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The Arabic-speaking population is spread across many countries and a couple continents, from Morocco all the way to Oman. There are many spoken Arabic dialects, which are nearly as different from each other as the Romance languages are from themselves. If someone wanted to study a single Arabic spoken dialect with the purpose of communicating with Arabs across each of these countries, is one dialect more preferable than another?

My understanding is that Egyptian Arabic is the most dominant, but is it comprehensible to the other dialects, and will your knowledge of it help you understand everyone else? Or is a smaller dialect more universally intelligible among Arabs? Or are all the dialects similar/different enough that it doesn't matter, as long as you speak one of them well?

Please note that I am not referring to Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), but rather the spoken dialects that people are raised with and speak on an everyday, colloquial basis. "MSA" should not be included in your answers.

  • Here is a related question that might help to answer this one. If two Arabic speakers from Lebanon and Morocco meet, how do they communicate? In their own dialects, MSA or English/French? – K Man Aug 21 at 17:00
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There is few dialects are well understood in most Arabic speaking countries, Egyptian is not the only one. There is also the Syrian dialect (Lebanese and Jordanian are so close/similar).

Egyptian movies and songs are so popular, and that helps Arabic speaking people to get used to it and understand it. The same for Syrian dialect, Syrian songs and specially Syrian TV series are the top in the Arabic world and a lot of Arabic speaking people can understand Syrian dialect.

I'm Syrian myself, I read, write and speak formal Arabic and I understand many Arabic dialects. So to my knowledge, Syrian dialect can be understood as much as Egyptian with one more advantage that is Syrian dialect is a little bit closer to formal Arabic used in books, news and announcements. Few years back I read about a major British university that is teaching Syrian dialect as a spoken Arabic.

I hope that will be helpful and give you an idea about the topic from our culture's point of view.

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Others have already mentioned Egyptian due to its media and cinema. Definitely the most widely understood dialect (reciprocal comprehension is something else).

The situation is definitely changing overall in recent years. With the Internet and mass movement of people, even dialects that were previously considered "obscure" and difficult are becoming more common to encounter for other Arabic speakers.

Edit: Also, you might be interested to read up on Arabic "white language".

  • Are you saying that, for reciprocal comprehension, it doesn't really matter which dialect because most people just switch to White Language? – AML Aug 21 at 12:26
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Since Egyptian television and film are widely watched across the Middle East, you can do a lot worse than Egyptian Arabic if you wish to be understood by speakers of other dialects. As far as understanding other dialects, Egypt is in the geographic heart of the Arabic-speaking world and I can reasonably infer that it is a linguistic middle ground. Also, don't be so quick to dismiss Modern Standard Arabic. When I started learning Mandarin, everyone warned me not to bother because it would be useless with all the other varieties of Chinese, and that no one actually spoke Mandarin as a first language. Quite the contrary, Mandarin turned out to be quite useful even in Hong Kong where Cantonese and English are more prevalent. I can only imagine that Modern Standard Arabic will likewise get you from Morocco to Oman.

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    I don’t know how it is in Arabic, but in China Mandarin is taught at school so everyone speaks it fluently, with the tiny exception of the elderly who didn’t have decent education. But these people are likely not what foreigners would encounter. – Blaszard Jul 13 at 12:38

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