Gulf Arabic

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Gulf Arabic
خليجي, Ḵalījī
اللهجة الخليجية, il-lahja il-Ḵalījīya
Native toKuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, and parts of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Oman
Native speakers
6.8 million (2016)[1]
Arabic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3afb

Gulf Arabic (خليجي Ḵalījī local pronunciation: [χɐˈliːdʒi] or اللهجة الخليجية il-lahja ol-Ḵalījīya, local pronunciation: [((ɪ)lˈlɐhdʒɐ lχɐˈliːdʒiːjɐ]) is a variety of the Arabic language spoken in Eastern Arabia[2] around the coasts of the Persian Gulf in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, southern Iraq,[3] eastern Saudi Arabia, northern Oman, and by some Iranian Arabs.[4]

Gulf Arabic can be defined as a set of closely related and more or less mutually intelligible varieties that form a dialect continuum, with the level of mutual intelligibility between any two varieties largely depending on the distance between them. Similar to other Arabic varieties, Gulf Arabic varieties are not completely mutually intelligible with other Arabic varieties spoken outside the Gulf.[5] The specific dialects differ in vocabulary, grammar and accent. There are considerable differences between, for instance, Kuwaiti Arabic and the dialects of Qatar and the UAE, especially in pronunciation, that may hinder mutual intelligibility. [6]

Gulf varieties' closest related relatives are other dialects native to the Arabian Peninsula, i.e. Najdi Arabic and Bahrani Arabic.[7][8] Although spoken over much of Saudi Arabia's area, Gulf Arabic is not the native tongue of most Saudis, as the majority of them do not live in Eastern Arabia.[6] There are some 200,000 Gulf Arabic speakers in the country, out of a population of over 30 million, mostly in the aforementioned Eastern Province.[7][8]


Peninsular Arabic varieties (Gulf Arabic indicated by dark maroon)

The dialect's full name el-lahja el-Khalijiyya (اللهجة الخليجية local pronunciation: [elˈlɑhdʒɐ lχɐˈliːdʒɪj.jɐ]) can be translated as 'the dialect of the gulf'. However, it is most commonly referred to as Khaliji (خليجي Khalījī [χɐˈliːdʒi]), in which the noun خليج ([χɐˈliːdʒ]; Khalīj) has been suffixed with the Nisba, literally meaning 'of the bay' or 'of the gulf'.[9]



Gulf Arabic consonants[10]
Labial Dental Denti-alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
 plain  emphatic
 plain  emphatic
Nasal m () n
Occlusive voiceless (p) t k q ʔ
voiced b () d ɡ
Fricative voiceless f θ s ʃ x~χ ħ h
voiced ð z ðˤ ɣ~ʁ ʕ
Trill r ()
Approximant l (ɫ) j w

Phonetic notes:

  • The non-native Arabic letter /p/پ⟩, or its native counterpart /b/ب⟩, is used to denote that sound which occurs only in loanwords, e.g.: piyāḷah (پيالة or بيالة [pijɑːɫɑh], 'small glass'), from Hindi.
  • */ɮˤ/ض⟩ has merged to /ðˤ/ظ⟩.
  • The difference between /l/ and /ɫ/ is not orthographically shown.
  • The classicized [q] is an allophone for /g/ق⟩ , used in Literary Arabic loanwords, and also an allophone for /ɣ/غ⟩.
  • The stops /b/, /d/, and /g/ are described as fully voiced despite their position within the word.

The differences in the phonology of the Arabic dialect group of the Persian Gulf, compared to Modern Standard Arabic, are following:

Letter MSA pronunciation Khaliji varieties Examples Notes
ج /d͡ʒ/ [j] or [d͡ʒ⁓ʒ] mōy or mōj (موج [moːj] or [moːd͡ʒ], 'wave');
masyid or masjid (مسجد [ˈmɑsjɪd] or [ˈmɐsd͡ʒɪd], "mosque")
Changes are optional, although jim (ج) never changes to [j] in loanwords.[11]</ref>
ق /q/ /q/ (in Classical Arabic words), [ɡ], very rarely and optionally [d͡ʒ⁓ʒ] when followed by front vowels ([ɐ], [e], [ɪ] or [i]) or following a consonant preceded by a front vowel jiddām, qeddām or geddām (قدام [d͡ʒɪdˈdɑːm], [qedˈdɑːm] or [ɡedˈdɑːm], "in front of");
sharji, sharqi or shargi (شرقي [ˈʃɑɾd͡ʒi], [ˈʃɑɾqi] or [ˈʃɑɾɡi], "eastern")
Many Literary Arabic loanwords preserve the /q/ sound, but optionally use /g/ sound. By Persian influence, extremely rarely the qaf (ق) changes to ghayn (غ) [ʁ ~ ɣ].[12]
غ /ʁ~ɣ/ [ʁ], [ɣ], [q] qannā (غنى [ˈqɑnnɑ], "to sing") Ghayn rarely changes to [q] or [g] by Persian influence.[13]
ك /k/ /k/, [t͡ʃ] if preceded or followed by a front vowel or if 2nd person feminine singular suffixed/object pronoun ubūch (أبوك [ʔʊˈbuːt͡ʃ]; 'your ( father') This change is optional, but encountered with more often when the kaf (ك) is used to denote the 2nd person feminine singular suffixed/object pronoun.[14]
ض // [ðˤ] ẓāʼ (ضاع [ðˤɑːʕ], 'to lose') Ẓāʼ (ظ) and Ḍad (ض) cannot be distinguished by pronunciation as the Gulf dialects lack the pharyngealised [d].[10] However, they retain their orthographic distinction.[15]


