Egyptian Arabic is the language spoken by contemporary Egyptians. It is more commonly known locally as the Egyptian colloquial language or Egyptian dialect. Look below for local namings.
Egyptian Arabic is a variety of the Arabic languages of the Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic language family. It originated in the Nile Delta in Lower Egypt around the capital Cairo. Descended from the spoken Arabic brought to Egypt during the seventh-century AD Muslim conquest, its development was influenced by the indigenous Coptic of pre-Islamic Egypt, and later by other languages such as Turkish/Ottoman Turkish, Italian, French and English. The 80 million Egyptians speak a continuum of dialects, among which Cairene is the most prominent. It is also understood across most of the Arab World due to the predominance of Egyptian media, making it the most widely spoken and one of the most widely studied varieties of Arabic.][
While it is essentially a spoken language, it is encountered in written form in novels, plays, poems (vernacular literature), as well as in comics, advertising, some newspapers, and transcriptions of popular songs. In most other written media and in television news reporting, Literary Arabic is used. Literary Arabic is a standardized language based on the language of the Quran, i.e. Classical Arabic. The Egyptian vernacular is almost universally written in the Arabic alphabet for local consumption, although it is commonly transcribed into Latin letters or in the International Phonetic Alphabet in linguistics text and textbooks aimed at teaching non-native learners. Also, it is written in ASCII Latin alphabet mainly online and in SMSs.
Egyptians know the dialect as the Egyptian colloquial language ( [note B]) or Egyptian dialect ( [note C]; abbreviated: "Egyptian"). However, it is also named the Modern Egyptian Language (, IPA: [note A])
The terms Egyptian Arabic and Masri are usually used synonymously with Cairene Arabic, the dialect of the Egyptian capital. The country's native name, , is used locally to refer to the capital Cairo itself. Similar to the role played by Parisian French, Egyptian Arabic is by far the most dominant in all areas of national life.
Egyptian Arabic is spoken natively by more than 52 million Egyptians and as a second language by most of the remaining 24 million Egyptians in several regional dialects, as well as by immigrant Egyptian communities in the Middle East, Europe, North America, Australia and South East Asia. Among the spoken varieties of Arabic, standard Egyptian Arabic (based on the dialect of the Egyptian capital) is the only one to have become a lingua franca in other parts of the Arabic-speaking world for two main reasons: the proliferation and popularity of Egyptian films and other media in the region since the early 20th century; and the great number of Egyptian teachers and professors who were instrumental in setting up the education systems of various countries in the Arabian Peninsula and who also taught there and in other countries such as Algeria and Libya. Also many Lebanese artists choose to sing in Egyptian as well as Lebanese.
The Egyptians slowly adopted the Arabic language as a written language following the Arab-Muslim conquest of Egypt in the 7th century AD. Up until then, they were speaking either Greek or Egyptian in its Coptic form. For more than three centuries, there existed a period of Coptic-Arabic bilingualism in Lower Egypt. This trend would last for many more centuries in the south. Arabic may have been already familiar to Egyptians through pre-Islamic trade with Bedouin Arab tribes in the Sinai Peninsula, and the easternmost part of the Nile Delta. Egyptian Arabic seems to have begun taking shape in Fustat, the first Islamic capital of Egypt, and now part of modern-day Cairo.
One of the earliest linguistic sketches of Egyptian Arabic is a 16th century document entitled (, "The Removal of the Burden from the Language of the People of Egypt") by (). It contains key information on early Egyptian Arabic and the language situation in medieval Egypt. The main purpose of the document was to show that while the Egyptians' vernacular contained many critical "errors" vis-à-vis Classical Arabic, according to Maġribi, it was also related to Arabic in other respects. With the ongoing Islamization, and Arabization of the country, Egyptian Arabic slowly supplanted spoken Egyptian. Local chroniclers mention the continued use of Coptic Egyptian as a spoken language until the 17th century AD by peasant women in Upper Egypt. Coptic is still the liturgical language of the Egyptian Coptic Church.
