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R.L.G., "A language with too many armies and navies?", The Economist 6/21/2013. This post gives a laudably concrete discussion of the differences among contemporary regional varieties of Arabic, with examples taken from the r/Arabs Dialect Project. It also quotes from a 1998 paper by my colleague Mohamed Maamouri, "Language Education and Human Development: Arabic diglossia and its impact on the quality of education in the Arab region" (Discussion paper prepared for The World Bank Mediterranean Development Forum, Marrakech, 3-6 September 1998).


  1. The Betacantrips Travelogue » Arabic: A language with too many armies and navies? said,

    June 24, 2013 @ 9:44 pm

    […] Seen on Language Log: a piece in the Economist about Arabic: Today, the Arab world is sometimes compared to medieval Europe, when classical Latin was still the only "real" language most people wrote and studied in—but "Latin" in the mouths of its speakers had become early French, Spanish, Portuguese and so on. Today, we recognize that French and Portuguese are different languages—but Arabs are not often sure (and are sometimes at odds) about how to describe "Arabic" today. The plain fact is that a rural Moroccan and a rural Iraqi cannot have a conversation and reliably understand each other. An urban Algerian and an urban Jordanian would struggle to speak to each other, but would usually find ways to cope, with a heavy dose of formal standard Arabic used to smooth out misunderstandings. They will sometimes use well-known dialects, especially Egyptian (spread through television and radio), to fill in gaps. […]

  2. John Roth said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 11:12 am

    I like the play on the well-known comment: "The standard dialect of a language is the one with an army."

  3. Rod Johnson said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

    The actual Max Weinreich quote, according to Wikipedia, was in Yiddish:

    אַ שפּראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמיי און פֿלאָט, a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot.

    I never knew that, nor that Weinreich himself was quoting someone else.

  4. Jason said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

    "a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot."

    This sentence makes Yiddish look like a dialect of English invented by an army of Jewish comedians.

  5. languagehat said,

    June 26, 2013 @ 8:38 am

    Details on the quote available here.

  6. Lameen said,

    June 26, 2013 @ 5:36 pm

    If anyone wants (a lot) more detail on their example, I've posted an analysis: How different are Egyptian and Algerian Arabic, really?

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