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Libyan Arabic
ليبي (Lībi)
Native toLibya, Egypt, Niger[1]
Speakers5.6 million in all countries (2020–2021)[1]
Arabic script
Libyan Sign
Language codes
ISO 639-3ayl
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Libyan Arabic (Arabic: ليبي, romanizedLībī), also called Sulaimitian Arabic by scholars,[2] is a variety of Arabic spoken in Libya, and neighboring countries. It can be divided into two major dialect areas; the eastern centred in Benghazi and Bayda, and the western centred in Tripoli and Misrata. The Eastern variety extends beyond the borders to the east and share the same dialect with far Western Egypt, Western Egyptian Bedawi Arabic, with between 90,000 and 474,000 speakers in Egypt.[3] A distinctive southern variety, centered on Sabha, also exists and is more akin to the western variety. Another Southern dialect is also shared along the borders with Niger with 12,900 speakers in Niger as of 2021.[1]

Note on transcription notation

The transcription of Libyan Arabic into Latin script poses a few problems. First, there is not one standard transcription in use even for Modern Standard Arabic[citation needed]. The use of the International Phonetic Alphabet alone is not sufficient as it obscures some points that can be better understood if several different allophones in Libyan Arabic are transcribed using the same symbol.

On the other hand, Modern Standard Arabic transcription schemes, while providing good support for representing Arabic sounds that are not normally represented by the Latin script, do not list symbols for other sounds found in Libyan Arabic.

Therefore, to make this article more legible, DIN 31635 is used with a few additions to render phonemes particular to Libyan Arabic. These additions are as follow:

IPA Extended DIN
ɡ g
ə ə
ʒ j


Two major historical events have shaped the Libyan dialect: the Hilalian-Sulaimi migration, and the migration of Arabs from al-Andalus to the Maghreb following the Reconquista. Libyan Arabic has also been influenced by the Greek and Italian, and to a lesser extent by Turkish. It contains a few Berber loanwords which represent 2–3% of its vocabulary.[4]

Domains of use

The Libyan dialect is used predominantly in spoken communication in Libya. It is also used in Libyan folk poetry, TV dramas and comedies, songs, as well as in cartoons. Libyan Arabic is also used as a lingua franca by non-Arab Libyans whose mother tongue is not Arabic. Libyan Arabic is not normally written, as the written register is normally Modern Standard Arabic, but Libyan Arabic is the main language for cartoonists, and the only suitable language for writing Libyan folk poetry. It is also written in internet forums, emails and in instant messaging applications.


As is the case with all Bedouin dialects and some Urban dialects, the /q/ sound of Modern Standard Arabic is realized as a [ɡ], except sometimes in words recently borrowed from literary Arabic.

The following table shows the consonants used in Libyan Arabic. Note: some sounds occur in certain regional varieties while being completely absent in others.

Libyan Arabic consonant phonemes
  Labial Interdental Dental/Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
 plain  emphatic  plain  emphatic  plain  emphatic
Nasal m     n            
Stops voiceless         t   k (q)   (ʔ)
voiced b       d   ɡ      
Fricative voiceless f   θ   s ʃ   χ ħ h
voiced (v)   ð (ðˤ) z ʒ   ʁ ʕ  
Trill         r          
Approximant         l    j w       

In western dialects, the interdental fricatives ð ðˤ/ have merged with the corresponding dental stops /t d dˤ/. Eastern dialects generally still distinguish the two sets, but there is a tendency to replace /dˤ/ with /ðˤ/.

Libyan Arabic vowel phonemes
Front Central Back
Near-close ɪ ʊ
Open ă

/ă/ is heard as [ɛ] in unstressed closed syllables. /aː/ is heard as [ɑ] before and after velar consonants and as [æː] in free variation before non-velar consonants. /ɪ/ phonetically occurs as a more central near-close sound [ɨ̞].[5]

The e and o vowels exist only in long form. This can be explained by the fact that these vowels were originally diphthongs in Classical Arabic with /eː/ replacing /ai/ and /oː/ replacing /au/. In some eastern varieties, however, the classical /ai/ has changed to /ei/ and /au/ to /ou/.

