Maghrebi Arabic
Darija, Western Arabic
North African Arabic
اللهجات المغاربية
EthnicityMaghrebi Arabs, also used as a second language by other ethnic groups in the Maghreb
Native speakers
88 million (2020–2022)[1]
Arabic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3Variously:
arq – Algerian Arabic
xaa – Andalusi Arabic
mey – Hassaniya Arabic
ayl – Libyan Arabic
mlt – Maltese
ary – Moroccan Arabic
aao – Saharan Arabic
sqr – Siculo-Arabic
aeb – Tunisian Arabic

Maghrebi Arabic (Arabic: الْلهجَة الْمَغاربِيَة, romanizedal-lahja l-maghāribiyya, lit.'Western Arabic' as opposed to Eastern or Mashriqi Arabic), often known as ad-Dārija[a] (Arabic: الدارجة, meaning 'common/everyday [dialect]')[2] to differentiate it from Literary Arabic,[3] is a vernacular Arabic dialect continuum spoken in the Maghreb. It includes the Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, Libyan, Hassaniya and Saharan Arabic dialects. Maghrebi Arabic has a predominantly Semitic and Arabic vocabulary,[4][5] although it contains a significant amount of Berber loanwords, which represent 2–3% of the vocabulary of Libyan Arabic, 8–9% of Algerian and Tunisian Arabic, and 10–15% of Moroccan Arabic.[6] Maghrebi Arabic was formerly spoken in Al-Andalus and Sicily until the 17th and 13th centuries, respectively, in the extinct forms of Andalusi Arabic and Siculo-Arabic. The Maltese language is believed to have its source in a language spoken in Muslim Sicily that ultimately originates from Tunisia, as it contains some typical Maghrebi Arabic areal characteristics.[7]


Darija, Derija or Delja (Arabic: الدارجة) means "everyday/colloquial dialect";[8] 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 el-logha d-darga.

History and origin

Main article: Arab migrations to the Maghreb

Maghrebi Arabic can be divided into two lineages in North Africa. One originates from the urban Arabs and dates back to the Arab Muslim conquest of the Maghreb in the 7th and 8th centuries, referred to as Pre-Hilalian Arabic. The other stems from the Bedouin Arabic varieties brought in by the Bedouin Arab tribes of Banu Hilal, Banu Sulaym and Ma'qil in the 11th and 12th centuries, termed as Hilalian Arabic.[9] The Pre-Hilalian varieties were largely bedouinized by the Hilalian migrations in the 11th century, producing hybrid varieties that combined both pre-Hilalian and Hilalian features.[10] This led to the choice of Banu Hilal's Arabic as the lingua franca of the Maghreb.[11] This variety, with influences from Berber languages and Punic, gave rise to the modern Arabic varieties in the Maghreb spoken by the vast majority of Maghrebis.[11]

The Arabic language was spread across North Africa throughout the Rashidun and Umayyad conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries, during which about 150,000 Arabs settled in the Maghreb.[12][13][14] As Arab-led forces established settlements in a triangle encompassing Roman towns and cities such as Tangier, Salé and Walili, Moroccan Arabic began to take form.[10] Arabization was widespread in cities where both Arabs and Berbers lived, as well as Arab centers and surrounding rural areas. Nevertheless, the Arabization process in the countryside remained gradual until the Hilalian invasions of the 11th century.[9]

Maghrebi Arabic originates from the Bedouin Arabic varieties that were introduced to the Maghreb in the 11th century by Banu Hilal and Banu Sulaym, who effectively accelerated the Arabization of a great part of the Berbers.[11] Sources estimate that around 1 million Arabs migrated to the Maghreb in the 11th century.[15] Their impact was profound and reshaped the demographic situation and living conditions across the Maghreb. They played a major role in spreading Bedouin Arabic to rural areas such as the countryside and steppes, and as far as the southern areas near the Sahara.[9]


The varieties of Maghrebi Arabic form a dialect continuum. The degree of mutual intelligibility is high between geographically adjacent dialects (such as local dialects spoken in Eastern Morocco and Western Algeria or Eastern Algeria and North Tunisia or South Tunisia and Western Libya), but lower between dialects that are further apart, e.g. between Moroccan and Tunisian Darija. Conversely, Moroccan Darija and particularly Algerian Derja cannot be easily understood by Eastern Arabic speakers (from Egypt, Sudan, Levant, Iraq, and Arabian peninsula) in general.[16]

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.

Relationship with Modern Standard Arabic and Berber languages

Modern Standard Arabic (Arabic: الفصحى, romanizedal-fuṣḥá) is the primary language used in the government, legislation and judiciary of countries in the Maghreb. Maghrebi Arabic is mainly a spoken and vernacular dialect, although it occasionally appears in entertainment and advertising in urban areas of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. In Algeria, where Maghrebi Arabic was taught as a separate subject under French colonization, some textbooks in the dialect exist but they are no longer officially endorsed by the Algerian authorities. Maghrebi Arabic has a mostly Semitic Arabic vocabulary.[5] It contains Berber loanwords, which represent 2–3% of the vocabulary of Libyan Arabic, 8–9% of Algerian and Tunisian Arabic, and 10–15% of Moroccan Arabic.[6][17] The dialect may also possess a substratum of Punic.[18]

