Sample Essay on Egyptian Dialect Phonology


The Egyptian Arabic language is used by a majority of the modern-day Egypt natives. The language is colloquial in nature and is a sub-language of the Arabic speakers. Egypt Arabic was first spoken in the Niger delta region near the country’s capital town of Cairo. It is associated with the Arabic speakers who arrived in Egypt during the Muslim conquest. Historians believe that the development of the Egyptian language was influenced by the aboriginal Coptic of the pre- Islamite Egyptians. The paper will explore the phonetic development of the Egyptian Arabic language among children between 12-30 months of age.

The geographical location of Egypt

Egypt is located in the Northern eastern region of Africa. The nation is at the extreme edge of the continent. Egypt is characterized by coastlines at the red and Mediterranean seas (Asante, 2002). To the west is the Libya country, Gaza strip to the eastern side and Sudan to the south. The Egyptian Arabic language is used by approximately 50 million Egypt speakers. Moreover, immigrants into the Egyptian society in Middle East, Europe, and North America speak the Egyptian Arab language. The language is gaining awide popularity due to its use in the mass media and Egyptian-made films.

The effects of code switching and its effect in phonological development.

The Egyptian Arab is characterized by varied dialects. This makes the native speakers later the structure of their speech in line with the prevailing situations. The manipulation of the language depends on the formality of the situation, communicating with persons of diverse dialects, social environments, and differentiations from another speaker or listeners, switching to a new topic as well as the needs to clarify a certain point.

The foreign speak in Egypt may be challenged due to the aspect that the language is perceived as prestigious. This makes it the language spoken in the urban areas. However, the language can be used to attract a particular audience who are not speakers of the Egyptian Arab language in the media. For example, radio presenters may opt to use Egyptian Arab language to get audience from the natives of Egypt.

The process of code-switching is important for accommodating the foreigners. The foreigners are able to get a few words from the native speakers and thus be able to deduce what the communication is all about.  The listener will not feel isolated and thus they feel appreciated. Code switching can affects the phonological development as the confidence that the learner has in learning the language. This is especially when the learner chooses to learn the language by practicing it. The phonological interferences between the languages that are code switched languages affect the acquisition of the phonological features. For the foreigner intending to learn the language, code-switching may slow the process of language acquisition. This is because code-switching presents the learner with so many grammar rules to learn and conceptualize. The varied grammatical rules that the learner may be forced to grasp eventually lead to confusion. In addition, the proficiency of the child who is acquiring the language will be highly affected. This prolongs the period that the child should have used to learn the language.

Consonant inventory in Egypt Arabic

The fortis and lenis difference on the allophonic features is distinctive in phonological realization of sounds such as /p/ and /b/. This is because it results into the fortis/ lenis differences that occur on similar sounds results into a differentiation of phones. This makes the process technical especially when the contrasts in the allophonic variations are not neutralized.

The diagram below illustrates the Egyptian Arab consonant inventory .Adopted from Gurevich., N. (2013) page 61



The/ p/, /v/, /ʒ/ occur mostly in loanwords with the sound segments /bˤ/, /mˤ)/ have marginal status.  /tˤ, dˤ, sˤ, zˤ, rˤ, ɾˤ, ɾˤ/ are pharyngealized consonants that have no equivalents in English. It is worth noting that not all speakers of Egyptian Arabic can pronounce these consonants. Moreover, the /ʔ/ is a glottal sound and is used between the vowels in uh-oh. Other sound like

/q, χ, ʁ, ħ, ʕ/ have no equivalents in English. The loanwords are majorly used in rural issues such as farming and traditional trading. More loan words have been adopted from Greek, Italian, French as well as English.

The distinctive features of each of consonant in Egypt Arabic language

Resistance between the voiceless, voiced as well as the emphatic stops or fricatives, characterizes the consonant in the Egyptian Arabic language. The emphatic sounds are realized with a retraced dorsum. This means that they are pronounced in the same manner as the pharyngealized consonants are. For example, emphatic sound // is realized as [s]. The emphatic sounds are rare in most of the languages spoken in the world today. The interferences in the sound production can be due to the motoric complexities in the language.

The language is well endowed with uvular, pharyngeal and glottal consonants. These are pronounced at the back of the oral cavity. Most of the consonants tend to be doubled with the clusters not exceeding two consonants. It is worth not that the words cannot begin with a vowel with the initial vowels always preceded by a glottal stop.

The ejectives like /k/ and implosive stops like /f/ are reduced into glottal stops in cases where the consonants are not identical (Gurevich, 2013). According to the post pharyngeal metathesis principle, the second vowels in long vowels are transposed. These are immediately followed by laryngeals especially when the laryngeal is followed by obstruents or nasals. Moreover, the implosives are reduced into glottal stops in the word final positions. For example, the /b/ and /d/ sounds. This is especially when they are preceded by non-syllabic sonorants.

