SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Introduction to Arabic Dialects

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2

Each week students will have a one-hour lecture on the Arabic dialects from a theoretical point of view, a one-hour listening comprehension class, and two hours of language tuition by a native speaker in Egyptian and Levantine Arabic.

Theory: The theoretical component of the module will cover the following topics: Diglossia and the sociolinguistics of Standard and dialectal Arabic; the historical evolution of the dialects; synchronic classification of the dialects; innovations in the dialects with respect to Classical Arabic at the levels of phonology, morphology, syntax and lexicon.

Practice: Each week students will have the opportunity develop the communicative skills associated with a particular everyday scenario, such as reserving a hotel room, buying a train ticket etc. As far as possible, the medium of instruction will be the relevant Arabic dialect. Lexical and grammatical structures introduced in the lectures will be put into practice in these tutorials.


Completion of Arabic 1 Foundation or Arabic 1A and Arabic 1B 

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of a module, a student should be able to demonstrate:

  • Basic communicative skills in colloquial Egyptian and Levantine Arabic
  • An understanding of the place of Arabic dialects vis-à-vis Standard Arabic in contemporary Arabic society
  • An understanding of the (debates surrounding the) diachronic relationship between Classical Arabic and the contemporary dialects
  • An understanding of the principal ways in which the dialects differ among themselves (and collectively in comparison to Standard Arabic) at the level of syntax, morphology, phonology and lexicon

The primary objectives of the module are: to give students a basic understanding of the linguistics of the Arabic dialects, and of the theory and practice of Arabic dialectology; to give them a solid foundation for future in-depth study of Egyptian and/or Levantine Arabic; and to give them the tools to enable them to independently acquire communicative competence in other Arabic dialects they might encounter in the course of their studies and beyond.


A total of 10 weeks teaching with 4 hours classroom contact per week.

Method of assessment

  • 1 x 15min in class listening comprehension test (20%)
  • 1 x 1hr in class grammar test (10%)
  • 1 x essay (1500 - 2500 words) term 2, week 1, day 5 (40%)
  • 1 x 20min oral exam (30%)

Suggested reading

Key texts

  • Abboud-Haggar, Soha. 2006. ‘Dialects: Genesis’. In Kees Versteegh (ed.), Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics, vol. I, 613–622. Leiden: Brill.
  • Al-Tonsi, Abbas, Laila Al-Sawi and Suzanne Massoud. 2010. Kalaam Gamiil:
    An Intensive Course in Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. Vol. 1. Cairo: The
    American University in Cairo Press.
  • Chouairi, Rajaa. 2010. Shou Fi Ma Fi: Intermediate Levantine Arabic.  New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Holes, Clive. 2004. Modern Arabic: Structures, Functions and Varieties. Revised edition.  Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.
  • Isleem, Nasser. 2010. Colloquial Palestinian Arabic: An Introduction to the Spoken Dialect.  Norwell, MA: Alucen Learning.
  • Kaye, Alan S., and Rosenhouse, Judith. 1997. ‘Arabic dialects and Maltese’. In Robert Hetzron (ed.), The Semitic Languages, 263–311. London: Routledge.
  • Louis, Samia, and Soliman, Iman A. 2007. Kallimni 'Arabi: An Intermediate Course in Spoken Egyptian Arabic.  Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.
  • Louis, Samia. 2008. Kallimni 'Arabi Aktar: An Upper Intermediate Course in Spoken Egyptian Arabic.  Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.
  • Owens, Jonathan. 2006. A Linguistic History of Arabic.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Palva, Heikki. 2006. ‘Dialects: Classification’. In Kees Versteegh (ed.), Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics, vol. I, 604–613. Leiden: Brill.
  • Rabin, Chaim. 1955. ‘The beginnings of Classical Arabic’. Studia Islamica 4: 19–37.
  • Versteegh, Kees. 1997. The Arabic Language.  Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Watson, Janet C. E. 2002. The Phonology and Morphology of Arabic.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Wightwick, Jane, and Gaafar, Mahmoud. 2005. Colloquial Arabic of Egypt: The Complete Course for Beginners.  London: Routledge.
  • Woidich, Manfred. 2004. Kullu Tamām: An Introduction to Egyptian Colloquial Arabic.  Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules