A Quick Introduction to Yemeni Arabic
Given what’s been going on Yemen these past few years, and how the situation has only worsened, I thought it would be appropriate to publish some content on the Yemeni Arabic language.
Quick thanks to Adam F. who helped me with this article. You can follow him on Instagram @adam_faid
So without further ado, let’s cover the Yemeni Arabic language group. Notice how I said “group”? Yeah, that’s because it’s not an actual language…
Yemeni Arabic is NOT a Language But Rather a GROUP of Languages
For anyone who has ever studied or dabbled with Arabic, as a non-native, you’re probably familiar and a little perplexed with the idea that Arabic has so many distinct dialects, and some of those dialects are really just groups of similar dialects. You see, Moroccan Arabic is quite different from Levantine Arabic (Iraqi, Palestinian, Syria, etc.) more so that UK English being different than American English (btw American English has subdialects as well such as Ebonics/AAVE). So Arabic is not an easy language for most Westerners to comprehend, and it’s one of the reasons why learning “Arabic” is so difficult.
In this case, Yemeni Arabic is a group of similar Arabic dialects each having their own differences and some having different phonology and grammar than others.
The group comes from the following language families, starting with its parent.
- Central Semitic
- Peninsular Arabic
- Yemeni Arabic… followed by its dialects
- Peninsular Arabic
- Central Semitic
Okay so what are the dialects of Yemeni Arabic? Well here are the five major dialects commonly spoken.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of English resources, our primary focus will be on the Sanaani dialect since it has the most speakers (~7.6 million).
Other Peninsular Arabic Languages / Dialects
The Peninsular Arabic group includes the following dialects:
- Hejazi Arabic (spoken in Saudi Arabia)
- Najdi Arabic (spoken in Saudi Arabia)
- Gulf Arabic (spoken along the Persian Gulf)
Each one utilizes different phonology, and vocabulary to various degrees.
Who Speaks Yemeni Arabic and Where is it Spoken?
As of 2011, roughly 15 million people speak Yemeni Arabic (remember, it’s a language group), primarily in Yemen. Although speakers can be found in southern parts of Saudi Arabia, western Oman, and even in parts of Somalia.
A Little Bit About Sanaa and Sanaani Arabic
Sanaani Arabic (San’ani) is the most widely spoken dialects with at 7.6 million speakers, although some estimates have put it at as high as 11 million. Most speakers of this dialect can be found in Sanaa which is the current capital of Yemen.
Sanaa has been inhabited for thousands of years, and although the founding date is unkown, Yemeni legend tells us that one of the sons of Noah, Shem, founding the city. And before Islam became the dominant region, Sanaa (and other parts of Yemen) were inhabited by both Christians and Jews.
Ottoman Rule Over Sanaa
The Ottoman Empire had attempted various conquests of Sanaa and Yemen as whole (from the mid 16th century until 19th century). It wasn’t until 1872 that the Ottomans captured the city of Sanaa, end even then various rebellions made Ottoman rule quite difficult. Then in 1911, a treaty was signed between the Ottomans and ruling Imans of Sanaa autonomy.
Upon the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Sanaa became the first capital of Yemen. And while their reign was short-lived, some linguists may argue that a portion of Turkish can be heard in the Sanaani dialect.
Standard Arabic often places a glottal sound on /Q/ so the Qur’an is not pronounced “ko’ran” but “Qur’an” with emphasis on Q coming from the back of the throat.
However, in Sanaani Arabic, the Q becomes a G sound. This reflects the sounds of early or classical Arabic. This is seen in all usages of /Q/. By the way, in Arabic the Q is a “Qaaf” (ق– independent form).
Here are some words that are worth noting and their pronunciation:
|Sanaani Arabic Pronunciation||English Meaning|
The Glottal Stop is Fixed in Sanaani Arabic
When it comes to Egyptian, Gulf, or Levantine Arabic, the glottal stop is not used and is often dropped in day-to-day speech. Although in Sanaani Arabic it’s used in all positions/instances, EXCEPT in rapid speech when word-initial glottal stops are dropped. Basically, words that start with a glottal stop (‘) will drop the stop if it comes after a word preceding with a long “aa”.