Libyan Arabic has at least three clicks, which are used interjectionally, a trait shared with the Bedouin dialects of central Arabia[citation needed]. The first is used for affirmative responses and is generally considered very casual and sometimes associated with low social status. The second is a dental click and used for negative responses and is similar to the English 'tut'. The third is a palatal click used exclusively by women having a meaning close to that of the English word 'alas'.

Syllable structure

Although Western Libyan Arabic allows for the following syllable structure to occur.

syllable: C1(C2)V1(V2)(C3)(C4)
(C = consonant, V = vowel, optional components are in parentheses.)

An anaptyctic [ə] is inserted between C3 and C4 to ease pronunciation, changing the structure above into the following.


On the other hand, Eastern Libyan always has an anaptyctic ə between C1 and C2 in the following manner.



Most of the vocabulary in Libyan Arabic is of Old Arabic origin, usually with a modified interconsonantal vowel structure. Many Italian loanwords also exist, in addition to Turkish, Berber, Spanish, and English words.

Relation to Classical Arabic vocabulary

The bulk of vocabulary in Libyan Arabic has the same meaning as in Classical Arabic. However, many words have different but related meanings to those of Classical Arabic. The following table serves to illustrate this relation. The past tense is used in the case of verbs as it is more distinctive and has been traditionally used in Arabic lexicons. Canonically, these verbs are pronounced with the final 'a' (marker of the past tense in Classical Arabic). This notation is preserved the table below. However, the relation between Libyan and Classical Arabic verbs can be better understood if the final 'a' is dropped, in accordance with the elision rule of pre-pause vowels of Classical Arabic.

Comparison of meanings between Libyan Arabic words and Classical Arabic words
Libyan Arabic Classical Arabic
 Word1   IPA1   Meaning   Word   IPA   Closest Meaning 
šbaḥ ʃbaħ (3rd m.) saw (perceived with the eyes) šabaḥ ʃabaħa appeared vaguely
dwe dwe (3rd m.) spoke dawā dawaː rumbled
lōḥ loːħ wood lawḥ lauħ board, plank
wāʿər wɑːʕər difficult waʿr waʕr rough terrain
šaḥḥəṭ ʃaħːətˤ (3rd m. trans.) stretched šaḥiṭ ʃaħitˤɑ became distant

1. Western Libyan pronunciation is used in the above table.

Italian loanwords

Main article: List of Libyan Arabic words of Italian origin

Italian loanwords exist mainly, but not exclusively, as a technical jargon. For example, machinery parts, workshop tools, electrical supplies, names of fish species, etc.

Italian Loanwords
Libyan Arabic Italian
 Word   IPA    Meaning   Word   Meaning 
ṣālīṭa sˤɑːliːtˤa slope salita up slope
kinšēllu kənʃeːlːu metallic gate cancello gate
anglu aŋɡuli corner angolo corner
ṭānṭa, uṭānṭa tˤɑːntˤɑ, utˤɑːntˤɑ truck ottanta eighty (a model of a truck of Italian make)
tēsta teːsta a head butt testa head

Turkish loanwords

Turkish words were borrowed during the Ottoman era of Libya. Words of Turkish origin are not as common as Italian ones.

Turkish Loanwords
Libyan Arabic Turkish
 Word   IPA   Meaning   Word   Meaning 
kāšīk kaːʃiːk spoon kaşık spoon
šīša ʃiːʃa bottle şişe bottle
kāġəṭ kɑːʁətˤ paper kâğıt paper
šōg ʃoːɡ plenty of çok plenty of
doš doʃ shower duş shower
tunjra tunʒra pot tencere saucepan

Berber loanwords

Before the mass Arabization of what corresponds to modern-day Libya, Berber was the native language for most people. This led to the borrowing of a number of Berber words in Libyan Arabic.[citation needed] Some examples of the Berber words in Libyan Arabic are Sardouk, fallous, kusha, garjuta, shlama, karmous, zemmita, bazin, kusksi, and zukra.[6]


Libyan Arabic shares the feature of the first person singular initial n- with the rest of the Maghrebi Arabic dialect continuum to which it belongs. Like other colloquial Arabic dialects, Libyan does not mark grammatical cases by declension. However, it has a rich verbal conjugation structure.