Latin substratum

Additionally, Maghrebi Arabic has a Latin substratum, which may have been derived from the African Romance that was used as an urban lingua franca during the Byzantine Empire period.[19] in morphology, this substratum is considered the origin of the plural noun morphemes -əsh/-osh that are common in northern Moroccan dialects,[20] and probably the loss of gender in the second person singular of personal pronouns verbs, for example in Andalusian Arabic.[21] The lexicon contains many loanwords from Latin, e.g. Moroccan/Algerian/Tunisian شَاقُور, shāqūr, 'hatchet' from secūris (this could also be borrowed from Spanish segur);[22] ببوش, 'snail' from babōsus and فلوس, 'chick' from pullus through Berber afullus.[23]

Relationship with other languages

Maghrebi Arabic speakers frequently borrow words from French (in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia), Spanish (in northern Morocco and northwestern Algerian) and Italian (in Libya and Tunisia) and conjugate them according to the rules of their dialects with some exceptions (like passive voice for example). As it is not always written, there is no standard and it is free to change quickly and to pick up new vocabulary from neighboring languages. This is comparable to the evolution of Middle English after the Norman conquest.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Darja, Derdja, Derja, Derija or Darija, depending on the region's dialect.


  1. ^ Algerian Arabic at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
    Andalusi Arabic at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
    Hassaniya Arabic at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
    Libyan Arabic at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
    Maltese at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
    Moroccan Arabic at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
    (Additional references under 'Language codes' in the information box)
  2. ^ Wehr, Hans (1979). A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic: (Arab.-Engl.). Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 319. ISBN 3447020024. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  3. ^ Harrell, Richard Slade (2004). A Dictionary of Moroccan Arabic: Moroccan-English. Georgetown University Press. p. 18. ISBN 1589011031. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  4. ^ Harrat, Salima (18 September 2018). "Maghrebi Arabic dialect processing: an overview". Journal of International Science and General Applications.
  5. ^ a b Elimam, Abdou (2009). Du Punique au Maghribi :Trajectoires d'une langue sémito-méditerranéenne (PDF). Synergies Tunisie.
  6. ^ a b 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.
  7. ^ Borg, Albert; Azzopardi-Alexander, Marie (2013). Maltese. Routledge. p. xiii. ISBN 978-1136855283. OCLC 1294538052. OL 37974130M. Wikidata Q117189264. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  8. ^ Wehr, Hans (2011). A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic.; Harrell, Richard S. (1966). Dictionary of Moroccan Arabic.
  9. ^ a b c Duri, A. A. (2012). The Historical Formation of the Arab Nation (RLE: the Arab Nation). Routledge. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-415-62286-8.
  10. ^ a b Heath, Jeffrey (2020). "Moroccan Arabic". Language Science Press. Berlin: University of Michigan: 213–223.
  11. ^ a b c Ennaji, Moha (2014-04-16). Multiculturalism and Democracy in North Africa: Aftermath of the Arab Spring. Routledge. p. 46. ISBN 978-1-317-81362-0.
  12. ^ Bateson, Mary Catherine (1967). Arabic Language Handbook. Georgetown University Press. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-87840-386-8.
  13. ^ Spickard, Paul R. (2005). Race and Nation: Ethnic Systems in the Modern World. Psychology Press. p. 135. ISBN 978-0-415-95002-2.
  14. ^ Mountjoy, Alan B.; Embleton, Clifford (2023-12-01). Africa: A Geographical Study. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-003-83813-5.
  15. ^ Hareir, Idris El; Mbaye, Ravane (2011-01-01). The Spread of Islam Throughout the World. UNESCO. p. 409. ISBN 978-92-3-104153-2.
  16. ^ Zaidan, Omar F.; Callison-Burch, Chris (2014). "Arabic Dialect Identification". Computational Linguistics. 40 (1): 171–202. doi:10.1162/COLI_a_00169.
  17. ^ Tilmatine, Mohand (1999). "Substrat et convergences: Le berbère et l'arabe nord-africain". Estudios de dialectología norteafricana y andalusí (in French). 4: 99–119.
  18. ^ Benramdane, Farid (1998). "Le maghribi, langue trois fois millénaire de Elimam, Abdou (Éd. ANEP, Alger 1997)". Insaniyat (6): 129–130. doi:10.4000/insaniyat.12102. S2CID 161182954. Retrieved 12 February 2015.
  19. ^ Sayahi, Lotfi (2014). Diglossia and Language Contact: Language Variation and Change in North Africa. Cambridge University Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0521119368. Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  20. ^ Aguadé, Jorge (2018). The Maghrebi dialects of Arabic. p. 34. doi:10.1093/OSO/9780198701378.003.0002. ISBN 978-0-19-870137-8. Wikidata Q117189070. ((cite book)): |journal= ignored (help)
  21. ^ Corriente, Federico (29 September 2012). A Descriptive and Comparative Grammar of Andalusi Arabic. pp. 142–143. ISBN 978-90-04-22742-2. OL 25253097M. Wikidata Q117189169.
  22. ^ cf. Singer, Hans R. (1 June 1984). Grammatik der arabischen Mundart der Medina von Tunis (in German). Berlin, New York City: De Gruyter. p. 129. doi:10.1515/9783110834703. ISBN 978-3-11-003435-6. OL 2348842M. Wikidata Q117189196.
  23. ^ Aguadé, Jorge (2018). The Maghrebi dialects of Arabic. p. 35. doi:10.1093/OSO/9780198701378.003.0002. ISBN 978-0-19-870137-8. Wikidata Q117189070. ((cite book)): |journal= ignored (help)

Further reading