Egyptian Arabic has no official status, and is not officially recognized as a language. Standard Arabic, a modernized form of Classical Arabic (Koranic Arabic), is the official language of Egypt (see diglossia). Interest in the local vernacular began in the 1800s, as the Egyptian national movement for self-determination was taking shape. Questions about the reform and modernization of Arabic came to the fore, and for many decades to follow they were hotly debated in Egyptian intellectual circles. Proposals ranged from developing neologisms to replace archaic terminology in Standard Arabic; to the simplification of syntactical and morphological rules and the introduction of colloquialisms; to complete "Egyptianization" () by abandoning the so-called Standard Arabic in favor of Masri or Egyptian Arabic.
Proponents of language reform in Egypt included Qasim Amin, who also wrote the first Egyptian feminist treatise, former President of the Egyptian University, Ahmed Lutfi el-Sayed, and noted intellectual Salama Moussa. They adopted a modernist, secular approach and disagreed with the assumption that Arabic was an immutable language because of its association with the Quran. The first modern Egyptian novel in which the dialogue was written in the vernacular was Muhammad Husayn Haykal's Zaynab in 1913; it wasn't until 1966 that Mustafa Musharafa's Kantara Who Disbelieved was released - the first novel to be written entirely in Egyptian Arabic. Other notable novelists such as Ihsan Abdel Quddous and Yusuf Idris, and poets such as Salah Jaheen, Abnudi and Fagoumi, helped solidify vernacular literature as a distinct literary genre.
Amongst certain groups within Egypt's elite, Egyptian Arabic enjoyed a brief period of rich literary output. This dwindled with the rise of Egyptian Arab nationalism, which had gained wide popularity in Egypt by the final years of the Egyptian and Sudanese monarchy, as demonstrated vividly by Egypt's involvement in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 under King Farouk. The Egyptian Revolution of 1952, led by Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser, further enhanced the significance of Arab nationalism, making it a central element of Egyptian state policy. The importance of Standard Arabic was re-emphasised in the public sphere by the revolutionary government, and efforts to accord any formal language status to the Egyptian vernacular were ignored. Egyptian Arabic was identified as a mere dialect, and one that was not even spoken universally in Egypt itself, with almost all of Upper Egypt speaking the Saidi dialect of Arabic. Though the revolutionary government heavily sponsored the use of the Egyptian vernacular in films, plays, television programmes, and music, the pre-revolution use of Standard Arabic in official publications was retained.
Linguistic commentators have noted the multi-faceted approach of the Egyptian revolutionaries towards the Arabic language. Whereas Egypt's first President Muhammad Naguib exhibited a preference for using Standard Arabic in his public speeches, his successor Gamal Abdel Nasser was renowned for using the vernacular, and punctuating his speeches with traditional Egyptian words, and expressions. Conversely, Standard Arabic was the norm for state news outlets, including newspapers, magazines, television, and radio. This was especially true of Egypt's national broadcasting company, the Arab Radio and Television Union, which was established with the intent of providing content for the entire Arab World, not merely Egypt, hence the need to broadcast in the standard rather than vernacular. The Voice of the Arabs radio station in particular had an audience from across the region, and the use of anything other than Standard Arabic was viewed as eminently incongruous.
As the status of Egyptian Arabic vis-à-vis Classical Arabic can have such political and religious implications in Egypt, the question of whether Egyptian Arabic should be considered a "dialect" or "language" can be a source of debate. In sociolinguistics, Egyptian Arabic can be seen as one of many distinct varieties which, despite arguably being languages on abstand grounds, are united by a common dachsprache in Literary Arabic (MSA).
Saidi Arabic (Upper Egyptian) is a separate variety in Ethnologue.com and ISO 639-3 as well as in other sources. It carries little prestige nationally though it continues to be widely spoken (19,000,000 speakers) including in the north by rural migrants who have adapted partially to Egyptian Arabic. For example, the Saidi genitive exponent is usually replaced with Egyptian , but the realization of as is retained.][ Second and third-generation migrants are monolingual in the Cairene variety, but maintain cultural and familial ties to the south.][
The traditional division between Lower and Upper Egypt and their respective differences go back to ancient times. Egyptians today commonly refer to the people of the north as () and to those of the south as (). The differences throughout Egypt, however, are more wide ranging and do not neatly correspond to this simple division. There is a linguistic shift from the eastern to the western parts of the delta, and the varieties spoken from Gizah to el Minya are further grouped into a Middle Egypt cluster. Despite these differences, there are features distinguishing all the Egyptian Arabic varieties of the Nile Valley from any other Arabic variety. Such features include reduction of long vowels in open and unstressed syllables, the postposition of demonstratives and interrogatives, the modal meaning of the imperfect, and the integration of the participle.
