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Maghrebi Arabic

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Title: Maghrebi Arabic  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Varieties of Arabic, Tunisian Arabic, Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, Algerian Arabic
Collection: Arabic Languages, Languages of Gibraltar, Maghreb, Maghrebi Arabic
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Maghrebi Arabic

Linguistic classification: Afro-Asiatic
Glottolog: nort3191[1]

Maghrebi Arabic, or Darija, is the varieties of Arabic spoken in the Maghreb, including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. The Western Arabic known also as Maghrebi Arabic (as opposed to the Eastern Arabic known as Mashriqi Arabic) that includes Moroccan Arabic, Algerian Arabic, Tunisian Arabic along with Libyan Arabic. In Algeria, Maghrebi Arabic as a colloquial language was taught as a separate subject under French colonization, and some textbooks exist. Speakers of Maghrebi call their language Derja, Derija or Darija, which means "dialect" in Modern Standard Arabic. It is primarily used as a spoken language; written communication is primarily done in Modern Standard Arabic (or French), along with news broadcasting. Maghrebi Arabic is used for almost all spoken communication, as well as in TV dramas and on advertising boards in Morocco and Tunisia, but Modern Standard Arabic (الفصحى (al-)fuṣ-ḥā) is used for written communication. Maghrebi is established on a Berber[2] and possibly a Punic[3] substratum, influenced by the languages of the people that lived or administered the countries of the region, during the course of history, such as Arabic, Turkish, Italian, Spanish, and French.

The varieties of Darija have a significant degree of mutual intelligibility, specially between geographically adjacent ones (such as ocal dialects spoken in Eastern Morocco and Western Algeria or Eastern Algeria and North Tunisia or South Tunisia and Western Libya). Conversely, Darija is very hard to understand for Arabic speakers from the Mashriq or Mesopotamia, as it does derive from different substratums and a mixture of a few languages .

Maghrebi Arabic continues to evolve by integrating new French or English words, notably in technical fields, or by replacing old French and Spanish ones with Modern Standard Arabic words within some circles; more educated and upper-class people who code-switch between Maghrebi Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic have more French and Spanish loanwords, especially the latter came from the time of al-Andalus. In Eastern Arab countries, the similar term (العامية (al-)`āmmiyya) is more commonly used for the colloquial varieties of Arabic there. Maghrebi dialects all use n- as the first person singular prefix on verbs, distinguishing them from Middle Eastern dialects and Modern Standard Arabic.

They frequently borrow words from French (in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia), Spanish (in Morocco) and Italian (in Libya and Tunisia) and conjugate them according to the rules of Arabic with some exceptions (like passive tense for example). Since it is rarely written, there is no standard and it is free to change quickly and to pick up new vocabulary from neighbouring languages. This is somewhat similar to what happened to Middle English after the Norman conquest.

Linguistically, Siculo-Arabic and therefore its descendant Maltese are considered Maghrebi Arabic, but they are no longer mutually intelligible with the varieties other than Tunisian Arabic.[4] When discussing modern languages, the word is often given a geographic definition and limited to Northern Africa.


  • Varieties 1
  • Name 2
  • References 3
  • Further reading 4


An overview of the different Arabic dialects. Maghrebi varieties are shades of blue.


Darija, Derja or Delja (Arabic: الدارجة‎) means "everyday/colloquial language";[5] it is also rendered as ed-dārija, derija or darja. It refers to any of the varieties of colloquial Maghrebi Arabic. Although it is also common in Algeria and Tunisia to refer to the Maghrebi varieties directly as languages. For instance Algerian Arabic would be referred as Dzayri (Algerian) and Tunisian Arabic as Tounsi (Tunisian).

In contrast, the colloquial dialects of more eastern Arab countries, such as Egypt, Jordan and Sudan, are usually known as al-‘āmmīya (العامية), though Egyptians may also refer to their dialects as al-logha-d-darga.


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "North African Arabic".  
  2. ^ Tilmatine Mohand, « Substrat et convergences : Le berbère et l'arabe nord-africain », Estudios de dialectologia norteaafricana y andalusi, n°4, 1999, pp. 99-119
  3. ^ Benramdane, Farid (1998). de ELIMAM, Abdou (Éd. ANEP, Alger 1997)"Le maghribi, langue trois fois millénaire". Insaniyat (6): 129–130. Retrieved 12 February 2015. 
  4. ^ Borg and Azzopardi-Alexander Maltese (1997:xiii) "The immediate source for the Arabic vernacular spoken in Malta was Muslim Sicily, but its ultimate origin appears to have been Tunisia".
  5. ^ Wehr, Hans: Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic (2011); Harrell, Richard S.: Dictionary of Moroccan Arabic (1966)

Further reading

  • Singer, Hans-Rudolf (1980) “Das Westarabische oder Maghribinische” in Wolfdietrich Fischer and Otto Jastrow (eds.) Handbuch der arabischen Dialekte. Otto Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden. 249-76.
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