Sudanese Arabic

Sudanese Arabic is the variety of Arabic spoken throughout Sudan and in parts of Eritrea. Some of the tribes in Sudan still have similar accents to the ones in Saudi Arabia.

Sudanese Arabic
Native toEritrea, Sudan, South Sudan[1]
RegionAnseba Region, Gash-Barka Region, Sudan
Native speakers
31.9 million (2015)[2]
Arabic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3apd


In 1888 the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain claimed that the Arabic spoken in Sudan was "a pure but archaic Arabic". The pronunciation of certain letters was like Hijazi, and not Egyptian, such as g being the pronunciation for the Arabic letter Qāf and J being the pronunciation for Jim.[4]

Unique phonological characteristics

Sudanese Arabic is similar to Egyptian Arabic. While it does not share some of the characteristic properties of northern Egyptian dialects (like that of Cairo), Sudanese Arabic is particularly close to central and southern Egyptian or Sa'idi Arabic. It is also closely related to Hejazi Arabic.[5]

The Arabic letter ج maintains an archaic pronunciation [ɡʲ] in Sudanese (other dialects typically have [dʒ], [ʒ] or [j], while Cairene Arabic has [ɡ]).

Sudanese Arabic also maintains an archaic rendering of qaf as [ɢ] (Voiced uvular plosive) while Cairene Arabic (like some other modern Urban dialects) renders it as [ʔ]. The uvular rendering of qaf has been lost in most other Arabic dialects and is also considered a relic.

Also peculiar to Sudanese is the quality of the Arabic vowel transliterated as u/ū; this is usually transliterated as o in materials on Sudanese because the sound ranges from ɵ~o rather than the typical ʊ~u.

In addition to differences in pronunciation, Sudanese Arabic also uses some different words when compared to Egyptian Arabic. For example, the interrogative pronoun "what" in Sudan is shinu rather than "eh" as in Egyptian Arabic.

Influence of Nubian languages

In northern and central parts of Sudan, Sudanese colloquial Arabic has been influenced by the Nubian language, which in ancient times was the dominant language in Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan. Many of the agricultural and farming terms in Sudanese Arabic were adopted from Nubian.

  • Sudanese Arabic angareb < Nobiin: àngàréé "wooden bed"
  • Sudanese Arabic kadēsa < Nobiin: kàdíís "cat" versus Standard Arabic qiṭṭ and hirr (and derivatives of the same, i.e. diminutive hurayrah "housecat, kitten").

Regional variation

Because of the varying influence of local languages in different parts of Sudan, there is considerable regional variation in Arabic spoken throughout the country. Sudanese Arabic typically refers to Arabic spoken mostly in central parts of Sudan. The other most commonly mentioned derivative of Sudanese Arabic is Juba Arabic, a pidgin of Arabic spoken in South Sudan, which is much more heavily influenced by other local languages.

Greetings in Sudanese Arabic

In northern Sudan, greetings are typically extended, and involve multiple questions about the other person's health, their family etc. When greeting someone you know informally, it is common to begin with the word o, followed by the person's first name: Ō, Khalafalla or Ō, kēf ya Khalafalla.

Formal greetings often begin with the universal As-salām ˤalaykom and the reply, Wa ˤalaykom as-salām, an exchange common to Muslims everywhere. However, other greetings typical to Sudan include Izzēyak (to men) or Izzēyik (to women). A rather informal way to say "How are you", is Inta shadīd? Inti shadīda? "Are you well? (to a male and a female, respectively)", the response to which is usually al-Hamdo lillāh "Praise God" assuming you are indeed feeling well, ma batal "not bad" or nosnos "half-half)" if feeling only okay or taˤban showayya "a little tired" if not so well. Of course, there can be many other responses but these are used in everyday language.

Other everyday greetings include kwayyis(a), alhamdulilah "Good, thanks to allah", Kēf al-usra? "how is the family?" or kēf al awlād? "how are the children". For friends, the question Kēf? can also be formed using the person's first name, prefixed by ya, for example; kēf ya Yōsif? "How are you, Joseph?". Another standard response in addition to al-hamdu lillāh is Allāh ybarik fik "God's blessing upon you". Additional greetings are appropriate for particular times and are standard in most varieties of Arabic, such as Sabāh al-khēr? / Sabāh an-Nōr.