The Western Egyptian Bedawi Arabic variety of the western desert is different from all other Arabic varieties in Egypt as linguistically it forms part of the Maghrebi group of varieties. The same was formerly true of the Egyptian form of Judaeo-Arabic.][ Eastern Egyptian Bedawi Arabic is also distinct from Egyptian Arabic.
The phonology of Egyptian Arabic (or Cairene) differs slightly from that of other varieties of the Arabic languages and possesses its own unique consonant and vowel inventories. For a more in-depth look at Egyptian Arabic phonology, see the Egyptian Arabic phonology page.
In contrast to CA and MSA, nouns are not inflected for case and lack nunation (with the exception of certain fixed phrases in the accusative case, such as , "thank you"). As all nouns take their pausal forms, singular words and broken plurals simply lose their case endings. In sound plurals and dual forms, where, in MSA, difference in case is present even in pausal forms, the genitive/accusative form is the one preserved. Fixed expressions in the construct state beginning in abu, often geographic names, retain their -u in all cases.
A common set of nouns referring to colors, as well as a number of nouns referring to physical defects of various sorts (ʔaṣlaʕ "bald"; ʔaṭṛaʃ "deaf"; ʔaxṛas "dumb"), take a special inflectional pattern, as shown in the table. Note that only a small number of common colors inflect this way: ʔaḥmaṛ "red"; ʔazraʔ "blue"; ʔaxḍaṛ "green"; ʔaṣfaṛ "yellow"; ʔabyaḍ "white"; ʔiswid "black"; ʔasmaṛ "brown-skinned, brunette"; ʔaʃʔaṛ "blond(e)". The remaining colors are invariable, and mostly so-called nisba adjectives derived from colored objects: bunni "brown" (< bunn "coffee powder"); ṛamaadi "gray" (< ṛamaad "ashes"); banafsigi "purple" (< banafsig "violet"); burtuʔaani "orange" (< burtuʔaan "oranges"); zibiibi "maroon" (< zibiib "raisins"); etc., or of foreign origin: beeʒ "beige" from the French; bamba "pink" from Turkish pembe.
Egyptian Arabic object pronouns are clitics, in that they attach to the end of a noun, verb or preposition, with the result forming a single phonological word rather than separate words. Clitics can be attached to the following types of words:
With verbs, indirect object clitic pronouns can be formed using the preposition li- plus a clitic. Both direct and indirect object clitic pronouns can be attached to a single verb: agíib "I bring", agíb-hu "I bring it", agib-húu-lik "I bring it to you", m-agib-hu-lkíi-ʃ "I do not bring it to you".
Verbs in Arabic are based on a stem made up of three or four consonants. The set of consonants communicates the basic meaning of a verb. Changes to the vowels in between the consonants, along with prefixes and/or suffixes, specify grammatical functions such as tense, person and number, in addition to changes in the meaning of the verb that embody grammatical concepts such as causative, intensive, passive or reflexive.
Each particular lexical verb is specified by two stems, one used for the past tense and one used for non-past tenses along with as subjunctive and imperative moods. To the former stem, suffixes are added to mark the verb for person, number and gender, while to the latter stem, a combination of prefixes and suffixes are added. (Very approximately, the prefixes specify the person and the suffixes indicate number and gender.) The third person masculine singular past tense form serves as the "dictionary form" used to identify a verb, similar to the infinitive in English. (Arabic has no infinitive.) For example, the verb meaning "write" is often specified as kátab, which actually means "he wrote". In the paradigms below, a verb will be specified as kátab/yíktib (where kátab means "he wrote" and yíktib means "he writes"), indicating the past stem (katab-) and non-past stem (-ktib-, obtained by removing the prefix yi-).
