"Colloquial Arabic" is a collective term for the spoken varieties of Arabic used throughout the Arab world, which differ radically from the literary language. The main dialectal division is between the North African dialects and those of the Middle East, followed by that between sedentary dialects and the much more conservative Bedouin dialects. Speakers of some of these dialects are unable to converse with speakers of another dialect of Arabic. In particular, while Middle Easterners can generally understand one another, they often have trouble understanding North Africans (although the converse is not true, due to the popularity of Middle Eastern—especially Egyptian—films and other media).
One factor in the differentiation of the dialects is influence from the languages previously spoken in the areas, which have typically provided a significant number of new words, and have sometimes also influenced pronunciation or word order; however, a much more significant factor for most dialects is, as among Romance languages, retention (or change of meaning) of different classical forms. Thus Iraqi aku , Levantine fīh , and North African kayən all mean "there is", and all come from classical Arabic forms ( yakūn , fīhi , kā'in respectively), but now sound very different.
The major dialect groups are:
- Egyptian Arabic مصري : Spoken by about 79 million people in Egypt and the most widely understood variety, due to the popularity of Egyptian-made films and TV shows
- Maghrebi Arabic مغربي (Algerian Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, Tunisian Arabic, Maltese and western Libyan Arabic) The Moroccan and Algerian dialects are each spoken by about 20 million people.
- Levantine Arabic شامي (Western Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian, western Jordanian and Cypriot Maronite Arabic)
- Iraqi Arabic عراقي (and Khuzestani Arabic) - with significant differences between the more Arabian-like gilit -dialects of the south and the more conservative qeltu -dialects of the northern cities
- East Arabian Arabic بحريني (Eastern Saudi Arabia, Western Iraq, Eastern Syrian, Eastern Jordanian and parts of Oman)
- Gulf Arabic خليجي (Bahrain, Saudi Eastern Province, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, and Oman)
Other varieties include:
- Ḥassānīya حساني (in Mauritania, Mali and Western Sahara)
- Sudanese Arabic سوداني (with a dialect continuum into Chad)
- Hijazi Arabic حجازي (western Saudi Arabia)
- Najdi Arabic نجدي (Najd region of central Saudi Arabia)
- Yemeni Arabic يمني (Yemen to southern Saudi Arabia)
- Andalusi Arabic أندلسي (Iberia until 17th century)
- Siculo Arabic صقلي (Sicily, South Italy until 14th century)
- Maltese مالطي, which is spoken on the Mediterranean island of Malta, is the only one to have established itself as a fully separate language, with independent literary norms. Apart from its phonology, Maltese bears considerable similarity to urban varieties of Tunisian Arabic, however in the course of history, the language has adopted numerous loanwords, phonetic and phonological features, and even some grammatical patterns, from Italian, Sicilian, and English. It is also the only Semitic tongue written in the Latin alphabet.