Language and Dialects

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Bedouin Language, Dialect and History

Because the Bedouin people do not form an actual country of their own, they do not have an official language. However, like the vast majority of people in the Middle East, the Bedouins primary language is Arabic.
Like almost every language, Arabic has several major dialect forms as well as many more minor transformations of these dialects that break down the Arabic language even further. If you compare the Middle East and the Current United States, there are many similarities.
For example, in the United States one can tell where a person could be from based solely upon their accent; a south-western accent, New England accent, etcetera. This is very similar to the Middle East in that you can also tell where a person or group of people is from based upon their regional dialects. In recent years, however, many of these dialects have begun to either blur together to form entirely new dialects and making others become extinct or spread out among other regions in the Middle East, primarily cities or spaces of land that are constantly occupied and then re-occupied by entirely different ethnic groups as a result of conflict.
The Bedouin people are actually credited with, or partially credited with, the “founding” of two dialects of Arabic: Saharan Arabic and Hassaniya Arabic. Saharan Arabic cannot be entirely credited to the Bedouin people because this dialect is spoken by those who live or used to live, assuming there is no language dialect dilution, in or around the Sahara Desert region. There are about 100,000 to 110,000 Native Algerian and Nigerian people who still speak this dialect of Arabic. However, the Bedouin people have not only moved out of this general area over the years but also settled down in cities. This resulted in an extinction of the Saharan dialect within the Bedouin People all together. There are still a few tribes that live in the Sahara region that speak the Saharan dialect, but their numbers are few.
Hassaniya Arabic is a much clearer dialect form that the Bedouins themselves indisputably started, specifically the Beni Hassan Bedouin tribes. This dialect emerged between the 15th and 17th centuries in the Western Sahara and Mauritania regions. Today, this dialect is spoken in South-Western Algeria, Northern Mali, Southern Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Mauritania. In 2006, more than 3 million people in these regions spoke the Hassaniya Arabic dialect.
external image map-mei-2005.gif

For both Hassaniya and Saharan Arabic, a “dialect tree” of sorts can be drawn back to the root language. Both dialects share the root language of Arabic. However, one can even trace the root of Arabic back to Central Semitic Languages, and thus back to Semitic Languages. From Arabic moving forward, both dialects were born from Maghrebi languages. Finally, from the Maghrebi root both Hassaniya and Saharan Arabic are born. Through this language lineage, one could almost call these two dialects “brother or sister dialects”.