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Sudanese Arabic

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Title: Sudanese Arabic  
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Subject: Varieties of Arabic, Arabic, Languages of Sudan, Nobiin language, Sa'idi Arabic
Collection: Arabic Languages, Arabs in Sudan, Languages of Sudan
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Sudanese Arabic

Sudanese Arabic
Native to Sudan
Region Sudan
Native speakers
unknown (17 million cited 1991)[1]
Arabic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3 apd
Glottolog suda1236[2]

Sudanese Arabic is the variety of Arabic spoken throughout Sudan. Some of the tribes in Sudan still have similar accents to the ones in Saudi Arabia.


  • History 1
  • Unique phonological characteristics 2
  • Influence of Nubian languages 3
  • Regional variation 4
  • Greetings in Sudanese Arabic 5
  • Assenting - saying yes 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
    • English 8.1
    • French 8.2
    • German 8.3
  • External links 9


In 1888 the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain claimed that the Arabic spoken in Sudan was "a pure but archaic Arabic". The pronunciation of certain letters was like Hijazi, and not Egyptian, such as g being the pronunciation for Qāf and J being the pronunciation for Jim.[3]

Unique phonological characteristics

Sudanese Arabic is distinct from Egyptian Arabic and does not share some of the characteristic properties of that dialect despite the overall similarity of the two dialects. Sudanese Arabic is more closely related to Hejazi Arabic[4]

The Arabic letter ج maintains an archaic pronunciation [ɡʲ] in Sudanese (other dialects typically have [dʒ], [ʒ] or [j], while Egyptian Arabic has [ɡ]).

Sudanese Arabic also maintains an archaic rendering of qaf as [ɢ] (Voiced uvular plosive) while Egyptian (like some other modern Urban dialects) renders it as [ʔ]. The uvular rendering of qaf has been lost in nearly every other Arabic dialect and is also considered a relic.

Also peculiar to Sudanese is the quality of the Arabic vowel transliterated as u/ū; this is usually transliterated as o in materials on Sudanese because the sound ranges from ɵ~o rather than the typical ʊ~u.

In addition to differences in pronunciation, Sudanese Arabic also uses different words when compared to Egyptian Arabic. For example, the interrogative pronoun "what" in Sudan is shinu rather than "eh" as in Egyptian Arabic.

Influence of Nubian languages

In northern and central parts of Sudan, Sudanese colloquial Arabic has been influenced by the Nubian language, which in ancient times was the dominant language in Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan. Many of the agricultural and farming terms in Sudanese Arabic were adopted from Nubian.

  • Sudanese Arabic angareb < Nobiin: àngàréé "wooden bed"
  • Sudanese Arabic kadēsa < Nobiin: kàdíís "cat" versus Standard Arabic qiṭṭ and hirr (and derivatives of the same, i.e. diminutive hurayrah "housecat, kitten").

Regional variation

Because of the varying influence of local languages in different parts of Sudan, there is considerable regional variation in Arabic spoken throughout the country. Sudanese Arabic typically refers to Arabic spoken mostly in northern parts of Sudan. The other most commonly mentioned derivative of Sudanese Arabic is Juba Arabic, a pidgin of Arabic spoken in South Sudan, which is much more heavily influenced by other local languages.

Greetings in Sudanese Arabic

In northern Sudan, greetings are typically extended, and involve multiple questions about the other persons health, their family etc. When greeting someone you know informally, it is common to begin with the word o, followed by the person's first name: Ō, Khalafalla or Ō, kēf ya Khalafalla.

Formal greetings often begin with the universal As-salām ˤalaykom and the reply, Wa ˤalaykom as-salām, an exchange common to Muslims everywhere. However, other greetings typical to Sudan include Izzēyak (to men) or Izzēyik (to women).A rather informal way to say "How are you", is Inta shadīd? Inti shadīda? "Are you well? (to a male and a female, respectively)", the response to which is usually al-Hamdo lillāh "Praise God" assuming you are indeed feeling well, ma batal "not bad" or nosnos "half-half)" if feeling only okay or taˤban showayya "a little tired" if not so well. Of course, there can be lots more responses but these are used in everyday language.

Other everyday greetings include kwayyis(a), alhamdulilah "Good, thanks to allah", Kēf al-usra? "how is the family?" or kēf al awlād? "how are the children". For friends, the question Kēf? can also be formed using the person's first name, prefixed by ya, for example; kēf ya Yōsif? "How are you, Joseph?". Another standard response in addition to al-hamdu lillāh is Allāh ybarik fik "God's blessing upon you". Additional greetings are appropriate for particular times and are standard in most varieties of Arabic, such as Sabāh al-khēr? / Sabāh an-Nōr.

