This is part two in the series “Arabs Say…” featuring Arabic speakers from around the Arab world who gives their views on their language and how it is used today. Of course, we should keep in mind that these are personal views and do not represent the views of everyone in their countries. Still, we can learn a lot about the overall linguistic situation and some commonalities and regional differences.


  1. The question I have is… if a non-native-speaker purchases, say, a grammar/phrasebook of Iraqi Arabic, should the Iraqi terminology be written out (i.e. شلونك) or should it be Romanized (“shlownik”)? I know that not every letter exists for the various dialects (the Syrian “do you want,” /biddek/ بِدّك comes to mind), but what is the rule here? A textbook/phrasebook of any of the dialects could be considered a “formal context” (and thus would necessitate MSA writing), but if the express purpose is for a non-native speaker (particularly one who is not up to speed on the various transliteration systems) is learning a dialect anyway, should the dialectical phrases be written?

    I think that they should, because I hate it when I’m trying to learn how to say something in Syrian (without the benefit of a native Syrian over my shoulder) and read weird symbols in a book. Those can be fine as a supplement to the actual script (particularly in cases where letters are lost, i.e. قاف becoming أ – thus, an entry like “هلق” /hala’/) but I don’t feel that transliterations should exist in books like this by themselves.

    1. Personally, I think romanization (what I call phonemic transcriptions or PT) is invaluable and it’s worth taking the time to learn all of the weird symbols, because, if designed well, the PT system will show you more accurate pronunciation than the Arabic script will. I know a lot of learners think they’re comfortable enough with Arabic script that they have no use for PT, but unfortunately you can’t always tell the dialect pronunciation for Arabic script, and certainly not if it’s not voweled (with tashkeel). I used to teach English as a foreign language, and I’d always make my students learn the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) because, as you know, English has very irregular spelling and you can’t always guess a word’s pronunciation from its spelling. So it has its purpose. But I’ve seen horrible PT systems, and of course, the problem is that every author or publisher has their own system. So there are no standardized rules, but hopefully a book uses a consistent system–otherwise the PT has little value.

      But I also agree that materials should have Arabic script. I know it’s a turn-off to lots of learners if a book for learning Arabic has no Arabic script in it. That’s why I always include Arabic script in Lingualism materials (with one exception, but for good reason I won’t go into right now). And if you make good use of the audio components and mimic the native speakers, you can get pretty far without PT. It really just depends on personal preference, I think.

      1. I do agree with you, and I must also echo your point about consistency. It seems that no two books use the same transliteration (romanization) system, which makes trying to navigate them a bewildering mess. I say, if they’re going to romanize things, they should also provide the Arabic script, but of course that’s not without its problems.

      2. You do pretty good work here with the Lingualism materials. I’m still waiting on that winning lottery ticket so I can pick more up, but I like what I’ve seen (in Arabic vs. Arabic) with transcribing everything and not using romanization all the time.

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