Nouns in Libyan Arabic are marked for two grammatical genders, termed masculine and feminine, and three grammatical numbers, singular, dual and plural. Paucal number also exists for some nouns. The diminutive is also still widely used productively (especially by women) to add an endearing or an empathetic connotation to the original noun. As in Classical Arabic, rules for the diminutive formation are based on vowel apophony.

Indefiniteness is not marked. Definite nouns are marked using the Arabic definite article but with somewhat different rules of pronunciation:

Main article: Sun and moon letters


While marking verbs for the dual number has been lost completely in Libyan Arabic as in other Arabic varieties, nouns have a specialized dual number form. However, in Eastern Libyan it tends to be more widespread.


Various sets of demonstratives exist in Libyan Arabic. Following is a list of some of these. The grouping in columns does not necessarily reflect grouping in reality:

Category Demonstr. IPA Demonstr. IPA Demonstr. IPA Demonstr. IPA Demonstr. IPA
this (Masc. sg.) hāda haːda hādaya haːdaja hida həda haẓa hɑðˤɑ haẓayēhi hɑðˤɑjːeːhi
this (fem. sg.) hādi haːdi hādiya haːdija hidi hədi haẓi hɑðˤi haẓiyēhi hɑðˤijːeːhi
that (masc. sg.) hādāka haːdaːka hāḍākaya haːdˤaːkaja haḍak hadˤaːk haẓakki hɑðˤakki
that (fem. sg.) hādīka haːdiːka hādīkaya haːdiːkaja hadīk hadiːk


Similar to Classical Arabic stem formation is an important morphological aspect of Libyan Arabic. However, stems III and X are unproductive whereas stems IV and IX do not exist. The following table shows Classical Arabic stems and their Libyan Arabic counterparts.

Verbal Stem Formation in Libyan Arabic1
Classical Arabic Libyan Arabic Status
Past (3rd sg. masc.) Past (3rd sg. masc.)
I faʿala fʿal Productive
II faʿʿala faʿʿəl Productive
III fāʿala fāʿəl Unproductive
IV ʾafʿala Does not Exist
V tafaʿʿala tfaʿʿəl Productive
VI tafāʿala tfāʿəl Fairly productive.
(usually in verbs that allow for reciprocity of action)
VII infaʿala ənfʿal Productive
VIII iftaʿala əftʿal Possible innovation in Libyan Arabic.[citation needed] The general meaning of the stem is the same as that of stem VII and does not correspond to the Classical Arabic meaning of the same stem. It is used when the initial of the triliteral of the verb begins with some sonorant like l, n, m, r. If stem VII were used with the sonorants mentioned above, the n in the stem would assimilate into the sonorant.
IX ifʿalla Does not Exist
X istafʿala stafʿəl Unproductive (Rare)

Tripoli dialect is used in the table above


Like Classical Arabic and other Arabic dialects, Libyan Arabic distinguishes between two main categories of roots: strong roots (those that do not have vowels or hamza) and weak roots.

Conjugation of strong roots

Strong roots follow more predictable rules of conjugation, and they can be classified into three categories for Stem I in Western Libyan Arabic:

This classification is not always strictly followed. For example, the third person feminine past of the root r-g-d, which is a u-verb, is usually pronounced [rəɡdət], instead of [ruɡdət]. Also, a-verbs and u-verbs follow the same rules in the past conjugation.

Libyan Arabic triliteral i-verb1,2 morphology for the root k-t-b (to write) Stem I
Tripoli Dialect
Person Past Present Imperative
3rd (m.) ktab yiktəb Not Applicable
3rd (f.) kitbət tiktəb Not Applicable
2nd (m.) ktabət tiktəb iktəb
2nd (f.) ktabti tikətbi ikətbi
1st ktabət niktəb Not Applicable
3rd (m and f) kitbu yikətbu Not Applicable
2nd (m and f) ktabtu tikətbu ikətbu
1st (m and f) ktabna nikətbu Not Applicable

1. The i in an i-verb is usually pronounced [ə].
2. In roots with initial uvular, pharyngeal and glottal phonemes (χ ħ h ʁ ʕ ʔ but not q), i in the present and imperative is pronounced [e]. For example, the root ʁ-l-b (to overcome) is conjugated as jeʁləb, teʁləb, etc.

