Libyan Arabic


Libyan Arabic ( ar, ليبي, Lībī) is a spoken mainly in , and neighboring countries. It can be divided into two major dialect areas; the eastern centred in and , and the western centred in and . The Eastern variety extends beyond the borders to the east and share the same dialect with far Western . A distinctive southern variety, centered on , also exists and is more akin to the western variety. Another Southern dialect is also shared along the borders with .

Note on transcription notation

The of Libyan Arabic into poses a few problems. First, there is not one standard transcription in use even for . The use of the alone is not sufficient as it obscures some points that can be better understood if several different s 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, is used with a few additions to render s particular to Libyan Arabic. These additions are as follow:


Two major historical events have shaped the Libyan dialect: the - migration, and the migration of Arabs from to the following the . Libyan Arabic has also been influenced by , and to a lesser extent by . A significant and () also exists.

Domains of use

The Libyan dialect is used predominantly in spoken communication in . 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 by non-Arab Libyans whose mother tongue is not Arabic. Libyan Arabic is not normally written, as the written is normally , 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 dialects and some Urban dialects, the sound of Modern Standard Arabic is realized as a , 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 while being completely absent in others. In western dialects, the interdental fricatives have merged with the corresponding dental stops . Eastern dialects generally still distinguish the two sets, but there is a tendency to replace with . is heard as in unstressed closed syllables. is heard as before and after velar consonants and as in free variation before non-velar consonants. phonetically occurs as a more central near-close sound . The e and o vowels exist only in long form. This can be explained by the fact that these vowels were originally s in Classical Arabic with replacing and replacing . In some eastern varieties, however, the classical has changed to and to . Libyan Arabic has at least three , which are used ally, a trait shared with the dialects of central . The first is used for affirmative responses and is generally considered very casual and sometimes associated with low social status. The second is a and used for negative responses and is similar to the English 'tut'. The third is a 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 to occur. :syllable: C1(C2)V1(V2)(C3)(C4) :(C = consonant, V = vowel, optional components are in parentheses.) An is inserted between C3 and C4 to ease pronunciation, changing the structure above into the following. :C1(C2)V1(V2)(C3)(əC4). On the other hand, Eastern Libyan always has an between C1 and C2 in the following manner. :C1(əC2)V1(V2)(C3)(C4).


Most of the vocabulary in Libyan Arabic is of Old Arabic origin, usually with a modified interconsonantal vowel structure. Many Italian also exist, in addition to , , , and 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 . The following table serves to illustrate this relation. The is used in the case of verbs as it is more distinctive and has been traditionally used in Arabic s. 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 rule of pre-pause vowels of Classical Arabic. 1. Western Libyan pronunciation is used in the above table.

Italian loanwords

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

Turkish loanwords

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

Berber loanwords

Before the mass of what corresponds to modern-day Libya, was the native language for most people. This led to the borrowing of a number of Berber words in Libyan Arabic. Many -speaking people continue to live in Libya today but it is not clear to what extent Berber language continues to influence Libyan Arabic. Some examples of the Berber words in Libyan Arabic are .


Libyan Arabic shares the feature of the initial n- with the rest of the to which it belongs. Like other dialects, Libyan does not mark s by . However, it has a rich al structure.


Nouns in Libyan Arabic are marked for two s, termed masculine and feminine, and three s, singular, dual and plural. number also exists for some nouns. The is also still widely used (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 . is not marked. Definite nouns are marked using the but with somewhat different rules of pronunciation: * For nouns beginning with , the definite article is pronounced either , for words with an initial single consonant , or , for words with a double consonant onset. Except for the letter j , moon letters in Libyan Arabic are the same as in Classical Arabic even for letters that have become different phonemes such as ''q'' changing to ''g''. The letter j , which corresponds to the Modern Standard Arabic phoneme , has changed from a moon letter to a sun letter. * For nouns beginning with sun letters, which, in Libyan Arabic, include the letter , the definite article is pronounced , with the first consonant .


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. Note that the grouping in columns does not necessarily reflect grouping in reality:


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. 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 ) and .

= Conjugation of strong roots

= Strong roots follow more predictable rules of conjugation, and they can be classified into three categories for 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 * 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 third person feminine past of the root r-g-d, which is a u-verb, is usually pronounced , instead of . Also, a-verbs and u-verbs follow the same rules in the past conjugation. 1. The i in an i-verb is usually pronounced .
2. In roots with initial , and phonemes ( but not ), i in the present and imperative is pronounced . For example, the root (to overcome) is conjugated as , , etc.
1.Realized variously as a and ɑ depending on the consonant structure of the word. 1. In roots with initial , or phonemes ( but not ), u, in the present and the imperative, is realised by . For example, the root (to scoop up) is conjugated as , , 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 , usually contracted to , to the present tense conjugation. Thus, 'tiktəb' (she writes) becomes 'btiktəb' (she will write). It should not be confused with the marker common in some Eastern Arabic varieties.

Intelligibility with other varieties of Arabic

Libyan Arabic is highly intelligible to Tunisians and to a good extent to eastern Algerians. However, for middle eastern and Egyptian Arabic speakers, Libyan can be extremely difficult to understand as it is a Maghrebi dialect which is highly influenced by Tamazigh, Italian and Turkish words. Libyans usually have to substitute some Libyan Arabic words to make themselves understood to other Arabic speakers, especially erners. Substitute words are usually borrowed from Modern Standard or . The following table shows some of the commonly replaced words: 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

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

See also

* * * * * *



General references

* Roger Chambard, ''Proverbes libyens recueillis par R. Ch.'', ed. by Gilda Nataf & Barbara Graille, Paris, GELLAS-Karthala, 2002 p. 465–580: index arabe-français/français-arabe * 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) *Elfitoury, Abubaker Abdalla. 1976. ''A Descriptive Grammar of Libyan Arabic''. Ann Arbor: UMI. (Doctoral dissertation, Georgetown University; vi+146pp.) * 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. . * 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

External links

{{Authority control Maghrebi Arabic