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Population Analysis of the Arabic Languages
Orville Boyd Jenkins


This is the report of the results of an investigation to determine how many languages of the Arabic family a resource would need to be in to cover 90% of the people.

Procedures

This turned out to be a somewhat complex exercise, due to the number of languages, the broad geography involved, and the variation of naming of the same language varieties by different speakers. The analysis given here follows the standard naming conventions in the Ethnologue, 13th Edition (1996), electronic version, published by SIL International, the world authority on world languages.

The basis of the investigation was the listings of all Arabic languages in the Ethnologue, which analyzed and compared. The figures given for each language indicate mother-tongue speakers. In some cases additional information is provided on use as a second language by non-native speakers.

This reports the results of the analysis of the Ethnologue listings for the languages, giving the percentage rankings by region. For reference, a summary of each language in the top ranking is given, with information on dialects and where they are spoken. This information is edited from all the country entries and annotated for clarification.

Percentages are rounded. Charts give the languages with the most speakers to the least, until the total passes 90% in each list.

Peoples

Note that this report does not analyze the people groups speaking these languages, only the total population of speakers of each language. Some population notes are included in the Ethnologue summaries for each language, but most of these notes are geographical.

Exclusions

Though all languages of the Arabic family were analyzed, there are some exclusions from the percentage figures in the final analysis reported here. Two major languages, spoken in Sudan, Chad and neighbouring countries, were excluded from this analysis. Some minor languages, with less than 10,000 speakers, and in one case 70,000, were also excluded, some of which are in Asia. These are peripheral and declining languages of bilingual, and in some cases displaced, peoples.

Anomalies

One additional factor skews the result slightly, but not significantly. Some of the languages show speakers in the Americas. In most cases this is not statistically significant. One is of note, however. There are 1,000,000 mother-tongue speakers of North Levantine Spoken Arabic in Argentina.

Due to complexity of the analysis, this and a couple of similar (though much smaller) cases, were not deducted from the total population before figuring the percentage ranking. This does change the percentage ranking, and does not affect the number of languages needed in any list to reach 90%. Even this number is only ½ percent of the total of speakers in the languages listed.

Languages of the Horn, other than Sudanese Arabic, are included, since they are listed as the major languages of the Arabian Peninsula. These were not extracted due to the complexity of such listings, the low population in African countries and the time factor.

Listings include the countries where each language is spoken, and its major alternative names. In some cases the same language is known by different names indifferent countries or peoples.

Format

The results of this investigation are reported here by language name as given in the Ethnologue. Following this are the descriptions of the languages in the listings.
 
 
SPEAKERS OF ARABIC LANGUAGES
Total speakers of Arabic languages in Middle East and Arabian Peninsula
78,155,000
Total speakers of Arabic languages in Northern Africa
119,580,000
Total speakers of Arabic languages in Northern Africa, Middle East and Arabian Peninsula
197,735,000

 
Coverage for Arabic Languages in the Middle East/Arabian Peninsula (ME)
Ranking in ME
Language
Number of Speakers
% of

Middle East

% of NAME
% Covered
1
Mesopotamian Spoken
15,100,000
19.3
7.6
 
2
North Levantine Spoken
15,000,000
19.2
7.6
 
3
Najdi Spoken
9,700,000
12.4
4.9
 
4
Sanaani Spoken
7,600,000
9.7
3.8
 
5
Taizzi-Adeni
6,840,000
8.8
3.5
 
6
North Mesopotamian Spoken
6,300,000
8.1
3.2
 
7
South Levantine Spoken
6,155,000
7.9
3.1
85.4
8
Hijazi Spoken
6,000,000
7.7
3.0
93.1

 
Coverage for Arabic Languages in Northern Africa (NA)
Ranking in NA
Language
Number of Speakers
% of

Northern Africa

% of NAME
% Covered
1
Egyptian Spoken
42,500,000
35.5
21.5
 
2
Algerian Spoken
22,400,000
18.7
11.3
 
3
Moroccan Spoken
19,542,000
16.3
9.9
 
4
Saidi Spoken
18,900,000
15.8
9.6
86.3
5
Tunisian Spoken
9,308,000
7.8
4.7
94.1

 
Coverage for Arabic Languages in Northern Africa and the Middle East (NAME)
Ranking in NAME
Language
Number of Speakers
% of NAME
% Covered
1
Egyptian Spoken
42,500,000
21.5
 
2
Algerian Spoken
22,400,000
11.3
 
3
Moroccan Spoken
19,542,000
9.9
 
4
Saidi Spoken
18,900,000
9.6
 
5
North Levantine Spoken
15,000,000
7.6
 
6
Mesopotamian Spoken
15,100,000
7.6
 
7
Najdi Spoken
9,700,000
4.9
 
8
Tunisian Spoken
9,308,000
4.7
 
9
Sanaani Spoken
7,600,000
3.8
 
10
Taizzi-Adeni
6,840,000
3.5
 
11
North Mesopotamian Spoken
6,300,000
3.2
 
12
South Levantine Spoken
6,155,000
3.1
90.7

Summary Comments

Hijazi Spoken Arabic is the only language in a sub-list that does not also occur on the NAME list.

