The Languages spoken in Egypt
Egypt is officially referred to as the Arab Republic of Egypt and it links the northeast region of Africa with the Middle East. This is the only Eurafrasian country in the world and most of its territory is within the Nile Valley. Egypt is a Mediterranean nation and it is bordered by Israel and the Gaza Strip to the northeast. The Red Sea borders it to the south and east, Libya borders it to the west, to the south by Sudan, and to the east by the Gulf of Aqaba. Egypt has more than 90 million citizens making it the most populated nation in the north of Africa and also in the Arab world. It is the third most populated country in Africa after Nigeria and Ethiopia, and the fifteenth most populated in the globe. The majority of the citizens reside near the shores of the River Nile which has the only arable land in the country. The larger areas of the Sahara Desert, which make up the majority of the country’s territory are not that populated. Almost half of the citizens reside in urban regions, with the majority of them spreading across the heavily inhabited towns of Cairo, Egypt’s capital city, Alexandria, and other big towns located in the Nile Delta.
Over the centuries, Egypt has acquired a lot of influence from different communities thus having an impact on the languages spoken in the country. A number of languages can be heard in Egypt but the official language is the Modern Standard Arabic. Other languages spoken include Egyptian Arabic which is spoken by 68% of the population, Sa'idi Arabic, Domari, Eastern Egyptian Bedawi Arabic, Siwi, Nobiin and Beja among others. Other languages such as Italian, Greek, and Armenian are used by the immigrants in the country. A few foreign dialects are also taught in schools and these include English, French, German and Italian.
Some of these languages will be discussed in brief below.
Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) in Egypt
This dialect can at times be referred to as Literary Arabic or Modern Arabic. This is the literary and standardized form of Arabic that is used in official speech and writing. MSA is considered to be the literary standard in North Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. It is also among the formal dialects used by the United Nations. The majority of the print materials such as formal documents, books, magazines, and newspapers are all written in this dialect. This is also the only type of Arabic that is taught in schools not only in Egypt but in other Arabic countries as well.
Egyptian Arabic in Egypt
Egyptian Arabic can also be referred to as Egyptian dialect, Egyptian colloquial dialect, Egyptian spoken Arabic, Massry, or Masri. This is a form of the Arabic dialects found in the Semitic division of the Afroasiatic dialect family. The total number of citizens speaking this language is roughly 52,500,000. Egyptian Arabic was developed in the Nile Delta in the Lower Egypt region near Cairo. It was derived from the spoken Arabic which found its way to Egypt during the Muslim conquest in the 7th-century AD. The development of this dialect was shaped by the local Coptic of Pre-Islamic Egypt, and later on by other dialects such as Italian, Ottoman Turkish/Turkish, English, and French. Egyptian Arabic is used as a second language in other Middle East nations such as Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. These countries use this language because of its large influence in the area and the popularity of the Egyptian media and cinema.
Sa'idi Arabic in Egypt
This language is also known as Upper Egypt Arabic and Saidi Arabic. It is the form of Arabic uttered by the Sa'idis who reside in the South of Cairo spanning to the Sudan border. This language has similar linguistic characteristics with Sudanese Arabic and Egyptian Arabic. Some of the dialects in this language are Upper and Middle Egyptian Arabic. The people who speak Egyptian Arabic do not at all times comprehend more conventional forms of Sa'idi Arabic. This language has a little prestige in the country but it is still broadly spoken especially in the country’s northern region by rural immigrants who have become partially conformed to Egyptian Arabic.
Bedawi Arabic in Egypt
This language can also be referred to as Bedawi, Levantine Bedawi Arabic, or Eastern Egyptian Bedawi Arabic. This is a form of Arabic uttered by the Bedouin people. The Bedouins are Arab semi-nomadic people and are descendants of nomads who historically lived in the Syrian and Arabian deserts. Bedawi Arabic is used by Bedouins residing in the Eastern region of Egypt, Cairo’s suburbs, and also in the Sinai peninsula. This language is also spoken in other neighbouring countries such as Syria, Jordan, West Bank, Israel, Gaza Strip, and Saudi Arabia. Bedawi Arabic is made up of several dialects which include North Levantine Bedawi Arabic, Eastern Egyptian Bedawi Arabic, and South Levantine Bedawi Arabic.
