Maghrebi Arabic

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

Maghrebi Arabic, Maghrebi or Darija is a cover term for the varieties of Arabic spoken in the Maghreb, including Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Malta and Libya. 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 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 whilst Modern Standard Arabic (الفصحى (al-)fuṣ-ḥā) is used for written communication. Maghrebi has a vocabulary mostly from Arabic, with significant Berber substrates,[2] some loan-words from Berber and also from French and to some degree from Spanish and even Italian, the languages of the historical European occupiers of the Maghreb. The varieties of Darija have a significant degree of mutual intelligibility, specially between geographically adjacent ones (e.g. Algerian and Moroccan, or Tunisian and Libyan). Conversely, Darija is very hard to understand for Arabic speakers from the Mashriq or Mesopotamia, the easiest being Libyan Arabic and the hardest Moroccan Arabic and Maltese Language.

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 to a lesser extent 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 are no longer mutually intelligible with the other varieties. When discussing modern languages, the word is often given a geographic definition and limited to North Africa.


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


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Maghrebi". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Tilmatine Mohand, Substrat et convergences: Le berbére et l'arabe nord-africain (1999), in Estudios de dialectologia norteaafricana y andalusi 4, pp 99-119

Further reading[edit]

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