Yemeni Arabic

Yemeni Arabic

Infobox Language
name=Yemeni Arabic
states=Yemen, Somalia
fam3=West Semitic
fam4=Central Semitic
fam5=South Central Semitic
script=Arabic alphabet
iso3= acq
lc1=ayh|ld1=Hadrami Arabic|ll1=Hadhrami Arabic
lc2=ayn|ld2=Sanaani Arabic|ll2=Sanaani Arabic
lc3=acq|ld3=Ta'izzi-Adeni Arabic|ll3=Ta'izzi-Adeni Arabic

Yemeni Arabic is the name of a cluster of Arabic varieties spoken in Yemen and northern Somalia. [Andrew Dalby, "Dictionary of Languages: The Definitive Reference to More Than 400 Languages", (Bloomsbury Pub Ltd: 1999), p.25] It is generally considered a very conservative dialect cluster, as it has many classical features not found across most of the Arabic speaking world.

Yemeni Arabic can be divided roughly into several main dialect groups, each with its own distinctive vocabulary and phonology. The most important of these groups are San'ani, Ta'izzi, Adani (Adenese), Tihami and Hadhrami (Hadrami). The independent languages of Mahri (Mehri) and Suqutri (Socotri, Soqotri) are not Arabic dialects at all, but developed from Old South Arabian via the ancient Sabaean language, which are related to Ethiopic Languages. Below is a table showing the transliteration system of some consonants together with their IPA values (Note that some phonetic symbols may not appear in some versions of Internet browsers) :

The San'ani Arabic Dialect


The San'ani dialect is distinguished among Yemeni dialects by its use of the hard [g] sound in the place of the classical Arabic [qāf] , as well as its preservation of the classical Arabic palatal pronunciation of [j] (also transliterated unicode| [ǧ] , IPA transcription [IPA|ʤ] ) for the Arabic letter ج [jīm] . In these respects, San'ani Arabic is very similar to most Bedouin dialects across the Arabian peninsula.


Along with these phonological similarities to other dialects, San'ani Arabic also has several unique features. It uses the classical "mā" in the meaning of "what", as well as in negations. Unlike the classical usage, this "mā" is used without distinction in verbal and nominal sentences alike. It represents the future aspect with a complex array of prefixes, depending on the person of the verb. For first-person verbs the prefix [ša-] or [‘ad] is used. The derivation of [ša-] is apparently related to the classical [sa-] , and [‘ad] is likely an abbreviation of [ba‘d] , meaning "after". For all other persons in San'a proper the simple prefix [‘a-] is used, although many of the villages around San'a extend the use of [ša-] for all persons.حسن


San'ani syntax differs from other Arabic dialects in a number of ways. It is one of few remaining Arabic dialects to retain the "maa af'al" exclamatory sentence type with the meaning "how [adjective] ". For instance, "maa ajmal", is used to mean "how beautiful", from the adjective "jamiil", meaning "beautiful". A construction it shares with Libyan Arabic and Levantine Arabic.


The San'ani vocabulary is also very distinct and conservative. The classical verb "sāra, yasīr" is retained with the meaning of "to go". Shalla, yashill is used to mean "to take/get". [Janet C. E. Watson, "Sbahtu! A Course in San'ani Arabic". Semitica Viva: Series Didactica, 3. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1996. xxvii, 324 pp., glossary, index ISBN 3-447-03755-5] An example, would be the parliament speaker of Yemen, Abdullah Alahmar, when he spoke on AL-Jazira TV few years ago, they actually had to translate his Yemeni dialect to Standard Arabic, for viewers and the TV host to understand what he said.

the Ta'izzi Arabic Dialect

The Ta'izzi Arabic Dialect is spoken in Taiz, Aden, parts of Ibb.

