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Arabic Language and Dialects in the US and Europe Report

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Updated: Aug 17th, 2020

There is no use denying the fact language is one of the greatest inventions of humanity. One can say that it is thin which differentiates people from animals. Being one of the main conditions under which the existence of civilized society is possible, it promotes the further development of our world. Even in ancient times, people tried to create sounds that had a certain sense and which should make other members of society understand the message which a speaker wanted to deliver.

That is why, with the development of humanity and sophistication of their needs the language also developed. Though, it was influenced by a great number of factors, such as the culture of people, their mentality, peculiarities of their emotional and physical state, and a great number of other issues. People, who lived in different parts of the world, had various combinations of these causes and, that is why, they obtained many different languages, which reflected peculiarities of their culture and region in which they lived.

The population of Europe has a certain group of languages that are similar to each other, while Asian languages may seem strange and unclear for them. There is also a group of Arabic languages that have unique peculiarities. Being one of the most widespread languages, Arabic nowadays also has various forms and dialects which could be analyzed.

First of all, it should be said that Arabic is rather an ancient language with its unique history. It appeared on the Arabian Peninsula, which is part of Western Asia. There were a great number of Semitic languages there which were spoken by locals. During antiquity people had been communicating with the help of various dialects, which interacted with each other, creating some common and generalized way to produce sounds share thoughts. Since that time development of this language became very intensive.

Another important fact which influenced this language and promoted the creation of its modern image was the fact that people, who spoke Arabic, managed to spread their influence all over the world. Islamic conquests led to the spread of this language all over the Arabian Peninsula. Moreover, the Ottoman Empire, which language was influenced by Arabic, and Britain Empire, communicating with representatives of Arabic culture, also promoted its development and spread. During these processes, people, who spoke Arabic, settled in a great number of various countries. Thus, it is obvious, that their language was influenced by local languages and, that is why the manner of their pronunciation became different. Due to this process, various dialects of Arabic appeared.

It is possible to say that nowadays, Arabic is a rather widespread language which is spoken in a great number of countries all over the world. First of all, it should be admitted that countries of the Gulf have it as their official language. Nowadays, these countries become more and more influential, because of their oil deposits which provide a great part of this source in the world. That is why it is possible to predict the further spread of this language as new business partners will have to learn it to negotiate with each other. However, it is not the only region where Arabic is spoken. Nowadays, many European countries, or countries of North and South America, have communities that speak Arabic.

It is obvious, that the language which is spoken somewhere in Arabia and its European variant has certain differences in phonology, that is why, it is possible to admit the fact that nowadays, there is the tendency for the development of various dialects of classic Arabic which are influenced by languages of local people. Nevertheless, there is a certain group of people who can be taken as bilingual because they speak their native Arabic and also obtain at least basic knowledge of some other language which is spoken in the region where these people live. Bilingualism can be taken as one of the main tendencies of the modern world as under the influence of various circumstances immigrants move to other courtiers and had to master the local language.

Usually, as a result of the interaction of these languages, the process of changes in the phonological structure of Arabic and the second language can be observed. Especially significant these processes are among people who live abroad for a long period, being influenced by the local language, and children, who master their native Arabic language in the verbal environment of some other one. Under these conditions, the language of a child obtains new peculiarities that are absent in the dialect which is spoken in the family.

With this in mind, it is possible to state the fact that very often bilingualism leads to the interpenetration of one phoneme into another and the appearance of new or altered variants of traditional ones. Moreover, taking into account the latest political tendencies, it is possible to foresee the further spread of the Arabic language in Western Direction.

For example, in the USA Arabic is one of the most fast-developing languages. It should be said that this fact reflects the current state of affairs. Nowadays, more and more Arabs arrive in the USA for various reasons, starting from the idea to obtain education and ending with the attempts to find a good job. That is why Classic Arabic is studied in a great number of educational establishments in the USA.

