Libyan Arabic

Libyan Arabic
Li:bi ليب?
Spoken in:Libya, Estern Egypt
Total speakers:5,000,000 +
Language family:}}}
  West Semitic
   Central Semitic
    South Central Semitic
      Libyan Arabic}}} 
Writing system:Arabic alphabet 
Official status
Official language of:none
Regulated by:none
Language codes
ISO 639-1:none
ISO 639-2:none
ISO 639-3:ayl

Libyan Arabic (Lībi ليبي; also known as Sulaimitian Arabic) is a collective term for the closely related varieties of Arabic spoken in Libya. It can be divided into two major dialect areas; the eastern centred in Benghazi, and the western centred in Tripoli. The eastern variety extends beyond the borders to the east into western Egypt.

Note on transcription notation

The transcription of Libyan Arabic into Latin Alphabet poses a few problems. First, there is not one standard transcription in use even for Standard Arabic. The use of IPA alone is not sufficient as it obscures some points that can be better understood if several different allophones in Libyan Arabic are transcribed using the same symbol. On the other hand, Standard Arabic transcription schemes, while providing good support for representing Arabic sounds that are not normally represented by the Latin alphabet, do not list symbols for other sounds found in Libyan Arabic. Therefore, to make this article more legible, DIN 31635 is used with a few additions to render phonemes particular to Libyan Arabic. These additions are as follow:
Addition to DIN IPA


Two major historical events have shaped the Libyan dialect; the Hilalian-Sulaimi migration, and the migration of Arabs from Muslim Spain to North Africa following the reconquista. Libyan Arabic has also been influenced by Italian, and to a lesser extent by Turkish. A Berber substratum also exists.

Domains of Use

The Libyan dialect is used predominantly in spoken communication in Libya. It is also used in Libyan folk poetry, TV dramas and comedies, songs, as well as in cartoons. Libyan Arabic is also used by non-Arab Libyans whose mother tongue is not Arabic as a lingua franca. Libyan Arabic is not normally written, as the written register is normally Modern Standard Arabic, 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 Bedouin dialects, the q sound of Standard Arabic is realized as a g, except in words recently borrowed from Standard Arabic.

The following table shows the consonants used in Libyan Arabic. Note: some sounds occur in certain regional varieties while being completely absent in others.
Libyan Arabic consonant phonemes
  Labial Inter-
Dental Post-

or palatal
Velar Uvular Pharyn-
 plain  emphatic  plain  emphatic
Stop voiceless   t k(q) (ʔ)
voicedb  d g   
Fricative voicelessfθ sʃ χħh
voiced(v)ğğˁzʒ ʁʕ 
Nasalm  n      
Lateral   l   
Tap   r     
Approximantw   j    
Enlarge picture
The vowel phonemes of Libyan Arabic
In western dialects, the interdental fricatives /θ ğ ğˁ/ have merged with the corresponding dental stops /t d dˁ/. Eastern dialects generally still distinguish the two sets, but there is a tendency to replace /dˁ/ with /ğˁ/.

The e and o vowels exist only in long form. This can be explained by the fact that these vowels were originally diphthongs in Classical Arabic with /e:/ replacing /ai/ and /o:/ replacing /au/. In some eastern varieties, however, the classical /ai/ has changed to /ei/ and /au/ to /ou/.

Libyan Arabic has at least three clicks, which are used interjectionally, a trait shared with the Bedouin dialects of central Arabia. The first is used for affirmative responses and is generally considered very casual and sometimes associated with low social status. The second is a dental click and used for negative responses and is similar to the English 'tut'. The third is a palatal click 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 syllable structure to occur.

syllable: C1(C2)V1(V2)(C3)(C4)
(C = consonant, V = vowel, optional components are in parentheses.)

An epethentic ə is inserted between C3 and C4 to ease ponunciation, changing the structure above into the following.
On the other hand Eastern Libyan always has an epethentic ə between C1 and C2 in the following manner.


Most of the vocabulary in Libyan Arabic is of Classical Arabic origin, usually with a modified interconsonantal vowel structure. Many Italian loanwords also exist, in addition to Turkish, Berber and English 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 Classical Arabic. The following table serves to illustrate this relation. The past tense is used in the case of verbs as it is more distinctive and has been traditionally used in Arabic lexicons. 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 elision rule of pre-pause vowels of Classical Arabic.

