Arabic Language Blog

Colloquial dialects in Arabic – Some features of Egyptian Colloquial Arabic Posted by on Feb 17, 2009 in Uncategorized

Like most languages of the world, Arabic has many varieties. The most basic distinctions between different varieties of Arabic are based on medium, i.e. written or spoken, and geographical location. There is one main modern written variety of Arabic, namely Modern Standard Arabic or (MSA). This variety is used in writing and in formal talk, i.e. in reading the news, giving religious speeches and in talking at conferences. It is also the variety learned by most foreign learners of Arabic.

          The spoken dialects of Arabic are numerous. They differ from one country to another, and there are different accents of the same dialect within the same country. The differences between those dialects can be so great to the extent of mutual unintelligibility. For instance, it is hard for a Lebanese to understand a Moroccan. Yet, all speakers of Arabic in all Arab countries have no difficulty understanding Egyptian Colloquial Arabic (ECA).

          ECA has always enjoyed a prestigious position among all regional dialects of Arabic and has always been the most widely spread of them all, due to the strength of Egyptian media and due to the roles that Egyptian scholars and professionals, as well as ordinary people have played in the development of other Arab countries. Besides, Egypt has always played a leading role in the Arab world.

          There are many similarities and differences between ECA and MSA at all levels. On the phonological level, certain sounds in MSA are modified in ECA, so as to be easier in pronunciation, e.g.

The letter /ث/ is pronounced /th/ in MSA, yet it is pronounced either as /t/, e.g. (ثلاثة)“three” or /s/, e.g. (مثير) “exciting” in ECA. 

The letter /ج/ is pronounced /j/ in MSA and /g/ in ECA, e.g. (جميل) “beautiful”

The letter /ذ/ is pronounced /th/ in MSA, yet it is pronounced either as /z/, e.g. (ذكي) “intelligent” or /d/, e.g. (ذيل) “tail” in ECA. 

The letters /ص – ض – ط – ظ/arepronounced less emphatically in ECA.

The letter /ق/ is pronounced /q/ in MSA and /’a/ in ECA, e.g. (قمر) “moon” and (قلم) “pen”

The hamza, especially in final positions in not pronounced at all in ECA, e.g. (الثلاثاء) “Tuesday” and (الأربعاء) “Wednesday”

The definite article /ال / is pronounced /al/ in MSA and /el/ in ECA, e.g. (الطالب) “the student” and (البيت)“the house”.

The final voweling on words in MSA which is related to the functions of words in a sentence does not exist in ECA, and all words end in سكون.


At word level, ECA has numerous words that are similar to MSA, and the rules of pronunciation of ECA apply e.g. (علم) “science” (طالب) “student”, (مكتبة) “library”.

There are other words that are different, e.g. (امبارح) “yesterday” (النهاردة) “today”, (بكرة) “tomorrow(. At the sentence level, ECA has its own rules for conjugating verbs in the past, present, future, negation, etc.

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  1. usman:

    very informative, great work!