The verb classes in Arabic are formed along two axes. One axis (described as "form I", "form II", etc.) is used to specify grammatical concepts such as causative, intensive, passive or reflexive, and involves varying the stem form. For example, from the root K-T-B "write" is derived form I kátab/yíktib "write", form II káttib/yikáttib "cause to write", form III ká:tib/yiká:tib "correspond", etc. The other axis is determined by the particular consonants making up the root. For example, defective verbs have a W or Y as the last root consonant, which is often reflected in paradigms with an extra final vowel in the stem (e.g. ráma/yírmi "throw" from R-M-Y); meanwhile, hollow verbs have a W or Y as the middle root consonant, and the stems of such verbs appear to have only two consonants (e.g. gá:b/yigí:b "bring" from G-Y-B).
Strong verbs are those that have no "weakness" (e.g. W or Y) in the root consonants. Each verb has a given vowel pattern for Past (a or i) and Present (a or i or u). Combinations of each exist.
Form I verbs have a given vowel pattern for past (a or i) and present (a, i or u). Combinations of each exist:
Example: kátab/yíktib "write"
Note that, in general, the present indicative is formed from the subjunctive by the addition of bi- (bi-a- is elided to ba-). Similarly, the future is formed from the subjunctive by the addition of ḥa- (ḥa-a- is elided to ḥa-). The i in bi- or in the following prefix will be deleted according to the regular rules of vowel syncope:
Example: kátab/yíktib "write": non-finite forms
Example: fíhim/yífham "understand"
Boldfaced forms fíhm-it and fíhm-u differ from the corresponding forms of katab (kátab-it and kátab-u due to vowel syncope). Note also the syncope in ána fhím-t "I understood".
Example: dárris/yidárris "teach"
Boldfaced forms indicate the primary differences from the corresponding forms of katab:
Example: sá:fir/yisá:fir "travel"
The primary differences from the corresponding forms of darris (shown in boldface) are:
Defective verbs have a W or Y as the last root consonant.
Example: ráma/yírmi "throw"
The primary differences from the corresponding forms of katab (shown in boldface) are:
Example: nísi/yínsa "forget"
This verb type is quite similar to the defective verb type ráma/yírmi. The primary differences are:
Note that some other verbs have different stem variations, e.g. míʃi/yímʃi "walk" (with i in both stems) and báʔa/yíbʔa "become, remain" (with a in both stems). The verb láʔa/yilá:ʔi "find" is unusual in having a mixture of a form I past and form III present (note also the variations líʔi/yílʔa and láʔa/yílʔa).
Verbs other than form I have consistent stem vowels. All such verbs have a in the past (hence form stems with -é:-, not -í:-). Forms V, VI, X and IIq have a in the present (indicated by boldface below); others have i; forms VII, VIIt, and VIII have i in both vowels of the stem (indicated by italics below); form IX verbs, including "defective" verbs, behave as regular doubled verbs:
Hollow have a W or Y as the middle root consonant. Note that for some forms (e.g. form II and form III), hollow verbs are conjugated as strong verbs (e.g. form II ʕáyyin/yiʕáyyin "appoint" from ʕ-Y-N, form III gá:wib/yigá:wib "answer" from G-W-B).
Example: gá:b/yigí:b "bring"
This verb works much like dárris/yidárris "teach". Like all verbs whose stem begins with a single consonant, the prefixes differ in the following way from those of regular and defective form I verbs:
In addition, the past tense has two stems: gíb- before consonant-initial suffixes (first and second person) and gá:b- elsewhere (third person).
Example: ʃá:f/yiʃú:f "see"
This verb class is identical to verbs such as gá:b/yigí:b except in having stem vowel u in place of i.
Doubled verbs have the same consonant as middle and last root consonant, e.g. ḥább/yiḥíbb "love" from Ḥ-B-B.
Example: ḥább/yiḥíbb "love"
This verb works much like gá:b/yigí:b "bring". Like that class, it has two stems in the past, which are ḥabbé:- before consonant-initial suffixes (first and second person) and ḥább- elsewhere (third person). Note that é:- was borrowed from the defective verbs; the Classical Arabic equivalent form would be *ḥabáb-, e.g. *ḥabáb-t.
Other verbs have u or a in the present stem: baṣṣ/yibúṣṣ "to look", ṣaḥḥ/yiṣáḥḥ "be right, be proper".