Following vowel chart applies to the Gulf Arabic dialect continuum:[16]

  Front Central Back
short long short long short long
Close i     u
Mid e     o
Open æ æː a ɑ ɑː

Qafisheh (1977) stipulates at least two qualities of /a/:

a has a low back quality in the environment of pharyngealized consonants and frequently before or after /q/. This sound is similar to the a sound in father but shorter and farther back. (...) Before or after the pharyngeals 9 [= ʿAyin] and H [= ḥ], or any other plain consonant, a is farther front than the a in father; its quality ranges between the e in pen and the a in pan.[17]

He further explains that these qualities also apply to /aː/, so that [ɑ(ː)][ä(ː)][æ(ː)] can therefore be assumed.

Elsewhere in the article, the open central vowels are written without the diacritic for the sake of simplicity.



Gulf Arabic has 10 personal pronouns.[18] The conservative dialect has preserved the gender differentiation of the 2nd and 3rd person in the plural forms, whereas dual forms have not survived. The following table bears the generally most common pronouns:

Person Singular Plural
1st ānā (آنَا) niḥin (نِحِنْ)
2nd masculine inta (إِنْتَ) intum (إِنْتُمْ)
feminine inti (إِنْتِ) intin1 (إِنْتِنْ)
3rd masculine huwa (هُوَ) hum (هُمْ)
feminine hiya (هِيَ) hin2 (هِنْ)
  • ^1 Many speakers do not distinguish between masculine and feminine forms in the second person plural, replacing intum and intin with intu (إنْتُ).
  • ^2 Speakers that do not distinguish between masculine and feminine forms in the third person plural will also use hum (هُمْ) for both genders in the third person plural, respectively.

Some pronouns, however, have other (less frequent, resp. local) forms:

  • ānā (آنَا):
    anā (أَنَا)
    āni (آنِي) (especially Baḥrānī)
  • inta (إِنْتَ):
    init (إِنِتْ)
  • huwa (هُوَ):
    huwwa (هُوَّ) (especially Qaṭarī)
    uhu (أُهُو)
  • hiya (هِيَ):
    hiyya (هِيَّ) (especially Qaṭarī)
    ihi (إِهِي)
  • niḥin (نِحِنْ):
    niḥna (نِحْنَ)
    iḥna (إِحْنَا) (especially Baḥrānī and Qatarī)
    ḥina (حِنا) (Qatarī)
  • intum (إِنْتُمْ):
    intu (إنْتُ)
  • hum (هُمْ):
    humma (هُمَّ) (especially Qatarī)
    uhum (أُهُمْ)

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Gulf Arabic at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. ^ Holes (2001), pp. xvi–xvii.
  3. ^ Arabic, Gulf Spoken – A Language of Iraq Ethnologue
  4. ^ Languages of Iran Ethnologue
  5. ^ Qafisheh (1977), p. xvii.
  6. ^ a b Holes (2001), p. ?.
  7. ^ a b Frawley (2003), p. 38.
  8. ^ a b Languages of Saudi Arabia Ethnologue
  9. ^ Awde & Smith (2003), p. 88.
  10. ^ a b Qafisheh (1977), p. 2.
  11. ^ Qafisheh (1977), p. 263.
  12. ^ Qafisheh (1977), p. 265.
  13. ^ Qafisheh (1977), p. 266.
  14. ^ Qafisheh (1977), p. 267.
  15. ^ Almuhannadi, Muneera (2006). A Guide to the Idioms of Qatari Arabic with Reference to English Idioms. Qatar. ISBN 99921-70-47-6.
  16. ^ Qafisheh (1977), p. 3.
  17. ^ Qafisheh (1977), p. 16.
  18. ^ Qafisheh (1977), p. 159.


Further reading[edit]