There is the term Arab American which is used to describe the ethnic group of people who classify themselves as Arabs. They mainly come from the region of the Levant and, that is why phonological peculiarities of their language are similar to the peculiarities of Lebanese Arabic. However, this statement could be applied only to people who have recently arrived in the USA, while Arabs who have been living here for a long time and especially children are influenced by the English language and obtain some new phonological peculiarities, which make their Arab unique. With this in mind, it is possible to outline such a phenomenon as American Arabic, that appeared due to the interaction of Lebanese dialect with an American variant of English Language.

A similar situation could be observed in Canada. Being rather an attractive place for Arab immigrants because of its political and financial stability, Canada now has a big ex-pat community of Arabs from various countries of the Arab world. The term Arab Canadians are used to describe this group of people. The majority of these people also came from Lebanon and Egypt, that is why the phonological image of their language is similar to that one of Arab Americans.

There are many Canadians who consider Arabic to be their mother language. However, as against the situation in the USA, in Canada Lebanese dialect is influenced by the French language, as the majority of Arabs live in Quebec, a province where French is widely spoken. As a result of the interaction between Lebanese dialect and Canadian variant of French language another dialect appear. It is obvious, that children are the group which is influenced by it most of all as they just start acquisition of language and traditional Arabic phonemes are altered under the influence of the French ones.

Finally, it is possible to say that the most complicated situation with the Arabic language and Arab immigrants is in Europe nowadays. There are about 6 million Arabs in this region (Khader, 2010). They form a so-called Arab Diaspora, which is comprised of people who consider themselves to be Arabs and who though live outside the Arab world. Traditionally being attractive for immigrants from Arab countries because of good conditions for living, nowadays Europe expects another influx of Arab people because of the war in the region of the Levant.

That is why the Arab language becomes more widespread in Europe. Some families have been living in Europe for decades and, as a result, whose language is altered. Under the influence of German, French, Spanish, and other languages, Arabic obtained new phonological peculiarities which made it different from classical Arabic. New generations of Arab people, who were born in Europe and who studied both Arabic and some local language, could be taken as the representatives of the ethnic group which speaks some new dialect of the Arabic language. With this in mind, it is possible to state the fact that along with classical Arabic, many dialects are spread all over the world and have their unique phonological peculiarities which should be outlined.

Characterizing the phonological structure of the Arabic language, it is possible to say that it is difficult to outline some general rules as the language could be described as the continuum of varieties (Ammar & Morsi, 2006). Thus, it is possible to outline some traits peculiar to Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) as usual, it is the basis that serves for the development of other varieties. First of all, it is possible to say that the total number of phonemes in the language is thirty-one. There are twenty-eight consonants phonemes and only three vowels. Besides, depending on the region and peculiarities of the dialect, the pronunciation of these sounds can vary. Speakers can give more emphasis to certain sounds or on the contrary, change pronunciation aiming at the decrease of tension or stress.

Analyzing the Arabic phonology, it is impossible to omit some peculiarities of its vowels. These three phonemes can be spoken long or short. Additionally, two diphthongs are formed by the combination of the sound /a/ with semivowels like /j/ or /w/. It should be said that there are no allophones in MSA, though, they can be met in various dialects. For example, in Lebanese dialect sound /a/ could have allophones /a/ and /a:/, which depend on the surrounding.

If it is followed by labial consonants like /m/, /b/, /f/ the sound can be even advanced to /æ/. It should be said that there are no strict rules which regulate vowel retraction and this process mostly depends on the point of view of a speaker towards this issue. Most of them pronounce vowels according to the rules accepted in the local dialect. This example can show that it is rather difficult to give distinct and general characteristics of Arabic vowels as every dialect should be analyzed separately.

The situation with consonants is also very complicated in the Arabic language. There are 28 phonemes pronunciation of which also depends on the background of a speaker and his/her native dialect (Amayreh, 2003). Thus, it is possible to outline some general features. First of all, “the consonant inventory of CEA includes the primary emphatic phonemes / t /, / d /, / s /, / z / which causes the Arabic language to be distinguished from the great majority of European languages (Abou-Elsaad, Baz, & El-Banna, 2009, p. 275).