As for the other forms:
Assimilated verbs have W or Y as the first root consonant. Most of these verbs have been regularized in Egyptian Arabic, e.g. wázan/yíwzin "to weigh" or wíṣíl/yíwṣal "to arrive". Only a couple of irregular verbs remain, e.g. wíʔif/yúʔaf "stop" and wíʔiʕ/yúʔaʕ "fall" (see below).
"Doubly weak" verbs have more than one "weakness", typically a W or Y as both the second and third consonants. This term is in fact a misnomer, as such verbs actually behave as normal defective verbs (e.g. káwa/yíkwi "iron (clothes)" from K-W-Y, ʔáwwa/yiʔáwwi "strengthen" from ʔ-W-Y, dá:wa/yidá:wi "treat, cure" from D-W-Y).
The irregular verbs are as follows:
Example: gé/yí:gi "come": non-finite forms
In this section all verb classes and their corresponding stems are listed, excluding the small number of irregular verbs described above. Verb roots are indicated schematically using capital letters to stand for consonants in the root:
Hence, the root F-M-L stands for all three-consonant roots, and F-S-T-L stands for all four-consonant roots. (Traditional Arabic grammar uses F-ʕ-L and F-ʕ-L-L, respectively, but the system used here appears in a number of grammars of spoken Arabic dialects and is probably less confusing for English speakers, since the forms are easier to pronounce than those involving ʕ.)
The following table lists the prefixes and suffixes to be added to mark tense, person, number and gender, and the stem form to which they are added. The forms involving a vowel-initial suffix, and corresponding stem PAv or NPv, are highlighted in silver. The forms involving a consonant-initial suffix, and corresponding stem PAc, are highlighted in gold. The forms involving a no suffix, and corresponding stem PA0 or NP0, are unhighlighted.
The following table lists the verb classes along with the form of the past and non-past stems, active and passive participles, and verbal noun, in addition to an example verb for each class.
One characteristic of Egyptian syntax which it shares with other North African varieties as well as some southern Levantine dialect areas is in the two-part negative verbal circumfix
comes from the Classical Arabic negator . is a development of Classical "thing". This negating circumfix is similar in function to the French circumfix ne ... pas.
The structure can end in a consonant or in a vowel , varying according to the individual or region. The fuller ending is considered rural, and nowadays Cairene speakers usually use the shorter . However, was more common in the past, as attested in old films.
The negative circumfix often surrounds the entire verbal composite including direct and indirect object pronouns:
However, verbs in the future tense typically instead use the prefix /miʃ/:
Interrogative sentences can be formed by adding the negation clitic "()" before the verb:
Addition of the circumfix can cause complex changes to the verbal cluster, due to the application of the rules of vowel syncope, shortening, lengthening, insertion and elision described above:
In addition, certain other morphological changes occur:
In contrast with Classical Arabic, but much like the other varieties of Arabic, Egyptian Arabic prefers subject–verb–object (SVO) word order; CA and to a lesser extent MSA prefer verb–subject–object (VSO). For example, in MSA "Adel read the book" would be IPA: whereas EA would say IPA: .
Also in common with other Arabic varieties is the loss of unique agreement in the dual form: while the dual remains productive to some degree in nouns, dual nouns are analyzed as plural for the purpose of agreement with verbs, demonstratives, and adjectives. Thus "These two Syrian professors are walking to the university" in MSA (in an SVO sentence for ease of comparison) would be "" IPA: , which becomes in EA "" , IPA: .
Unlike most other forms of Arabic, however, Egyptian prefers final placement of question words in interrogative sentences. This is a feature characteristic of the Coptic substratum of Egyptian Arabic.
Egyptian Arabic appears to have retained a significant Coptic substratum in its lexicon, phonology, and syntax. Coptic was the latest stage of the indigenous Egyptian language spoken until the mid-17th century when it was finally completely supplanted by Egyptian Arabic. Some features that Egyptian Arabic shares with the original ancient Egyptian language include certain prefix and suffix verbal conjugations, certain emphatic and glottalized consonants, as well as a large number of biliteral and triliteral lexical correspondences.