Note that none of the Bedawi (Bedouin) Arabic Languages are included in these top population figures. Some Bedouin tribes, however, speak several of the major languages as a mother tongue or second language. The Ethnologue entries note this in some cases. For example, 8% of the mother tongue speakers of North Levantine Spoken Arabic are Bedouins. Tribal breakdowns or locations are not given in the Ethnologue summaries.

It is also notable that Libyan Arabic, and its associated dialects (including Northwest Egyptian Bedawi) does not have sufficient speakers to rank in the top group, having a total of 4.5 million speakers.

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Language Information

1. EGYPTIAN SPOKEN
ARABIC, EGYPTIAN SPOKEN (LOWER EGYPT ARABIC, NORMAL EGYPTIAN ARABIC) [ARZ]
40,600,000 in Egypt (1996); 1,000,000 in Libya (1991); 450,000 in Iraq (1995); 100,000 or more in United Arab Emirates (1991); 10,000 or fewer in Yemen (1995); 10,000 in Jordan (1991); 20,000 in Kuwait (1995); 25,000 in Israel (1994); 300,000 in Saudi Arabia (1991); 42,500,000 in all countries. Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, Central, South, Arabic.
Dialects: NORTH DELTA ARABIC, SOUTH CENTRAL DELTA ARABIC, CAIRENE ARABIC.
The media have established a normal Egyptian Spoken Arabic based on Cairo speech. Cairene is the most widely understood dialect used for non-print media, both in Egypt and throughout the sedentary Arab world.
It is an amalgam of Delta Arabic and Middle Egypt Arabic, with borrowings from literary Arabic. Used on television, radio talk shows, and for political speeches.
National language. Muslim. Braille Bible portions. NT 1932, out of print. Bible portions 1905-1991. Survey needed.

Comment:
Egyptian Spoken Arabic has the largest single population, over 20% of the total. It also has the largest geographical distribution with about 2 million native speakers in other countries of NAME (1 million of those in Libya). It is also (from other sources) the most widely used inter-language and especially dominates radio, television and video distributed across the region. Note that Cairene speech is the most widely used for non-print media.

2. ALGERIAN SPOKEN
ARABIC, ALGERIAN SPOKEN (ALGERIAN) [ARQ]
20,400,000 in Algeria (1996 Hunter), 83% of the population (1991); 660,000 in
France; 10,800 in Belgium (1984 Time); 60,000 in Netherlands; 26,000 in Germany; 22,400,000 in all countries. 2,000,000 outside of Algeria (1995 Hunter). Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, Central, South, Arabic.
Dialects: CONSTANTINE, ALGIERS, ORAN.
Algerian and Tunisian dialects are close, but speakers prefer their own varieties.
The Ouled Nail of Biskra speak Arabic, and are ethnically separate.
Sunni Muslim, Christian. NT 1965. Bible portions 1872-1964.

3. MOROCCAN SPOKEN
ARABIC, MOROCCAN SPOKEN (MAGHREBI ARABIC, MAGHRIBI COLLOQUIAL ARABIC) [ARY]
18,800,000 in Morocco (1995), 65% of the population (1991); perhaps another 20% speak it as a second language; 492,700 in France (1984 Time); 105,000 in Belgium (1984 Time); 100,000 in Netherlands (1984 Time); 44,200 in Germany (1984 Time); 19,542,000 in all countries. Northern Morocco and southern Morocco south of the Atlas Mts., and including the port cities of the Sahara.
Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, Central, South, Arabic.
Dialects: RABAT-CASABLANCA ARABIC, FEZ. MEKNES, TANGIER ARABIC, OUJDA, JEBLI (JEBELIA, JBALA), SOUTHERN MOROCCO ARABIC, MARRAKECH ARABIC.
Not intelligible to speakers of Tunisian Arabic, or to speakers of Arabic varieties from other countries. Sunni Muslim. NT 1932. Bible portions 1902-1952. Survey needed.

