Libyan Arabic

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Libyan Arabic
Liːbi ليبي
Native to Libya, Egypt, Niger, Algeria, Tunisia
Native speakers
4 million in Libya  (2006)[1]
320,000 in Egypt (2002)
Arabic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ayl
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Extent of Libyan Arabic[unreliable source?]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Libyan Arabic (Lībi ليبي; also known as Sulaimitian Arabic) is a variety of Arabic spoken in Libya and neighboring countries. It can be divided into two major dialect areas; the eastern centred in Benghazi and Bayda, and the western centred in Tripoli and Misrata. The eastern variety extends beyond the borders to the east into western Egypt.

Note on transcription notation[edit]

The transcription of Libyan Arabic into Latin script poses a few problems. First, there is not one standard transcription in use even for Standard Arabic[citation needed]. The use of IPA alone is not sufficient as it obscures some points that can be better understood if several different allophones in Libyan Arabic are transcribed using the same symbol. On the other hand, Standard Arabic transcription schemes, while providing good support for representing Arabic sounds that are not normally represented by the Latin script, do not list symbols for other sounds found in Libyan Arabic. Therefore, to make this article more legible, DIN 31635 is used with a few additions to render phonemes particular to Libyan Arabic. These additions are as follow:

IPA Extended DIN
ɡ g
ō
ē
ə ə
ż
ʒ j

History[edit]

Two major historical events have shaped the Libyan dialect: the Hilalian-Sulaimi migration, and the migration of Arabs from Muslim Spain to North Africa following the reconquista. Libyan Arabic has also been influenced by Italian, and to a lesser extent by Turkish. A Berber substratum also exists.

Domains of use[edit]

The Libyan dialect is used predominantly in spoken communication in Libya. It is also used in Libyan folk poetry, TV dramas and comedies, songs, as well as in cartoons. Libyan Arabic is also used as a lingua franca by non-Arab Libyans whose mother tongue is not Arabic. Libyan Arabic is not normally written, as the written register is normally Modern Standard Arabic, but Libyan Arabic is the main language for cartoonists, and the only suitable language for writing Libyan folk poetry. It is also written in internet forums, emails and in instant messaging applications. Diglossia between Libyan Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic is also used in songs, Libyan folk poetry (in the case of written form), and sometimes TV dramas and comedies and cartoons. Modern Standard Arabic and Italian are used in education and business sectors; upper and educated classes often speak Modern Standard Arabic with more Italian and Turkish loanwords and often adopt code-switching between Italian and Libyan Arabic (or Modern Standard Arabic).

Phonology[edit]

As is the case with all Bedouin dialects, the /q/ sound of literary Arabic is realized as a [ɡ], except in words recently borrowed from literary Arabic.

The following table shows the consonants used in Libyan Arabic. Note: some sounds occur in certain regional varieties while being completely absent in others.

Libyan Arabic consonant phonemes
  Labial Inter-
dental
Dental Post-
alveolar

or palatal
Velar Uvular Pharyn-
geal
Glottal
 plain  emphatic  plain  emphatic
Plosive voiceless       t   k (q)   (ʔ)
voiced b     d   ɡ      
Fricative voiceless f θ   s ʃ   χ ħ h
voiced (v) ð ðˤ z ʒ   ʁ ʕ  
Nasal m     n            
Lateral       l      
Trill       r          
Approximant w       j        
Approximate vowel phonemes of Libyan Arabic.[citation needed]

In western dialects, the interdental fricatives /θ ð ðˤ/ have merged with the corresponding dental stops /t d dˤ/. Eastern dialects generally still distinguish the two sets, but there is a tendency to replace /dˤ/ with /ðˤ/.

The e and o vowels exist only in long form. This can be explained by the fact that these vowels were originally diphthongs in Classical Arabic with /eː/ replacing /ai/ and /oː/ replacing /au/. In some eastern varieties, however, the classical /ai/ has changed to /ei/ and /au/ to /ou/.

Libyan Arabic has at least three clicks, which are used interjectionally, a trait shared with the Bedouin dialects of central Arabia[citation needed]. The first is used for affirmative responses and is generally considered very casual and sometimes associated with low social status. The second is a dental click and used for negative responses and is similar to the English 'tut'. The third is a palatal click used exclusively by women having a meaning close to that of the English word 'alas'.

Syllable structure[edit]

Although Western Libyan Arabic allows for the following syllable structure to occur.

syllable: C1(C2)V1(V2)(C3)(C4)
(C = consonant, V = vowel, optional components are in parentheses.)

An anaptyctic [ə] is inserted between C3 and C4 to ease pronunciation, changing the structure above into the following.

C1(C2)V1(V2)(C3)(əC4).

