Egypt, officially known as the Arab Republic of Egypt, is an Arabic speaking country that connects Northeast Africa and Southeast Asia. Egypt has the largest population in North Africa and the Arab world. Egypt’s 95 million inhabitants mainly reside around the Nile River shores. The official language used in Egypt is Modern Standard Arabic, which is the written form that is understood among all Arabic speakers. However, there are several spoken dialects used across Egypt.
The History of Egypt’s Languages
The Arabic language was introduced to Egypt in the 7th century with the Islamic conquest and has been the country’s official language ever since. However, the first written language in Egypt was the hieroglyphic language, which is found in the inscriptions preserved on temples, monuments and sheets of papyrus illustrating the life of ancient Egyptians. The hieroglyphic language combined logographic, syllabic and alphabetic elements and was used from 3200 B.C. until the 4th century A.D. The Coptic language was widely used until 1700 B.C. and is now only used in the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Egypt’s Spoken Arabic Dialects
Currently, there are several spoken dialects used across Egypt. These dialects are all derived from written Arabic, but they get complicated near Egypt’s borders. In their most complicated forms, they might not be fully understood by all Egyptian Arabic speakers unless the speaker tries to simplify it. Below are some of these dialects:
- Massry: This is the most widely-spoken Arabic dialect, and is spoken mainly by the inhabitants of Egypt’s capital city, Cairo, and the surrounding cities. This dialect was derived from the spoken Arabic form that came to Egypt with Islam and was later influenced by the local Coptic language and other foreign languages such as Italian, Turkish, English and French.
- Saidi: This is the dialect spoken by Saidi people who live in Southern Egypt near the Sudan border. It differs slightly in the cities along the Nile and gets more complicated farther south, where it has some similarities with Sudanese Arabic.
- Bedawi: This is the dialect spoken by the Bedouins in the Sinai Peninsula and the eastern parts of Egypt. It is also spoken in neighboring countries like Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Saudi Arabia. Bedawi is made up of several dialects including Levantine Bedawi Arabic and Eastern Egyptian Bedawi Arabic.
Egypt’s Non-Arabic Dialects
In addition to the many Arabic dialects, there are also numerous non-Arabic spoken dialects, including the following:
- Nubian: This is spoken by the Nubians living in the Southern Egyptian Nile Valley and the northern region of Sudan.
- Berber (or Amazigh): This is spoken by Egyptian Berbers living in the Siwa and Gara oases in the western desert. They live in the region from the Siwa oasis extending west to the Atlantic Ocean through Libya, Algeria and Morocco.
- Domari: This is spoken by Dom people, who are concentrated north of Cairo and in Luxor. It is also spoken in other countries like Azerbaijan, Sudan and Libya.
- Beja: This is an Afro-asiatic dialect spoken in the western coast of the Red Sea by the Beja people, who are an ethnic group in Sudan, some parts of the Egyptian Eastern Desert and Eritrea.
Other than Arabic, there are some foreign languages such as English, French and Italian that are also used in Egypt because of foreign trade and tourism. English is the most common of these languages, as it is one of the languages taught in schools. It is also used in commercials and streets signs so it is common that Egyptians have a fair understanding of English. French is also common among elderly people, especially those who attended French schools.