The Egyptian Arabic Accent
The Egyptian Arabic accent of Cairo can be used as a standard accent understood by all Egyptians and most of the Arab World. The Cairene accent is what this work is about.
The main characteristic of the Egyptian Arabic accent is the "minimum-effort" pronunciation of words, alone or in combination, compared to other varieties of Arabic that are stronger but less flexible. Thus, it has less consonants and more vowels, as the guttural and emphatic consonants Arabic is known for require more effort. However, Egyptians alternatively use the classical consonants in formal contexts.
It's a civil urban accent whose users are more in number, diversity, interaction, and stability by the river and flat land naturally bonding them, which sped up the evolution of their language, even after the Arab Conquest where their millennia-old cultural and linguistic habits mutually influenced the Arabic language.
It's not the only Arabic dialect with such characteristics, as language evolution depends on other factors too (simple precise grammar and vocabulary, borrowing from old texts and foreign languages, etc.) that vary widely between and within countries and provinces.
Some translations confuse consonants with vowels. So consonants are mentioned first here.
- Like other Arabic accents there is no "p" or "v". (Some Egyptian/Arab beginners in English say: broblem, bolice, baradise, Fictor, fiola, fodka, etc. Even when they try to be correct they become "hyper-correct," saying: pank, pacteria, petter, etc.)
- Cairenes, like other Arabs, use consonant "doubling," in writing as in speaking, which sounds too strong to the English ear where doubling is only written. So an Egyptian would say: sup-pose, il-legal, at-tention, etc.
- Like other Arabic accents, the "r" is trilled (but not strongly as the Spanish or Italians do).
- Unlike classical Arabic, there is no th (as in "thanks"), dh (as in "that"), or Dh (like dh, but with a flat tongue)". Instead, they are replaced with "s & z". (In the Egyptian accent of English some may wrongly say "sanks for za ride" instead of "thanks for the ride".)
- Unlike most other Arabic accents, the Egyptian accent doesn't have the emphatic consonants "Sahd, Dahd, Taa, Dhaa" (flat-tongue "s, d, t, dh"), or Qaf (guttural "k")", that didn't exist in the original Coptic/Pharaonic language. Those consonants require more volume to articulate, for the ear to distinguish them from their non-emphatic counterparts. Thus, they are replaced with "seen, dal, taa, zain, and kaf" respectively (just regular "s, d, t, z, & k").
- The guttural sounds "3ayn, ghayn, 7aa, khaa, haa & glottal stop" are lightened by moving them up away from the throat, ending up with a lighter version of each.
- On the other hand, "frontal" consonants are moved slightly further to the back of the mouth (plosives, labiodentals, fricatives, laterals, nasals, and semi-vowels) for better control: "b, t, g, d, k, f, s, z, sh, r, l, n, m, w, y."
- The letter geem is pronounced:
- The Egyptian accent has the nasal sound "ng" as in Chinese or English (instead of pronouncing "n & g" separately). This is pronounced in words like manga (mango), unker (denied), bunger (beets), engaz (achievement).
- Finally, the letter Qaf (guttural k in classical Arabic) has various pronunciations used throughout the Arab World: Qaf (guttural), k (velar), g, gh, dj, and glottal stop.
In Egypt it is pronounced as a "glottal stop" in most of the country except in Upper Egypt, Bedouin areas, and few parts of Delta where it's pronounced "g". However, it's replaced with k (followed by dark vowels) when k is easier to pronounce, as in karya (village), kanaa (channel/canal), etc. and in many everyday words referring to formal concepts: kanuun (law), ka'ida (rule), kowwa (strength), kadiir (almighty), mokarna (comparison), kawwaad (panderer), kadiib (penis), etc.
Other Arab countries mostly pronounce Qaf as a "g" (the Gulf, Iraq, Sudan, etc.) or Qaf (Morocco, Algeria, etc.), except in Syria & Lebanon where it's mostly pronounced a glottal stop like in Egypt.
Every language has its own intonation that fits its sounds (like different music genres that fit different instruments), which makes pronunciation more comfortable and spontaneous. It's easier to notice how Egyptians intonate their sentences in working-class and coastal neighborhoods, that have more interaction between different people. It's also more noticeable in old-time cinema and radio, when exaggeration was common, as elsewhere in the world. Like similar dialects in similar settings, it uses minimum effort: more closed mouth, less oral space, heavy sounds avoided, etc. thus allowing minimum effort and maximum control.
Stress is put on the penultimate syllable (next-to-last: second from the end). Most other Arabic accents put it on the syllable before (the antepenultimate: third from the end), except in Morocco, Algeria & Tunisia where it's on the last one. Example:
Egyptians in Cairo say rub-be-na (our God), stressing the second syllable, whereas in most other Arabic dialects people say rub-be-na, stressing the first one.
- "p & v" though non-Arabic sounds, are common in many words/word boundaries: "p" replaces "b" between two voiceless sounds; "v" replaces "f" between two voiced sounds. Examples: essabt/essapt (Saturday); afdal/avdal (better)
- One combination is replaced with the other, in the following:
- The Egyptian accent is rich in vowels that don't exist in most other Arabic accents. They are usually used in words with "heavy" Arabic consonants to avoid or lighten them.
- However, there are no nasal vowels (as in French) or diphthongs (as in English). An Egyptian beginner of English would say: nehm (name), hohm (home), wayy, noww, whyy, etc.
- Like other Arabs, they add an extra vowel to avoid "consonant clusters" which are rare in Arabic, saying: estodio (studio), berowen (brown), boroccoli (broccoli), espering (spring), tekestes (texts), etc.
- Finally, Egyptians prefer short vowels. Unlike in most other Arabic accents, if a long vowel (aa, ii, uu, oh, eh) is the last letter in a word, it is replaced with a short one. Example:
Even a long vowel in a word's beginning/middle is also replaced with a short one "within a longer utterance." However, the last syllable of such utterance stays intact. (Excluded from this is any word given a special dominance/articulation.). So, ALL LONG VOWELS ARE SHORTENED EXCEPT THE LAST ONE. Example:
anaa raaye7 ashterii 7aagaat mes-soo' (I'm gonna buy things from
the market) becomes just
* * *
Egyptians use many vowels (20, approximately) including the 6 traditional Arabic vowels:
- There are two non-classical vowels that are yet used in almost all Arab countries:
Egyptian examples of short a: buttah (a duck), huggur (deserted), fakhr (pride); and of long a: baaz (became damaged), marraat (times: more than once).
- The rest of vowels are