The Info List - Libyan Arabic

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Libyan Arabic
(Arabic: ليبي‎ Lībī; also known as Sulaimitian Arabic) 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 Misurata. The eastern variety extends beyond the borders to the east into western Egypt. A distinctive southern variety, centered on Sabha, also exists and is more akin to the western variety.


1 Note on transcription notation 2 History 3 Domains of use 4 Phonology

4.1 Syllable structure

5 Vocabulary

5.1 Relation to Classical Arabic
Classical Arabic
vocabulary 5.2 Italian loanwords 5.3 Turkish loanwords 5.4 Berber loanwords

6 Grammar

6.1 Nouns

6.1.1 Dual 6.1.2 Demonstratives

6.2 Verbs

6.2.1 Conjugation Conjugation of strong roots

6.3 Future tense

7 Intelligibility with other varieties of Arabic 8 Pidgin Libyan Arabic 9 See also 10 References

Note on transcription notation[edit] The transcription of Libyan Arabic
into Latin script
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
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
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

oː ō

eː ē

ə ə

zˤ ż

ʒ j

History[edit] 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 Italian, and to a lesser extent by Turkish. A significant Berber and Latin
(African Romance) substratum also exists[3]. Domains of use[edit] 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. Educated Libyan Arabic
speakers code-switch to Italian. Phonology[edit] As is the case with all Bedouin
dialects, the /q/ sound of Modern Standard Arabic
is realized as a [ɡ], but 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

Nasal m     n            

Stops voiceless       t tˤ   k (q)   (ʔ)

voiced b     d dˤ   ɡ      

Fricative voiceless f θ   s sˤ ʃ   χ ħ h

voiced (v) ð (ðˤ) z zˤ ʒ   ʁ ʕ  

Trill       r rˤ          


  l  lˤ  j w       

In western dialects, the interdental fricatives /θ 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/. 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[edit] 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.


Vocabulary[edit] Most of the vocabulary in Libyan Arabic
is of Classical Arabic
Classical 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
Classical Arabic
vocabulary[edit] 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
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

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[edit] 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

- tunjra pot tencere https://translate.google.ca/m/translate - dosh shower duş https://translate.google.ca/m/translate Turkish loanwords[edit] 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

Berber loanwords[edit] 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. Many Berber-speaking people continue to live in Libya
today but it is not clear to what extent Berber language continues to influence Libyan Arabic. Grammar[edit] Libyan Arabic
shares the feature of the first person singular initial n- with the rest of the Maghrebi Arabic
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[edit] 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
Arabic definite article
but with somewhat different rules of pronunciation: Main article: Sun and moon letters

For nouns beginning with "moon" letters, the definite article is pronounced either [l], for words with an initial single consonant onset, or [lə], for words with a double consonant onset. Except for the letter j /ʒ/, moon letters in Libyan Arabic
are the same as in Classical Arabic
Classical Arabic
even for letters that have become different phonemes such as q changing to g. The letter j /ʒ/, which corresponds to the Modern Standard Arabic
Modern Standard Arabic
phoneme /dʒ/, has changed from a moon letter to a sun letter. For nouns beginning with sun letters, which, in Libyan Arabic, include the letter j /ʒ/, the definite article is pronounced [ə], with the first consonant geminated.

Dual[edit] 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. Demonstratives[edit] Various sets of demonstratives exist in Libyan Arabic. Following is a list of some of these. Note that 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

Verbs[edit] Similar to Classical Arabic
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
Classical Arabic
stems and their Libyan Arabic

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
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)

dialect is used in the table above Conjugation[edit] Like Classical Arabic
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[edit] Strong roots follow more predictable rules of conjugation, and they can be classified into three categories for Stem I in Western Libyan Arabic:

i-verbs (e.g. k-t-b to write) follow an interconsonantal vowel structure that is predominated by an i (normally pronounced [ə]) a-verbs (e.g. r-k-b to mount, to ascend) follow an interconsonantal vowel structure that is predominated by an a u-verbs (e.g. r-g-ṣ to dance) follow an interconsonantal vowel structure that is predominated by an u

Note that this classification is not always strictly followed. For example, the thirrd person femunine 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

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

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

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[edit] 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[edit] Libyan Arabic
is highly intelligible to Tunisians and to a good extent to eastern Algerians. However, for most eastern Arabic
speakers, including Egyptians, it can be difficult to understand and requires some adaptation. Libyans usually 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

halba halba plenty

dār daːr (he) did

dwe dwe (he) spoke

gaʿmiz ɡaʕməz (he) sat

ngaz, naggez ŋɡaz (he) jumped

ḫnab χnab (he) stole

Generally, all Italian and to some extent Turkish loanwords are substituted. It should be noted, however, that 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[edit] 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[edit]

Transliteration of Libyan placenames Varieties of Arabic Maghrebi Arabic Tunisian Arabic Algerian Arabic Moroccan Arabic


^ Libyan Arabic
at Ethnologue
(18th ed., 2015) ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Libyan Arabic". Glottolog
3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.  ^ Martin Haspelmath; Uri Tadmor (22 December 2009). Loanwords in the World's Languages: A Comparative Handbook. Walter de Gruyter. p. 195. ISBN 978-3-11-021844-2. 

Roger Chambard, Proverbes libyens recueillis par R. Ch., ed. by Gilda Nataf & Barbara Graille, Paris, GELLAS-Karthala, 2002 [pp. 465–580: index arabe-français/français-arabe]- ISBN 2-84586-289-X Eugenio Griffini, L'arabo parlato della Libia – Cenni grammaticali e repertorio di oltre 10.000 vocaboli, frasi e modi di dire raccolti in Tripolitania, Milano : Hoepli, 1913 (reprint Milano : Cisalpino-Goliardica, 1985) Christophe Pereira,Le parler arabe de Tripoli
(Libye), Zaragoza : Instituto de Estudios Ilamicós y del oriente próximo, 2010 Abdulgialil M. Harrama. 1993. "Libyan Arabic
morphology: Al-Jabal dialect," University of Arizona PhD dissertation Jonathan Owens, "Libyan Arabic
Dialects", Orbis 32.1–2 (1983) [actually 1987], p. 97–117 Jonathan Owens, A Short Reference Grammar of Eastern Libyan Arabic, Wiesbaden : Harrassowitz, 1984 – ISBN 3-447-02466-6 Ester Panetta, "Vocabolario e fraseologia dell’arabo parlato a Bengasi" – (Letter A): Annali Lateranensi 22 (1958) 318–369; Annali Lateranensi 26 (1962) 257–290 – (B) in: A Francesco Gabrieli. Studi orientalistici offerti nel sessantesimo compleanno dai suoi colleghi e discepoli, Roma 1964, 195–216 – (C) : AION n.s. 13.1 (1964), 27–91 – (D) : AION n.s. 14.1 (1964), 389–413 – (E) : Oriente Moderno 60.1–6 (1980), 197–213

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v t e

Varieties of Arabic


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Algerian koiné Algerian Saharan Eastern Algerian Western Algerian


Western Moroccan Eastern Moroccan Moroccan koiné Hassānīya


Sicilian Arabic
(extinct ancestor of Maltese which is not part of the Arabic






Judeo-Moroccan Judeo-Tripolitanian Judeo-Tunisian Judeo-Yemeni

Creoles and pidgins

Babalia Bimbashi Juba Nubi Maridi Turku

Italics indicate extinct languages.

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African Romance Sabir

Ottoman Turkish

Libyan Arabic
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