Maghrebi Arabic

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Maghrebi Arabic
Region Maghreb
Arabic alphabet, Latin alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog nort3191[1]

Maghrebi Arabic (Western Arabic), or Maghrebi Darija, is an Arabic dialect spoken in the Maghreb region, in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and in other African countries. It includes Moroccan Arabic, Algerian Arabic, Tunisian Arabic, Libyan Arabic, and Hassaniya Arabic. The variety is sometimes referred to as Western Arabic, as opposed to Eastern Arabic (Mashriqi Arabic). Speakers of Maghrebi Arabic call their language Derja, Derija or Darija (Arabic: الدارجة‎; meaning "to rise or advance step by step"[2]), which alludes to colloquial spoken Arabic rather than Modern Standard Arabic.[3]

Modern Standard Arabic (الفصحى al-Fusḥā) is the primary language used in the government, legislation and judiciary of countries in the Maghreb. Maghrebi Arabic is mainly a spoken and vernacular language, although it occasionally appears in entertainment and advertising in urban areas of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. In Algeria, where Maghrebi Arabic was taught as a separate subject under French colonization, some textbooks in the language exist but they are no longer officially endorsed by the Algerian authorities. Maghrebi Arabic contains a Berber substratum, which represents the languages originally spoken by the native populations of the Maghreb prior to their adoption of Arabic.[4] Maghrebi Arabic may also possess a Punic substrate.[5]

The varieties of Maghrebi Arabic Darija have a significant degree of mutual intelligibility, especially between geographically adjacent ones (such as local dialects spoken in Eastern Morocco and Western Algeria or Eastern Algeria and North Tunisia or South Tunisia and Western Libya), but hardly between Moroccan and Tunisian Darija. Conversely, Moroccan Darija and particularly Algerian Derja cannot be understood by Eastern Arabic speakers (from Egypt, Sudan, Levant, Iraq, and Arabian peninsula) in general as they derive from different substratums and a mixture of many languages (Berber, Old Arabic, Turkish, French, Spanish, Italian, and Niger-Congo languages). Some linguists like Charles A. Ferguson, William Marçais and Abdou Elimam, tend to consider Maghrebi Arabic Darija as an independent language.[6][7]

Maghrebi Arabic continues to evolve by integrating new French or English words, notably in technical fields, or by replacing old French and Italian/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 Italian/Spanish loanwords, especially the latter came from the time of al-Andalus. Maghrebi dialects all use n- as the first-person singular prefix on verbs, distinguishing them from Levantine dialects and Modern Standard Arabic.

Speakers 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 voice for example). Since it is not always 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 closest to Tunisian Arabic, but it is no longer mutually intelligible with the varieties spoken today in North Africa.[8] When discussing modern languages, the word is often given a geographic definition and limited to Northern Africa.


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


Darija, Derija or Delja (Arabic: الدارجة‎) means "everyday/colloquial language";[9] 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 Arabic varieties directly as languages, similarly it is also common in Egypt and Lebanon to refer to the Mashriqi Arabic varieties directly as languages. For instance, Algerian Arabic would be referred as Dzayri (Algerian) and Tunisian Arabic as Tounsi (Tunisian), and Egyptian Arabic would be referred as Masri (Egyptian) and Lebanese Arabic as Lubnani (Lebanese).

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. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "North African Arabic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  2. ^ Wehr, Hans (1979). A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic: (Arab.-Engl.). Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 319. ISBN 3447020024. Retrieved 30 September 2017. 
  3. ^ Harrell, Richard Slade (2004). A Dictionary of Moroccan Arabic: Moroccan-English. Georgetown University Press. p. 18. ISBN 1589011031. Retrieved 30 September 2017. 
  4. ^ Tilmatine Mohand, « Substrat et convergences : Le berbère et l'arabe nord-africain », Estudios de dialectologia norteaafricana y andalusi, n°4, 1999, pp. 99-119
  5. ^ Benramdane, Farid (1998). "Le maghribi, langue trois fois millénaire de ELIMAM, Abdou (Éd. ANEP, Alger 1997)". Insaniyat (6): 129–130. Retrieved 12 February 2015. 
  6. ^ Abdou Elimam, « Le maghribi, langue trois fois millénaire », éd. ANEP, Alger (1997)
  7. ^ Abdou Elimam, « Le maghribi, alias ed-darija, langue consensuelle du Maghreb », éd. Dar El Gharb, Alger (2004)
  8. ^ 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".
  9. ^ Wehr, Hans: Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic (2011); Harrell, Richard S.: Dictionary of Moroccan Arabic (1966)

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.