On the other hand Eastern Libyan always has an anaptyctic ə between C1 and C2 in the following manner.

C1(əC2)V1(V2)(C3)(C4).

Vocabulary[edit]

Most of the vocabulary in Libyan Arabic is of Classical Arabic origin, usually with a modified interconsonantal vowel structure. Many Italian loanwords also exist, in addition to Turkish, Berber, Spanish, and English words.

Relation to Classical Arabic vocabulary[edit]

The bulk of vocabulary in Libyan Arabic has the same meaning as in Classical Arabic. However, many words have different but related meanings to those of Classical Arabic. The following table serves to illustrate this relation. The past tense is used in the case of verbs as it is more distinctive and has been traditionally used in Arabic lexicons. Canonically, these verbs are pronounced with the final 'a' (marker of the past tense in Classical Arabic). This notation is preserved the table below. However, the relation between Libyan and Classical Arabic verbs can be better understood if the final 'a' is dropped, in accordance with the elision rule of pre-pause vowels of Classical Arabic.

Comparison of meanings between Libyan Arabic words and Classical Arabic words
Libyan Arabic Classical Arabic
 Word1   IPA1   Meaning   Word   IPA   Closest Meaning 
šbaḥ ʃbaħ (3rd m.) saw (perceived with the eyes) šabaḥ ʃabaħa appeared vaguely
dwe dwe (3rd m.) spoke dawā dawaː rumbled
lōḥ loːħ wood lawḥ lauħ board, plank
wāʿər wɑːʕər difficult waʿr waʕr rough terrain
šaḥḥəṭ ʃaħːətˤ (3rd m. trans.) stretched šaḥiṭ ʃaħitˤɑ became distant

1. Western Libyan pronunciation is used in the above table.

Italian loanwords[edit]

Italian loanwords exist mainly, but not exclusively, as a technical jargon. For example machinery parts, workshop tools, electrical supplies, names of fish species, etc.

Italian Loanwords
Libyan Arabic Italian
 Word   IPA    Meaning   Word   Meaning 
ṣālīṭa sˤɑːliːtˤa slope salita up slope
kinšēllu kənʃeːlːu metallic gate cancello gate
anguli aŋɡuli corner angolo corner
ṭānṭa, uṭānṭa tˤɑːntˤɑ, utˤɑːntˤɑ truck ottanta eighty (a model of a truck of Italian make)
tēsta teːsta a head butt testa head

Turkish loanwords[edit]

Turkish words were borrowed during the Ottoman era of Libya. Words of Turkish origin are not as common as Italian ones.

Turkish Loanwords
Libyan Arabic Turkish
 Word   IPA   Meaning   Word   Meaning 
kāšīk kaːʃiːk spoon kaşık spoon
šīša ʃiːʃa bottle şişe bottle
kāġəṭ kɑːʁətˤ paper kâğıt paper
šōg ʃoːɡ plenty of çok plenty of

Berber loanwords[edit]

Before the mass Arabization of what corresponds to modern-day Libya, Berber was the native language for most people. This led to the borrowing of a number of Berber words in Libyan Arabic. Many Berber-speaking people continue to live in Libya today but it is not clear to what extent Berber language continues to influence Libyan Arabic.

Grammar[edit]

Libyan Arabic shares the feature of the first person singular initial n- with the rest of the Maghrebi Arabic dialect continuum to which it belongs. Similar to other Arabic dialects, Libyan does not mark grammatical cases by declension. However, it has a rich verbal conjugation structure.

Nouns[edit]

Nouns in Libyan Arabic are marked for two genders (masculine and feminine) and three numbers (singular, dual, and plural). Paucal number also exists for some nouns. The diminutive is also still widely used productively (especially by women) to add an endearing or an empathetic connotation to the original noun. As in Classical Arabic, rules for the diminutive formation are based on vowel apophony.

Indefiniteness is not marked. Definite nouns are marked using the same Classical Arabic definite article al, but with somewhat different rules of pronunciation:

  • For nouns beginning with Qamari letters, the definite article is pronounced either [l]—for words with an initial single consonant onset—or [lə], for words with a double consonant onset. Except for the letter j /ʒ/, Qamari letters in Libyan Arabic are the same as in Classical Arabic, even for those letters that have become different phonemes such as q changing to g. The letter j /ʒ/, which corresponds to the Classical Arabic phoneme /dʒ/ has changed from being a Qamari letter to a Shamsi letter.
  • For nouns beginning with Shamsi letters, which in Libyan Arabic include the letter j /ʒ/, the definite article is pronounced [ə] with the first consonant geminated.

Dual[edit]

While marking verbs for the dual number has been lost completely in Libyan Arabic (in fact, in all Arabic dialects), nouns have a specialized dual number form. However, in Eastern Libyan it tends to be more widespread.