The Adeni Arabic Dialect

The Adeni dialect is also very distinct from the rest of the Yemeni dialects. Like the majority of Yemeni dialects, Adeni uses the hard uvular [q] for the classical [qāf] . Like the Taiz dialect, however, Adeni Arabic substitutes dental fricatives for dental plosives, [θ] becomes [t] , [ð] becomes [d] and the two (classical) emphatic interdental fricative unicode| [ð̣] and the emphatic dental plosive [unicode|ḍ] are both merged into one sound, namely [unicode|ḍ] .

The Tihami Arabic Dialect

The Tihami dialect has many aspects which differentiate it from all other dialects in the Arab world. Phonologically Tihami is similar to the majority of Yemeni dialects, pronouncing the Qaf as [Q] and the Jim as a hard [G] . Grammatically all Tihami dialects also share the unusual feature of replacing the definite article [Al-] with the prefix [Am-] . The future tense, much like the dialects surrounding Sana'a, is indicated with the prefix [sh-] , for all persons, e.g. "sha-buuk am-suuq" meaning, "I will go to the Souq". Some Tihami dialects, such as that spoken in Al-Hodeida, are otherwise fairly similar to other Yemeni dialects in grammar and syntax, differing mainly in vocabulary, while others can be so far from any other Arabic dialect that they are practically incomprehensible even to other Yemenis.

The sub-dialect of Zabid

Of all the Tihami sub-dialects, the sub-dialect of Zabid is rightly regarded as the most bizarre. It shares the transformed definite article of [am-] with the rest of the Tihami sub-dialects, but it is unique in retaining certain of the declensional suffixes in the nominitive case. Indefinite masculine nouns in nominal sentences as well as the subjects of verbal sentences are suffixed with the sound [-uu] , which stems from the classical suffix [-un/-u] . Likewise the phonology of the Zabidi sub-dialect is perhaps unique among all Arabic dialects in that it replaces the sound [‘ain] with the glottal stop [ ’ ] . In terms of vocabulary, the Zabidi sub-dialect shares very little with other Arabic dialects, in many respects it seems to be a different language. Zabidis use the verb "baaka, yabuuk" to mean "to go" and the verb "baġa, yibġa" to mean "to want". The word "gohd" and "gohda" mean man, and woman, respectively. And the word "fiiaym" to mean "where", hence the phrase: "fiiaym baayku" meaning "Where are you going", which is grammatically parallel to the more familiar: "fayn raayih" of more mainstream dialects.

The Hadhrami Arabic Dialect


The dialect in many towns and villages in the Wādī (valley) and the coastal region is characterised by its pronunciation of the voiced palatal plosive (or affricate) ج as the semi-vowel ي [y] (IPA [j] ). In this it resembles some Eastern Arabian and Gulf dialects including the dialects of Basra in Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the dialects of the other Arab Emirates. In educated speech, is realised as a voiced palatal plosive or affricate in some lexical items.

The ق reflex is pronounced as a voiced velar [g] in all lexical items throughout the dialect. With the spread of literacy and contact with speakers of other Arabic dialects, future sociolinguistic research may reveal whether HA is going to witness innovation like using the uvular in certain lexemes while retaining the velar /g/ for others.

Wādī HA makes ث / ت unicode| and ذ / د unicode|ḏ)> distinction but ض <Unicode|ḍ> and ظ <unicode|đ̣> are both pronounced ظ [IPA|ðˤ] where as Coastal HA merges all these pairs into the stops د , ت and ض (unicode|/t/, /d/ and /ḍ/) respectively.

In non-emphatic environments, /ā/ is realised as an open front (slightly raised) unrounded vowel. Thus/θānī/ “second; psn. name”, which is normally realised with an [IPA|ɑ:] -like quality in the Gulf dialects, is realised with an [IPA|æ:] quality in HA.

This dialect is characterised by not allowing final consonant clusters to occur in final position. Thus Classical Arabic /bint/ “girl” is realised as /binit/. In initial positions, there is a difference between the Wādī and the coastal varieties of HA. Coastal HA has initial clusters in /bġā/ “he wants”, /Unicode|bṣal/ “onions” and /brīd/ “mail (n.)” while Wādī HA realises the second and third words as /Unicode|baṣal/ and /barīd/ respectively.


