Since the times of the Prophet Muhammad, the Arab People have shared a deep respect for the spoken word. That’s why, nowadays Arabs are still very attached to the official form of their language. The official Arab language is considered to be the language of culture, civilisation and, most important of all, the language of Islam, wherein the Quran was written. But who uses the official form of Arabic on a daily basis?

In most cases, the first time when the Arab People meet with the official form of their language is at school! At home and in everyday life they communicate using dialects. Surprisingly it turns out that their previous knowledge of dialects is not very helpful when it comes to learning official Arabic.

Moreover it makes the process even more difficult because words in dialect are sometimes completely different than their counterparts in the official language, and grammar in dialects is very simplified (and not very concrete, because dialects are not usually written).

To sum up, the official Arabic language to Arab children is as difficult and foreign as a completely different language. Moreover, the official Arabic language is not evolving, which means that it exists in the same form as it was in the 8th century when the grammar rules of the language were written.

The situations when in the Arabic household the main language is the official one are practically non-existent. More often people use something in between their dialect and the official one.

What is diglossia?

‘Diglossia’ is the phenomenon of complementary use of the various forms of the same language. It may be compared to being bilingual, but the term ‘bilingual’ describes speaking in two different languages, ‘diglossia’ describes the relation on the ‘official language – dialect’ level.

The phenomena is not only related to Arab speaking countries, it may be observed also in the German language speaking area, where on a daily basis people communicate by dialect and the official language (HOCHDEUTSCH) is being used in official writing.

However, the difference between the German or Greek language situation and the Arabic situation is that Arab people consider their dialects to be ‘inferior’ than the official one. It is because the official language is considered the language of the Quran.

To sum up – the official language is being used in writing and dialects in speaking. The exceptions are: recitation of the Quran, expressing religious formulas, saying prayers; however, it is only reading of the text written before (it includes politician’s speeches and content in the media) and not the spontaneous speech.

On television it often happens that during an interview, when a host asks a question in the official language, a guest answers in dialect and it is a typical, normal situation and nobody is surprised. Of course we talk here about local television, because the dialect of one country is not understandable for a citizen of a different Arab country. Whenever the differences between the dialects of the two neighbouring countries are not that visible, people from the neighbouring countries understand each other – for example Egyptians and Moroccans – but it is not so easy.

EXAMPLE: The form of the verb ‘I want’ in Iraq is ‘ARID’, in Syria is BIDDI, in Egypt ‘AJIZ’ , in Libya ‘NIBBI’ and in Yemen it is ‘IMMED’.

In the end it is worth mentioning that dialects are not national languages. However, we may observe the striving of various political groups in that field.

FACT: The official Arabic language is very ‘logical’ thanks to the fact that it’s rules were set up by a team of grammarians.

FACT: Arabic language struggles with loanwords from the English language, for example vocabulary related to technology at first is in use in the English version and then a special council ‘invents’ its Arabic counterpart. That is why in official Arabic there are two different words to describe a mobile phone – the first one is TILIFUN and the second one is HATIF. There are also two words to describe a radio station – the first one is RADJU and the second one is IZA’A.

FACT: Various dialects exists also in the territory of one country. For example, in Iraq we might hear a dialect of Baghdad (the most important one), and the dialect of Al Basra and Mosul. There may also be some cultural differences because the dialect of Christians may be slightly different than dialect of the Muslims, even if they live in the same country.


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