Two syntactic features that are particular][ to Egyptian Arabic inherited from Coptic are:
Also since Coptic, like other North African languages, lacked interdental consonants it could possibly have influenced the manifestation of their occurrences in Classical Arabic as their dental counterparts and the emphatic dental respectively. (see consonants)
Egyptian Arabic is used in most social situations, with Modern Standard and Classical Arabic generally only being used in writing and in highly religious and/or formal situations. However, within Egyptian Arabic, there is a wide range of variation. El-Said Badawi identifies three distinct levels of Egyptian Arabic based chiefly on the quantity of non-Arabic lexical items in the vocabulary: `Āmmiyyat al-Musaqqafīn (Cultured Colloquial or Formal Spoken Arabic), `Āmmiyyat al-Mutanawwirīn (Enlightened Colloquial), and `Āmmiyyat al-'Ummiyīn (Illiterate Colloquial). Cultured Colloquial/Formal Spoken Arabic is characteristic of the educated classes and is the language of discussion of high-level subjects, but it is nevertheless Egyptian Arabic; it is characterized by use of technical terms imported from foreign languages and MSA, as well as closer attention to the pronunciation of certain letters (particularly qāf). It is relatively standardized and, being closer to the standard, is understood fairly well across the Arab world. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Illiterate Colloquial, common to rural areas and to working-class neighborhoods in the cities, has an almost exclusively Arabic vocabulary; loanwords are generally either very old borrowings (e.g. , "shrimp," from Italian gambari, "shrimp" (pl.)) or refer to technological items that find no or poor equivalents in Arabic (e.g. , television). Enlightened Colloquial (`Āmmiyyat al-Mutanawwirīn) is the language of those who have had some schooling and are relatively affluent; loanwords tend to refer to pop-cultural items, consumer products, and fashions. It is also understood widely in the Arab world, as it is the lingua franca of Egyptian film and television.
In contrast to MSA and most other varieties of Arabic, Egyptian Arabic has a form of the T-V distinction. In the singular, inta/inti is acceptable in most situations, but when addressing clear social superiors (e.g. persons older than oneself, superiors at work, certain government officials), the form , meaning "Your Grace" is preferred (c.f. Spanish usted).
This use of is linked to the system of honorifics in daily Egyptian speech. The honorific taken by a given person is determined by their relationship to the speaker and their occupation.
Other honorifics also exist.
In usage, honorifics are used in the second and third person.
Egyptian Arabic varies regionally across its sprachraum, with certain characteristics being noted as typical of the speech of certain regions.
Alexandria's dialect is noted for certain shibboleths separating its speech from that of Cairo. The ones most frequently commented on in popular discourse are the use of the word falafel as opposed to ṭa`meyya for the fava-bean fritters common across the country, and the pronunciation of the word for the Egyptian pound as , rather than the Cairene (closer to the pronunciation of the origin of the term, the British guinea). The speech of the older Alexandrian families is also noted for use of the plural in the first person even when speaking in the singular.
Port Said's dialect is noted for a "heavier," more guttural sound than other regions of the country.
Egyptian Arabic has been a subject of study by scholars and laypersons in the past and the present for many reasons, including personal interest, egyptomania, business, news reporting, and diplomatic and political interactions. Egyptian Colloquial Arabic (ECA) is now a field of study in both graduate and undergraduate levels in many higher education institutions and universities in the world. When added to academic instruction, Arabic language schools and university programs provide Egyptian Arabic courses in a classroom fashion, while others facilitate classes for online study.
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Egyptian/Masri (Arabic script; spelling isn't unified):
Franco/Arabic Chat Alphabet (has no strict standard):
el e3lan el 3alami le 72u2 el ensan, el band el awalani
el bani2admin kollohom mawlodin 7orrin we metsawyin fel karama wel 7o2u2. Etwahablohom el 3a2l wel damir, wel mafrud ye3amlo ba3dihom be ro7 el akhaweya.
IPA Phonemic transcription (for comparison with Literary Arabic):
IPA Phonemic transcription (for a general demonstration of Egyptian phonology):
IPA Phonetic transcription morphologically (in fast speech, long vowels are half-long or without distinctive length):
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in the spirit of brotherhood.