Comparison of Meanings Between Libyan Arabic Words and Classical Arabic Words
Libyan Arabic Meaning Classical Arabic
 Word1   IPA1   Meaning   Word   IPA   Closest Meaning 
šba?ʃbah(3rd m.) saw (perceived with the eyes)šaba?ʃabaħaappeared vaguely
dwedwe(3rd m.) spokedawadawa?rumbled
lō?loːhwoodlaw?lauhboard, plank
wāʿərwɑːʕərdifficultwaʿrwaʕrrough terrain
šaḥḥə?ʃaħːət?(3rd m. trans.) stretchedšaḥi?ʃaħitˁ?became distant

1. Western Libyan pronunciation is used in the above table.

Another difference between Libyan and Classical Arabic is the popularity of one of two synonyms over the other. Vocabulary that is not popular or even rare in Classical Arabic can be mainstream in Libyan Arabic.(unclear)

Italian loanwords

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

Italian Loanwords
Libyan Arabic Italian
 Word   IPA    Meaning   Word   Meaning 
ṣālīṭasˁɑːliːtˁaslopesalitaup slope
kinšēllukənʃeːlːumetallic gatecancellogate
ṭānṭa, uṭānṭatˁɑːntˁɑ, utˁɑːntˁ?truckottantaeighty (a model of a truck of Italian make)
tēstateːstaa hit with the foreheadtestahead

Turkish loanwords

Turkish words were borrowed during the Ottoman era of Libya. Words of Turkish origin are not as common as Italian ones.
Turkish Loanwords
Libyan Arabic Turkish
 Word   IPA   Meaning   Word   Meaning 
šōgʃoːgplenty ofçokplenty of

Berber loanwords

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


Libyan Arabic shares the feature of the first person singular initial n- with the rest of the Maghrebi Arabic dialect continuum to which it belongs. Similar to other Arabic dialects, Libyan does not mark grammatical cases by declension. However, it has a rich verbal conjugation structure.


Nouns in Libyan Arabic are marked for two genders (masculine and feminine) and three numbers (singular, dual, and plural). Paucal number also exists for some nouns. The Diminutive is also still widely used productively (especially by women) to add an endearing or an empathetic connotation to the original noun. As in Classical Arabic, rules for the dimunitive formation are based on vowel apophony.

Indefiniteness is not marked. Definite nouns are marked using the same Classical Arabic definite article al, but with somewhat different rules of pronuciation:
  • For nouns beginning with Qamari letters, the definite article is pronounced either l -for words with an initial single consonant onset- or -for words with a double consonant onset. Except for the the letter j /IPA:ʒ/, Qamari letters in Libyan Arabic are the same as in Classical Arabic, even for those letters that have become different phonemes such as q changing to g. The letter j /IPA:ʒ/, which corresponds to the Classical Arabic phoneme has changed from being a Qamari letter to a Shamsi letter.
  • For nouns beginning with Shamsi letters, which in Libyan Arabic include the The letter j /IPA:ʒ/, the definite article is pronounced ə with the first consonant geminated.


While marking verbs for the dual number has been lost completely in Libyan Arabic -and all Arabic dialects for that matter, nouns have a specialized dual number form. However, in Eastern Libyan it tends to be more widespread.


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.

Verbal Stem Formation in Libyan Arabic1
Classical Arabic Libyan Arabic Status
Past (3rd sg. masc.) Past (3rd sg. masc.)
IVʾafʿalaDoes not Exist
VItafāʿalatfāʿəlFairly productive.
(usually in verbs that allow for reciprocity of action)
VIIIiftaʿalaəftʿalPossible innovation in Libyan Arabic. The general meaning of the stem is the same as that of stem VII and does not correspond to the Classical Arabic meaning of the same stem. It is only used when the initial of the triliteral of the verb begins with some sonorants e.g l,n,m,r. If stem VII were used with the sonorants mentioned above, the n in the stem would assimilate into the sonorant.
IXifʿallaDoes not Exist
XistafʿalastafʿəlUnproductive (Rare)
Tripoli dialect is used in the table above