Libyan Arabic triliteral a-verb1 morphology for the root r-k-b (to mount, to ascend) Stem I
Tripoli Dialect
Person Past Present Imperative
3rd (m.) rkab yarkəb Not Applicable
3rd (f.) rukbət tarkəb Not Applicable
2nd (m.) rkabət tarkəb arkəb
2nd (f.) rkabti tarkbi arkbi
1st rkabət narkəb Not Applicable
3rd (m and f) rukbu yarkbu Not Applicable
2nd (m and f) rkabtu tarkbu arkbu
1st (m and f) rkabna narkbu Not Applicable

1.Realized variously as a and ɑ depending on the consonant structure of the word.

Libyan Arabic triliteral u-verb1 morphology for the root r-g-ṣ (to dance) Stem I
Tripoli Dialect
Person Past Present Imperative
3rd (m.) rgaṣ yurguṣ Not Applicable
3rd (f.) rugṣət turguṣ Not Applicable
2nd (m.) rgaṣət turguṣ urguṣ
2nd (f.) rgaṣti turgṣi urgṣi
1st rgaṣət nurguṣ Not Applicable
3rd (m and f) rugṣu yurgṣu Not Applicable
2nd (m and f) rgaṣtu turgṣu urgṣu
1st (m and f) rgaṣna nurgṣu Not Applicable

1. In roots with initial uvular, pharyngeal or glottal phonemes (χ ħ h ʁ ʕ ʔ but not q), u, in the present and the imperative, is realised by o. For example, the root ʁ-r-f (to scoop up) is conjugated as joʁrəf, toʁrəf, etc.

Conjugation in the Eastern Libyan Arabic is more fine grained, yielding a richer structure.

Future tense

Future in Libyan Arabic is formed by prefixing an initial bi, usually contracted to b, to the present tense conjugation. Thus, 'tiktəb' (she writes) becomes 'btiktəb' (she will write). It should not be confused with the indicative marker common in some Eastern Arabic varieties.

Intelligibility with other varieties of Arabic

Western Libyan Arabic of Tripolitania and Fezzan is highly intelligible to Tunisians and to a good extent to eastern Algerians. However, for Egyptian and Middle Eastern Arabic speakers, Libyan Arabic can be extremely difficult to understand as it is a Maghrebi dialect influenced by Italian, Turkish, and Berber words.

Libyans rarely have to substitute some Libyan Arabic words to make themselves understood to other Arabic speakers, especially Middle Easterners. Substitute words are usually borrowed from Modern Standard or Egyptian Arabic. The following table shows some of the commonly replaced words:

Libyan Arabic IPA Meaning Common Replacements
halba halba plenty ktīr
dār daːr (he) did ʕemel
dwe dwe (he) spoke gāl
gaʿmiz ɡaʕməz (he) sat gʕad
ngaz, naggez ŋɡaz (he) jumped nɑṭṭ
ḫnab χnab (he) stole srag

Generally, all Italian and to some extent Turkish loanwords are substituted.

If a word is replaced, it does not mean that it is exclusively Libyan. The situation sometimes arises because the speaker mistakenly guesses that the word does not exist in the hearer's dialect. For example, the word zarda (feast, picnic) has close variants in other Maghrebi dialects but is usually substituted in Maghrebi contexts because most speakers do not know that such variants exist.

Pidgin Libyan Arabic

Pidgin Libyan exists in Libya as a contact language used by non-Arabs, mostly Saharan and sub-Saharan Africans living in Libya.[citation needed] Like other pidgins, it has a simplified structure and limited expressive power.

See also



  1. ^ a b c Libyan Arabic at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
  2. ^ "Glottolog 4.7 – Libyan Arabic". Retrieved 2023-01-05.
  3. ^ Dialects of Arabic: Maghreb dialects, dans: The Arabic Language, Edinburgh University Press (2001), p. 164–169 Archived 29 March 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Wexler, Paul (2012-02-01). The Non-Jewish Origins of the Sephardic Jews. State University of New York Press. ISBN 978-1-4384-2393-7.
  5. ^ Elfitoury, Abubaker Abdalla (1976). A Descriptive Grammar of Libyan Arabic. Ann Arbor: UMI.
  6. ^ Madghis Madi (2017-05-09), أثر الأمازيغية والعربية في اللهجة العامية الليبية, archived from the original on 2021-12-21, retrieved 2018-10-10

General references