Demonstratives[edit]

Various sets of demonstratives exist in Libyan Arabic. Following is a list of some of these. Please note that the grouping in columns does not necessarily reflect grouping in reality:

Category Demonstr. IPA Demonstr. IPA Demonstr. IPA Demonstr. IPA Demonstr. IPA
this (Masc. sg.) hāda haːda hādaya haːdaja hida həda haẓa hɑðˤɑ haẓayēhi hɑðˤɑjːeːhi
this (fem. sg.) hādi haːdi hādiya haːdija hidi hədi haẓi hɑðˤi haẓiyēhi hɑðˤijːeːhi
that (masc. sg.) hādāka haːdaːka hāḍākaya haːdˤaːkaja haḍak hadˤaːk haẓakki hɑðˤakki
that (fem. sg.) hādīka haːdiːka hādīkaya haːdiːkaja hadīk hadiːk

Verbs[edit]

Similar to Classical Arabic stem formation is an important morphological aspect of Libyan Arabic. However, stems III and X are unproductive, whereas stems IV and IX do not exist. The following table shows Classical Arabic stems and their Libyan Arabic counterparts.

Verbal Stem Formation in Libyan Arabic1
Classical Arabic Libyan Arabic Status
Past (3rd sg. masc.) Past (3rd sg. masc.)
I faʿala fʿal Productive
II faʿʿala faʿʿəl Productive
III fāʿala fāʿəl Unproductive
IV ʾafʿala Does not Exist
V tafaʿʿala tfaʿʿəl Productive
VI tafāʿala tfāʿəl Fairly productive.
(usually in verbs that allow for reciprocity of action)
VII infaʿala ənfʿal Productive
VIII iftaʿala əftʿal Possible innovation in Libyan Arabic.[citation needed] The general meaning of the stem is the same as that of stem VII and does not correspond to the Classical Arabic meaning of the same stem. It is only used when the initial of the triliteral of the verb begins with some sonorants e.g. l,n,m,r. If stem VII were used with the sonorants mentioned above, the n in the stem would assimilate into the sonorant.
IX ifʿalla Does not Exist
X istafʿala stafʿəl Unproductive (Rare)

Tripoli dialect is used in the table above

Conjugation[edit]

Similar to Classical Arabic and other Arabic dialects, Libyan Arabic distinguishes between two main categories of roots; strong roots (those that do not have vowels or hamza) and weak roots.

Conjugation of strong roots[edit]

Strong roots follow more predictable rules of conjugation and they can be classified into three categories for Stem I in Western Libyan Arabic:

  • i-verbs (e.g. k-t-b to write) follow an interconsonantal vowel structure that is predominated by an i (normally pronounced [ə])
  • a-verbs (e.g. r-k-b to mount, to ascend) follow an interconsonantal vowel structure that is predominated by an a
  • u-verbs (e.g. r-g-ṣ to dance) follow an interconsonantal vowel structure that is predominated by an u

Please note that this classification is not always strictly followed. For example the 3rd f. past of the root r-g-d, which is a u-verb, is usually pronounced [rəɡdət] instead of [ruɡdət]. Note also that a-verbs and u-verbs follow the same rules in the past conjugation.

Libyan Arabic triliteral i-verb1,2 morphology for the root k-t-b (to write) Stem I
Tripoli Dialect
Person Past Present Imperative
Singular
3rd (m.) ktab yiktəb Not Applicable
3rd (f.) kitbət tiktəb Not Applicable
2nd (m.) ktabət tiktəb iktəb
2nd (f.) ktabti tikətbi ikətbi
1st ktabət niktəb Not Applicable
Plural
3rd (m and f) kitbu yikətbu Not Applicable
2nd (m and f) ktabtu tikətbu ikətbu
1st (m and f) ktabna nikətbu Not Applicable

1. The i in an i-verb is usually pronounced [ə].
2. In roots with initial uvular, pharyngeal and glottal phonemes (namely χ ħ h ʁ ʕ ʔ, but not q), i in the present and imperative is pronounced [e]. For example, the root ʁ-l-b (to overcome) is conjugated as jeʁləb, teʁləb, etc.

Libyan Arabic triliteral a-verb1 morphology for the root r-k-b (to mount, to ascend) Stem I
Tripoli Dialect
Person Past Present Imperative
Singular
3rd (m.) rkab yarkəb Not Applicable
3rd (f.) rukbət tarkəb Not Applicable
2nd (m.) rkabət tarkəb arkəb
2nd (f.) rkabti tarkbi arkbi
1st rkabət narkəb Not Applicable
Plural
3rd (m and f) rukbu yarkbu Not Applicable
2nd (m and f) rkabtu tarkbu arkbu
1st (m and f) rkabna narkbu Not Applicable

1.Realized variously as a and ɑ depending on the consonat structure of the word.