Beja Language in Egypt
This language is also known as Hadareb, Ta Bedawie, Bedawi, Bedauye, Tu-Bdhaawi, or Bidhaawyeet. This is an Afroasiatic dialect that is used in the Western region of the Red Sea and is spoken by the Beja people, an ethnic community that inhabits Sudan, and also parts of Egypt, the Eastern Desert, and Eritrea and make up a total population of about 2 million people.
Domari Language in Egypt
This is an Indo-Aryan dialect and is used by elderly Dom people who are dispersed across North Africa and the Middle East. Domari can also be referred to as Mehtar, Luti, Tsigene, or Middle East Romani. The dialect is spoken to the north as far as Azerbaijan and to the south by Egypt, central Sudan, Sudan, Libya, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Syria, India, Tunisia, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, and Algeria. Domari language does not have a standard written variety. In the Arabic world, it is often written using the Arabic script and has a lot of words that have been borrowed from Persian and Arabic.
Siwi Language in Egypt
The Siwi language is also referred to as Oasis Berber, Siwa (Sioua) or Zenati. This is a Berber dialect of Egypt and is used by 15,000 to 20,000 people residing in the oases of Gara and Siwa near the border of Libya. This language has had a lot of influence from Egyptian Arabic. The use of this language by the Siwi community is declining as a result of most of them shifting to Arabic as their main dialect.
Nobiin Language in Egypt
Nobiin, also referred to as Mahas, is a northern Nubian dialect of the Nilo-Saharan group. About 2500 years ago, the first people who spoke Nubian immigrated into the Nile Valley from the southwest. Presently Nobiin is spoken along the shores of River Nile in the southern region of Egypt and the northern region of Sudan making up a total population estimated at 495,000 Nubians. The people who speak Nobiin are bilingual in the local forms of Arabic. They speak Standard Arabic (for formal activities), as well as Sudanese Arabic, and Saidi Egyptian Arabic.
The Nobiin language is a tonal dialect that has consonant length and incompatible vowel. The main word order used is subject-object-verb. This language also lacks a standardized orthography. It has been written in Arabic and Latinized scripts. There have also been recent efforts to resuscitate the old Nubian Alphabet.
English in Egypt
Egypt was colonized by the British until 1952 thus passing on its language to the locals. Most of the learned people in Egypt study English at school. It is, therefore, unlikely for a traveller to face any challenges locating a person who talks in English, especially in the tourist centres and the cities. It is important to note that both English and French are taught as second dialects in all the public schools in Egypt. The people attending these schools are, however, able to speak the language at different levels, depending on their socio-economic status and education. Those with a high socio-economic status have more dialect skills.
French in Egypt
French is spoken by elderly people in the educated class who are over 40 years old. These people are more eloquent in this language because French was the main language used in education many years back before English prevailed and became the most preferred language of teaching. French is, however, starting to gain more prevalence as many young people are now attending French schools compared to before. As a result of this, the number of young people speaking French has risen to match those speaking English. A number of German schools are also located in Egypt and they conduct all their classes in German and they follow the German curriculum. As a result of a large number of tourists coming from Europe, there are other languages that can be heard in Egypt. These include Spanish, Russian, and Italian. Some people across the world are of the belief that Egyptians speak and comprehend Heiroglyphics. This is the old Egyptian dialect of the Pharaohs. Contrary to this belief, no one speaks or comprehends this dialect apart from those who have studied Egyptology or are working in the archeological field.
Click on one of the following links to learn more about the culture, language, education, health & safety, economy, government, history, religion, gastronomy, visas, local services, climate, locations in Egypt.