Similar to Classical Arabic and other Arabic dialects, Libyan Arabic distinguishes between two main categories of roots; strong roots (those that do not have vowels or hamza) and weak roots.
Conjugation of strong roots
Strong roots follow more predictable rules of conjugation and they can be classified into three categories for Stem I 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 as as [ə])
  • 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
Please note that this classification is not always strictly followed. For example the 3rd f. past of the root r-g-d, which is a u-verb, is usually pronounced rəgdət instead of rugdət. Note also that a-verbs and u-verbs follow the same rules in the past conjugation.
Triliteral i-Verb1,2 Morphology for the Root k-t-b (to write) Arabic grammar#Stem formation>Stem I
Tripoli Dialect
Person Past Present Imperative
3rd (m.)ktabyiktəbNot Applicable
3rd (f.)kitbəttiktəbNot Applicable
2nd (m.)ktabəttiktəbiktəb
2nd (f.)ktabtitikətbiikətbi
1stktabətniktəbNot Applicable
3rd (m and f)kitbuyikətbuNot Applicable
2nd (m and f)ktabtutikətbuikətbu
1st (m and f)ktabnanikətbuNot Applicable
1. The i in an i-verb is usually pronounced as ə.
2. In roots with initial uvular, pharyngeal and glottal phonemes (namely χ ħ h ʁ ʕ ʔ, but not q), i in the present and imperative is pronounced as e. For example, the root ʁ-l-b (to overcome) is conjugated as yeʁləb, teʁləb, etc.
Triliteral a-Verb1 Morphology for the Root r-k-b (to mount, to ascend) Arabic grammar#Stem formation>Stem I
Tripoli Dialect
Person Past Present Imperative
3rd (m.)rkabyarkəbNot Applicable
3rd (f.)rukbəttarkəbNot Applicable
2nd (m.)rkabəttarkəbarkəb
2nd (f.)rkabtitarkbiarkbi
1strkabətnarkəbNot Applicable
3rd (m and f)rukbuyarkbuNot Applicable
2nd (m and f)rkabtutarkbuarkbu
1st (m and f)rkabnanarkbuNot Applicable
1.Realized variously as a and ɑ depending on the consonat structure of the word.
Triliteral u-Verb1 Morphology for the Root r-g-ṣ (to dance) Arabic grammar#Stem formation>Stem I
Tripoli Dialect
Person Past Present Imperative
3rd (m.)rgaṣyurguṣNot Applicable
3rd (f.)rugṣətturguṣNot Applicable
2nd (m.)rgaṣətturguṣurguṣ
2nd (f.)rgaṣtiturgṣiurgṣi
1strgaṣətnurguṣNot Applicable
3rd (m and f)rugṣuyurgṣuNot Applicable
2nd (m and f)rgaṣtuturgṣuurgṣu
1st (m and f)rgaṣnanurgṣuNot Applicable
1. In roots with initial uvular, pharyngeal and glottal phonemes (namely χ ħ h ʁ ʕ ʔ, but not q) , u in the present and imperative is realised by o. For example, the root ʁ-r-f (to scoop up) is conjugated as yoʁrəf, toʁrəf, etc.\It also should be noted that 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 bi - usually contracted to b- to the present tense conjugation. Thus, 'tiktəb' (she writes) becomes 'btiktəb' (she will write). This should not be confused with the indicative marker common in some Eastern Arabic varieties.

Intelligibilty with other varieties of Arabic

Libyan Arabic is highly intelligible to Tunisians and to a good extent to eastern Algerians. However for most eastern Arabic speakers, including Egyptians, it can be difficult to understand and requires some adaptation.

Libyans usually have to substitute some Libyan Arabic words to make themselves understood to other Arabic speakers, especially Middle Easterners. Substitute words are usually borrowed from Modern Standard or Egyptian Arabic. The following table shows some of the commonly replaced words.

Libyan Arabic IPA Meaning
dārdaːr(he) did
dwedwe(he) spoke
gaʿmizgaʿməz(he) sat
ngazŋgaz(he) jumped
ḫnabχnab(he) stole

Generally, all Italian and to some extent Turkish loanwords are substituted. It should be noted, however, that if a word is replaced it does not mean that it is exclusively Libyan. This 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

Pidgin Libyan exists in Libya as a contact language used by non-Arabs, mostly Saharan and sub-Saharan Africans living in Libya. Similar to all pidgins, it has a simplified structure and limited expressive power.


  • Roger Chambard, Proverbes libyens recueillis par R. Ch., ed. by Gilda Nataf & Barbara Graille, Paris, GELLAS-Karthala, 2002 [pp. 465-580: index arabe-français/français-arabe]- ISBN 2-84586-289-X
  • 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)
  • 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 - ISBN 3-447-02466-6
  • 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

See also

al-jamāhīriyyatu l-`arabiyyatu l-lībiyyatu š-ša`biyyatu l-ištirākiyyatu l-`uZmà
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A language family is a group of languages related by descent from a common ancestor, called the proto-language. As with biological families, the evidence of relationship is observable shared characteristics.
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Semitic languages are a family of languages spoken by more than 300 million people across much of the Middle East, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. They constitute the northeastern subfamily of the Afro-Asiatic languages, and the only branch of this group spoken in Asia.
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West Semitic languages are a proposed major sub-grouping of Semitic languages. One widely accepted analysis, supported by semiticists like Robert Hetzron and John Huehnergard, divides the Semitic language family into two branches: Eastern and Western.
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Central Semitic languages are an intermediate group of Semitic languages, comprising Arabic and Northwest Semitic (including Canaanite (Hebrew), Aramaic and Ugaritic).