Libyan Arabic triliteral u-verb1 morphology for the root r-g-ṣ (to dance) Stem I
Tripoli Dialect
Person Past Present Imperative
Singular
3rd (m.) rgaṣ yurguṣ Not Applicable
3rd (f.) rugṣət turguṣ Not Applicable
2nd (m.) rgaṣət turguṣ urguṣ
2nd (f.) rgaṣti turgṣi urgṣi
1st rgaṣət nurguṣ Not Applicable
Plural
3rd (m and f) rugṣu yurgṣu Not Applicable
2nd (m and f) rgaṣtu turgṣu urgṣu
1st (m and f) rgaṣna nurgṣu Not Applicable

1. In roots with initial uvular, pharyngeal and glottal phonemes (namely χ ħ h ʁ ʕ ʔ, but not q), u in the present and imperative is realised by o. For example, the root ʁ-r-f (to scoop up) is conjugated as joʁrəf, toʁrəf, etc.

Conjugation in the Eastern Libyan Arabic is more fine grained, yielding a richer structure.

Future tense[edit]

Future in Libyan Arabic is formed by prefixing an initial bi - usually contracted to b- to the present tense conjugation. Thus, 'tiktəb' (she writes) becomes 'btiktəb' (she will write). This should not be confused with the indicative marker common in some Eastern Arabic varieties.

Intelligibility with other varieties of Arabic[edit]

Libyan Arabic is highly intelligible to Tunisians and to a good extent to eastern Algerians. However for most eastern Arabic speakers, including Egyptians, it can be difficult to understand and requires some adaptation.

Libyans usually have to substitute some Libyan Arabic words to make themselves understood to other Arabic speakers, especially Middle Easterners. Substitute words are usually borrowed from Modern Standard or Egyptian Arabic. The following table shows some of the commonly replaced words.

Libyan Arabic IPA Meaning
halba halba plenty
dār daːr (he) did
dwe dwe (he) spoke
gaʿmiz ɡaʕməz (he) sat
ngaz ŋɡaz (he) jumped
ḫnab χnab (he) stole

Generally, all Italian and to some extent Turkish loanwords are substituted.

It should be noted, however, that if a word is replaced it does not mean that it is exclusively Libyan. This situation sometimes arises because the speaker, mistakenly, guesses that the word does not exist in the hearer's dialect. For example the word zarda (feast, picnic) has close variants in other Maghrebi dialects but is usually substituted in Maghrebi contexts because most speakers do not know that such variants exist.

Pidgin Libyan Arabic[edit]

Pidgin Libyan exists in Libya as a contact language used by non-Arabs, mostly Saharan and sub-Saharan Africans living in Libya. Similar to all pidgins, it has a simplified structure and limited expressive power.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Libyan Arabic at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  • Roger Chambard, Proverbes libyens recueillis par R. Ch., ed. by Gilda Nataf & Barbara Graille, Paris, GELLAS-Karthala, 2002 [pp. 465–580: index arabe-français/français-arabe]- ISBN 2-84586-289-X
  • Eugenio Griffini, L'arabo parlato della Libia – Cenni grammaticali e repertorio di oltre 10.000 vocaboli, frasi e modi di dire raccolti in Tripolitania, Milano : Hoepli, 1913 (reprint Milano : Cisalpino-Goliardica, 1985)
  • Christophe Pereira,Le parler arabe de Tripoli (Libye), Zaragoza : Instituto de Estudios Ilamicós y del oriente próximo, 2010
  • Abdulgialil M. Harrama. 1993. "Libyan Arabic morphology: Al-Jabal dialect," University of Arizona PhD dissertation
  • Jonathan Owens, "Libyan Arabic Dialects", Orbis 32.1–2 (1983) [actually 1987], p. 97–117
  • Jonathan Owens, A Short Reference Grammar of Eastern Libyan Arabic, Wiesbaden : Harrassowitz, 1984 – ISBN 3-447-02466-6
  • Ester Panetta, "Vocabolario e fraseologia dell’arabo parlato a Bengasi" – (Letter A): Annali Lateranensi 22 (1958) 318–369; Annali Lateranensi 26 (1962) 257–290 – (B) in: A Francesco Gabrieli. Studi orientalistici offerti nel sessantesimo compleanno dai suoi colleghi e discepoli, Roma 1964, 195–216 – (C) : AION n.s. 13.1 (1964), 27–91 – (D) : AION n.s. 14.1 (1964), 389–413 – (E) : Oriente Moderno 60.1–6 (1980), 197–213