Egyptian Arabic - Sociolinguistic Features

Sociolinguistic Features

Egyptian Arabic is used in most social situations, with Modern Standard and Classical Arabic generally only being used in writing and in highly religious and/or formal situations. However, within Egyptian Arabic, there is a wide range of variation. El-Said Badawi identifies three distinct levels of Egyptian Arabic based on chiefly on the quantity of non-Arabic lexical items in the vocabulary: `Āmmiyyat al-Musaqqafīn (Cultured Colloquial or Formal Spoken Arabic), `Āmmiyyat al-Mutanawwirīn (Enlightened Colloquial), and `Āmmiyyat al-'Ummiyīn (Illiterate Colloquial). Cultured Colloquial/Formal Spoken Arabic is characteristic of the educated classes and is the language of discussion of high-level subjects, but it is nevertheless Egyptian Arabic; it is characterized by use of technical terms imported from foreign languages and MSA, as well as closer attention to the pronunciation of certain letters (particularly qāf). It is relatively standardized and, being closer to the standard, is understood fairly well across the Arab world. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Illiterate Colloquial, common to rural areas and to working-class neighborhoods in the cities, has an almost exclusively Arabic vocabulary; loanwords are generally either very old borrowings (e.g. جمبرى gambari, "shrimp," from Italian gambari, "shrimp" (pl.)) or refer to technological items that find no or poor equivalents in Arabic (e.g. تلفزيون til(i)vizyōn/til(i)fezyōn, television). Enlightened Colloquial (`Āmmiyyat al-Mutanawwirīn) is the language of those who have had some schooling and are relatively affluent; loanwords tend to refer to pop-cultural items, consumer products, and fashions. It is also understood widely in the Arab world, as it is the lingua franca of Egyptian film and television.

In contrast to MSA and most other varieties of Arabic, Egyptian Arabic has a form of the T-V distinction. In the singular, انت inta/inti is acceptable in most situations, but when addressing clear social superiors (e.g. persons older than oneself, superiors at work, certain government officials), the form حضرتك ḥaḍritak/ḥaḍritik, meaning "Your Grace" is preferred (c.f. Spanish usted).

This use of ḥaḍritak/ḥaḍritik is linked to the system of honorifics in daily Egyptian speech. The honorific taken by a given person is determined by their relationship to the speaker and their occupation.

Examples of Egyptian honorifics
Honorific IPA Origin/meaning Usage and notes
siyadtak [seˈjættæk,
seˈjædtæk]
Standard Arabic siyādatuka, "Your Lordship" Persons with a far higher social standing than the speaker, particularly at work. Also applied to high government officials, including the President. Equivalent in practical terms to "Your Excellency" or "The Most Honourable."
sa`adtak [sæˈʕættæk,
sæˈʕædtæk]
Standard Arabic sa`ādatuka, "Your Happiness" Government officials and others with significantly higher social standing. Equivalent in governmental contexts "Your Excellency," or "Your Honor" when addressing a judge.
ma`alīk Standard Arabic ma`ālīka, "Your Highness" Government ministers. Equivalent in practical terms to "Your Excellency" or "The Right Honourable."
ḥagg/ḥagga / Standard Arabic ḥāǧ Traditionally, any Muslim who has made the Hajj, or any Christian who has made pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Currently also used as a general term of respect for all elderly.
bāsha Ottoman Turkish pasha Informal address to a male of equal or lesser social status. Roughly equivalent to "man" or "dude" in informal English speech.
bēh Ottoman Turkish bey Informal address to a male of equal or lesser social status. Essentially equivalent to but less current than bāsha.
afandi Ottoman Turkish efendi (Archaic); address to a male of a less social standard than bēh and bāsha.
hānim Ottoman Turkish hanım/khanum, "Lady" Address to a woman of high social standing, or esteemed as such by the speaker. Somewhat archaic.
sitt Standard Arabic sayyida(t) "mistress" and/or Ancient Egyptian set "woman" The usual word for "woman." When used as a term of address, it conveys a modicum of respect.
madām French madame Respectful term of address for an older or married woman.
ānisa Standard Arabic ānisah, "young lady" Semi-formal address to an unmarried young woman.
ustāz Standard Arabic ustādh, "professor", "gentleman" Besides actual university professors and schoolteachers, used for experts in certain fields. May also be used as a generic informal reference, as bēh or bāsha.
usṭa/asṭa / Turkish usta, "master" Drivers and also skilled laborers.
rayyis Standard Arabic ra`īs, "chief" Skilled laborers. The term predates the use of the same word to mean "president", and traditionally referred to the chief of a village.
bash muhandis Ottoman Turkish baş mühendis, "chief engineer" Certain types of highly skilled laborers (e.g. electricians).
mi`allim Standard Arabic mu`allim, "teacher" Most working class men, particularly semi-skilled and unskilled laborers.
`amm Standard Arabic `amm, "paternal uncle" Older male servants or social subordinates with whom the speaker has a close relationship. It can also be used as a familiar term of address, much like basha. The use of the word in its original meaning is also current, for third-person reference. The second-person term of address to a paternal uncle is `ammo ; onkel, from French oncle, may also be used, particularly for uncles unrelated by blood.
dāda From Coptic language Older female servants or social subordinates with whom the speaker has a close relationship.
abē French abbé Male relatives older than the speaker by about 10–15 years. Upper-class, and somewhat archaic.
abla Ottoman Turkish abla, "sister" Female relatives older than the speaker by about 10–15 years.

Other honorifics also exist.

In usage, honorifics are used in the second and third person.

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