When the first person singular comes as an independent subject pronoun, it is marked for gender, thus /anā/ for masculine and /anī/ for feminine. As an object pronoun, it comes as a bound morpheme, thus /–nā/ for masculine and /–nī/ for feminine. The first person subject plural is /Unicode|naḥnā/.

The first person direct object plural is /Unicode|naḥnā/ rather than /–nā/ which is the case in many dialects. Thus, the cognate of the Classical Arabic /Unicode|ḍarabanā/ “he hit us” is /Unicode|đ̣arab naḥnā/ in HA.

Stem VI, /tC1āC2aC3/, can undergo a vowel stem shift to /tC1ēC2aC3/, thus changing the pattern vowel |ā| to /ē/. This leads to a semantic change as in /tšāradaw/ “they ran away suddenly” and /tšēradaw/ “they shirk, try to escape”

Intensive and frequentative verbs are common in the dialect. Thus /kasar/ “to break” is intensified to |kawsar| as in /Unicode|kōsar fi l - l‘ib/ “he played rough”. It can be metathesized to become frequentative as /Unicode|kaswar min iđ̣-đ̣aḥkāt/ “he made a series (lit. breaks) of giggles or laughs”.


The syntax of HA has many similarities to other Peninsular Arabic dialects. However, the dialect contains a number of unique particles used for coordination, negation and other sentence types. Examples in coordination include /kann, lākan/ “but; nevertheless, though”, /mā/ (Classical Arabic /ammā/) “as for…” and /walla/ “or”.

Like many other dialects, apophonic or ablaut passive (as in /kutib/ "it was written") is not very common in HA and perhaps is confined to clichés and proverbs from other dialects including Classical Arabic.

The particle /qad/ developed semantically in HA into /kuð/ or /guð / “yet, already, almost, nearly” and /gad/ or /gid/ “maybe, perhaps”.


There are a few lexical items that are shared with Modern South Arabian languages, which perhaps distinguish this dialect from other neighbouring Arabian Peninsula dialects. The effect of Hadrami migration to Southeast Asia (see Arab Singaporean), the Indian subcontinent and East Africa on HA is clear in the vocabulary especially in certain registers like types of food and dress, e.g. /Unicode|ṣārūn/ "sarong". Many loan words were listed in al-Saqqaf (2006): [] [A. Al-Saqqaf (2006): Co-referential devices in Hadramî Arabic, pp. 75-93 "Zeitschrift für Arabische Linguistik" Issue 46.]

The Yafi'i Arabic Dialect

While there is much about the Lower Yafa'i dialect that has not been thoroughly studied, it does have a very interesting phonological shift. Along with the southern bedouin dialects, in Abyan and Lahej, with which it shares much in common, Yafi'i pronounces the classical [jīm] as [gīm] , but unlike all other dialects, Yafi'i systematically pronounces the classical sound [ġain] as [qain] and [qāf] as [ġāf] , effectively switching the pronunciation of the one letter for the other. An illustration of this phonemic interchange can be seen in the Yafi'i words baġar (cow) and qanam (goat), which correspond to the classical words baqar (cow) and ġanam (goat).

Although a similar phonological shift occurs in certain words in the Sudan as well, the similarities are rather misleading. Whereas the shift is systematic in Yafi', occurring at every instance of the relevant phonemes, in the Sudan it is usually a form of hypercorrection which takes place only in certain classical words. In the Sudan, the phoneme [Q] is systematically pronounced as [G] in all common words, with the pronunciation [Gh] occurring as a hypercorrection in words such as "Istiqlaal" ("Freedom"), pronounced "Istighlaal".



* [ Ethnologue entry for Hadrami Arabic]
* [ Ethnologue entry for Sanaani Arabic]
* [ Ethnologue entry for Ta'izzi-Adeni Arabic]

External links

[ Recording of Yemeni Arabic]


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