Maghrebi Arabic

Maghrebi Arabic

Maghrebi Arabic or Darija is a cover term for the varieties of Arabic spoken in the Maghreb, including Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya. In Algeria, colloquial Maghrebi Arabic was taught as a separate subject under French colonization, and some textbooks exist. Speakers of Maghrebi Arabic 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, along with news broadcasting. Darija 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. Darija has a vocabulary mostly from Arabic, with significant Berber substrates[1], 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. Darija is mutually spoken and understood in the Maghreb countries, especially Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, but very hard to understand for those from the Mashriq.

Darija continues to evolve by integrating new French or English words, notably in technical fields, or by replacing old French and Spanish ones with Standard Arabic words within some circles. 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 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 neighboring languages. This is somewhat similar to what happened to Middle English after the Norman conquest.

Linguistically, Andalusian Arabic and Siculo-Arabic—and therefore its descendant Maltese—are considered Maghrebi Arabic, but when discussing modern language the word is often given a geographic definition and limited to North Africa.

Arab language dialects

An overview of the different Arabic dialects

Further reading

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


  1. ^ Tilmatine Mohand, Substrat et convergences: Le berbére et l'arabe nord-africain (1999), in Estudios de dialectologia norteaafricana y andalusi 4, pp 99-119

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