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Algerian Arabic

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Number of Speakers: 24 million

Key Dialects: Constantine, Algiers, Oran

Geographical Center: Algeria

Algerian Arabic is spoken in Algeria. A closely related mutually intelligible dialect is spoken in Tunisia. Both are referred to as Western Colloquial Arabic. There are some 22 million speakers in Algeria, as well as speakers in France (500,000), in Niger (100,000), and in Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany combined (over 100,000). Tunisian Arabic has a little over 7 million speakers. About 83 percent of the population in Algeria speaks Arabic; another 14 percent speaks Berber languages, such as Tamazight and Tuareg.

Arabic is a Semitic language of the Arabo-Canaanite subgroup (Ruhlen 1987). It belongs to the Afro-Asiatic family of languages--the bulk of which are spoken in Africa--which has several major branches: Semitic (including languages such as Arabic); Berber; Chadic (including languages such as Hausa); Cushitic (including languages such as Somali); and Ancient Egyptian, whose modern descendent, Coptic, is preserved as a liturgical language.

Arabic and Canaanite--which includes Hebrew, Phoenician, and several extinct languages--are distantly related to Aramaic. Other even more distant relatives are the Semitic languages of Ethiopia and Akkadian, an extinct language once spoken in Mesopotamia.

Arabic itself is commonly subclassified as Classical Arabic, Eastern Arabic, Western Arabic, and Maltese. A modernized form of Classical Arabic exists and is referred to as Modern Standard Arabic (MSA).

Algerian Arabic is part of Western Arabic which includes the Arabic spoken colloquially in the region

Algerian, Libyan, and Tunisian variants of Arabic are closely related and apparently mutually intelligible. Within Algeria and the region in general there is considerable linguistic diversity, and the dialect picture is complex. Major cities, such as Algiers, Oran, and Constantine, are identified as centers of their own urban dialects, which can in turn be distinguished from the dialects spoken by nomadic peoples. Linguistic differences between these communities are sufficiently large to create serious problems in comprehension.

Although Moroccan Colloquial Arabic is part of the western subdivision of Arabic it is apparently not mutually intelligible with Algerian Arabic and other dialects of northwest Africa.

Arabic uses an alphabetic system normally employing symbols for only consonants and long vowels. There is a fairly close match between the written symbols and their phonemic, or linguistic function. Short vowels are typically not written even though much morphological and grammatical meaning is signaled by vowels. Because only roots and stems of an inflected word are written the reader has to infer its particular meaning from context. When vowels are symbolized, as in children's books or learners' manuals, super- and subscript diacritics are used. Writing is written from right to left.

Arabic script is an important orthography used to write many non-Arabic languages, for example, Persian, Pushto, Urdu, and at one time, Swahili and Hausa.

The following sketch of Modern Standard Arabic, is generally valid for all "neo-Arabic" dialects. Details may differ depending on the colloquial vernacular.

MSA has a grammatical system known as the "root and pattern system." Words typically are made up of roots which consist of three consonants, though a few have four or five; the roots, unpronounceable as such, are associated with a general meaning, thus the sequence ktb has an association with the meaning "writing." Patterns of vowel sequences, which can be thought of as templates, (sometimes as prefixes and suffixes, and sometimes with additional consonants) are then "added" to, or within, roots following general, well-defined models. These patterns then generate various nominal and verbal stems which have a variety of functions; to give a few examples, in nouns they indicate habitual occupations, colors, or diminutives, and in verbs, they form participles, causatives, and passives. This root-pattern system is productive in both MSA and in the ver

In Algeria, Modern Standard Arabic is the official language, not the colloquial vernacular. Essentially a streamlined, modernized, form of Classical Arabic, the language of the Koran, of poetry, and of other literature, MSA is used in education, for official purposes, and for written communication within the Arabic-speaking international community. In contrast, Algerian colloquial Arabic is the language of spoken communication in informal settings, such as in the home, the work place and market, and among friends and common acquaintances. This is known as diglossia--a sociolinguistic situation where variants of the same language exist side by side in the same linguistic community but are used for different purposes. This differs from bilingualism in which two different, unrelated, languages are used by an individual or community of speakers. Even though many speakers regard the vernacular or colloquial forms as corrupt versions of Classical Arabic, the role they play in common, ordinary, discourse continues

Arabic is originally the language of the nomadic tribes of the northern and central regions of the Arabian Peninsula. It was only during the Muslim conquest and expansion of the seventh and eighth centuries that Arabic spread into the areas where it is now spoken. In the process, it largely supplanted, the indigenous languages of the conquered regions, including Aramaic in the Levantine, Coptic in Egypt, Berber in North Africa, and Greek in the former Byzantine Empire.

In written form, some early inscriptions exist. Arabic of the pre-Classical period is found in inscriptions of central and northwestern Arabia, with Classical Arabic itself appearing in inscriptions dating from at least the fourth century. Pre-Islamic poetry, the Koran from the first half of the seventh century, and the language of contemporary Bedouin provided the basis for the codification of the language during the eighth and ninth centuries. MSA, the official language of all Arab countries, is modeled on Classical Arabic, which exer

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Campbell, G. L. 1991. Compendium of the World's Languages, Vol. 1 -2. London and New York: Routledge.

Djouadi, Dj. 1994. "Algeria: Language Situation." In R. E. Asher, ed. The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, Vol. 1:69-70. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Fischer, W. 1992. "Arabic." In W. Bright, ed. International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, Vol. 2, 91-98. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Grimes, B. F. ed. 1992. Ethnologue, Languages of the World. Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Hetzron, R. 1987. "Semitic Languages." In B. Comrie, ed. The World's Major Languages, pp. 654-663. New York: Oxford University Press.

Holes, C. 1994. Arabic. In R. E. Asher, ed. The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, Vol. 1:191-194. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Kaye, A. 1987. "Arabic." In B. Comrie, ed. The World's Major Languages, pp. 664-685. New York: Oxford Univer

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