Different classification systems disagree on the precise structure of the group.
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Arabic language family consists of
  • The Arabic macrolanguage (ISO 639-3 ara ), including
  • the living varieties of Arabic,

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al-‘Arabiyyah in written Arabic (Kufic script):  
Pronunciation: /alˌʕa.raˈbij.ja/
Spoken in: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman,
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writing system is a type of symbolic system used to represent elements or statements expressible in language.

General properties

Writing systems are distinguished from other possible symbolic communication systems in that one must usually understand something of the
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Arabic abjad

Unicode range U+0600 to U+06FF
U+0750 to U+077F
U+FB50 to U+FDFF
U+FE70 to U+FEFF
ISO 15924 Arab (#160)

Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.
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This is a list of bodies that regulate standard languages.

Afrikaans Die Taalkommissie, South Africa
Arabic Academy of the Arabic Language (مجمع اللغة العربية, Syria, Egypt, Jordan,
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ISO 639-1 is the first part of the ISO 639 international-standard language-code family. It consists of 136 two-letter codes used to identify the world's major languages. These codes are a useful international shorthand for indicating languages.
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ISO 639-2 is the second part of the ISO 639 standard, which lists codes for the representation of the names of languages. The three-letter codes given for each language in this part of the standard are referred to as "Alpha-3" codes. There are 464 language codes in the list.
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ISO 639-3 is an international standard for language codes. It extends the ISO 639-2 alpha-3 codes with an aim to cover all known natural languages. The standard was published by ISO on 5 February 2007[1].
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See Arabic languages for the historical family of dialects.
The Arabic language is a Semitic language with many varieties that diverge widely from one another -— both from country to country and within a single country.
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al-jamāhīriyyatu l-`arabiyyatu l-lībiyyatu š-ša`biyyatu l-ištirākiyyatu l-`uZmà
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Benghazi (Arabic بنغازي, transliterated Banġāzī) is the second largest city in Libya and the main city (or capital) of the Cyrenaica region (or ex-Province).
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Tripoli Castle and the Green Square

Location of Tripoli within Libya, on the continent of Africa.
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Gumhūriyyat Miṣr al-ʿArabiyyah
Arab Republic of Egypt

Flag Coat of arms
Bilady, Bilady, Bilady
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Transcription may refer to:
  • Transcription (linguistics), the conversion of spoken words into written language. Also the conversion of handwriting, or a photograph of text into pure text

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Latin alphabet
Child systems Numerous: see Alphabets derived from the Latin
Sister systems Cyrillic
Unicode range See Latin characters in Unicode
ISO 15924 Latn

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Literary Arabic (اللغة العربية الفصحى
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International Phonetic Alphabet

Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.

The International
Phonetic Alphabet
Nonstandard symbols
Extended IPA
Naming conventions
IPA for English The
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In phonetics, an allophone is one of several similar phones that belong to the same phoneme. A phone is a sound that has a definite shape as a sound wave, while a phoneme is a basic group of sounds that can distinguish words (i.e.
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Literary Arabic (اللغة العربية الفصحى
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DIN 31635 is a DIN standard for the transliteration of the Arabic alphabet adopted in 1982. It is based on the rules of the DMG as modified by the International Orientalist Congress 1936 in Rome.
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phoneme is the smallest unit of speech that distinguishes meaning. Phonemes are not the physical segments themselves, but abstractions of them. An example of a phoneme would be the /t/ found in words like tip,
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The Banu Hilal (Arabic: بنو هلال) were a confederation of Arab tribes that migrated from Arabia into North Africa in the 11th century, having been sent by the Fatimids to punish the Zirids for
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An Arab tribe that lived in Hejaz and Nejd in the rise of Islam, it will settle North Africa along with Banu Hilal in the 11th century.


Banu Sulaym trace their origin to Qais 'Ailan bin Mudhar bin Nizar bin Ma'ad bin Adnan.
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Al-Andalus (Arabic: الأندلس al-andalus) was the Arabic name given to those parts of the Iberian Peninsula governed by Muslims, or Moors, at various times in the period between 711 and 1492.
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Reconquista (English: Reconquest) was the seven-and-a-half century long process by which Christians conquered the Iberian peninsula (modern Portugal and Spain) from the Muslim and Moorish states of Al-Ándalus (Arabic الأندلس —
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