Maghrebi Arabic

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"Darja" redirects here. For the village in Iran, see Darja, Iran. For the Romanian village of Dârja, see Panticeu.
Linguistic classification: Afro-Asiatic
Glottolog: nort3191[1]

Maghrebi , or Darija, is the principal spoken language in the Maghreb, including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. It's also called Western Arabic (as opposed to the Eastern Arabic known as Mashriqi Arabic) that includes Moroccan Arabic, Algerian Arabic, Tunisian Arabic along with Libyan Arabic. Linguists like Charles A. Ferguson, William Marçais and Abdouis Elimam, mutually consider the Maghribi as an independent language.[2][3]. In Algeria, the Maghrebi as a colloquial language was taught as a separate subject under French colonization, and some textbooks exist. Speakers of Maghrebi call their language Derja, Derija or Darija. It is used as a spoken and sometimes as a written language for communication . Maghrebi is used as well in TV dramas and on advertising boards in Morocco and Tunisia, but Modern Standard Arabic (الفصحى (al-)fuṣ-ḥā) also remain used mainly by officials for written communication. Maghrebi is established on a Berber[4] and possibly a Punic[5] substratum, influenced by the languages of the people who lived or administered the countries of the region, during the course of history, such as Latin, Arabic, Turkish, Italian, Spanish, and French.

The varieties of Maghrebi (or Darija) have a significant degree of mutual intelligibility, specially 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 the Moroccan and Tunisian Darija. Conversely, it can not be understood (specially Moroccan Darija) by Arabic speakers from the Mashriq, Mesopotamia or middle eastern Arabs in general as it does derive from different substratums and a mixture of a many languages (Berber, Old Arabic, Turkish, French, Spanish and Italian)

Maghrebi 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 and Modern Standard Arabic have more French and Spanish loanwords, especially the latter came from the time of al-Andalus. A considerable number of linguistics like Charles A. Ferguson, William Marçais and Abdou Elimam, tend to consider Maghrebi as an independent language [6][7]. 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 Tunisia) and conjugate them according to the rules of Arabic with some exceptions (like passive tense 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 , but they are no longer mutually intelligible with the varieties other than Tunisian Arabic.[8] When discussing modern languages, the word is often given a geographic definition and limited to Northern Africa.


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


Darija, Derja 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 varieties directly as languages. For instance Algerian Arabic would be referred as Dzayri (Algerian) and Tunisian Arabic as Tounsi (Tunisian).

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. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "North African Arabic". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Abdou Elimam, « Le maghribi, langue trois fois millénaire »,Arabic éddialects. ANEP,It Algershows (1997)
  3. ^ Abdouand Elimam,linguistic «Berber Leinfluence maghribi,on alias ed-darija, langue consensuelle du Maghreb », édit. Dar El Gharb, Alger (2004)
  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.