4. SA<IDI SPOKEN
ARABIC, SA<IDI SPOKEN (SA<IDI, UPPER EGYPT ARABIC) [AEC]
18,900,000 (1996). Southern Egypt from the edge of Cairo to the Sudan border.
Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, Central, South, Arabic.
Dialects: MIDDLE EGYPT ARABIC, UPPER EGYPT ARABIC.
The Middle Egypt dialect is in Bani Sweef, Fayyuum, and Gizeh. Upper Egypt dialect is from Asyuut to Edfu and south. Some might be in Libya or the Gulf.
Similar to Sudanese Arabic, especially in the south, but heavily influenced by Cairene Arabic. Speakers prefer Cairene over Sudanese. Speakers of Cairene do not understand Sa<idi, but speakers of Sa<idi understand Cairene, and some use it as second language. Survey needed.

Comment:
The fact that Sa`idi speaekrs understand Cairene strengthens the position of Cairene, and might indicate adequacy of Cairene for initial awareness contact for Sa`idi speakers, though not likely for decision level of targeting.

5. NORTH LEVANTINE SPOKEN
ARABIC, NORTH LEVANTINE SPOKEN (LEVANTINE ARABIC, LEBANESE-SYRIAN ARABIC, SYRO-LEBANESE ARABIC) [APC]
3,900,000 in Lebanon, 93% of the population (1991); 8,800,000 in Syria, including 6,000,000 in Lebanese-Central Syrian, 1,000,000 in North Syrian (1991); 8% are Bedouins; 3,900,000 in Lebanon; 1,000,000 in Argentina; 500,000 in Turkey; 100,000 in Israel (1996); 3,000 in Dominican Republic; 800 in French Guiana; 2,000 in Jamaica; 2,600 in Trinidad and Tobago; also in Antigua and Cyprus [no figures]; 15,000,000 in all countries.
Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, Central, South, Arabic.
Dialects: NORTH LEBANESE ARABIC, NORTH-CENTRAL LEBANESE ARABIC, SOUTH-CENTRAL LEBANESE ARABIC, SOUTH LEBANESE ARABIC, CENTRAL SYRIAN ARABIC (SHAMI).
Syria Dialect Info:
There is an urban standard dialect based on Damascus speech. Used on television, radio talk shows and drama. Beiruti dialect is well accepted here. Aleppo dialect shows Mesopotamian (North Syrian) influence.
Syria: Muslim, Christian, Druze, Jewish.
Lebanon: Throughout Lebanon. National language. Muslim, Christian, Druze. Braille Scripture in progress. Bible portions 1973. Survey needed.

Comment:
It appears the Beirut dialect would be the most productive for acceptable communication with the broadest geographical range of this language. Note that the 1 million in Argentina will make a slight difference in the totals and percentages. I have not tried to adjust for the few anomalies of geography like this.

6. MESOPOTAMIAN SPOKEN
ARABIC, MESOPOTAMIAN SPOKEN (NORTH SYRIAN, FURATI, MESOPOTAMIAN GELET ARABIC, BAGHDADI ARABIC, IRAQI ARABIC) [ACM]
11,500,000 in Iraq; 1,800,000 in Syria; 1,200,000 in Iran; 500,000 in Jordan; 100,000 in Turkey; 15,100,000 in all countries (1996). 74.4% of the population of Iraq are reported to be Arabic speakers (1996).
Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, Central, South, Arabic.
Iraq Dialect Info: Geographical and sectarian divisions correlate with Iraqi dialects. The vernacular standard is forming based on Baghdad speech. Used on television and radio talk shows. There are also Bedouin dialects.
Nearly unintelligible to speakers of certain other vernacular Arabic varieties.
Iraq: National language. Typology: SVO.
Syria: Muslim, Christian. Survey needed.
Iraq: Mainly Shi'a Muslim, Sunni Muslim, some Christian. Survey needed.

7. NAJDI SPOKEN
ARABIC, NAJDI SPOKEN [ARS]
8,000,000 in Saudi Arabia; 500,000 in Syria; 900,000 in Iraq; 50,000 in Jordan; 200,000 in Kuwait; 193,520 in USA (1970 census); 28,550 in Canada (1971 census); 9,700,000 in all countries. Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, Central, South, Arabic.
Saudi Arabia Dialects: NORTH NAJDI (SHAMMARI, BANI KHAALID, DAFIIR),
CENTRAL NAJDI (RWALA, HAAYIL, AL-QASIIM, SUDAIR, RIYADH, HOFUF, BIISHAH, NAJRAAN, WILD <ALI, <AWAAZIM, RASHAAYDA, MUTAIR, <UTAIBA, <AJMAAN),
SOUTH NAJDI (AAL MURRAH, NAJRAN).
Some dialects are spoken by Bedouins.
Iraq and Syria Dialects: NORTH NAJDI (SHAMMAR), CENTRAL NAJDI. .
Iraq: Central Najdi is spoken by Bedouins in the western desert, North Najdi by Bedouins in the south between the rivers up to the Syrian border.
Syria: Syrian desert. Spoken by Bedouins.

