Maghrebi Arabic

"Darja" redirects here. For the village in Iran, see Darja, Iran. For the Romanian village of Dârja, see Panticeu.
Maghrebi Arabic
Region Maghreb
Arabic alphabet, Latin alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog nort3191[1]

Maghrebi Arabic, or Maghrebi Darija, is the principal spoken language in the Maghreb region, 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. 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 Arabic is used as well in TV dramas and on advertising boards in Morocco and Tunisia, but Modern Standard Arabic (الفصحى (al-)fushā) also remain used mainly by officials for written communication. Maghrebi is established on a Berber[2] and possibly a Punic[3] 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 Arabic 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, the Moroccan Arabic Darija, can not be understood by Eastern Arabic speakers (from Egypt, Sudan, Levant, Iraq, and Arabian peninsula) in general as it does derive from different substratums and a mixture of a many languages (Berber, Old Arabic, Turkish, French, Spanish, Italian, and sub-Saharan languages). A considerable number of linguists like Charles A. Ferguson, William Marçais and Abdou Elimam, tend to consider Maghrebi Arabic Darija (especially Moroccan Arabic Darija) as an independent language.[4][5]

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.

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.[6] 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, Derja or Delja (Arabic: الدارجة) means "everyday/colloquial language";[7] 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; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "North African Arabic". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. Tilmatine Mohand, « Substrat et convergences : Le berbère et l'arabe nord-africain », Estudios de dialectologia norteaafricana y andalusi, n°4, 1999, pp. 99-119
  3. Benramdane, Farid (1998). "Le maghribi, langue trois fois millénaire de ELIMAM, Abdou (Éd. ANEP, Alger 1997)". Insaniyat (6): 129–130. Retrieved 12 February 2015.
  4. Abdou Elimam, « Le maghribi, langue trois fois millénaire », éd. ANEP, Alger (1997)
  5. Abdou Elimam, « Le maghribi, alias ed-darija, langue consensuelle du Maghreb », éd. Dar El Gharb, Alger (2004)
  6. 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".
  7. Wehr, Hans: Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic (2011); Harrell, Richard S.: Dictionary of Moroccan Arabic (1966)

Further reading

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