SOAS University of London

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

Introduction to Arabic Dialects (PG)

Module Code:
Year of study:

This module combines a theoretical introduction to Arabic dialectology with instruction in two different Arabic dialects at an introductory level. It is specifically intended to prepare students for a period of study in an Arabic-speaking country. Each week students have a one-hour lecture on the Arabic dialects from a theoretical point of view, a one-hour lesson focusing on listening comprehension, and two hours of tuition in Arabic conversation, one hour in one widely spoken Arabic dialect (typically Egyptian) and the other in another widely spoken Arabic dialect (typically Levantine). The primary objectives of the module are: to give students an 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 one or both of the dialects focused on in the module; 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.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Communicate at an intermediate level in two distinct Arabic dialects (typically Egyptian and Levantine)
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the place of Arabic dialects vis-à-vis Standard Arabic in contemporary Arabic society
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the (debates surrounding the) diachronic relationship between Classical Arabic and the contemporary dialects;
  • Demonstrate 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.


Total of 22 weeks of teaching with 4 hours classroom contact per week, consisting of 2 hours of lectures per week and 2 hours of language classes.

Scope and syllabus

  1. 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.
  2. Practice. Each week students will have the opportunity develop the speaking and listening 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.

Method of assessment

  • One dialect grammar comparison exercise (1,500-2,500 words) (20%)
  • One Essay (3,000 words) (20%)
  • Two 20-minute oral examinations (1 in each of the two dialects taught) (15% each)
  • Two listening examinations (both testing the two dialects taught) (10% each)
  • A one-hour in-class grammar test (testing the two dialects taught) (10%)
  • The exact assessment deadline dates are published on the relevant module Moodle/BLE page

Suggested reading

Core Reading

Abboud-Haggar, Soha. 2006. ‘Dialects: Genesis’. In Kees Versteegh (ed.), Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics, vol. I, 613–622. Leiden: Brill.

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.

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.

Woidich, Manfred. 2004. Kullu Tamām: An Introduction to Egyptian Colloquial Arabic.  Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.

Additional Reading

Cowell, Mark W. 1964. A Reference Grammar of Syrian Arabic. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.

Gary, Judith Olmsted & Saad Gamal-Eldin. 1982. Cairene Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. London: Croom Helm.

Abdel-Massih, Ernest T., Zaki Abdel-Malek & El-Said Badawi. 2009. A Reference Grammar of Egyptian Arabic. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Mitchell, T.F. 1978. An Introduction to Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Woidich, Manfred. 2006. Das Kairenisch-Arabische: eine Grammatik. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.



Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules