How Does Kuwaiti Arabic Compare To Modern Standard Arabic?

Nora Nasr


Nora Nasr

How Does Kuwaiti Arabic Compare To Modern Standard Arabic?

In Kuwait, Kuwaitis speak a Gulf Arabic dialect called "Kuwaiti," which is quite similar to the eastern Arabian coastal dialects that are spoken in neighboring countries. As such, Kuwaiti Arabic sounds a lot like Saudi Arabic and other Gulf dialects like Qatari, Emirati, and Bahraini.

The Southern Iraqi dialect is also similar to the Kuwaiti one since Kuwait was once a part of Iraq and was ruled by the Ottomans and then the British before achieving independence.

Over the past few decades or so, Kuwaiti popular culture has been thriving and has been exported to the rest of the Arab world in the form of soap operas, radio, and music, making the Kuwaiti dialect better known all over the Arabic-speaking world.

In this article, we’re going to talk about the history of Kuwaiti Arabic, past and present, and the Kuwaiti Arabic differences when compared to Modern Standard Arabic.

A history of the Kuwaiti dialect

Throughout Kuwait's history, many different cultures and languages have had an impact on the Kuwaiti dialect. Kuwait's history also includes diverse historical immigration patterns.

Because of immigration and trade in its early history, Kuwaiti Arabic borrowed a few words from Iranian dialects like Larestani, Khonji, Bastaki, and Gerashi, which also affected its vocabulary. For example, the Ajam Kuwaitis are nationals with Iranian ancestors who speak Persian and practice Shi'a Islam.

In fact, today the Kuwaiti population is divided into several groups: those descended from Arab tribes; those descended from Al-Hasa, Bahrain, and Iraq; and those descended from Persia (modern-day Iran), known in Kuwait as "Ayam."

People from the Arabian Peninsula, particularly those linked to the Gulf Cooperation Council states, may be referred to as Khaleeji (خليجي). Therefore, the people of Kuwait today are considered Khaleeji. Kuwaiti Arabic is considered one of these Khaliji dialects.

One distinguishing feature of Gulf Arabic is the absence of Persian terms. In this language, the letter 'k' is pronounced 'ch,' the letter 'q' is pronounced 'g,' and the letter 'j' is pronounced 'y.'

The Kuwaiti dialect today

Although Modern Standard Arabic is the official language of Kuwait, MSA is only used in journalism and education. Kuwaiti Arabic is the language most people use on a day-to-day basis and is the main dialect that is commonly spoken in Kuwait.

However, in Kuwait, native Kuwaitis make up only 30% of the country’s population. Since Kuwait is a country made up mostly of immigrants (mostly from Asia), this gives it a unique social and linguistic structure.

These foreign immigrants come to Kuwait to work as laborers. In fact, over 70% of the people who live in Kuwait are foreigners. As a result, there are many languages spoken in the country, which has in turn had an influence on the Kuwaiti dialect.

The English language is also often used as a common language among these migrant workers, and it is considered the country's second language because it is taught in schools in Kuwait as well.

Other than Arabic and English, people in Kuwait often speak Omani. Urdu, Hindi, Farsi, Balochis, Sinhalese, Tagalog, Malayalam, and Nepali. Like expats everywhere else, these immigrants in Kuwait often form communities to keep their languages and traditions alive.

Differences between Standard Arabic and Kuwaiti

Each spoken form of Arabic has grown and changed from earlier Arabic dialects over time.

Kuwaiti Arabic is no exception.

Today, the dialects spoken in cities and towns in Kuwait are different from those spoken in the countryside. But most Kuwaitis talk to each other every day in Kuwaiti.

In Kuwait, Kuwaiti is divided into two types: urban and Bedouin Arabic.

The two primary dialects are spoken in the cities, and there are several dialects spoken in the countryside. The Bedouin dialect, which is mostly spoken by city dwellers, has features that are not found in nearby dialects.

The urban dialect has four sub-dialects, while the Bedouin dialect has two.

There are four main urban accents or variations in the urban dialect: Sharg, Fintaas, Failicha, and Jibla. Each of these cities has its own accent. The two Bedouin varieties are Jahra and Dimna.

The Kuwaiti word for "sugar" (سكر) is pronounced in three different ways depending on the speaker's dialect. Historians and researchers sometimes use this to show how dialects are different.

Here is an example of the Bedouin variants and their pronunciations:

  • Shakir شَكِر -  in the Jibla dialect
  • Shikar شِكَر - in the Sharg dialect
  • Shakar شَكَر -in the Fintaas dialect

Aside from the differences in pronunciation mentioned above, there are also differences in the way Standard Arabic (MSA) and Kuwaiti Arabic are written:

  • Kuwaiti prefers subject-verb-object (unless the subject is absent due to the conjugation of the verb), but Modern Standard Arabic prefers verb-subject-object most of the time
  • Copulas are used in Kuwaiti, unlike in standard Arabic
  • Almost all Arabic declensions are removed
  • Dual grammatical person is no longer used, but dual nouns are
  • The feminine forms in the second and third-person plural are not used

Common Kuwaiti verbs and phrases

Kuwaiti Arabic and other Khaleeji dialects that are spoken on the Arabian Peninsula share many of the same sounds, but they also share many of the same Arabic words and phrases, which speakers use to communicate with each other.

Let’s look at some common Kuwaiti verbs and phrases.

Note: The number "3" is used to represent the letter (ع/ ʿayn) in the Arabic alphabet.

English Translation Kuwaiti Pronunciation Arabic Writing
Hello/Hi Marhaba/Salaam/Halla مرحبا / سلام/ هلا
Male: How are you?
Female: How are you?
Kayf halik?/Shlonak?
Kayf halich?/Shlonich?
كيف حالك / شلونك؟
كيف هالش / شلونچ؟
Fine or good Zen/Tammam زين / تمام
Excuse me Law samaht لو سمحت
Wait a second Lah-tha لحظة
Good morning Sabah alkhayr
To reply: Sabah'alnoor
صباح الخير
صباح النور
Good afternoon Masa' alkhayr
To reply: Masa' annoor
مساء الخير
مساء النور
Goodnight Tisbah 3ala khayr/Layla sa3eeda تصبح على خير/ ليلة سعيدة
I want/I need Abi أبي

Note: Abi means my father in Modern Standard Arabic, but in the Kuwaiti dialect it can also mean "I want/I need."

Interested in learning the Arabic language? We’ve made language learning easy for learners. Create your account now and join thousands of Arabic learners from all over the world!

Join now and start speaking iraqi Arabic today!

Create your account now and join thousands of other Arabic learners from around the world.