Sudanese that know each other well will often use many of these greetings together, sometimes repeating themselves. It is also common to shake hands on first meeting, sometimes simultaneously slapping or tapping each other on the left shoulder before the handshake (particularly for good friends). Handshakes in Sudan can often last as long as greetings. A handshake between well-acquainted Sudanese will often be preceded by raising one's right hand and touching each other's left shoulder simultaneously before engaging in the handshake, all while exchanging verbal greetings.

Assenting - saying yes

The Sudanese Arabic word for "yes" depends on the tribe; aye is widely used, although aywa or na‘am are also commonly used.

See also


  •  This article incorporates text from Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 17, by Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, JSTOR (Organization), a publication from 1888 now in the public domain in the United States.
  2. Sudanese Arabic at Ethnologue (22nd ed., 2019)
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Sudanese Arabic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, JSTOR (Organization) (1888). Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 17. p. 11. Retrieved 2011-05-08.
  5. Bruce Ingham, "Some Characteristics of Meccan Speech", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 34, No. 2. (1971), pp. 273–297.
  • Arlette Roth, 1969–1972, Lexique des parlers arabes tchado-soudanais. An Arabic-English-French lexicon of dialects spoken in the Chad-Sudan area compiled by Arlette Roth-Laly, Paris: Editions du Centre Nationale de la recherche scientifique.


  • Victoria Bernal, 1991, Cultivating Workers, Peasants and Capitalism in a Sudanese Village, New York: Columbia University Press, see glossary of Sudanese Arabic words pp 203–206.
  • James Dickins. 2008. Online Arabic/English Dictionary of Sudanese Arabic, and English/Arabic Dictionary of Sudanese Arabic available at
  • James Dickins. 2007a. Sudanese Arabic: Phonematics and Syllable Structure. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  • James Dickins. 2007b. Khartoum Arabic. In The Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics (Vol. 2) (K. Versteegh et al. eds.). Leiden: Brill. pp. 559–571, available at
  • James Dickins, 2006. The Verb Base in Central Urban Sudanese Arabic. In Grammar as a Window onto Arabic Humanism: A Collection of Articles in Honour of Michael G. Carter (L. Edzard and Janet Watson, eds.). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. pp. 155–195.
  • Elizabeth M. Bergman, 2004. Spoken Sudanese Arabic, Grammar, Dialogues and Glossary, Springfield, VA, Dunwoody Press.
  • Abdel-Hadi Mohammed Omer, 1984, Arabic in the Sudanese setting: A Sociolinguistic study (Language Planning, Diglossia, Standardisation), Unpublished dissertation, Indiana University (available on Proquest).
  • Andrew and Janet Persson with Ahmad Hussein, 1979, Sudanese Colloquial Arabic for beginners, Summer Institute of Linguistics, Horsleys Green, High Wycombe, United Kingdom: This book is a good introduction to Sudanese colloquial Arabic as spoken in Khartoum. Text is in both Arabic and Latin scripts, making it accessible to those that do not read Arabic but want basic conversational skills.
  • Alan S. Kaye, 1976, Chadian and Sudanese Arabic in the light of comparative Arabic dialectology, Mouton: The Hague, ISBN 90-279-3324-3.
  • El Rashid Abubakr, 1970, The noun phrase in the spoken Arabic of Sudan, Unpublished dissertation, University of London, UK.
  • J. Spenser Trimmingham, 1946, Sudan Colloquial Arabic, London, Oxford University Press, G. Cumberlege.
  • Vincent Llewllyn Grifiths & Abdel Rahman Ali Taha, 1936, Sudan courtesy customs; a foreigner's guide to polite phrases in common use among sophisticated Arabic speaking population of Northern Sudan, Khartoum, published by the Sudan Government.
  • S. Hillelson, 1935, Sudan Arabic texts, Cambridge, UK: The University Press.


  • Michel Baumer, 1968, Les noms vernaculaires soudanais utiles à l'écologiste, Unpublished dissertation, Université de Montpelier, France.


  • Randolph Galla, 1997, Kauderwelsch, Sudanesisch-Arabisch Wort für Wort, Reise Know How-Verlag, Bielefeld, 1. Auflage, ISBN 3-89416-302-X
  • Stefan Reichmuth, 1983, Der arabische Dialekt der Šukriyya in Ostsudan, Hildesheim, New York: G. Olms (originally authors thesis, Freie Universität, Berlin), ISBN 3-487-07457-5.


  • عون الشريف قاسم (ʿAwn al-Sharīf Qāsim), 1972, قاموس اللهجة العامية في السودان (A Dictionary of the Vernacular Dialect in the Sudan), الخرطوم: الدار السودانية للكتاب (Khartoum: Sudanese Publishers).
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