If you want to learn Arabic, you will be faced with an utmost challenge: many people aren’t aware that Arabic dialects are diverse to the extent that some countries’ dialects are not even understandable to those of others. Most Native Arabic speakers can read and write Modern Standard Arabic (Fus-ha), but when it comes to speaking, each country developed its own dialect based on historical circumstances. There are plenty of dialects and there is more than one way to categorize them. Sometimes, there can be even more than one dialect within the same country.
The Egyptian Dialect
The Egyptian Arabic dialect is so diverse and has been influenced by many languages due to the colonization of Egypt by many other peoples, such as the Ottomans, the British, the Greeks, the Romans, and the French.
Even though there are various dialects in Egypt that differ from the North to the South and from the seaside to areas closer to the Nile, there is still a general Egyptian dialect that is understood across the country. It is even understood throughout the entire Arab region. The Egyptian dialect is very popular within the Arab world since the film industry first flourished in Egypt, making it a leading country in the film and music industries. Therefore, the accent is quite common throughout the Arab region.
So, how did the Egyptian dialect form, and how did it reach its current state? To answer this question, we must look back to when the Arabic language was first introduced in Egypt. When the Arabic language became an official language in Egypt, Coptic—the native language of the original inhabitants—was mixed with Arabic. Some letters took more effort to pronounce, such as the letter ق.. Egyptians altered this letter with ء, as it was easier for them to pronounce. The Coptic language is so infused in Egyptian Arabic that sometimes Egyptians are surprised when they learn the origin of the words they speak now and how it relates to their ancestors. Examples of this are set (woman) and nunu (a baby) originate from the word “nu” meaning “fragile” in ancient Egyptian, and mum (eat for a baby). Embu (I’m thirsty) is derived from the combination of two ancient Egyptian words eb (I want) and mo (water) and was changed to its current form for ease of pronunciation.
The Arabic language as a whole also adopted many Coptic words such as shamsh (sun), which was then changed to shams in Arabic, or wahat (oasis), which was adopted with the same pronunciation. Qalaa (citadel) is derived from the ancient Egyptian combination of two words—ka (high/tall) and ah (great/big). This is also a great example of how languages change and adapt through time.
The Egyptian dialect features Greek and Italian influences, as there were many Italian and Greek nationals living in Egypt until the 1950s as an extension to the Greco-Roman ruling of Egypt since BC. Words such as brova for fitting room, banio for bathtub, guanti for gloves, and mobillia for furniture are of Italian origin and continue to be used today, as do the Greek words shorba for soup and trabiza for table.
Egyptian Arabic also has Turkish influences as a result of years and years under Ottoman rule. This includes words like oda (room), aywa (yes), bastirma (dried meat), balta (an axe), and efendim (when someone calls you and you acknowledge them).
Noticeably, some fields in the country have been dominated by a certain language. For instance, the fashion industry is dominated by the French language. Egyptians use words such as boutique, écharpe, sandales, tailleur, and many more. The automobile industry is also dominated by the French language, so Egyptian Arabic uses words such as capot, klaxon, pare-brise, and radiateur.
No matter where you live in Egypt, people use these words regardless of social class. As a matter of fact, the Egyptian currency symbol L.E. is still called Livre Egyptian which is French for Egyptian Pound.
A full example of this mix of languages is this sentence: “Put the newspaper on the table:”
حط الجرنال على الترابيزه
In this sentence, there are three languages used—Arabic, French, and Greek.