MSA vs Classical Arabic vs Egyptian Dialect?
Yep it’s a bit messy at first glance, maybe even a little intimidating…many newcomers to learning Arabic are stumped by these questions:
What type of Arabic am I actually learning right now and is it practical?
What is the best type to learn and what should I learn if I am travelling to an Arabic speaking country?
Should I be learning more than one of them? And if so, which one should be learned before the other?
Let’s focus here on three of the most commonly used terms when we are referring to Arabic language; First, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) also referred to as Literary Arabic, Second: Classical Arabic (CA) also known as Quranic Arabic and Third: Egyptian dialect.
In the Arab world, little distinction is made between CA and MSA, and both are normally called “Al-Fusha” in Arabic.
Similarly, western scholars distinguish two standard varieties of Arabic; the Classical Arabic of the Quran and early Islamic literature, and MSA which is our modern standard Arabic.
Classical Arabic is the language used in the Quran as well as in numerous literary texts. Many Muslims study Classical Arabic in order to read the Quran in its original language.
MSA is the standardized and literary variety of Arabic used in writing and in most formal speech.
The modern standard language is based on the Classical language but structural influence from foreign languages has also affected MSA according to the modern needs.
It is the direct descendant of Classical Arabic and is used today throughout the Arab world. MSA is the literary standard across the Middle East, North Africa, Horn of Africa and it is one of the six official languages of the United Nations and is the only form of Arabic taught in schools at all stages.
Egyptian dialect also known as “Masri” is the language spoken by most contemporary Egyptians.
It descended from the spoken Arabic which was brought to Egypt during the Muslim conquest and then it kept developing and was influenced by Turkish, Italian, English and French languages which you can clearly notice while you are speaking to any Egyptian.
Egyptian dialect is understood across most of the Arabic speaking countries due to the predominance of the Egyptian influence on the region as well as the Egyptian media, making it the most widely spoken and understood form of Arabic.
Generally speaking, the grammar of dialects is much less complex in comparison to MSA, so you’ll be able to get communicating faster and you’ll be able to have chats with the locals rather than just with teachers who are experienced in speaking MSA.
So, if you are planning to speak the language or to travel to a country and socialize with it’s people, learning it’s dialect has a much higher priority than learning MSA because most people in Arabic speaking countries do NOT speak MSA. They can understand it but they ONLY speak their dialect. And of course you don’t want to be that guy who is speaking in a weird robotic way to the locals!
But if your goal is to use Arabic academically or religiously, then you’d better stick to MSA.
So, if you have a “speaking and socializing” priority, learn the dialect of the country that you want to visit first, then go on to MSA if you are interested which at that point, will be much easier for you.
You will already have a partial fluency to speak it, and can get easier and much smoother into reading complex texts and understanding formal discussions.
Good luck and enjoy your learning!