Glottal stops are basically micro pauses or blocks of airflow. In Modern Standard Arabic, it’s considered a consonant (those who have studied Modern Standard Arabic know what’s up!)
Take a look at the following words,
- ‘ayn – where?
- ra’s – head
- waraa’ – behind
- jubaa’ – ceiling / roof
- giraa’a – reading
Yemeni Arabic (Sanaani) Phrases
|‘ismi (name). Maa ‘ismak?||My name is…, what is yours? (talking to a male)|
|min ‘ayn ‘ant?||Where are you from? (masc., sing.)|
|‘ana min al-‘amrika||I am from America|
|kayf ant?||How are you? (masc., sing.)|
|kayf anti?||How are you? (fem., sing.)|
|naahi, w-‘ant?||Fine, and you? (masc., sing.)|
|naahiya, w-‘anti?||Fine, and you? (fem., sing.)|
|‘ant||You (masc., sing.)|
|‘anti||You (fem., sing.)|
Yemeni Arabic Adds Sheen (ش) to their Negations
When it comes to Yemeni Arabic as a whole, it’s common to add Sheen, ش, (pronounced with a sh sound) at the tail end of the verb being negated.
It’s also not uncommon to see the MSA usage of adding “لا” to the beginning of a sentence.
Take for instance: لا أفهمِش (la afMsh) – I don’t understand or انا مش أمريكيا (ana mish ‘amrika) – I am not from America.
How Can I Learn Yemeni Arabic?
That’s a pretty difficult questions to answer unfortunately. But with the right background knowledge you’ll be able to learn the “language” or a specific dialect in an effective manner.
Taking it a step back, the reason it’s a difficult question to answer is that there are not many English resources to learn Yemeni Arabic readily available. There are some books on Amazon you can buy which we’ll list out in just a bit, but the majority of books are written in Arabic (not really helpful if you’re a beginner). To make things less confusing, here’s a short guide to learning Yemeni Arabic.
Start With Modern Standard Arabic
Polyglots, language enthusiasts, and teachers will debate about whether to learn a dialect or standard form of Arabic till the end of time. However, if you’re just learning Arabic for the sake of learning it, maybe out of personal interest, then you’ll want to start with FusHa (sometimes, Fus7a with a more hissy sound on the H), or Modern Standard Arabic (MSA).
Once you’ve learned the standard dialect you may find it easier to jump into a dialect of your choice, whether it be Egyptian Arabic or Sanaani. Vocabulary, grammar and phonology are different among various dialects, but the beauty is once you can read MSA and understand a good amount of it, you’ll be able to start dabbling in textbooks on different dialects in the native language.
Be Careful of Spelling!
It’s important to note, that when you read different dialects, whether Levantine, Yemeni, Saudi, etc., you’ll notice that the spelling isn’t always consistent. This is because there isn’t a fixed way to spell words in different dialects, although some may argue that Egyptian Arabic has the most consistent spelling due to its popularity throughout the Arab world.
So don’t be surprised if some textbooks spell a word differently than others.
If You MUST Learn Yemeni Arabic Here Are Some Resources
So if you really need to get your Yemeni Arabic in here are some books you can purchase on Amazon.
- Adeni Arabic Book – no Arabic letters, only transliteration
- Conversational Arabic Quick and Easy: Yemeni Dialect – no Arabic letters, only transliteration
- Sbahtu! A Course in Sanaani Arabic
Try These Free Yemeni Arabic Resources
The following are a bit dated, but can still be considered gems for learners:
- Yemeni Arabic I (University of Arizona)
- Yemeni Arabic II (University of Arizona)
- Yemeni Arabic Phonology (University of Arizona)
- Global Language Online Support System
- Memrise Yemeni Arabic vocabulary
We apologize for using tinyurl links, currently if we paste long links it will mess up the mobile view of the site!
If you feel that any of our information is inaccurate, and or want to contribute to this post please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What About Levantine Arabic?
If you’re interested in learning about Levantine Arabic, we have an entire article on Everything You Need to Know About Levantine Arabic and How to Learn Levantine Arabic so be sure to check those out as well!
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