Sudanese that know each other well will often use many of these greetings together, sometimes repeating themselves. It is also common to shake hands on first meeting, sometimes simultaneously slapping or tapping each other on the left shoulder before the handshake (particularly for good friends). Handshakes in Sudan can often last as long as greetings.

Assenting - saying yes

The Sudanese Arabic word for "yes" depends on the tribe; aye is widely used, similar to the Scottish aye, although aywa or na‘am are also sometimes used.

See also


  • public domain in the United States.
  1. ^ Sudanese Arabic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Bruce Ingham, "Some Characteristics of Meccan Speech", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 34, No. 2. (1971), pp. 273–297.
  • Arlette Roth, 1969–1972, Lexique des parlers arabes tchado-soudanais. An Arabic-English-French lexicon of dialects spoken in the Chad-Sudan area compiled by Arlette Roth-Laly, Paris: Editions du Centre Nationale de la recherche scientifique.


  • Victoria Bernal, 1991, Cultivating Workers, Peasants and Capitalism in a Sudanese Village, New York: Colombia University Press, see glossary of Sudanese Arabic words pp 203–206.
  • James Dickins. 2008. Online Arabic/English Dictionary of Sudanese Arabic, and English/Arabic Dictionary of Sudanese Arabic available at
  • James Dickins. 2007a. Sudanese Arabic: Phonematics and Syllable Structure. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  • James Dickins. 2007b. Khartoum Arabic. In The Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics (Vol. 2) (K. Versteegh et al. eds.). Leiden: Brill. pp. 559–571, available at
  • James Dickins, 2006. The Verb Base in Central Urban Sudanese Arabic. In Grammar as a Window onto Arabic Humanism: A Collection of Articles in Honour of Michael G. Carter (L. Edzard and Janet Watson, eds.). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. pp. 155–195.
  • Elizabeth M. Bergman, 2004. Spoken Sudanese Arabic, Grammar, Dialogues and Glossary, Springfield, VA, Dunwoody Press.
  • Abdel-Hadi Mohammed Omer, 1984, Arabic in the Sudanese setting: A Sociolinguistic study (Language Planning, Diglossia, Standardisation), Unpublished dissertation, Indiana University (available on Proquest).
  • Andrew and Janet Persson with Ahmad Hussein, 1979, Sudanese Colloquial Arabic for beginners, Summer Institute of Linguistics, Horsleys Green, High Wycombe, United Kingdom: This book is a good introduction to Sudanese colloquial Arabic as spoken in Khartoum. Text is in both Arabic and Latin scripts, making it accessible to those that do not read Arabic but want basic conversational skills.
  • Alan S. Kaye, 1976, Chadian and Sudanese Arabic in the light of comparative Arabic dialectology, Mouton: The Hague, ISBN 90-279-3324-3.
  • El Rashid Abubakr, 1970, The noun phrase in the spoken Arabic of Sudan, Unpublished dissertation, University of London, UK.
  • J. Spenser Trimmingham, 1946, Sudan Colloquial Arabic, London, Oxford University Press, G. Cumberlege.
  • Vincent Llewllyn Grifiths & Abdel Rahman Ali Taha, 1936, Sudan courtesy customs; a foreigner's guide to polite phrases in common use among sophisticated Arabic speaking population of Northern Sudan, Khartoum, published by the Sudan Government.
  • S. Hillelson, 1935, Sudan Arabic texts, Cambridge, UK: The University Press.


  • Michel Baumer, 1968, Les noms vernaculaires soudanais utiles a l'ecologiste, Unpublished dissertation, Universite de Montpelier, France.


  • Randolph Galla, 1997, Kauderwelsch, Sudanesisch-Arabisch Wort für Wort, Reise Know How Verlag, Bielefeld, 1. Auflage, 1997, ISBN 3-89416-302-X
  • Stefan Reichmuth, 1983, Der arabische Dialekt der Sukriyya in Ostsudan, Hildsheim, New York: G. Olms (originally authors thesis Freie Universitat, Berlin), ISBN 3-487-07457-5.

External links

  • Aramati – Sudanese Arabic
  • An online dictionary of Sudanese Arabic, plus a c. 6,000-word description of the language
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