Arabic is the official language of Egypt, and Egyptian Arabic is the spoken dialect of Arabic that is used by Egyptians.
Who speaks Egyptian Arabic?
Egyptian Arabic is the first language of over 100 million Egyptians. Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world, and so its Arabic is the most widely spoken Arabic dialect.
Egyptian Arabic is understood by almost all of the 300+ million Arabic speakers in the world, thanks to the Egyptian cinema and media industry. It is spoken primarily in Egypt, but listened to across many countries.
How is it different from Modern Standard Arabic (Classical Arabic)?
Modern Standard Arabic is the standard literary Arabic that is written and read in every Arabic speaking country. It is based on and similar to Classical Arabic, which is the Arabic of the Qur’an (the holy book of Islam) and early Islamic texts.
Egyptian Arabic has many similar features to Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). It also has been influenced by a number of other languages, including Coptic (the language of pre-Islamic Egypt, which is now mostly used in Coptic Christian religious contexts), Turkish (Egypt was a part of the Ottoman Empire for 500 years), French, and more recently English.
Linguistic Features of Egyptian Arabic
Vocabulary in Egyptian Arabic is mostly based on standard Arabic, but also borrows words from Coptic, Turkish, French, and English. Examples:
- ‘Ah’ = ‘yes’ (origin: Coptic)
- ‘ōda’ = ‘room’ (origin: Turkish)
- ‘asansir’ = ‘elevator’ (origin: French)
- ‘yisantar’ = ‘to center (something)’ (origin: English)
Sounds differ in some cases from MSA. One of the most distinctive features of the dialect is the use of the sound g (as in ‘gum’) for the letter ج instead of the sound j (as in ‘jam’). In phonetics, this means that ɡ – a voiced velar stop, is used instead of j – a palato-aveolar fricative. This is used in the Arabic of Cairo and Alexandria, but not southern Egypt.
Another example would be that a glottal stop (the hamza in Arabic, written ء), is used instead of a ق (the qaf in Arabic, which is a ‘k’ pronounced further back in the mouth… in phonetics, a uvular).
How can I learn Egyptian Arabic?
The Egyptian Arabic Absolute Beginner’s Workshop is helpful for people who want to get their first exposure to Egyptian Arabic. There are also numerous other courses available in institutions, online, or in books.
Other sources that may be helpful for learning Egyptian Arabic:
- AUC Press’s Arabic Language Learning 2021 catalogue
- The Arab Academy online for full online courses
- The Department of Arabic Language Instruction – The American University in Cairo
- talkinarabic.com for listening resources
What are some common Egyptian Arabic expressions?
|Good morning||SabaaH il-kheer||صباح الخير|
|Good evening||masaa’ il-kheer||مساء الخير|
|How are you? (spoken to male)||izzaayak?||إزَّايَك؟|
|How are you? (spoken to female)||izzaayik?||إِزَّايِك؟|
|How are you? (spoken to group)||izzaayuuku?||إِزَّايُوكُو؟|
|God willing||in shaa’ Allah||إِنْ شَاء الله|
|Praise to God||al-Hamdu lilleh||الحَمْدُ لِله|
|What’s your name? (spoken to male)||ismak eeh?||اِسْمَك إِيهْ؟|
|What’s your name? (spoken to female)||ismik eeh?||اِسْمِك إِيهْ؟|
|My name is…||ismii….||اِسْمِي …|