Nydell (2007) cited that the allophonic variation exist in an environment of emphatic consonant. Thus the point at which a consonant is articulated is similar to the point of the articulation for a non-emphatic consonant. In this case, the consonant is pronounced with the tongue raised. This is turn affects the velarization of consonant as well as the rounding of the mouth and throats. This results into higher resonance as compared to that which is witnessed in non-emphatic sounds.For example, the trill /r/ is reduced to a single vibration where it appears as one letter in a word, but it remains potentially a trill, not a flap[ɾ]

Vowels in the Egypt Arabic Language

The Egyptian Arabic language has more vowels as compared to the Modern Standard Arabic. The vowel consists of four short and six long vowels. Despite the fact that all the lengthy vowels are shortened when in unstressed and prior to consonants clusters, the short /i/ and /u/ are dropped when other vowels are added in words.

Versteegh(2003) a majority of the Egyptian dialects preserve a three short vowel of classical Arabic. The vowels /i/ and /u/ are embedded in open and unstressed syllables. Such words include/bint-I-ɡamiːla/ which is pronounced  as [ˈbent-e-ɡæˈmiːlæ].

Versteegh, (2014) cited that the Egyptian Arabic speakers insert a vowel between consonants. This occurs after a cluster of two consonants or after the first medial consonants. For example, children would be pronounced as children. Most of the consonants which undergo epenthesis do not have the ability to be assigned to syllable. This is because such consonants will violate the native speaker’s rules against complicated onsets and codas. This is especially witnessed when Egyptian Arab speakers are communicating in English (Fromkin, Rodman, &Hyams, 2013)

The phonological development in Arabic Egyptian children aged 12-30 months

The process of phonological development is dynamic and thus operates at the universal, specific and specific child development levels. There exists a complicated relationship between the three levels. This demarcates the structure of language acquisition among the children.

The Egypt Arabic children exhibit cross-linguistic correspondences and discrepancies in their inventory of phonemics. This is evident in the following:

Place of articulation: the children whose age was between 13-18 months highly used the alveolar sound segments (especially /d/) immediately after the bilabials (especially /b/).

The manners of articulation:  children at the age below 24 months do not use stops, nasals or fricatives. However, stops, nasals, fricatives glides as well as liquids are developed at the age of 24 months in children.

Early acquisition of phonemes: universal correspondence among the children acquiring Egypt Arabic as a first Language occurred in the acquisition of stops such as /b/ and  /t/, glides such as /w/ as well as fricatives /h/. The velar sounds such as / k/ were not very common among the children. This was due to the prevalence of the speech sound in adult speech and the often substitution or assimilation processes in the language.

Substitution: the language learners tend to substitute sound segments like /l/ and /s/ for other phonemes. The lateral sound /l/ was replaced by /r/.children is pronounced as children. This sound takes two forms in the Arabic language, the tap, and trill. When pronounced as a tap, the sound segment is realized as a prevocalic and the trill is realized as a postvocalic sound. Moreover, the sound /s/ was assimilated and realized in its regressive form.

In the language acquisition process, the substitution processes tend to go beyond the assimilation process. This is because children depend on the structures of the syllables at the first months. This impacts speech development in children in that it makes them reproduce the consonant-vowel syllables as evident in the reduplication process in the first tear of the child’s development. This lowers the numbers of the syllables in the words so as to suit the child’s articulatory capabilities.

Over time, the child begins to rely on processes that simplify the syllable structures as well as processes, which replace complicated phonemes. These include replacement of the glottal sounds and the deletion of weak syllable. The replacement of the glottal led to the subsequent occurrence of glottal stops in the language inventory process among the children.

In situation involving weak syllable deletion, the adult listeners easily guesses the intended word by the child. The habit of deleting of unstressed syllable as well as replacing any unstressed syllables seizes when children are two years old. At the age of one year and 4 months, children tend to use one to two syllables in each word. However, as the children grew, they develop the use of more than two syllables in a word. The monosyllabic words developed into tri-syllabic by the deletion of any initial unstressed syllable.

Children exhibit a high level of regressive assimilation occurrences. This assimilation affected the initial and last sounds of the syllable. Children choose making the initial syllable easier. This is done by the application of simple sound from the middle or the last position of the words. When the phenomenon occurred in the syllables that had one syllables, the sound that was pronounced easily became prevocalic.


Asante, M. K. (2002). Culture and customs of Egypt. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.

Fromkin, V., Rodman, R, &Hyams, N. (2013).An introduction to Language.Cengage Learning publishers.

Gurevich, N. (2013) Lenition and Contrast: The Functional Consequences of Certain Phonetically Conditioned Sound Changes: Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics>Routledge Publishers.

Jenkins, S. (2001). Egyptian Arabic. Carlsbad, CA: Penton Overseas.

Nydell, M. K. (2007). The acquisition of Egyptian Arabic as a native language. Washington, D.C: Georgetown University Press.

Versteegh, C. H. M. (2014). The Arabic language. Oxford University Press.