8. TUNISIAN SPOKEN
ARABIC, TUNISIAN SPOKEN (TUNISIAN) [AEB]
9,000,000 in Tunisia (1995), 98% of the population (1986); 213,000 in France; 60,000 in
Netherlands; 26,000 in Germany; 8,900 from Belgium; 9,308,000 in all countries. Also in France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany. Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, Central, South, Arabic.
Dialects: NORTHERN TUNISIAN ARABIC, CENTRAL WESTERN TUNISIAN ARABIC, SOUTHERN TUNISIAN, SAHIL TUNISIAN.
Close to Algerian Arabic, but speakers prefer Tunisian. The Tunis dialect is used in media and in language textbooks for foreigners. Southern dialects are structurally similar to dialects in Libya. Muslim. Bible portions 1903-1928. Survey needed.

9. SANAANI SPOKEN
ARABIC, SANAANI SPOKEN (NORTHERN YEMENI ARABIC) [AYN]
7,600,000 (1996). Extends as far south as Dhamar, about 14.4 degrees north.
Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, Central, South, Arabic.
Distinct from Hadrami and Ta'izzi-Adeni Arabic. 10% literate.
Zaydi Muslim. Survey needed.

10. TA'IZZI-ADENI
ARABIC, TA'IZZI-ADENI (SOUTHERN YEMENI SPOKEN ARABIC) [ACQ]
6,760,000 in Yemen (1996); 52,000 in Djibouti (1995); 18,000 in Eritrea (1995); 10,000 in Kenya (1995); 6,840,000 or more in all countries. All provinces except 2 eastern and the northeastern ones. Also in United Kingdom. Probably a few in UAE, Somalia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, Central, South, Arabic.
Dialects: TA'IZZI, ADENI. 10% literate.
Distinct from Hadromi and Sanaani Arabic Arabic. Ta'izzi dialect is the one best-accepted throughout Yemen. Zaydi Muslim. Survey needed.

11. NORTH MESOPOTAMIAN SPOKEN
ARABIC, NORTH MESOPOTAMIAN SPOKEN (SYRO-MESOPOTAMIAN VERNACULAR ARABIC, MOSLAWI, MESOPOTAMIAN QELTU ARABIC) [AYP]
5,400,000 in Iraq; 200,000 in Jordan; 300,000 in Syria; 400,000 in Turkey; 6,300,000 in all countries (1996). Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, Central, South, Arabic.
Iraq: Along most of the Tigris and part of the Euphrates valleys north of Baghdad. Muslim, Christian. Survey needed.
Syria: Far eastern Syria. Muslim, Christian. Survey needed.
Turkey: Mardin and Siirt provinces. In Turkey men are quite bilingual in Turkish. They do not read Arabic. Agriculturalists, small shops and businesses. Muslim, Christian. Survey needed.
Jordan: No details. It is not even in the Jordan Ethnologue listing, but numbers for Jordan are given in other country listings.

12. SOUTH LEVANTINE SPOKEN
ARABIC, SOUTH LEVANTINE SPOKEN (LEVANTINE ARABIC, SOUTH LEVANTINE ARABIC, PALESTINIAN-JORDANIAN ARABIC) [AJP]
3,500,000 in Jordan (1996); 1,600,000 in Palestinian West Bank and Gaza (1996); 910,000 in Israel (1996); 85,000 in Kuwait (1991); 50,000 or fewer in Egypt; 6,155,000 in all countries.
Also in Syria [no details], Argentina. Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, Central, South, Arabic.
Dialects: MADANI, FELLAHI.
There are differences from village to village of which speakers are aware. There is a newly emerging urban standard dialect based on Amman. Used on television, radio talk shows and drama.
Muslim, Christian. Bible portions 1940-1973. Survey needed.

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Note that in the Language Information, Christian populations are indicated in several of the languages, some in areas that I did not expect.  Note these as possible partner communities for outreach.

For more on Arabic Forms, Social and Cultural History and Current interaction among dialects:
Arabic language -- Ansers.com compilatio from various top sources

Orville Boyd Jenkins
18 March 2000
Last edited 16 July 2011
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