These phonemes are opposed to their “non-emphatic counterparts /t/, /d/, /s/, /z/ in the retraction of the tongue root to approach the posterior pharyngeal wall, accompanied by depression of the posterior part of the tongue” (Abou-Elsaad, Baz, & El-Banna, 2009, p. 275). Moreover, it is possible to outline the fact that the Arabic Language is rich in uvular and pharyngealized consonants, which is rather a unique feature. Additionally, one could admit that there are back consonants that could be glottal /U/, velar /x/, or pharyngeal /h/, /ʕ/ (Abou-Elsaad, Baz, & El-Banna, 2009).

With this in mind, taking into account a great number of variants of the pronunciation of vowels and consonants in Arabic, it is possible to say that the issue of its acquisition obtains great importance. In the native environment, people start to obtain the basic ideas of their language since their childhood. That is why, it is possible to state the fact that the average age of acquisition is about 2 years (Khattab, 2007) for some initial knowledge and 6 years for all phonemes (Dyson & Amayreh, 2007).

Thus, it is vital to remember that before school children do not have the idea of the peculiarities of MSA as they hear mainly some local dialects of Arabic. That is why having entered school they are taught the main peculiarities of the standard Arabic language which is taken as the basis for the development of all other dialects. Thus, there are many other dialects peculiar to the Arabic language and, that is why vowels and especially consonants have various variants of pronunciation.

Due to this fact, the upper barrier of the age of acquisition can vary depending on the number of dialects studied by a person. Though, normally developing children should obtain the main basic knowledge of the root phonemes during their first years at school (Dyson & Amayreh, 2000).

With this in mind, it is possible to conclude that there are many dialects of the Arabic language which influence its phonology greatly. Peculiarities of some of these dialects could be seen in the following table.

Dialect Consonant phonemes (number, peculiarities) Vowel phonemes (number, peculiarities) Age of acquisition (years old, normally developing children) Main peculiarities
Modern Standard Arabic 28 3, diphthongs /aj/. /aw/ 2 Formal, considered to be the standard of pronunciation
Kuwaiti 29, complicated articulation 3, diphthongs /aj/, /aw/, various allomorphs 2-5 Many uvulas, pharyngeals, glottals (Ayyad & Bernhardt, 2009)
Lebanese 28. /p/, /v/ are not native and realized as /b/, /f/ 3, the tendency for reduction 2-6 Stress pattern, which is close to formal language
Egyptian 27. interdental replaced by alveolar 3.various allophones 2-6 Not all Egyptians can pronounce classic sounds
Libyan 27, /g/ instead of /q/ 3, e and o presented only in long-form 2-6 It has three clicks. The first for affirmative sentences, dental and palatal clicks.
Yemeni 28. /g/ instead of /q/ 3 2-6 Classical Arabic pronunciation
Central Asian 28 3 Vary, depends on sociocultural aspects Not mutually intelligible


Amayreh, M. (2003). Completion of the Consonant Inventory of Arabic. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 46(3), 517-529. Web.

Ammar, W., & Morsi, R. (2006). Phonological development and disorders: colloquial Egyptian Arabic. In Z. Hua & B. Dodd (Eds.), Phonological development and disorders in children: a multilingual perspective (pp. 204 – 232). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Ayyad, H., & Bernhardt,M. (2009). Phonological development of Kuwaiti Arabic: Preliminary data. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, 23(11): 794–807. Web.

Abou-Elsaad, T., Baz, H., & El-Banna, M. (2009). Developing an articulation test for Arabic-speaking school-age children. Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica, 61(5), 275-282. Web.

Dyson, A. T., & Amayreh, M. M. (2000). Phonological errors and sound changes in Arabic-speaking children. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics, 14(2), 79-79. Web.

Dyson, A. T., & Amayreh, M. M. (2007). Jordanian Arabic speech acquisition. In S. McLeod (Ed.), The international guide to speech acquisition (pp. 287-299). United States: Thomson Delmar Learning.

Khader, B. (2010). Arab immigration to the EU, looking ahead to 2030. Web.

Khattab, G. (2007). Lebanese Arabic speech acquisition. In S. McLeod (Ed.), The international guide to speech acquisition (pp. 300-312). United States: Thomson Delmar Learning.

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