends and family and is used very often and casually.
It is common for Arabic speakers to rely on indirect communication. One’s express point is generally reached in a long, roundabout way. This has the purpose of avoiding embarrassment or offence and respecting the other person in the conversation. In Saudi Arabia, Arabic speakers would generally strive to maintain group harmony by avoiding individual attention or singling out a specific person. In Lebanon, Arabic speakers have few reservations about yelling to make themselves heard and often speak with impassioned, loud voices. That being said, a raised voice is not always a sign of anger but rather an expression of a genuine feeling. In Egypt and Lebanon, Arabic speakers are quite expressive and passionate when they converse. They have a tendency to be evocative and verbose by telling stories and using wordplay and jokes. In Israel, Arabic speakers can be very humorous. A common aspect of Israeli humour is chizbat, which refers to humorous anecdotes and tall tales.
Personal Space and Touching
Arabic speakers are usually comfortable hugging and touching friends of the same gender. It is common for two men to hold hands in public when they are sitting or walking somewhere as a gesture of friendship. However, physical contact between people of the opposite gender should be avoided altogether out of respect and politeness (unless they are family). In Sudan, it is best to keep at least one meter distance between you and another person to respect the modesty of the other person if you do not know them well.
Eye Contact and Gestures
When talking to people of the same age, gender or status, direct eye contact is expected. Strong eye contact indicates sincerity and trust, especially in business. However, males and females are expected to lower their gaze and avoid sustained eye contact with each other. Some men may look at the ground to avoid observing a female altogether. This is considered respectful and observant of the partition between genders. Younger people may also lower their gaze when speaking to elders out of respect. It is rude to beckon or point at someone with one’s index finger. Instead, the whole hand should be used to gesture.
Arabic Culture Reference Guide
United Arab Emirates
If you count all of the varieties of today’s Arabic together, you can safely estimate that there are about 400 million Arabic speakers in the whole world, making it the fifth most-spoken language globally behind Mandarin, Spanish, English and Hindi.
Egypt holds the record for the largest Modern Standard Arabic-using population at around 65 million people. Arabic is the official language for 22 countries. These countries include: